Obituary: Joachim Herrmann (CORRECTED)

CORRECTION (PUBLISHED 10 AUGUST 1992) APPENDED TO THIS ARTICLE

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.

CORRECTION

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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: One of the world's leading suppliers and manuf...

Recruitment Genius: Multiple Apprentices Required

£6240 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Apprentices are required to join a privat...

Sauce Recruitment: HR Manager

£40000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: This is an exciting opportunity for a HR...

Ashdown Group: Interim HR Manager - 3 Month FTC - Henley-on-Thames

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established organisation oper...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert