Honecker, Erich ā´rĭkh hôn´ĕkər [key], 1912–94, East German political leader. From a Communist family, Honecker was imprisoned by the Nazis for 10 years for party activities. After the war he joined Walter Ulbricht's Socialist Unity (Communist) party and rose in the East German party bureaucracy. He joined the secretariat of the Communist party central committee in 1958, with responsibility for security. When Ulbricht resigned as party leader in 1971, Honecker succeeded him. He later replaced him as head of the national defense council, thus consolidating power over the military, the party, and the Government. In Oct., 1989, with resistance to the regime growing, he was ousted from his posts by the East German Communist party. After the reunification of Germany, and threatened by the possibility of being tried for ordering border guards at the Berlin Wall to shoot to kill, he entered a Soviet military hospital in Berlin. The reunified German government was unable to arrest him there, and when he was transferred to Moscow, Gorbachev blocked his extradition. In Moscow after the collapse of the USSR he took refuge in the Chilean embassy. In 1992 he was returned to Germany, where he was put on trial but then released as his health deteriorated. In Jan., 1993, he fled to Chile, where he died.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
See more Encyclopedia articles on: German History: Biographies