Margot Honecker (née Feist; 17 April 1927 – 6 May 2016) was an East German politician and influential member of the country's Communist government until 1989. From 1963 until 1989, she was Minister of National Education (Ministerin für Volksbildung) of the German Democratic Republic (GDR). She was married to Erich Honecker, leader of East Germany's ruling Socialist Unity Party from 1971 to 1989 and concurrently from 1976 to 1989 the country's head of state.

Margot Honecker
Honecker in 1986
First Lady of the
German Democratic Republic
In office
29 October 1976 – 18 October 1989
PresidentErich Honecker
Preceded byAlice Stoph
Succeeded byErika Krenz
Minister of People's Education
In office
14 November 1963 – 2 November 1989
Chairman of the
Council of Ministers
See list
  • Karl Dietzel
  • Rudolf Parr
  • Ernst Machacek
  • Werner Engst
  • Günther Fuchs
  • Karl-Heinz Höhn
Preceded byAlfred Lemmnitz
Succeeded byGünther Fuchs (acting)
Chairman of the
Ernst Thälmann Pioneer Organisation
In office
December 1949 – August 1955
Preceded byKurt Morgenstern
Succeeded byHeinz Plöger
Member of the Volkskammer
for Halle/Saale, Halle-Neustadt[1]
In office
15 October 1950 – 16 November 1989
Preceded byConstituency established
Succeeded byElke Gerhardt
Personal details
Margot Feist

(1927-04-17)17 April 1927
Halle (Saale), Province of Saxony, Free State of Prussia, Weimar Republic (now Saxony-Anhalt, Germany)
Died6 May 2016(2016-05-06) (aged 89)
Santiago, Chile
Resting placeParque del Recuerdo, Santiago
Political partyCommunist Party of Germany (1990)
Other political
Party of Democratic Socialism
Socialist Unity Party (1946–1989)
Communist Party of Germany (1945–1946)
(m. 1953; died 1994)
ChildrenSonja Honecker (b. 1952)
Residence(s)Santiago, Chile
  • Politician
  • Civil Servant
  • Commercial Clerk
  • Telephone Operator
Central institution membership

Other offices held

Margot Honecker was widely referred to as the "Purple Witch" ("Lila Hexe" in German) for her tinted hair and hardline Stalinist views,[2] and was described as "the most hated person" in East Germany next to Stasi chief Erich Mielke by former Bundestag president Wolfgang Thierse.[3] She was responsible for the enactment of the "Uniform Socialist Education System" in 1965 and mandatory military training in schools to prepare pupils for a future war with the west.[4] She was alleged to have been responsible for the regime's forced adoption of children of jailed dissidents or people who attempted to flee the GDR,[5] and is considered to have "left a cruel legacy of separated families."[4] Honecker also established prison-like institutions for children, including a camp at Torgau known as "Margot's concentration camp."[6] She was one of the few spouses of a ruling Communist Party leader who held significant power in her own right, as her prominence in the regime predated her husband's ascension to the leadership of the SED.

Following the downfall of the communist regime in 1990, Honecker fled to the Soviet Union with her husband to avoid criminal charges from the government of reunified Germany.[7] Their asylum pleas were never acted upon in light of similar problems befalling the Soviet government. Fearing extradition to Germany, they took refuge in the Chilean embassy in Moscow in 1991, but the following year her husband was extradited to Germany by Yeltsin's Russian government to face criminal trial, and detained in the Moabit prison.[8][9] Margot Honecker then fled[10] from Moscow to Chile to avoid a similar fate.[11] At the time of her death, she lived in Chile with her daughter Sonja.

Honecker left the party in 1990, after her husband's expulsion, and both later became members of the small fringe Communist Party of Germany,[12] considered extremist by German authorities.[13] Formed in East Berlin in January 1990, the party claims to be the direct successor of the historical party formed in 1918 and is known for its support for North Korea's government; however, it operates only in the territory of the former East Germany.

Early life


Honecker was born Margot Feist in Halle on 17 April 1927,[14] the daughter of a shoemaker, Gotthard Feist (1906–1993), and a factory worker, Helene Feist (c. 1906–1940). Her parents were members of Communist Party of Germany (KPD). Her father was imprisoned in Lichtenburg concentration camp in the 1930s and from 1937 until 1939 in Buchenwald concentration camp. Gestapo agents searched the family apartment for evidence of subversive activities on several occasions. After graduating from elementary school, she was a member of the Nazi Party's girls' organisation Bund Deutscher Mädel, in which membership was compulsory, from 1938 to 1945.[15][16] Her mother died in 1940 when Margot was 13 years old.

