Obituary: Joachim Herrmann (CORRECTED)


Joachim Herrmann, journalist and politician, born Berlin 29 October 1928, Chief Editor Junge Welt 1949-52, Berliner Zeitung 1962-65, Neues Deutschland 1971-78, Member Volkskammer Berlin 1972-89, Candidate Member SED Politburo 1973-78, Member 1978-89, Secretary for Agitation and Propaganda 1978-89, died 30 July 1992.

'Big, blond and blue-eyed' was how Joachim Herrmann was described when he was appointed editor-in-chief of Junge Welt, the daily newspaper of the East German Communist youth organisation (FDJ). That was in 1954. Herrmann owed his promotion to Erich Honecker, who had founded the FDJ in 1946. From the point of view of his own advancement, Honecker had made a wise choice, because Herrmann was to remain faithful to his mentor to the end of the Communist regime. When Honecker was removed in October 1989, Herrmann fell with him and with Gunter Mittag. Later they were expelled from the party they had helped to found.

Born of working-class parents in Berlin in 1928, Herrmann started out as a messenger boy and then an apprentice at the Berliner Zeitung in 1945. He joined the Communist-dominated Socialist Unity Party (SED) when it was established in 1946, working his way up the ladder to become the deputy editor-in-chief of Junge Welt in 1949. He remained there until 1952, when he was sent to Moscow to be trained at the university of the Soviet youth movement. Thus, as one of the 'Moscow-trained' cadre, he could be trusted by the Soviets and by the Ulbricht- Honecker group in the German Democratic Republic (GDR).

Although Herrmann, like the rest, had sung the praises of the 'Great' Stalin before 1953, he was able to overcome the shock of the posthumous dethronement of the 'great teacher'. In the Khrushchev years of reform and the GDR's 'open frontier' to the West, he had the task of keeping youth on the party line. During this same period he took a leading part in the fight against the Christian youth groups and the growing influence of Western pop culture. Elvis Presley and blue jeans were taken seriously by Honecker and Herrmann as part and parcel of Western ideological subversion. Their failure to convince was apparent with the tens of thousands of young people who left the GDR for the West via Berlin each year.

In 1960 Herrmann gave up the editorship of Junge Welt and was moved to work in the 'Big House', the HQ of the Central Committee of the SED. Between 1962 and 1965, a period of relative cultural liberalisation, he worked as editor-in-chief of his old paper Berliner Zeitung. This paper was supposed to be a more popular mass paper then most of the other GDR papers. As the political climate got a degree or two cooler after the fall of Khrushchev in 1964, Herrmann was appointed State Secretary for West German Affairs, a post he occupied from December 1965 to July 1971.

This was a period of intense and bitter ideological warfare with West Germany. Under Herrmann's auspices, replicas of West German papers were produced, full of SED propaganda, to be given to visiting West Germans. Herrmann was also involved in the many propaganda campaigns against West German politicians during these years.

When Honecker ousted Walter Ulbricht as First Secretary of the SED in 1971 he moved to promote his own men from his early days in the FDJ. Herrmann was given the prestigious job of editor-in-chief of the central organ of the SED, Neues Deutschland. He was also given full membership of the Central Committee. In 1973 he joined the ruling Politburo as a candidate, attaining full membership status in 1978. In the latter year he was appointed Secretary for Agitation and Propaganda which gave him overlordship of the entire media of the GDR. This position he held until 1989 when he fell out with Honecker.

Herrmann was rightly held responsible for the poor showing of the GDR media over the years. There was a total divorce between what they put out about events in the GDR, and elsewhere, and the daily reality discovered by their consumers.

Joachim Herrmann was not a hated figure in the manner of Honecker, or Mielke, the secret police chief. He was detested by many in the media, both by those whose careers he had ruined and by those who wanted a reformed, yet socialist, GDR. They believed, wrongly, that if the media had used the many talented people available to create the image of socialism with a human face, the GDR could have been saved.


An error occurred in the obituary of Joachim Herrmann (by David Childs, 6 August): Herrmann did not fall out with Erich Honecker in 1989, as printed, he 'fell with Honecker'. The two men remained political allies.

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