In addition to having objects ranging from busts to children’s toys to military uniforms, the Wende Museum has a large library. These books include works written in German, Russian, and English, as well as other languages, and cover a range of subjects, focusing on the humanities, fiction, and history. Other books deal with tourism, education (school and reference books), household skills, technology, music and art.
I’ve recently been cataloging books from the Wende Museum’s extensive collection, and I came across a copy of Erich Honecker’s auto-biography Aus meinem Leben (From My Life).
An early leader of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands, SED), Honecker served as the First Secretary of the German Democratic Republic from 1971 until 1989, stepping down shortly before the fall of the Berlin Wall.
The book jacket features a photo of Honecker in his trademark look, also seen in official portraits like this one that The Wende Museum has:
Honecker’s image is described by Anna Funder in her 2003 book Stasiland:
“…Honecker’s picture was everywhere. It was in schools, in Free German Youth halls, in theaters and over swimming pools. It was at the universities, in police stations, at holiday camps and in the border guards’ watchtowers. He always wore a suit and tie, large dark-rimmed glasses and his hair, first dark then grey, combed back off a high forehead.” (Funder, 58-59)
While Honecker’s cult of personality was subdued in comparison to that of Lenin or Stalin in the USSR, images of his likeness were ubiquitous, sometimes appearing on almost every page of the national party newspaper, Neues Deutschland.
Aus meinem Leben contributed to the national image of Erich Honecker. In her 2003 book The last revolutionaries: German communists and their century, Catherine Epstein explains:
“In Aus meinem Leben, the implicit parallel between Honecker’s supposed life trajectory and official SED communist history could not be missed. Honecker devoted the bulk of his memoirs to his East German years. His memoirs thus focused on the final chapter of the antifascist myth – communist resurrection and redemption in the form of the successful achievement of a socialist East Germany. Just as Honecker had risen from his lowly beginnings in Wiebelskirchen to the heights of socialist leadership, the GDR had risen from the moral and physical ruins of 1945 to become a full-blown socialist state. From the glossy photos of Honecker’s meetings with world leaders, to chapters entitled “Allied with Sports” and “The Millionth Apartment,” this work reveled in East Germany’s supposed achievements. In the 1980s, stacks of copies of Aus meinem Leben were ubiquitous in East German bookstores – a measure of the regime’s attempt, if not its success, at fostering an official memory among the East German population.” (Epstein, 202)
The frequency of the book is apparent in the Wende’s collection; we have at least seven copies of Aus meinem Leben.
The Wende Museum has a collection of Honecker’s papers, as well as books bearing the stamp from his personal library, so it should not have surprised me to find that the book was autographed by Honecker.
Surprising or not, it was exciting to hold something that Honecker himself had autographed.
Public pressure forced Honecker to step down on October 18, 1989, and after the fall of the Wall, he was indicted in the deaths of over 180 East Germans. He fled first to Moscow, then to Chile, and passed away at age 81 before having to stand trial, in May of 1994.
The Wende Museum has a traditional Honecker poster that was vandalized. It’s updated inscription translates as: “Fond Greetings from Moscow Chile Hell?”