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Ernst Wollweber
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Ernst Wollweber

Ernst Wollweber (October 28, 1898-May 3, 1967) was Minister of East Germany’s Stasi from 1953 to 1957.

Born in Hanover in 1898, Wollweber joined the German Navy at a young age and served in the submarine department during World War I. In 1918, Wollweber participated in a sailor rebellion in Kiel and in 1919, joined the Communist Party of Germany. Wollweber rose quickly through the party structure, and by 1921 was a member of the KPD’s Central Committee and Political Secretary of Hesse-Waldeck. Two years later, Wollweber became a leader of the militant wings of the KPD in Hesse-Waldeck, Thuringia, and Silesia. Wollweber’s activities led to his arrest in 1924, after which time he was charged with high treason. Wollweber was released in 1926, and in 1928 he was elected a representative of the Prussian Federal State Parliament, a position he held until 1932. In 1929, he was elected to the Federal State Parliament of Lower Silesia and from 1932 to 1933 was a representative of the Reichstag. When the KPD was actively persecuted by the Nazis after the Reichstag Fire of February 1933, Wollweber was forced to flee to Copenhagen and later to Leningrad. From 1936 to 1940, Wollweber conducted international acts of sabotage against the ships of fascist nations, and was particularly active in Scandinavia. In 1937, Wollweber was a weapons provider for the Republican forces of Spain during the Spanish Civil War. A worldwide fugitive, Wollweber was finally apprehended in Sweden in 1940, where he nearly faced deportation to Germany. Instead, he was sentenced to three years of imprisonment. In 1944, he received Soviet citizenship and left Sweden for the USSR.

After World War II, Wollweber returned to Germany and joined the Socialist Unity Party of Germany in 1946. A year later, he became leader of the central management for shipping and in 1950, Undersecretary of State for the Ministry of Traffic. Around this time, he established the Wollweber Organization for the USSR, which taught Communist agents in nations in Eastern Europe and along the North Sea the art of sabotage. In June of 1953, Wollweber was made Undersecretary of State for the Shipping Office, but a month later he became Minister of State Security (the Stasi) after Wilhelm Zaisser was removed from the post. Wollweber improved the Stasi’s domestic powers as well as its international capabilities, transforming it into one of the most powerful intelligence and secret police agencies in the world. In 1954, Wollweber’s power increased when he became a delegate to the Volkskammer and a member of the SED’s Central Committee, but in 1956 his influence began to wane when he clashed with Walter Ulbricht and Erich Honecker on issues ranging from East Germany’s policies towards Poland to the estimate of the amount of anti-Communist groups within the GDR. In 1957, Wollweber voluntarily resigned as head of the Stasi and was succeeded by his deputy, Erich Mielke. In 1958, Wollweber was accused of anti-SED Parliamentary activity and removed from the Central Committee. Shortly thereafter, Wollweber resigned from the Volkskammer and lived in obscurity in East Berlin until his death in 1967.