|First World War||Second World War||The Cold War|
Walter Ulbricht was born in Leipzig, Germany, in 1893. A member of the German Communist Party he studied in the Soviet Union and in 1928 was elected as a deputy for Potsdam and was a member of the Reichstag until 1933.
When Adolf Hitler gained power Ulbricht went to live in France. During the Spanish Civil War he fought with the International Brigades in defence of the Popular Front Government. After the war he went to live in the Soviet Union.
Ulbricht returned to Germany at the end of the Second World War. As leader of the German Communist Party he became deputy premier of the German Democratic Republic (East Germany). In 1946 Ulbricht became General Secretary of the Socialist Unity Party and was largely responsible for the sovietization of the country.
In 1953 Ulbricht suppressed a workers' uprising and in 1955 he signed the Warsaw Treaty of Friendship Cooperation and Mutual Assistance with Albania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, Romania and the Soviet Union. The Warsaw Pact was created in response to the decision to allow the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
In the fifteen years following the Second World War over 3 million people emigrated from the German Democratic Republic to Federal Republic of Germany. In August 1961 Ulbricht and Erich Honecker arranged for the building of the Berlin Wall in order to stem this flow of refugees.
Willy Brandt became Foreign Minister in the Federal Republic of Germany in 1966. He developed the policy of Ostpolitik (reconciliation between eastern and western Europe). As this recognised the independence of the German Democratic Republic, this policy was welcomed by Ulbricht.
Ulbricht suffered from poor health and he was forced to retire from office in 1971 and was replaced by Erich Honecker. Walter Ulbricht died in 1973.
(1) Alexander Dubcek, Hope Dies Last (1992)
Walter Ulbricht was a different kind of visitor. Along with Brezhnev, Ulbricht was the most unpopular foreign statesman in Czechoslovakia, so he was not the object of a local ovation when he came to Karlovy Vary, and I'm sure he didn't expect to be. He brought with him several Politburo members, such as Erich Honecker and Willi Stoph, so I brought several members of the Czechoslovak Presidium, including Smrkovsky and Cernik.
To agree with the goateed Ulbricht on anything required special tolerance: he was a dogmatist fossilized somewhere in Stalin's period, and I found him personally repugnant. I had heard that he liked to play volleyball, but looking at him I found it difficult to imagine that he could engage in any normal physical activity. All the same, under the circumstances I welcomed the mere fact that we met and talked, even if we disagreed. It was a relatively painless way to reduce tension. I have only a limited recollection of the meeting, but I remember that Ulbricht greatly amused the journalists at his press conference by his statement that there was no censorship in East Germany.