by Shawn Bohannon

Willi Stoph in 1976

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

9 Jul 1914: Born in Berlin-Schöneberg, Willi and his older brother Kurt were the sons of working class parents. Their father fell in 1915 during World War I; their mother remarried in 1923 and later had a daughter.
1920-1928: Attended Volksschule (Elementary School) in Berlin-Schöneberg.
1928: Joined the German Communist Youth Organization (KJVD).
1928-1931: Apprenticeship in the bricklaying trade; passed the journeyman’s examination with a rating of “good.”
1931: Joined the German Communist Party (KPD) and served as a member of the Central White Apparatus, the KPD Intelligence and Military Service. In this capacity, he coordinated with communist infiltrators in the Berlin SA and SS and served as a contact for a number of KPD sympathizers. In later years, Stoph claimed to have been in brief contact with one of Hermann Göring’s maids and a floor waiter at the Hotel Kaiserhof when Adolf Hitler resided there.
1931-1935: Except for brief periods of opportunity labor as a bricklayer, Stoph remained unemployed.
Oct 1935-Oct 1937: Served in the Wehrmacht (artillery regiment in Brandenburg/Havel) achieving the rank of Oberkanonier.
1937-1940: Employed as a bricklayer and foreman on several small housing and business construction projects. In 1939, Stoph began work as a Bautechniker (Construction Technician) after qualifying via correspondence study.
2 Apr 1938: Married Marianne Wiegank.
17 Feb 1940-21 Apr 1945: Entered the Wehrmacht as a driver in Artillery Regiment 293 of the 293rd Infantry Division; received the Iron Cross 2nd Class during the invasion of France; promoted to Gefreiter, 1940; occupation duties in France until Feb 1941; took part in the invasion of the Soviet Union, 1941-1942; promoted to Obergefreiter, 1942; construction technician in the Ruhr, 1942; sick with jaundice and hospitalized, 1942; promoted to Stabsgefreiter, 1943; again sick with jaundice and hospitalized in Berlin-Tempelhof for three months, 1943; detached to a replacement unit in Frankfurt/Oder where he remained until shortly before the end of the war due to certified weak heart muscles; attended an Unteroffizier course, 1944-1945; promoted to Unteroffizier in Feb 1945.
21 Apr 1945-14 July 1945: Prisoner of war in Soviet captivity. In later years, Stoph recalled he left his unit and hid in the home of an aunt at Blankenfelde near Mahlow. He duly surrendered to the Red Army after the front line had moved passed. Over the next three months he was held in prisoner of war camps at Klein-Beeren, Wriezen and Küstrin. Stoph volunteered to work for the political cadre of the camps and assisted the Soviets by identifying NSDAP-Kreisleiter and SA leaders from amongst German prisoners.
1945-1946: Employee of the Political Department of the Soviet Military Administration in Germany.
1946: Joined the German Socialist Unity Party (SED).
1946-1947: Leader of the Construction Materials Industry.
1947-1948: Leader of the Basic Industry Main Department (construction materials, chemicals, metal ore mining, metallurgy, scrap materials)/German Central Administration of Industry.
1948-1950: Leader of the Economic Policy Department of the Party Executive Committee of the SED.
1950-1953: Member of the “Small Secretariat” of the Politburo and then the Secretariat of the Central Committee of the SED.
1950-3 Dec 1989: Member of the Central Committee of the SED.
1950-17 Nov 1989: Member of the Volkskammer or Parliament of the German Democratic Republic.
1951-1952: Leader of the Bureau for Economic Questions of the Minister President.
9 May 1952-30 June 1955: Minister of the Interior. During this period, the fledgling armed forces of the German Democratic Republic were subordinated to the Ministry of the Interior: Main Administration for Training (renamed Barracked People’s Police on 1 July 1952), Air Police Main Administration (renamed People’s Police-Air on 1 July 1952) and Sea Police Main Administration (renamed People’s Police-Sea on 1 July 1952). The Minister of the Interior also exercised control of the German Border Police and the German People’s Police. Of note, the former Ministry for State Security, downgraded and renamed the State Secretariat for State Security, was subordinated to the Ministry of the Interior from July 1953-Nov 1955. Stoph relinquished the post of Minister of the Interior to Generalinspekteur der VP Karl Maron, former Deputy Minister and Chief of the German People’s Police. (From July 1955-Nov 1989, the Minister of the Interior also served as Chief of the German People’s Police.)
1952-1953: Chairman of the Collegium of the Ministry of the Interior.
1953-8 Nov 1989: Member of the Politburo of the Central Committee of the SED.
1953-1960: Member of the Security Commission of the SED.
12 Apr 1955-18 Jan 1956: Deputy Chairman of the Council of Ministers for Defense Questions (promoted to Generaloberst on 7 Oct 1955). Under a reorganization of the Ministry of the Interior, the Politburo established this new duty position to better manage the strengthening of security and defensive capabilities of the country. In this role, Stoph was responsible for the guidance and leadership of the armed forces of the German Democratic Republic (land, air and sea forces, border troops and interior troops of the State Secretariat for State Security) as well as the implementation of all necessary security and defensive measures including economic defensive efforts and questions of mobilization. This deputy chairman position was a direct forerunner of the future function of Minister for National Defense.
