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German History in Documents and Images
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Erich Honecker and Walter Ulbricht, East Berlin (1968)
After decisively aiding in the elimination of Walter Ulbricht’s internal party critics Karl Schirdewan, Ernst Wollweber, and Fred Oelßner, chairman of the Free German Youth, Erich Honecker (left) became a full member of the Politburo. As leader of the Central Committee’s department of “Leading Organs and Mass Organizations” and as Central Committee Secretary for “Safety and Cadre Questions,” Honecker rose to the rank of “second man” behind Ulbricht. As Secretary of the National Defense Council, Honecker led the operational staff that coordinated the building of the Berlin Wall in 1961. Starting in the mid-1960s, he began distancing himself from Ulbricht’s reform attempts and then worked to unseat him. Honecker’s attempts came at a time when the GDR was facing economic difficulties and Ulbricht was pursuing a solo path in inter-German relations. Photo by Gerhard Kiesling.