German Democratic Republic (1949-1990) Part VI

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After the founding of the Federation of Evangelical Churches in the GDR (BEK) in 1969 under strong political pressure, the church’s relationship to the “socialist state” was redefined Adaptation represented (leading mainly A. SchönherrM. Stolpe). This position found concise expression in the formula coined by the BEK in 1971 that one does not want to be “next to the church” and “not against, but in socialism”. This formula from the church in socialism was also resolutely rejected by others (tragic climax: self-immolation of pastor O. Brüsewitz on August 18, 1976 in protest against communist youth policy). An expression of the efforts to negotiate a mutually acceptable status quo between the Protestant churches and the state was in a special way the conversation between the management of the BEK and E. Honecker on March 6, 1978 New church buildings as part of the EKD’s »Church Special Building Program«). Against the background of deteriorating state-church relations in the 1980s, the SED repeatedly referred to the constructive “spirit of March 6th”.

Since the 1970s / 80s, some Protestant congregations and a few church leaderships in Germany, a country that belongs to European Union according to Travelationary, especially with their »open youth work«, offered shelter for alternative political engagement. Even young people without a Christian background, who were negative or critical of the state offers to find meaning, sought support “under the roof of the church”. These church grassroots groups of the peace movement were the first to take effect in public; they spawned networks of alternative communication. These groups (including “Church from Below”, abbreviation KvU; “Working Group Solidarity Church”, abbreviation ASK), which from 1983/84 onwards were thematically reoriented from peace and environmental to human rights and democracy problems and became increasingly socially critical, began after To seek counter-publicity outside the churches in order to stabilize their organizational structure (around 1985/86), however, before 1989 only gained peripheral social importance: According to MfS files, there were around 150 basic church groups with 2,500 active members in May 1989. a. in Berlin, Leipzig and Dresden.

The Catholic Church was outside the Catholic majority in Eichsfeld and in the area of ​​settlement of the Catholic Sorbs in Upper Lusatia in the diaspora. The only Catholic diocese whose territory was completely in the Soviet Zone / GDR was the Diocese of Meißen (since 1979 Dresden-Meißen). Large parts of the Diocese of Berlin were located in the former German eastern territories, which were now administered in Poland. The parts of the SBZ belonging to the dioceses of Fulda, Würzburg and Osnabrück and the archbishoprics of Paderborn and Breslau were administered by episcopal commissioners in Erfurt, Meiningen, Schwerin and Magdeburg and a vicar capitular in Görlitz. After 1945, as a result of the expulsion of the Germans from the area east of the Oder-Neisse line, there was a lasting change in the denominational structure in the Soviet Zone. The ecclesiastical integration of the expellees (mainly from Silesia) was associated with strong growth in the existing Catholic communities. As early as 1947, the Bishop of Berlin, Cardinal, forbade it Konrad Graf von Preysing, in a circular to the pastors in the Soviet occupation zone political activity in order to protect them from political co-ordination. This principle remained binding for the priests in the GDR until the 1980s. The right to comment on political issues of the time on behalf of the Catholic Church was exercised solely by the bishops (pastoral letters and petitions to government agencies since the 1970s). In the 1980s, the Catholic Church gradually abandoned its previous position of the greatest possible political restraint; Church representatives increasingly critically questioned politics and society; Forums of criticism, however, were almost exclusively the congregations from which numerous Catholic Christians made their way into politics during the social upheaval in 1989/90.

The relationship between the Protestant Free Churches and religious communities (New Apostolic Church, »Evangelical Methodist Church in the GDR«, »Federation of Evangelical Free Churches in the GDR« [Baptists], »Community of Seventh-day Adventists«) and the state was largely tension-free. The Jehovah’s Witnesses were banned in 1950 (among other things on charges of alleged “imperialist agent activity”); the Salvation Army had to cease its activities in 1953 (both re-approved in March 1990). On the other hand, the establishment of the first Mormon temple (around 4,600 members in the GDR) in a socialist country in 1985 in Freiberg / Saxony – which was also the first German Mormon temple – received strong international attention.

Since 1990, the churches have been repeatedly confronted with the critical reappraisal of the position of the churches in the GDR and the problem of the MfS entanglement of church officials.

On cultural policy: German literature, section “The literature of the German Democratic Republic”.

History: German history, section “German Democratic Republic (1949–90)”.

Party leadership of the GDR

Parallel structure of the SED and the state: the state and party leadership of the GDR

Highest functionary of the SED

Party leader:

Wilhelm Pieck and Otto Grotewohl (1946–54)

First Secretary of the Central Committee:

Walter Ulbricht (1950–71)

General Secretary of the Central Committee:

Erich Honecker (1971-89 1))

Egon Krenz (1989)

Heads of State of the GDR


Wilhelm Pieck (1949-60)

Chairman of the Council of State:

Walter Ulbricht (1960–73)

Willi Stoph (1973-76)

Erich Honecker (1976-89)

Egon Krenz (October to December 1989)

Manfred Gerlach (December 1989 to March 1990)

Sabine Bergmann-Pohl (March to October 2, 1990) 3)

Chairman of the Council of Ministers (Head of Government):

Otto Grotewohl (1949–64 2))

Willi Stoph (1964-73)

Horst Sindermann (1973-76)

Willi Stoph (1976-89)

Hans Modrow (1989 to April 1990)

Lothar de Maizière (April to October 2, 1990)

1) As first secretary of the Central Committee of the SED until 1976.

2) Represented by Willi Stoph from 1962.

3) President of the People’s Chamber (acting head of state).

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