Dictator's wife defiant over forced adoptions

Margot Honecker, a Communist-era minister now living in exile in Chile, left a cruel legacy of separated families

More than 2,000 Germans are still searching for family members lost as a result of the forced adoption policies instigated by Margot Honecker. The widow of Erich Honecker, the East German dictator who ordered the building of the Berlin Wall, lives in exile in South America on a German state pension. And 20 years after the collapse of the Iron Curtain she remains unrepentant. In a rare interview recently the 82-year-old insisted that people "lived good lives" under the regime headed by her husband.

The families torn apart by Mrs Honecker's children's policy would not agree. Under the policy, the children of dissidents and East Germans who attempted to flee to the West were forcibly and permanently separated from their parents. Many were placed in foster homes or state adoption institutions, or with the families of childless Communist party activists.

Many affected children and parents never saw each other again, but a search pool has been set up and is attempting to bring families back together. It has identified more than 2,000 individuals still suffering a family loss thanks to Mrs Honecker's legacy.

Eva Siebernherz, director of the programme, told The Independent: "This was one of the gravest human rights abuses perpetrated by East Germany's Communist regime. The state simply took away people's children. Parents and the children themselves are still suffering from the consequences 20 years after the fall of the Wall," she added.

Petra Hoffman lost two children to the "Youth Welfare" department. In 1971, as a 17-year-old government canteen worker, she had her first child, Mandy. The baby's father was a dissident, so Petra was forced to give up the child for adoption. "I tried to fight them but I was young. And all that happened was that they put me in jail as an enemy of the state," she told Bild newspaper. The judge at her trial called her "a rat gnawing away at the magnificent pillars of Socialism". A son she bore in 1974 was also taken from her and adopted without her consent. "They came to the door at night, pushed me aside, and stole him from his bed," she said. Petra and Mandy were reunited last month. She has still not traced her son.

Mrs Honecker was East Germany's People's Education Minister and was even more hardline about Communism than her husband. As well as forced adoptions, she introduced military and weapons training in schools. She fled to Chile in 1993 after the government in Santiago decided to reciprocate the sanctuary provided to its members by East Germany when they had fled the Pinochet regime. Her husband, in power between 1971 and 1989, joined her the same year, but died of cancer in 1994. He had initially fled to the Soviet Union, but was extradited back to Germany and tried for treason. His wife was investigated for her role in the child adoptions scandal, but never stood trial.

"I have had enough of the persecution that is inflicted on former citizens of the German Democratic Republic [GDR]," Mrs Honecker said in the interview. "In today's Germany ... there is hardly a television talk show, film or news programme that does not defame the GDR. But they haven't succeeded. Fifty per cent of East Germans say we are worse off under capitalism. We lived good lives in our GDR. You can say what you like, but the facts can't be ignored; more and more people are reminding themselves nowadays of what they had in the GDR. We can be sure that things are going to get worse in Germany, not for industry but for the working classes. But socialism will return – even in Germany."

At her home in Santiago, Mrs Honecker, once mocked for her blue rinsed hair, lives a life shielded from the press and rarely gives interviews. She is still celebrated however by left-wing South American activists. Last year she was lauded as a "Heroine of Socialism" in Nicaragua and decorated by President Daniel Ortega for her contributions to the cause of Revolutionary Socialism. She raised a clenched fist to show her appreciation.

Sport
footballLIVE City face Stoke, while Warnock returns to Palace dugout
Arts and Entertainment
books
Life and Style
3D printed bump keys can access almost any lock
gadgets + techSoftware needs photo of lock and not much more
News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment
Inside the gallery at Frederick Bremer School in Walthamstow
tvSimon Usborne goes behind the scenes to watch the latest series
Life and Style
Silvia says of her famous creation: 'I never stopped wearing it. Because I like to wear things when they are off the radar'
fashionThe fashion house celebrated fifteen years of the punchy pouch with a weighty tome
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
News
i100Steve Carell selling chicken, Tina Fey selling saving accounts and Steve Colbert selling, um...
Life and Style
A picture taken on January 12, 2011 shows sex shops at the Paris district of Pigalle.
newsThe industry's trade body issued the moratorium on Friday
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
News
i100
News
The slice of Prince Charles and Princess Diana's wedding cake and the original box from 29 July 1981
newsPiece of Charles and Diana's wedding cake sold at auction in US
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in his Liverpool shirt for the first time
football
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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 General

Junior VB.NET Application Developer (ASP.NET, SQL, Graduate)

£28000 - £30000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Junior VB.NET ...

C# .NET Web Developer (ASP.NET, JavaScript, jQuery, XML, XLST)

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Web De...

Clinical Negligence Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: HAMPSHIRE MARKET TOWN - A highly attr...

Network Engineer (CCNP, CCNA, Linux, OSPF, BGP, Multicast, WAN)

£35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Network Engineer (CCNP, CCNA, Linux, OSPF,...

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone