Sputnik Escalates the Cold War
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Krenz, Egon (1937–)

Chairman of the Council of State of the German Democratic Republic (GDR, East Germany) during 1989. Born in present-day Kolberg, Poland, on 19 March 1937, Egon Krenz joined the Socialist Unity Party (SED) of East Germany in 1955 and progressed slowly through its ranks. Throughout most of his career, he scrupulously followed the party line.

Krenz became a member of the Politburo in 1983. When public protests forced Erich Honecker to resign on 18 October 1989, Krenz, a virtual unknown at that point, was drafted as his replacement. The hope was that Krenz could promulgate reform while maintaining the political stability and leadership of the SED. One of his first reforms went awry, however, when an easing of travel restrictions mistakenly announced by one of his ministers on television on 9 November 1989 led to the opening of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the SED regime. Krenz resigned on 7 December 1989.

Krenz joined the successor party of the SED, the reformed communist Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS), but his unrepentant attitude led the PDS to strip him of membership in 1990. In 1997, Krenz was tried on charges of electoral fraud and complicity in the deaths of almost one hundred persons who died trying to get across the Berlin Wall. Convicted, he was sentenced to six and a half years in prison. He maintained that events that had taken place in East Germany were not covered by either the West German or the new German code of law since East Germany had been a sovereign state. He also argued that both he and East Germany were not ultimately responsible, as the superpowers had "dictated actions on both sides." His appeal was rejected in 1999, however, and he entered prison. Released in 2003, Krenz retired to Dierhagen, Mecklenburg.

Timothy C. Dowling


Further Reading
Jarausch, Konrad. The Rush to German Unity. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994.; Maier, Charles. Dissolution: The Crisis of Communism and the End of East Germany. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1997.
 

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