Her brother Manfred Feist later became the leader of the Foreign Information department within the party's Central Committee.[17]


Honecker congratulates Wilhelm Pieck on his election as the first GDR President in 1949.

In 1945, Margot Feist joined the KPD. After April 1946, with the contentious merger of the SPD and KPD, she became a member of East Germany's next ruling party, the Socialist Unity Party (Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands / SED), working in Halle as a shorthand typist with the FDGB (Trades Union Federation) regional executive for Saxony-Anhalt.[15]

In 1946, Feist also joined the regional secretariat of the Free German Youth (FDJ)—effectively the youth wing of the ruling party—in Halle. She then began a meteoric rise through its various departments. In 1947, she became the leader of the culture and education department in the FDJ's regional executive, and in 1948, secretary of the FDJ's central council as well as chairperson of the Ernst Thälmann Pioneer Organisation.

Margot Feist (right) in the Volkskammer,1951. During this period, she was having an affair with Erich Honecker.

By 1949, Feist was a member of the GDR's precursor parliament (German: Volksrat). That year, aged 22, she was elected as a representative in the newly founded People's Chamber (German: Volkskammer).[18]

Margot Feist met her future husband, Erich Honecker, at FDJ meetings when he was the chairman of the Freie Deutsche Jugend. Honecker was already married, as well as being fifteen years her senior. The relationship between them developed when Feist, in her capacity as leader of the "Ernst Thälmann young pioneers", joined the East German delegation that traveled to Moscow for the celebration of Stalin's official birthday. The delegation was led by Erich Honecker.[19] After she became pregnant and gave birth to their daughter Sonja in 1952, Honecker divorced his second wife Edith[20] and married Margot.[14][21]

Minister of National Education


In 1963, Honecker became Minister of National Education (German: Volksbildungsministerin), after a period occupying the office as Acting Minister. On 25 February 1965, she introduced the law that made "the uniform socialist education system" standard in all schools, colleges and universities throughout East Germany.[18]

For her work as Minister of National Education, Honecker was awarded the Order of Karl Marx, the nation's highest award, in 1977.[22]

In 1978, Honecker introduced, against the opposition of the churches and many parents, military lessons (German: Wehrkunde) for 9th and 10th grade high school students (this included training on weapons such as aerial guns and the KK-MPi).[23] Her tenure lasted until early November 1989.[24]

Though the accusations were never proven,[16] Honecker was allegedly responsible for the regime's kidnapping and forced adoption of children of jailed dissidents and those who tried to flee the GDR, and she is considered to have "left a cruel legacy of separated families."[4] She dismissed the allegations that she had directed a program of forced adoptions, saying "It didn’t exist".[16] Honecker also established prison-like institutions for children, including a camp at Torgau known as "Margot's concentration camp."[6]

In 1990, charges were made against Honecker as Minister of Education. These included accusations that she had arranged politically motivated arrests, separated children against their will from their parents, and ordered compulsory adoptions of children from persons deemed unreliable by the state.[25]

Loss of power


During the Peaceful Revolution of 1989, Honecker briefly remained in office after her husband's ousting as leader of the Socialist Unity Party in October 1989, but was sacked from cabinet on 2 November.[26] On 4 February 1990, she resigned from the Party of Democratic Socialism,[27] successor of the SED; her husband had been expelled two months earlier. She later joined the newly refounded Communist Party of Germany (KPD).

Flight to Moscow and Chile


A new arrest warrant against Erich Honecker was issued in December 1990,[28][29] but there was no immediate arrest. In March 1991, the couple were flown in a Soviet military jet[30] to Moscow from the Sperenberg Airfield near Berlin.[31] As soon as they arrived in Moscow, Margot's husband was taken directly to a Red Army hospital where his cancer was diagnosed.[31] The two of them were then installed in a government dacha and treated as honoured guests, while one by one their Kremlin comrades fell from power.[31] Boris Yeltsin was already busy building up his power base in Moscow, and Erich Honecker's desperate last letter to President Gorbachev went unanswered.[31]

In August 1991, as the Soviet Union collapsed, the Honeckers, fearing they might find themselves handed over to the German authorities, took refuge in the Chilean embassy, where for nearly a year they lived out of a suitcase in a small room.[31]

They hoped to be able to fly directly from Moscow to a Chilean exile, but the German government had other ideas. The Russian leadership refused to become involved: it fell to German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and Chilean President Patricio Aylwin to negotiate a future for the Honeckers. There was public and political pressure in Germany for the East German leadership to be held accountable for the killings of people attempting to escape over the Berlin Wall between 1961 and 1989, while Chile had itself only recently emerged from dictatorship: Margot's own son-in-law was one among several thousand Chilean political dissidents from the Pinochet years who had reason to be grateful to the old East German political establishment that had welcomed them as political exiles during the 1970s and 1980s.[31]

Formally, the negotiations between Kohl and Aylwin were defined by tensions between the Chilean determination to uphold the Honeckers' right to political asylum and Germany's legal agreements on extradition: for some months, the discussions were characterised by mutual intransigence.[31] In the end, on 29 July 1992, Erich Honecker was sent on a special flight to face trial in Berlin, but his wife did not accompany him.[32] Margot Honecker instead flew to Santiago to join her daughter Sonja and her family,[32] who had been living in Chile since 1990.