15 Oct 1955-18 Jan 1956: At the same time, named Chief of the Barracked People’s Police (KVP). While Stoph exercised command and disciplinary authority over the KVP, Generalmajor Heinrich Dollwetzel served as 1st Deputy Chief of the KVP to handle organizational and administrative matters vice Generalleutnant Heinz Hoffmann who was studying at the Voroshilov General Staff Academy in the USSR.
1955-1960: Chairman of the Collegium of the Barracked People’s Police; renamed the Collegium of the Ministry for National Defense in Jan 1956.
19 Jan 1956-14 July 1960: Minister for National Defense (promoted to Armeegeneral on 7 Oct 1959; separated from uniformed military service on 30 June 1960, all further state service performed as a civilian). Stoph relinquished the post of Minister for National Defense to Generaloberst Heinz Hoffmann, former 1st Deputy Minister and Chief of the Main Staff.
1960-1964: Deputy/1st Deputy of the Chairman of the Council of Ministers.
1960-1989: Member of the National Defense Council of the German Democratic Republic.
1964-1973: Chairman of the Council of Ministers. On 19 Mar 1970, West German Chancellor Willy Brandt met with Stoph in the East German city of Erfurt for the first German domestic talks. Brandt sought to normalize relations with the German Democratic Republic, the Soviet Union and communist Eastern Europe through his policy of Ostpolitik. On 21 May 1970, Stoph met with Brandt in the West German city of Kassel for further domestic discussions.
1973-1976: Chairman of the Council of State.
1974: Publication of Zur weiteren Entwicklung der sozialistischen Gesellschaft in der DDR. Reden und Aufsätze (To the Further Development of the Socialist Society in the GDR. Speeches and Essays).
1976-7 Nov 1989: Chairman of the Council of Ministers.
1979: Publication of Für das Erstarken unseres sozialistischen Staates. Ausgewählte Reden und Aufsätze (For the Strengthening of Our Socialist State. Selected Speeches and Essays).
1984: Publication of DDR – Staat des Sozialismus und des Friedens. Ausgewählte Reden und Aufsätze (GDR – State of Socialism and of Peace. Selected Speeches and Essays).
1989: Publication of Sozialismus und Frieden zum Wohle des Volkes. Ausgewählte Reden und Aufsätze (Socialism and Peace for the Well-Being of the People. Selected Speeches and Essays).
18 Oct 1989: Faced with a dire economic situation, mass exodus from the country and public demonstrations, the Central Committee of the SED forced the resignation of Erich Honecker as General Secretary (ostensibly for health reasons). Six days later, Honecker relinquished his seat in the Politburo and resigned as Chairman of the Council of State and the National Defense Council. The Central Committee selected Egon Krenz as Honecker’s successor. During the fateful Poliburo session on 17 Oct 1989, Stoph interrupted Honecker’s opening remarks by challenging him to step down. By the end of the session, the Politburo had unanimously agreed to Honecker’s dismissal.
7 Nov 1989: Under intense political pressure from the deteriorating national situation, Stoph and his ministerial council resigned. Stoph’s council retained only caretaker status until a new government was formed under Hans Modrow – Stoph’s successor as Chairman of the Council of Ministers – six days later.
8 Nov 1989: Resigned along with the rest of the Politburo.
13 Nov 1989: In his farewell address before the Volkskammer, Stoph laid political responsibility for the country’s failed policies on Erich Honecker and Günter Mittag, former Secretary for Economics of the Central Committee of the SED.
17 Nov 1989: Revocation of Stoph’s seat in the Volkskammer.
3 Dec 1989: Expelled from the Central Committee and the SED.
8 Dec 1989: Imprisoned on remand for suspicion of abuse of office and corruption causing damage to the national economy.
Feb 1990: Released for health reasons.
May 1991: Imprisoned on remand in connection with the investigation into shooting deaths along the inter-German border.
14 May 1992: Indicted for indirect complicity in manslaughter (68 documented counts) in connection with the alleged “shoot to kill” orders given to East German border guards and the implementation of other lethal inter-German border fortification methods.
Aug 1992: Released for health reasons.
12 Nov 1992: One of six defendants, including former East German leader Erich Honecker, placed on trial in Berlin for indirect complicity in 68 counts of manslaughter at the Berlin Wall and along the inter-German border. Only one day after the trial began, the court temporarily suspended proceedings against Stoph as he was experiencing heart trouble – all charges against him were dropped in July 1993. Shortly thereafter, the court also suspended proceedings against defendant Armeegeneral Erich Mielke, the former Minister for State Security, as he was simultaneously being tried for two murders committed in 1931. (Previously indicted for murdering two Berlin police captains, Paul Anlauf and Franz Lenck, on 9 Aug 1931, Mielke was sentenced to six years’ imprisonment for this crime in Oct 1993. He was released for health reasons in Aug 1995.) On 12 Jan 1993, the proceedings were likewise dropped against Honecker due to the advanced state of his liver cancer. The three remaining defendants, Armeegeneral Dipl.-Mil. Heinz Keßler, Generaloberst Dipl.-Mil. Fritz Streletz and former Suhl district SED secretary Hans Albrecht, were convicted and sentenced to prison terms in Sep 1993.
10 Oct 1994: The Berlin Administrative Court decreed that Stoph could not have his seized 1990 bank savings valued at 200.000 DM. The court noted the former politician had acquired the money by abuse of his state position.
13 Apr 1999: Died in Berlin.

