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Otto Grotewohl
Chairman of the Council of Ministers

In office
12 October 1949 – 21 September 1964
President Wilhelm Pieck
Walter Ulbricht
Preceded by None
Lutz Graf Schwerin von Krosigk, as last Head of Government of Nazi Germany
Succeeded by Willi Stoph
Co-Chairman of
the Socialist Unity Party of Germany

(with Wilhelm Pieck)

In office
22 April 1946 – 25 July 1950
Preceded by None (office created)
Succeeded by Walter Ulbricht (as First Secretary)
Personal details
Born (1894-03-11)11 March 1894
Braunschweig, Duchy of Brunswick, German Empire
Died 21 September 1964(1964-09-21) (aged 70)
East Berlin, East Germany
Nationality German
Political party USPD, SPD, SED
Spouse(s) Marie Martha Louise
Children 2
Profession Printer, politician

Otto Grotewohl (German pronunciation: [ˈɔtoː ˈɡʁoːtəvoːl]; 11 March 1894 – 21 September 1964) was a German politician and the first prime minister of the German Democratic Republic from 1949 until his death in 1964.


Grotewohl was born in the city of Braunschweig (which would be part of West Germany during the partition) on 11 March 1894 and his father was a master tailor.[1] Following World War I started his political career as a leader of the Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany (USPD) and minister in the Free State of Brunswick. From 1921 to 1923 he served as a secretary of the KPD district leadership Great -Thuringia in Jena, then he worked in the Berlin headquarters, traveled under the pseudonym Stephan Sublowiak in the party assignment to Vienna with his wife Martha in Leipzig, he stopped only for days or hours station. His daughter Dorle was born, and Otto regularly sent some money, but it was not enough and Martha had to earn and work as a seamstress. she was disappointed, saying "I thought I had married a carpenter".

In 1922 Grotewohl with the majority of the USPD members joined the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) and from 1925 was a member of the Reichstag parliament. Dismissed after the Nazi Machtergreifung in 1933 he was imprisoned several times.

21 April 1946: Pieck (left) and Grotewohl sealing the unification, Ulbricht in the foreground. Taken by Avraham Pisarek

After World War II he became a leader of the SPD in the Soviet occupation zone of Germany and, fiercely opposed by chairman Kurt Schumacher, led his party into a merger with the Communist Party under Wilhelm Pieck. Grotewohl, after initial hesitation, yielded to the pressure by the Soviet Military Administration and Walter Ulbricht. In April 1946, the KPD and the eastern branch of the SPD merged as the Socialist Unity Party (SED), with Pieck and Grotewohl as co-chairmen.

Prime minister

With the establishment of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) on 7 October 1949, Grotewohl became the GDR's first prime minister (Ministerpräsident), while Wilhelm Pieck served as state president. With the creation of the Council of Ministers (Ministerrat) government of the GDR in 1950 Grotewohl, as Ministerpräsident, became its first chairman. The actual power holder however was Walter Ulbricht, General Secretary of the governing SED Central Committee from 1950 onward.

Unlike most of his SED colleagues, Grotewohl was known to favour a more humane way of ruling the country. In a major speech to an SED party conference on 28 March 1956, Grotewohl condemned abuses in the legal system. He denounced illegal arrests, called for more respect for civil rights, and even asked the parliament to develop lively debate. He also made a veiled criticism of Justice Minister Hilde Benjamin's notoriously heavy-handed handling of political trials. He retained his posts due to the Kremlin's trust in him.

In 1960 he was diagnosed with leukemia, from which he died on 21 September 1964.[1] However, he had not been fully active since 1961, when he began receiving medical treatment in the Soviet Union.

His tomb in Berlin

He was awarded the Order of Karl Marx, the GDR's highest decoration, in 1952 and also the Soviet Union's Order of Lenin, the GDR's Order of Merit for the Fatherland in gold and he was a freeman of the city of Dresden.

Last years and death

In the fifties Grotewohl was repeatedly taken to the GDR government hospital. These were both minor examinations, in which he was evidently released on the same day, as well as in part multi-day stays.