Post-GDR exile


After 1992, Margot Honecker lived in Santiago, Chile,[33] with her daughter, son-in-law, and grandson: Sonja Honecker de Yáñez, Leo Yáñez Betancourt, and Roberto Yáñez Honecker.[34]

In January 1993, Erich Honecker's trial in Berlin, which some felt had by that stage already descended into farce, was cut short because of the rapidly deteriorating health of the accused.[23][35] He left Berlin for the last time on 13 March 1993, bound for Chile.[31] Honecker lived with his wife and daughter, whose own twenty-year marriage ended in divorce the year after her parents moved in.[36] He died of liver cancer at the age of 81 on 29 May 1994 in Santiago. His body was cremated.[citation needed]

In 1999, Margot Honecker failed in her legal attempt to sue the German government for €60,300 of property confiscated following reunification. In 2001, her appeal to the ECtHR failed.[37][38] She received a survivor's pension and the old-age pension of the German old-age pension insurance federation of about 1,500 euros, which she regarded as insolently sparse.[39]

In 2000, Luis Corvalán, the former General Secretary of the Communist Party of Chile, published the book The Other Germany – the GDR. Discussions with Margot Honecker, in which Honecker speaks about the history of the GDR from her perspective.[40]

On 19 July 2008, on the occasion of the 29th anniversary of the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua, Honecker was awarded the "Rubén Dario" order for cultural independence from President Daniel Ortega. The award was in recognition of Honecker's untiring support of the national campaign against illiteracy in the 1980s.[33] This honor was Honecker's first public appearance since the fall of the Berlin Wall. Honecker was reported to have said she was grateful for the honor, but said nothing publicly. The left-wing heads of state of Paraguay and Venezuela, Fernando Lugo and Hugo Chávez, also took part in the celebrations in Managua.[33]

To the day she died, Honecker continued to defend the old East Germany and identified herself as a hardline Communist. In October 2009, Honecker celebrated the 60th anniversary of the founding of the GDR with former Chilean exiles who had sought asylum in East Germany. She participated in singing a patriotic East German song and gave a short speech in which she stated that East Germans "had a good life in the GDR" and that many felt that capitalism has made their lives worse.[41] In 2011, author Frank Schuhmann published a book entitled Letzte Aufzeichnungen – Für Margot (Final Notes – For Margot in English) based on the 400-page diary kept by Erich Honecker during his stay in Berlin's Moabit prison beginning in July 1992.[42] The diary was given to the author by Margot Honecker.[42]

On 2 April 2012, Honecker gave an interview during which she defended the GDR, attacked those who helped to "destroy" it, and complained about her pension.[43] She felt that there was no need for people to climb over the Berlin Wall and lose their lives. She suggested that the GDR was a good country and that the demonstrations were driven by the GDR's enemies. "The GDR also had its foes. That's why we had the Stasi," she said.[44]

In a 2012 interview with Das Erste, Honecker labelled Mikhail Gorbachev a "traitor" for his reforms and called the defectors of East Germany "criminals and terrorists." She said that the Federal Republic of Germany, the European Union, and the United States would collapse. Honecker said that she also supports Russian president Vladimir Putin. [45]



Margot Honecker died in Santiago on 6 May 2016, at the age of 89.[46] On her death, historian Hubertus Knabe, director of the Berlin-Hohenschönhausen Memorial, said that "she never critically reflected on what she had done. Up until her death she was an evil, unrepentant woman."[47][48] Her funeral was described by German media as "bizarre", featuring 50 "diehard" communists with East German flags.[49] Victims associations and Roland Jahn, Federal Commissioner for the Stasi Records, criticised the funeral.[50]


Honecker is a recurring antagonist in the 2022 German Netflix spy thriller Kleo. She is played by Steffi Kühnert.

Honecker was considered to be a fashionable feminist trendsetter across the Eastern Bloc, particularly because of her stylish clothing, her power as a rare female leader in a male-dominated Communist party world, and her trademark blue rinse hair.