Major Decorations

Title of Honor “Hero of the German Democratic Republic” (9 July 1984)
Title of Honor “Hero of Labor” (two awards: 1964 and 1979)
Karl Marx Order (four awards: 1969, 1974, 1984 and 1989)
Honor Clasp to the Fatherland’s Merit Order in Gold (1965)
Fatherland’s Merit Order in Gold (1954)
Order of the Banner of Labor (1964)
Order of Lenin – USSR (1984)
Medal for Fighters against Fascism, 1933-1945 (6 Sep 1958)
Decoration of the German People’s Police


Willi’s older brother Kurt Werner Stoph (10 Sep 1912-30 Apr 1980) served as an SED functionary and State Secretary for the Administration of the State Reserve from 1953-1979.

Sources used

Diedrich, Torsten & Wenzke, Rüdiger. Die getarnte Armee. Geschichte der Kasernierten Volkspolizei der DDR 1952-1956. Ch. Links Verlag, Berlin, Germany, 2003.
Ehlert, Hans & Wagner, Armin (editors). Genosse General! Die Militärelite der DDR in biografischen Skizzen. Ch. Links Verlag, Berlin, Germany, 2003.
Froh, Klaus & Wenzke, Rüdiger. Die Generale und Admirale der NVA: Ein biographisches Handbuch. Ch. Links Verlag, Berlin, Germany, 2000.
Maier, Charles S. Dissolution: The Crisis of Communism and the End of East Germany. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey, 1999.
McAdams, A. James. Judging the Past in Unified Germany. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom, 2001.
Biographie Willi Stoph:
Biographie Erich Mielke: