Willi Stoph

Wilhelm Stoph (9 July 1914 – 13 April 1999) was an East German politician. He served as Chairman of the Council of Ministers (Prime Minister) of the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) from 1964 to 1973, and again from 1976 until 1989. He also served as chairman of the State Council (head of state) from 1973 to 1976.

Willi Stoph
Bundesarchiv Bild 183-R0430-0305A, Willi Stoph.jpg
Willi Stoph in April 1976
Chairman of the Council of Ministers
In office
21 September 1964 – 3 October 1973
PresidentWalter Ulbricht
Preceded byOtto Grotewohl
Succeeded byHorst Sindermann
In office
29 October 1976 – 13 November 1989
PresidentErich Honecker
Preceded byHorst Sindermann
Succeeded byHans Modrow
Chairman of the State Council
In office
3 October 1973 – 29 October 1976
Prime MinisterHorst Sindermann
Preceded byWalter Ulbricht
Succeeded byErich Honecker
Minister of Defence
In office
1 March 1956 – 14 July 1960
Prime MinisterOtto Grotewohl
Preceded byPosition created
Succeeded byHeinz Hoffmann
Minister of the Interior
In office
6 May 1952 – 1 July 1955
Prime MinisterOtto Grotewohl
Preceded byKarl Steinhoff
Succeeded byKarl Maron
Personal details
Born(1914-07-09)9 July 1914
Berlin, Prussia, German Empire
Died13 April 1999(1999-04-13) (aged 84)
Berlin, Germany
NationalityEast Germany
Political partyKPD (1928–1946)
SED (1946–1990)


Stoph was born in Berlin in 1914;[1] his father died the following year in World War I. In 1928, Stoph joined the Communist Youth League of Germany (Kommunistischer Jugendverband Deutschlands; KJVD) and in 1931 he joined the Communist Party of Germany. He also served in the Wehrmacht from 1935-37, and again during World War II from 1940-45. He was awarded the Iron Cross 2nd Class and rose to the rank of Unteroffizier. As the war ended, according to historian Harris Lentz, "Stopf worked with the Communist-dominated Socialist Unity party and served on the party's executive committee from 1947."[2]

Stoph (right) in NVA colonel-general uniform, 1957
Meeting West German Chancellor Willy Brandt (on his left), 1970

Following the establishment of the GDR in 1949, Stoph became a member of the Central Committee of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED) and member of the Volkskammer in 1950. He was named to the Politbüro in 1953. He served as Interior Minister from 9 May 1952 to 1 July 1955, and as East Germany's first Defense Minister from 18 January 1956 to 14 July 1960.[3][4] As defense minister, he was awarded the rank of Armeegeneral.

After having served as first deputy chairman of the Council of Ministers (first Deputy Prime Minister) from 1960-64, he was named Chairman of the Council of Ministers (Ministerrat), or Prime Minister, in 1964 after the death of Otto Grotewohl. However, he had been serving as acting chairman of the council since October 1960 due to Grotewohl's poor health. He was initially thought to be the heir apparent to longtime party leader Walter Ulbricht, but his ascendancy was checked by Erich Honecker.[4][5] After Ulbricht's death in 1973, Stoph became Chairman of the Council of State—a post equivalent in rank to president of the GDR. After Volkskammer elections in 1976, Honecker re-arranged the state and party leadership structure. Believing that Stoph's successor as prime minister, Horst Sindermann, was too liberal on economic matters, Honecker replaced him with Stoph.

Stoph to deliver New Year's Eve address, 1974

During his first stint as Prime Minister, Stoph began a series of negotiations with West German Chancellor Willy Brandt in 1970. It marked the first ever meeting between the leaders of East and West Germany.

Stoph was known as a man who could be trusted to carry out the directives of the SED's Politburo; indeed, Honecker tapped him for his second stint in the premiership for this reason.[4] For the most part, Stoph was a loyal supporter of Honecker. Although he nominally held the highest state post in the GDR, in practice he was outranked by Honecker, who derived most of his power from his post as general secretary of the SED.

However, Stoph joined the plot to remove Honecker in October 1989. At the Politburo meeting at which Honecker was voted out, Stoph made the motion to depose Honecker and replace him with Egon Krenz.[6] A month later, on 13 November, Stoph and his entire 44-member cabinet resigned in response to public pressure. Stoph was subsequently arrested for corruption in December 1989. In a desperate attempt to rebuild its image, the Party of Democratic Socialism, successor to the SED, expelled Stoph in January 1990. He was later spared detention due to medical reasons. In 1994, a court in Berlin decided that he should not get back his seized savings of 200,000 DM.

Stoph died in Berlin at the age of 84 on 13 April 1999 as the last surviving leader of East Germany before Egon Krenz.[4] He was buried in Wildau.


  1. ^ "Obituary: Willi Stoph". The Independent. April 21, 1999.
  2. ^ Harris M. Lentz (2014). Heads of States and Governments Since 1945. Routledge. p. 305. ISBN 9781134264902.
  3. ^ "East German ministries". Rulers. Retrieved 28 April 2013.
  4. ^ a b c d Saxon, Wolfang (22 April 1999). "Willi Stoph, 84, Premier, Twice, in East Germany". The New York Times. Retrieved 28 April 2013.
  5. ^ Dierk Hoffmann (2009). Otto Grotewohl 1894-1964 : Eine politische Biographie. Veröffentlichungen zur SBZ-/DDR-Forschung im Institut für Zeitgeschicht. p. 466-468.
  6. ^ Sebetsyen, Victor (2009). Revolution 1989: The Fall of the Soviet Empire. New York City: Pantheon Books. ISBN 978-0-375-42532-5.
Political offices
Preceded by
Karl Steinhoff
Minister of the Interior of the German Democratic Republic
Succeeded by
Karl Maron
Preceded by
none (position established)
Minister of National Defense of the German Democratic Republic
Succeeded by
Heinz Hoffmann
Preceded by
Otto Grotewohl
Chairman of the Council of Ministers
Succeeded by
Horst Sindermann
Preceded by
Walter Ulbricht
Chairman of the State Council of the German Democratic Republic
Succeeded by
Erich Honecker
Preceded by
Horst Sindermann
Chairman of the Council of Ministers
Succeeded by
Hans Modrow