Awards and honors





  1. ^ Schmidt, Arthur. "Volkskammer der Deutschen Demokratischen Republik 1986-1990, Seite 33" (PDF). Retrieved 7 September 2023.
  2. ^ Honecker's widow belittles Berlin Wall victims, Reuters; Kate Connolly (2 April 2012). "Margot Honecker defends East German dictatorship". The Guardian.;"Exile in Chile: Former East German Leader's Wife Is Homesick". Der Spiegel. 7 February 2012.;"Purple witch decries fall of the Wall". The Scotsman.; Sven Felix Kellerhoff (16 April 2007). "Margot Honecker: Die meistgehasste Frau der DDR". Die Welt.; "Margot Honecker, Widow of East German Ruler, Dies at 89". The New York Times. 7 May 2016.
  3. ^ "Margot Honecker, widow of former East German leader, dies in Chile". Deutsche Welle.
  4. ^ a b c Tony Paterson (10 November 2009). "Dictator's wife defiant over forced adoptions". The Independent.
  5. ^ "Margot Honecker, communist – obituary". The Daily Telegraph. London. 9 May 2016.
  6. ^ a b Reuters Editorial (7 May 2016). "East Germany's 'Purple Witch' Margot Honecker dies in Chile aged 89". Reuters UK. {{cite web}}: |author= has generic name (help)
  7. ^ "No apologies: Honecker′s widow breaks silence". Deutsche Welle. 4 April 2012.
  8. ^ "Honecker Flown to Berlin to Face Criminal Trial". The New York Times. 30 July 1992.
  9. ^ "Germans rip Honecker's wife for not standing by him". tribunedigital-baltimoresun.
  10. ^ "Margot Honecker, the 'Purple Witch' of East Germany, dies aged 89". The Daily Telegraph. London. 7 May 2016.
  11. ^ "Margot Honecker flies from Moscow to Chile". UPI. 30 July 1992.
  12. ^ Die Rote Fahne. June 2012, p. 2
  13. ^ "Glossar: Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands (KPD)". Verfassungsschutz.
  14. ^ a b "East Germany's Former First Lady Turns 80". Deutsche Welle. 17 April 2007. Retrieved 20 October 2010.
  15. ^ a b Monika Kaiser; Helmut Müller-Enbergs. "Honecker, Margot geb. Feist * 17.4.1927 Ministerin für Volksbildung". Wer war wer in der DDR?. Ch. Links Verlag, Berlin & Bundesstiftung zur Aufarbeitung der SED-Diktatur, Berlin. Retrieved 8 May 2016.
  16. ^ a b c "Margot Honecker, East German Hard-Liner and Widow of Ruler, Dies at 89". The New York Times. 7 May 2016.
  17. ^ Andreas Herbst; Helmut Müller-Enbergs. "Feist, Manfred * 6.4.1930 Leiter der Abteilung Auslandsinformation des ZK der SED". Wer war wer in der DDR?. Ch. Links Verlag, Berlin & Bundesstiftung zur Aufarbeitung der SED-Diktatur, Berlin. Retrieved 8 May 2016.
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  20. ^ Bernd-Rainer Barth; Helmut Müller-Enbergs. "Baumann, Edith (verh. Honecker-Baumann) * 1.8.1909, † 7.4.1973 Generalsekretärin der FDJ, Sekretärin des ZK der SED". Wer war wer in der DDR?. Ch. Links Verlag, Berlin & Bundesstiftung zur Aufarbeitung der SED-Diktatur, Berlin. Retrieved 8 May 2016.
  21. ^ Martin Sabrow (20 August 2012). "Der unterschätzte Diktator". Der Spiegel (online). Retrieved 8 May 2016.
  22. ^ "Former Mayor or Not, the Law Must Prevail". Vancouver Sun. Vancouver, British Columbia. 18 April 1977 – via
  23. ^ a b Sven Felix Kellerhoff [in German] (16 April 2007). "Margot Honecker: Die meistgehasste Frau der DDR". Die Welt (online). Retrieved 20 October 2009.
  24. ^ Stephanie Wilde (2003). Secondary Schools in Eastern Germany: A Study of Teachers' Perceptions in Brandenburg Gesamtschulen. Herbert Utz Verlag. p. 2. ISBN 978-3-8316-0199-8. Retrieved 29 August 2013.
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  26. ^ "WORLD: Honecker Wife Out of Cabinet". Los Angeles Times. 2 November 1989. Retrieved 26 February 2017.
  27. ^ "Margot Honecker". FemBio (in German). Retrieved 26 February 2017.
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  29. ^ Thomas Kunze (September 2013). Footnote 473. CH. Links Verlag, Berlin. ISBN 978-3-86284-234-6. {{cite book}}: |work= ignored (help)
