Wilhelm Pieck

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Wilhelm Pieck
Fotothek df roe-neg 0002793 004 Portrait Wilhelm Piecks im Publikum der Bachfeier.jpg
Co-Chairman of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (with Otto Grotewohl)
 East Germany
In office
22 April 1946 – 25 July 1950
Preceded by None (office created)
Succeeded by Walter Ulbricht (as First Secretary)
State President of the German Democratic Republic
 East Germany
In office
11 October 1949 – 7 September 1960
Preceded by None (office created)
Succeeded by Walter Ulbricht
(as Chairman of the Council of State)
Personal details
Born Friedrich Wilhelm Reinhold Pieck
(1876-01-03)3 January 1876
Guben, German Empire
Died 7 September 1960(1960-09-07) (aged 84)
East Berlin, East Germany
Nationality German
Political party SPD (1895–1918)
KPD (1918–1946)
SED (1946–1960)
Spouse(s) Christine Häfker
Children Arthur Pieck (1899–1970)

Friedrich Wilhelm Reinhold Pieck (German pronunciation: [ˈvɪlhɛlm ˈpiːk]; 3 January 1876 – 7 September 1960) was a German politician and Communist. In 1949, he became the first President of the German Democratic Republic, an office abolished upon his death.[1] His successor as head of state was Walter Ulbricht, who served as chairman of the Council of State.


Pieck was born as the son of the coachman Friedrich Pieck and his wife Auguste in the eastern part of Guben, Germany,[2] which is now Gubin, Poland. Two years later, his mother died. The father soon married the washerwoman Wilhelmine Bahro. After attending elementary school, the young Wilhelm completed a four-year carpentry apprenticeship. As a journeyman he joined the German Timber Workers Association in 1894.

As a carpenter, in 1894 Pieck joined the wood-workers' federation, which steered him towards joining the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) the following year.[2] Pieck became the chairman of the party urban district in 1899, and in 1906 became full-time secretary of the SPD. In 1914, the he moved to a three-room apartment in Berlin-Steglitz. By now he had his own study with many shelves full of books. In May 1915, he was arrested at the big women's demonstration in front of the Reichstag and kept in "protective custody" until October. As Bremen Party secretary in 1916, Pieck had asked Anton Pannekoek to continue teaching socialist theory in the party school.[3] Although the majority of the SPD supported the German government in World War I, Pieck was a member of the party's left wing, which opposed the war. Pieck's openness in doing so led to his arrest and detention in a military prison. After being released, Pieck briefly lived in exile in Amsterdam.[2] Upon his return to Berlin in 1918, Pieck joined the newly founded Communist Party of Germany (KPD). On January 16, 1919 Pieck, along with Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht were arrested while meeting at Berlin Eden Hotel, Liebknecht and Luxemburg were then killed while "being taken to prison" by a unit of Freikorps.[4] While the two were being murdered, Pieck managed to escape. In 1922, he became a founding member of the International Red Aid, serving first on the executive committee. In May 1925, he became the chairman of the Rote Hilfe.[2]

On March 4, 1933, one day before the Reichstag election, Pieck's family left their Steglitz apartment and moved into a cook's room. His son and daughter had been in the Soviet Union since 1932 while Elly Winter was still in Germany. At the beginning of May 1933 he left first to Paris and then to Moscow. [2] In Moscow, Pieck served the Communist Party in a variety of capacities. From 1935 until 1943, he held the position of Secretary of the Communist International. In 1943 Pieck was among the founders of the National Committee for a Free Germany, which planned for the future of Germany after World War II.

On 22 of June, 1941 Pieck and his family were in their country house on the outskirts of the Moscow. Pieck came downstairs at six o'clock to his childrens' bedroom and said: "Children, get up, it was announced on the radio that war is over. Hitler invaded the Soviet Union, but that will be the end". In March 1942 the family was able to return there after the Soviet Armed Forces won the Battle of Moscow.

At the conclusion of the war in 1945 Pieck returned to Germany with the victorious Red Army.[5] A year later, he helped engineer the merger of the eastern branches of the KPD and SPD into the Socialist Unity Party of Germany. He was elected as the merged party's co-chairman, alongside former SPD leader Otto Grotewohl.

In 1949 Pieck was elected president of the GDR.[2] He served as the only president of the GDR until his death in 1960.[6] He lost the chairmanship of the SED in 1950, when Walter Ulbricht became the party's first secretary. Nonetheless, due to Joseph Stalin's trust in him, he retained his other posts.[5]

Last years[edit]

On July 13, 1953 he suffered second stroke. He also had progressive liver cirrhosis and existing ascites. A detailed medical report composed before the second stroke mentioned "mild paralysis on the right, a slight drooping of the corner of the mouth, breathing wheezing or snoring, slowed down pulse, tone of the limb musculature lowered ...".[7]

In August 1960 he moved to new summer residence the former, converted mansion of the Hermann Göring Leibförsters near "Karinhall".[8]

Pieck lived at Majakowskiring 29, Pankow, East Berlin.

He was married to Christine whom he met in a large dance hall in Bremen. At first, her parents did not want her to go with communist. But when a child was on the way, she was allowed to marry Wilhelm on May 28, 1898 on condition that a church wedding will take place.[9] On the wedding day Christine waited impatiently to Pieck to arrive to church. But he still carried leaflets and came at the last minute. On November 1936, his wife contracted pneumonia for the third time and died on December 1st. His daughter Elly Winter (1898–1987) held various posts in the SED and East German government. His son Arthur Pieck (1899-1970) served as head of the East-German national airline Interflug from 1955-1965, after having held various administrative posts in East Germany, for instance at the German Economic Commission.

Photo gallery[edit]


  1. ^ Rolf Badstübner and Wilfried Loth (eds) Wilhelm Pieck - Aufzeichnungen zur Deutschlandpolitik 1945-1953, Berlin: Wiley-VCH, 1994
  2. ^ a b c d e f Wilhelm Pieck timeline Retrieved June 10, 2010 (in German)
  3. ^ Bourrinet, Philippe. The Dutch and German Communist Left (1900–68). p. 55. 
  4. ^ Wolfe, Bertram D. in introduction to"The Russian Revolution" Luxemburg p. 18 1967.
  5. ^ a b Eric D. Weitz, Creating German Communism, 1890-1990: From Popular Protests to Socialist State. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1997
  6. ^ David Priestand, Red Flag: A History of Communism," New York: Grove Press, 2009
  7. ^ Der Spiegel, 22.07.1953
  8. ^ DER SPIEGEL - Personalien - 24.08.1960
  9. ^ Elly Winter über ihren Vater Wilhelm Pieck
Political offices
Preceded by
Karl Dönitz
(as President of the German Reich)
State President of the
German Democratic Republic

Succeeded by
Walter Ulbricht (as Chairman of the Council of State)
Party political offices
Preceded by
Post created
Co-chairman of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (with Otto Grotewohl)
Succeeded by
Walter Ulbricht (as First Secretary)