by Shawn Bohannon

Heinz Hoffmann in 1982
(Courtesy of Bundesarchiv/Wikimedia, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 Germany)

28 Nov 1910: Born Karl Hoffmann in Mannheim-Neckarau, the son of Karl and Maria (née Beil) Hoffmann. Maria Hoffmann later married Heinrich Würtz after her husband died in July 1919.
1925-1930: Apprenticeship, motor fitter in the Mannheim Motor Works.
1926: Joined the German Communist Youth Organization (KJVD).
1930: Joined the German Communist Party (KPD).
1930-1932: Machine fitter.
1932-1933: Gainfully employed.
1933-1935: Illegal communist activity as a member of the KPD Sub-District Leadership in Mannheim and Organization Leader of the KPD District Leadership of Baden-Pfalz. Hoffmann operated under the code name “Kurt” in the latter capacity.
1935-1937: Faced with a warrant for his arrest, Hoffmann fled Germany and immigrated to the USSR via Czechoslovakia under the alias “Heinz Roth,” a name he continued to use until 1945. He later recalled: “During my ten-year exile, I used ‘Heinz’ as my first name and had gotten so accustomed to it that I maintained it afterwards.”
1935-1936: Student at the International Lenin School in Moscow.
November 1936-February 1937: Attended a special two-and-a-half month long course at Ryazan conducted by the Frunze Military Academy in preparation for service with the Republican forces in Spain (studied employment and handling of Soviet small arms, military topography, conducted tactical training at the platoon and company levels as well on sand tables, trained on communications equipment and procedures, etc.). Upon completion of the course, Hoffmann was appointed to the rank of lieutenant with a rating of “excellent.”
17 March 1937: Arrived in Spain and assigned as an instructor of Soviet weapons in the Training Battalion of the XI International Brigade.
27 May 1937: Transferred as a War Commissar to the II. Battalion “Hans Beimler” of the XI International Brigade.
7 July 1937: Took command of the II. Battalion “Hans Beimler” after the commander, Captain Heinz Schramm, had been wounded.
8 July 1937: Wounded in the face by several small fragments during the attack on Quijorna (Republican Brunete offensive) – treated at the front and remained with the troops.
24 July 1937: Severely wounded in the legs and abdomen by infantry gunfire south of Quijorna – hospitalized in Madrid and Barcelona.
June 1938: Departed Spain and hospitalized at a clinic in Eaubonne, France until the early summer of 1939.
1939-1946: Immigrated to the USSR (Departed Le Havre for the USSR via a Soviet hospital ship; under medical care at the Botkin Hospital in Moscow until the end of April 1940; rest and convalescence at the “Bolshevik” Sanatorium in Yalta until the end of June 1940; moved thereafter to a convalescent home for former Spain fighters in Peredelkino, a small dacha settlement southwest of Moscow; student at a special course of the Executive Committee of the Comintern [Communist International] in Pushkino, northwest of Moscow, Mar-July 1941; attended a training course in rear area sabotage [“Kampf im gegnerischen Hinterland”] with other German exiles at a camp near Moscow in the summer of 1941; medically disqualified from training: multiple parachute jumps aggravated his earlier leg wounds which had led to musculature atrophy; selected to work in prisoner of war camps after assisting the Soviet NKVD interrogate a captured Luftwaffe officer) – political instructor and teacher in prisoner of war camps during World War II (chief political instructor at the Spaso-Zavodsk prisoner of war camp near Karaganda in the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic [Kazakhstan], Nov 1941-Mar 1942; political instructor and teacher at the Central Antifascist Schools in Oranki and Krasnogorsk, Apr 1942-Apr 1945; instructor and later leader of the KPD Party School [Objekt 12] in Shodnya, Apr-Dec 1945).
2 Jan 1946: Returned to the Soviet occupied zone of Germany.
Jan 1946-Sep 1947: Employee of the Central Committee of the KPD and then the Party Executive Committee of the German Socialist Unity Party (SED), also personal assistant to Wilhelm Pieck and, from late Feb 1946, Walter Ulbricht.
1946: Joined the German Socialist Unity Party. On 21-22 April 1946, the SED was formed in East Berlin with the merger of the KPD and the German Social Democratic Party (SPD). Wilhelm Pieck and Otto Grotewohl, formerly of the KPD and SPD respectively, jointly chaired the new party.
Sep 1947-June 1949: Secretary of the SED Land Leadership of Greater Berlin.