However, the East German head of government was not only examined by specialist physicians in the GDR, who identified arteriosclerosis and incipient calcification of the coronary heart in 1953, but also took advantage of the medical care of top politicians in Moscow. So he was on 12 November 1953 in the Kremlin Polyclinic. Afterwards, he completed a three-and-a-half-week cure on the Black Sea. Grotewohl took advantage of these unofficial stays in Moscow to conduct political talks with the Kremlin, but there are no records. From 1955, Grotewohl's doctors were worried about the condition of his cardiovascular system; In 1959, they finally diagnosed incipient heart failure and pushed for a reduction in workload. Due to the persistent high blood pressure and the chronic become arrhythmia the physicians feared a heart attack. During the course of 1960, his health deteriorated rapidly, so that he was barely able to participate in the political daily business.[2]

On the 4th of April 1960 he traveled to a four-week relaxing holiday on the Black Sea; eight months later, he arrived again for several weeks in the Soviet sanatorium in Barwicha. After his return from the Soviet Union he reluctantly moved with his wife from Pankow to Wandlitz giving in to a previous decision from Ulbricht.[2]

Already at the end of October 1960 Grotewohl had commissioned his deputy Willi Stoph with the execution of the official business. The permanent cardiovascular disorders prevented Grotewohl's return to politics. He was no longer able to participate actively in the meetings of the leadership committees of the party and the government. As his eyesight also faded, he could no longer read any script. That is why there are hardly any public speeches from him at the beginning of 1961.[2]

Despite the clear medical situation a resignation from the post of Prime Minister was obviously out of the question. On the contrary: in September 1960 he became Deputy Chairman of the State Council, the collective body that was created on the base of the Presidency which was abolished after Wilhelm Pieck's death. Grotewohl finally died on September 21, 1964, at 12:35 noon the consequences of a brain haemorrhage.

A few hours later, the GDR flag on the Brandenburg Gate in East Berlin was lowered half-mast and the Deutscher Fernsehfunk broadcasting was interrupted. The GDR Council of Ministers ordered 3 day mourning period. He was lying in state in the SED Headqurters. On the 15th of October his ashes was placed in an urn at the Zentralfriedhof Friedrichsfelde.


After his death, the Wilhelmstrasse in East Berlin was renamed Otto-Grotewohl-Straße in his honor; the street retained this name until 1991, following German reunification. On 15 April 1986, the present-day Mohrenstraße U-Bahn station in eastern Berlin, then known as the Thälmannplatz station, was also renamed Otto-Grotewohl-Straße. The Third German School in Chapayesky Lane, Moscow, was named Otto Grotewohl School.

Personal life

Grotewhol's house in 46 Majakowskiring st.

Grotewohl was married to Marie Martha Louise, née Ohst, from 1919 until 1949 and the couple had two children, one of whom, Hans Grotewohl (1924–1999), was an architect who was sent by his father to lead a German Work Team for rebuilding Hamhung, North Korea in 1954. In 1949 he married his secretary Johanna Schumann, née Danielzik. He was an avid artist, painter, and amateur filmmaker.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Dennis Kavanagh (1998). "Grotewohl, Otto". A Dictionary of Political Biography. Oxford: OUP. p. 199. Retrieved 4 September 2013.   – via Questia (subscription required)
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Dierk Hoffmann (2009). Otto Grotewohl 1894-1964 : Eine politische Biographie. Veröffentlichungen zur SBZ-/DDR-Forschung im Institut für Zeitgeschicht. pp. 466–468. 

Further reading

  • Roth, Gary. "Review of Hoffmann, Dierk, _Otto Grotewohl (1894–1964): Eine politische Biographie_" H-German, H-Net Reviews. November 2010. online
  • Loeding, Matthias: Der Handlungsspielraum des Zentralausschusses (ZA) der SPD in Berlin im Jahre 1945. Dissertation, Hannover 2002.
  • Loeding, Matthias: Führungsanspruch und Einheitsdrang. Der Zentralausschuss der SPD in Berlin im Jahre 1945. Kovac, Hamburg 2002, ISBN 3-8300-0770-1.
  • Loeding, Matthias: Otto Grotewohl kontra Kurt Schumacher. Die Wennigsener Konferenz im Oktober 1945. Kovac, Hamburg 2004, ISBN 3-8300-1391-4.
  • Loeding, Matthias: Wie Phönix aus der Asche: Zur Rolle Otto Grotewohls bei der Gründung des Zentralausschusses der SPD in Berlin im Frühjahr/Sommer 1945. Grin-Verlag, München 2008, ISBN 978-3-638-94173-0. (Online Resource).
  • Hoffmann, Dierk: Otto Grotewohl (1894–1964). Eine politische Biographie. Oldenbourg, München 2009, ISBN 978-3-486-59032-6 (Veröffentlichungen zur SBZ-/DDR-Forschung im Institut für Zeitgeschichte).[1]
Political offices
Preceded by
Count Lutz Schwerin von Krosigk as Leading Minister of the German Reich
Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the GDR
Succeeded by
Willi Stoph
Party political offices
Preceded by
Post created
Co-Chairman of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany
(with Wilhelm Pieck)

Succeeded by
Walter Ulbricht (as First Secretary)

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