If you’ve watched The Lives of Others, you’ve probably noticed that East Germany seems to have been run by the kind of people usually seen only in Templar gatherings in Assassin’s Creed games. Not very friendly, and not really all that interested in self-improvement. [If you haven’t seen it, you should; it’s a really good movie, although it was criticized as being unrealistically optimistic—if you have seen it, let that one sink in—by the guy who runs the Stasi museum in Berlin].
Although she isn’t featured in the movie, Margot Honecker, the wife of President Erich Honecker, seems like she fit in pretty well with the ruling crowd. She died this week, and her obituary is filled with the kinds of details that had she been an American citizen, would have led to the obit starting with a mention of her “complicated” legacy (looking at you, Kissinger). Among her accomplishments:
During her 26 years as the chief architect of East Germany’s educational system, Mrs. Honecker shaped a generation of young minds and, in the process, became one of the most powerful and most feared figures in the repressive communist regime.
She was described as the “Purple Witch,” for the tinted wash she used in her hair, and was called the country’s most hated person, after the head of Stasi, the ruthless East German secret police.
As minister of education from 1963 to 1989, Mrs. Honecker shaped a program of indoctrination that began in nursery school, where pictures of the country’s leaders — including her husband’s — were displayed. Teachers were expected to inform on rebellious students.
The Russian language was taught in East German schools, and there were compulsory courses extolling socialism. Beginning in the 1970s, students were required to undergo military training.
“We have to defend socialism with all means,’’ Mrs. Honecker said at a rally in East Berlin in June 1989. “With words, deeds and, yes, with weapons if necessary.”
Afterward, documents suggested that Mrs. Honecker may have instigated a nefarious program of forced adoption in which the children of dissidents were forcibly taken from their homes to be raised by party loyalists. In spite of anecdotal evidence, Mrs. Honecker denied knowing of such a program.
People attempting to escape to the West, she said, were “criminals who today make out that they were political victims.’’
When they were killed at the border by land mines or by armed guards, Mrs. Honecker showed no remorse.
“There was no need for them to climb over the wall,” she said in 2012, “to pay for this stupidity with their lives.”
You know, not to speak ill of the dead or to tell a professional with decades of experience her business, but more than twenty years on, maybe “those dead people deserved what they got for climbing a fence” might not be the most rhetorically effective way to go.