1 July 1949-25 Apr 1950: Vice President of the German Administration of the Interior and Leader of the Main Political Culture Department/German Administration of the Interior (granted the rank of Generalinspekteur on 1 July 1949).
July 1950-2 Dec 1985: Candidate (Member from 1952) of the Central Committee of the SED.
26 Apr 1950-30 June 1952: Leader of the Main Administration for Training (HVA). (Hoffmann’s wife, the former Klavdiya “Klava” Ivanovna Knjazeva, died on 28 Mar 1952. The couple met in 1940 while Hoffmann was residing in Peredelkino. They had two sons, Jura and Sascha. The youngest son, Sascha, died 20 years later in a traffic accident soon after graduating from officer training as a Leutnant in the Nationale Volksarmee. Two years later, Hoffmann married a nurse, Halina, from the government hospital and, after having two children, they divorced in 1964. That same year, he married his chief secretary, Feldwebel Gisela Sauer with whom he had three children. They remained together until his death in 1985.)
15 Oct 1950-2 Dec 1985: Member of the Volkskammer or Parliament of the German Democratic Republic.
1 July 1952-14 Oct 1955: Deputy Minister of the Interior and Chief of the Barracked People’s Police (KVP) (promoted to Generalleutnant on 1 Oct 1952).
1952-1955: Member (Chairman from 1953) of the Collegium of the Ministry of the Interior; reformed as the Collegium of the Barracked People’s Police in Aug/Sep 1953.
Dec 1955-Nov 1957: Attended the Voroshilov General Staff Academy in the USSR (granted the title Diplom-Militärwissenschaftler or Diploma Military Scientist upon graduation). Hoffmann and 11 other fellow officers were the first East Germans to participate in the demanding two-year course of operational-strategic level studies at the Voroshilov  Academy. Hoffmann’s fellow German classmates included Generalmajor Rudolf Dölling, Generalmajor Heinrich Heitsch, Generalmajor Kurt Wagner, Generalmajor Siegfried Weiß, Oberst Martin Bleck, Oberst Hans Ernst, Oberst Helmut Göpfert, Oberst Werner Krüger, Oberst Friedwald Oehlmann, Oberst Sigfrid Riedel and Oberstleutnant Willy Mirtschin.
1 Dec 1957-1 Mar 1958: 1st Deputy Minister for National Defense.
1957-2 Dec 1985: Member (Chairman from 1960) of the Collegium of the Ministry for National Defense.
1 Mar 1958-1 July 1960: 1st Deputy Minister for National Defense and Chief of the Main Staff (promoted to Generaloberst on 7 Oct 1959).
14 July 1960-2 Dec 1985: Minister for National Defense (promoted to Armeegeneral on 1 Mar 1961).
1960-2 Dec 1985: Member of the National Defense Council of the German Democratic Republic.
1969-2 Dec 1985: Member of the Committee of Defense Ministers of the Warsaw Pact.
1971-1983: Publication of Sozialistische Landesverteidigung. Aus Reden und Aufsätzen, a five-volume work compiled from Hoffmann’s speeches and essays on socialist national defense covering the period 1963-1982.
1973-2 Dec 1985: Member of the Politburo of the Central Committee of the SED.
1975: Awarded an honorary doctorate degree (Dr. h.c.) in philosophy from the Party University “Karl Marx” of the Central Committee of the SED for outstanding achievements in the field of Marxist-Leninist theory and Leninist military policy.
1981: Publication of Mannheim-Madrid-Moskau. Erlebtes aus drei Jahrzehnten, Hoffmann’s memoirs of the first 30 years of his life (1910-1941).
2 Dec 1985: Died in East Berlin from acute heart failure. Hoffmann was interred at the Zentralfriedhof (Central Cemetery) in Berlin-Friedrichsfelde, the resting place of many well-known German communists, socialists and social democrats including Rosa Luxemburg, Karl Liebknecht, Wilhelm Pieck, Walter Ulbricht, Otto Grotewohl, Erich Weinert and Ernst Thälmann.
1986: Grottkauer Straße in Berlin-Hellersdorf was renamed Heinz-Hoffmann-Straße in commemoration of the late general. However, the street was again renamed in 1992 becoming Neue Grottkauer Straße. On 24 Feb 1986, the name “Heinz Hoffmann” was bestowed on the 9th Panzer Division. This marked the first and only time a division of the NVA received a name.
1986: Oberst Dietmar Rohlfs, Hoffmann’s former personal assistant, published “Heinz Hoffmann – Kommunist, Internationalist und Soldat: Äußerungen von Kampf- und Zeitgenossen,” a collection of 75th birthday tributes to the late general in Volume 6 of the journal Militärgeschichte. Hoffmann’s previously unpublished wartime memoir “Als Oberinstrukteur in Spasso-Sawodski-Lager,” also appeared in this volume of the journal.
1989: Posthumous publication of Moskau-Berlin. Erinnerungen an Freunde, Kampfgenossen und Zeitumstände, the continuation of Hoffmann’s memoirs covering his life from 1941-1957.

