An officer in the Communist International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War, Mielke went to France and Belgium at the end of the war in 1939, remained in hiding, and worked for the Communist Party. From 1944 to 1945 he worked under an assumed name in the Organization Todt, which handled construction projects throughout territory occupied by the German Army during World War II.
Mielke returned to Berlin in June 1945 and soon became head of the police and justice department for the Central Committee of the KPD. In 1946 he joined the newly founded Socialist Unity Party (SED), rising through its ranks until his appointment as minister of Stasi in 1957, a post he held until 1989. In 1971 he was appointed a Politburo member candidate, and in 1976 he became a full member of the SED's Politburo. In 1980 he was awarded the highest rank of army general. On 7 November 1989, following the fall of East German leader Erich Honecker in October 1989 in which Mielke had played a part, he resigned as minister and left the Politburo the following day.
Expelled from the SED, Mielke was arrested in December 1989 and charged with damaging the East German economy, myriad crimes perpetrated via the Stasi, and encouraging terrorism. Sentenced in 1993 to six years' imprisonment for the murder of the German police officers in 1931, he was released after two years because of poor health. He died in a nursing home in Berlin-Hohenschönhausen on 21 May 2000.
Koehler, John O. Stasi: The Untold Story of the East German Secret Police. New York: Basic Books, 2000.; Krüger, Dieter, and Armin Wagner. Konspiration als beruf: Deutsche Geheimdienstchefs im Kalten Krieg [Conspiracy as a Career: German Secret Service Chiefs in the Cold War]. Berlin: Ch. Links, 2003.; Otto, Wilfriede. Erich Mielke: Biographie; Aufstieg und fall eines Tschekisten [Erich Mielke: Biography; Rise and Fall of Chekist]. Berlin: Karl Dietz, 2000.