  30. ^ "Wir wollten ihn loswerden". Der Spiegel (online). 3 August 1992. Retrieved 10 May 2015.
  31. ^ a b c d e f g h Text based on a television documentary entitled "Honeckers Flucht" by Thomas Grimm (2002). "Das Ende der Honecker-Ära ... Flucht nach Moskau". Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk, Leipzig. Archived from the original on 4 June 2016. Retrieved 10 May 2016.
  32. ^ a b "Margot Honecker ist tot". Die Zeit. Die Zeit (online). 6 May 2016. Retrieved 10 May 2016.
  33. ^ a b c "Widow of East German Leader Feted in Nicaragua". SPIEGEL-ONLINE. 21 July 2008. Retrieved 20 October 2009.
  34. ^ "Mi pensamiento sigue vigente". Qué Pasa. 24 October 2009. Archived from the original on 7 July 2011. Retrieved 29 January 2010.
  35. ^ Sydow, Christoph (11 January 2013). "Honeckers Haftentlassung: Uneinsichtig bis zuletzt". Der Spiegel. Retrieved 10 May 2016.
  36. ^ Wolfram Eilenberger [in German] (29 November 2006). "Margots Welt". Seit vierzehn Jahren lebt Margot Honecker in Santiago de Chile, 18 Flugstunden von der Heimat entfernt. Wie bewältigt die 79-Jährige ihren chilenischen Alltag?. Christoph Schwennicke i.A. Res Publica Verlags GmbH, Berlin (Cicero online – Magazin für politische Kultur). Retrieved 10 May 2016.
  37. ^ "HUDOC – European Court of Human Rights".
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  39. ^ Malzahn, Claus Christian (2 April 2012). "Margot-Honecker findet 1500 Euro Rente unverschämt". Die Welt. Retrieved 7 May 2016.
  40. ^ "Conversaciones con Margot Honecker : la otra Alemania, la RDA". Catalogue of National Library of Chile.
  41. ^ Barkin, Noah (1 November 2009). "Purple witch decries fall of the Wall". The Scotsman. Edinburgh.
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  44. ^ "Margot Honecker Interview defending the GDR". The Guardian. 2 April 2012.
  45. ^ "Margot Honecker, Widow of East German Dictator, Defends Regime in Shocking Interview". Huffington Post. 3 April 2012.
  46. ^ "Muere en Chile Margot Honecker, la mujer fuerte de la Alemania comunista". 6 May 2016. Archived from the original on 6 May 2016. Retrieved 6 May 2016.
  47. ^ Reuters Editorial (7 May 2016). "East Germany's 'Purple Witch' Margot Honecker dies in Chile aged 89". Reuters. {{cite web}}: |author= has generic name (help)
  48. ^ "Margot Honecker – Unbelehrbar bis zum Schluss," Frankfurter Rundschau, 6. May 2016
  49. ^ "Bizarre Trauerfeier für Margot Honecker in Chile". B.Z. 8 May 2016. Retrieved 26 February 2017.
  50. ^ "Abschied von Margot Honecker". Zeit Online (in German). 8 May 2016. Retrieved 26 February 2017.
  51. ^ Hubrich, Dirk (June 2013). "Verleihungsliste zum Ehrentitel "Held der Arbeit" der DDR von 1950 bis 1989" (PDF). Deutsche Gesellschaft für Ordenskunde e.V. (in German). Retrieved 4 July 2023.
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  53. ^ "Homage to Honecker". DW News. 21 July 2008. Retrieved 4 July 2023.

Further reading

  • Corvalán, Luis (2000). Conversaciones con Margot Honecker. La otra Alemania, la RDA. Ediciones Ical. ISBN 956288693X.
  • Honecker, Margot (1968). The social function of our schools: speech delivered by Margot Honecker, Minister of Education, at the 8th Educational Congress. Panorama DDR.
  • Stuhler, Ed (2003). Margot Honecker. Ueberreuter. ISBN 978-3-8000-3871-8.
  • LLC (2010). Education Ministers of Germany: Margot Honecker, Jrgen Mllemann, Jrgen Rttgers, Klaus Von Dohnanyi, Annette Schavan, Jrgen Schmude. General Books. ISBN 978-1-157-05224-1.
  • De Nevers, Renée (2003). Comrades no more: the seeds of political change in Eastern Europe. MIT Press. ISBN 978-0-262-54129-9.
  • Pritchard, Rosalind M. O. (1999). Reconstructing education: East German schools and universities after unification. Berghahn Books. ISBN 978-1-57181-954-3.