(Courtesy of Shawn Bohannon)

Major Decorations

Title of Honor “Hero of the German Democratic Republic” (two awards: 28 Nov 1975 and 28 Nov 1980)
Karl Marx Order (three awards)
Honor Clasp to the Fatherland’s Merit Order in Gold
Fatherland’s Merit Order in Gold (1954)
Scharnhorst Order (three awards) *
Order of Struggle “for Merit to the People and Fatherland” in Gold
Order of Lenin – USSR (two awards)

* The first awards of the Scharnhorst Order were rendered on 1 March 1966 by the First Secretary of the SED, Walter Ulbricht. Hoffmann was the first recipient of the new order.

Hoffmann’s major decorations were derived from information and a color photograph depicting his final, abbreviated Interimsspange (ribbon bar for everyday wear) as well as a color photograph of an earlier, complete Interimsspange in the Feder and Feder work cited below. Hoffmann’s earlier Interimsspange pictured in this book consists of 48 ribbons. In addition to those previously listed, the following ribbons in the photograph have been provisionally identified by the editor of this biographical profile:

Order of the October Revolution – USSR
Order of the Red Banner – USSR
Order of the Patriotic War, 1st Class – USSR
Order of the Banner of Labor in Gold (two awards)
Title of Honor “Distinguished Member of the National People’s Army”
Title of Honor “Distinguished Member of the Border Troops of the German Democratic Republic” (two awards: 1 Dec 1976 and 1 Dec 1981)
Title of Honor “Distinguished Member of the Civil Defense of the German Democratic Republic”
Title of Honor “Distinguished Employee of the State Security”
Title of Honor “Distinguished People’s Policeman of the German Democratic Republic”
Title of Honor “Distinguished Construction Worker of the German Democratic Republic”
Title of Honor “Distinguished Railroad Employee of the German Democratic Republic”
Order of the Red Banner of Labor – Hungary
Order of the Yugoslav Flag with Sash – Yugoslavia
Order of the National Flag, 1st Class – North Korea
Jubilee Medal on the 100th Anniversary of Lenin’s Birthday – USSR
Medal for Fighters against Fascism, 1933-1945
Hans Beimler Medal (for service in the Spanish Civil War)
Merit Medal of the German Democratic Republic
Merit Medal of the Organs of the Ministry of the Interior in Gold
Merit Medal of the Combat Groups of the Working Class in Gold
Merit Medal of the German National Railroads in Gold
Decoration of the German People’s Police
Brotherhood in Arms Medal in Gold
Brotherhood in Arms Medal – USSR
Commemorative Medal “30 Years of Victory in the Great Patriotic War 1941-1945” – USSR
Brotherhood in Arms Medal, 1st Class – Czechoslovakia
Brotherhood in Arms Medal – Poland
Brotherhood in Arms Medal in Gold – Hungary
Brotherhood in Arms Medal – Bulgaria
Military Academy Graduate Badge – USSR (diamond-shaped badge worn on right breast)


Although instituted on 25 March 1982, the rank of Marschall der Deutschen Demokratischen Republik (DDR) was never bestowed. As the senior serving general of the Nationale Volksarmee, Hoffmann would have been the prime candidate for promotion to this rank in the event of war.

Sources used

Ehlert, Hans & Wagner, Armin (editors). Genosse General! Die Militärelite der DDR in biografischen Skizzen. Ch. Links Verlag, Berlin, Germany, 2003.
Feder, Klaus H. & Feder, Uta. Auszeichnungen der Nationalen Volksarmee der Deutschen Demokratischen Republik, 1954-1990. Münz Galerie, Berlin, Germany, 1994.
Froh, Klaus & Wenzke, Rüdiger. Die Generale und Admirale der NVA: Ein biographisches Handbuch. Ch. Links Verlag, Berlin, Germany, 2000.
Hoffmann, Heinz. Mannheim-Madrid-Moskau. Erlebtes aus drei Jahrzehnten. Militärverlag der Deutschen Demokratischen Republik, Berlin (East), German Democratic Republic, 1981.
Hoffmann, Heinz. Moskau-Berlin. Erinnerungen an Freunde, Kampfgenossen und Zeitumstände. Militärverlag der Deutschen Demokratischen Republik, Berlin (East), German Democratic Republic, 1989.
Schönbohm, Jörg. Two Armies and One Fatherland. Peter and Elfi Johnson, translators. Berghahn Books, Providence, Rhode Island, 1996 (originally published in 1992 in Germany as Zwei Armeen und ein Vaterland).