The weekend saw the death in her Chilean exile of Margot Honecker, visionary beauty and educator of German Democratic Republic communist youth, mourned by progressives worldwide. Germany bid a somewhat tearless farewell as the widow of the East German leader Erich Honecker was a prominent – and despised – figure.
The 89-year-old died from cancer on Friday and was cremated on Saturday in a small ceremony in the capital, Santiago, where she had lived since 1992. Though best known as the woman at the side of Erich Honecker, Margot Honecker was an accomplished – and feared – public figure in her own right. A hardline Stalinist, her 26 years as East German education minister from 1963, combined with her love of tinted hairdos, earned her the name the “purple witch”.
— Popehat (@Popehat) May 8, 2016
Born Margot Feist in 1927 in Halle, she joined the Communist Party after the Second World War and became its youngest MP in the new East German parliament in 1949.That year she met Erich Honecker, then head of the party’s youth wing, who got her pregnant despite being married and 15 years her senior.
After the birth of their daughter, Sonja, Erich Honecker divorced his wife, under pressure from East German chief Walter Ulbricht, and married Margot. Though their romance soon cooled, the couple maintained a powerful political alliance, particularly after Mr Honecker ousted Ulbricht in 1971 to head the Politburo.
Mrs Honecker was never elevated to this most inner of circles, but she was an influential figure in East German public life. Most controversial were her introduction of compulsory military education in all schools and forced adoptions of the children of couples who tried to flee the country. On her watch, East Germany also established prison-like institutions for “difficult” children. That legacy saw charges filed against her after the Berlin Wall fell, but they were eventually dropped as the statute of limitations had expired.
— El Siglo (@elsiglochile) May 6, 2016
In 1991 she fled to Chile, where her daughter lived with her husband and son. Erich Honecker joined them a year later but died of liver cancer in 1994. She was loathed by many Germans to the end, particularly after in 2012 she dismissed as “stupid” East Germans who were shot while trying to flee west.
Despite the political controversy, Mrs Honecker’s legacy lives on. Few of the teachers who visit Finland each year to study its world-class school system realise that it was itself inspired by the education system of East Germany – and Margot Honecker.
23 April 1976: Erich & Margot Honecker (centre of photo) dance at the opening of East Berlin's Palast der Republik pic.twitter.com/2y90wPjry4
— German at Portsmouth (@GermanAtPompey) April 23, 2016
No doubt Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn who went on a blissful motorcycle trip to the Worker’s Paradise of the DDR in the 70’s with Diane Abbot and inspected the Great Ant-Fascist Protection Barrier (or the Berlin Wall as it was known in the rest of the world) met this educational titan and will be expressing his fraternal condolences. Their epic trip is to be immortalised in London in a new musical “Corbyn the Musical: the Motorcycle Diaries.”
Margot Honecker (née Feist; 17 April 1927 – 6 May 2016) East German politician, who was “Minister of People’s Education” (Ministerin für Volksbildung) of the GDR (1963 -1989)