Manfred Gerlach

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Manfred Gerlach
File:Bundesarchiv Bild 183-1986-0617-034, Prof. Dr. Manfred Gerlach.jpg
Gerlach in 1986
Chairman of the State Council
In office
6 December 1989 – 5 April 1990
Preceded by Egon Krenz
Succeeded by Sabine Bergmann-Pohl (as head of state)
Member of the Volkskammer
In office
Personal details
Born (1928-05-08)8 May 1928
Leipzig, Saxony, Weimar Republic
(now Germany)
Died 17 October 2011(2011-10-17) (aged 83)
Berlin, Germany
Political party Liberal Democratic Party of Germany
Free Democratic Party
Profession Politician

Manfred Gerlach (8 May 1928 – 17 October 2011) was a German jurist and politician, and the longtime leader of the East German Liberal Democratic Party. He served as Chairman of the Council of State and was thus head of state of East Germany from 6 December 1989 to 5 April 1990.[1]

Early life

Gerlach was born in Leipzig and became a member of the resistance during World War II. In 1943, he founded an illegal anti-fascist youth movement. He was arrested in March 1944 in connection with the plot to assassinate Hitler.

Political career

After the war, he studied law at the German Academy of State Sciences and Law "Walter Ulbricht" from 1951–1954. He worked as editor-in-chief of the Liberal-Democratic newspaper in Halle/Saale. In 1964, he earned his doctorate and would become a professor two decades later, in 1984. He was a co-founder of the Liberal Democratic Party of Germany (LDPD) and the Free German Youth (FDJ) in Leipzig. He was the LDPD youth leader of North-West Saxony from 1946–1950. From 1947–1952 he was also a member of the executive council of the Saxon LDPD from 1947–1952. In the 1950s, he was a mayor (Bürgermeister and deputy Oberbürgermeister) of the city of Leipzig.[1] He served as the LDPD's Vice-Chairman until 1953. From 1954–1967, he was the LDPD's General Secretary. At the LDPD's general party congress of 1967, he was elected as chairman of the LDPD. He remained chairman until 10 February 1990. From 1949 to 1990, Gerlach was a member of the People's Chamber. He was also one of the Deputy Chairmen of the Council of State (de facto Vice-President) from 1960 until 1990.[1]

He initially supported the Socialist Unity Party line of Gleichschaltung of the East German non-communist parties. However, he began to move away from total submissiveness towards the SED in the late 1970s. Under his leadership, the LDPD developed some small scale contacts with its West German counterparts, the Free Democrats (FDP). However, as a state functionary, he defended the nationalisation of the last substantive private enterprises.

Gerlach reportedly welcomed the liberalisation in the USSR started by Mikhail Gorbachev. His support for more liberalisation and pluralism in East Germany earned him remarkable popularity; popularity which he, however, lost due to his hesitant attitude during the overthrow of the SED in 1989.[2]

On 13 October 1989, Gerlach was the first important East German politician to publicly question the monopolistic role of the SED.[1] A few days later, on 18 October, SED leader Erich Honecker was finally deposed by his own Politburo. After the Fall of the Berlin Wall, Gerlach was elected Chairman of the Council of State and thus the first non-communist head of state of the GDR who was not a caretaker.[1] He held this post until April 1990, when the State Council was abolished in a prelude to reunification with West Germany.

In March 1990, Gerlach's party and two other liberal parties merged into the new Association of Free Democrats, which merged into the West German FDP after reunification. In November 1993, Gerlach resigned his FDP party membership.[1] In politics, his views thereafter became close to those of the Party of Democratic Socialism (the former SED). Gerlach was a signatory of the Berliner Alternatives Geschichtsforum,[3] which promoted more positive views on GDR history. Critics of the former communist regime have described these publications co-authored by former GDR high functionaries (e.g. Gerlach, Gerald Götting, Hans Modrow etc.) as whitewashing the SED dictatorship and working on the image of current Germany by using antifascist rhetoric.[4]

Gerlach had earned numerous state awards by the GDR, including the Patriotic Order of Merit and the Star of People's Friendship in 1964 and 1988 and the Order of Karl Marx in 1988.


On 17 October 2011, Gerlach died, aged 83, at a Berlin hospital following a long illness.[5]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 Rosemarie Preuß (1995). "Manfred Gerlach". In Gabriele Baumgartner, Dieter Hebig (ed.). Biographisches Handbuch der SBZ/DDR [Biographic Handbook on the Soviet Zone of Occupation/German Democratic Republic]. pp. 218–220.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Politik für die Freiheit - Manfred Gerlach Archived 2007-09-28 at the Wayback Machine
  3. Erklärung zum 50. Jahrestag des 17. Juni 1953
  4. Pflege eines Mythos in Rheinischer Merkur 25.05.2006
  5. "Last East German President Manfred Gerlach dies". The Washington Post. 18 October 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>


  • Manfred Gerlach: Wortmeldungen zur Zeitgeschiche. Buchverlag Der Morgen, Berlin 1980
  • Manfred Gerlach: Äußerungen über uns und unsere Zeit. Buchverlag Der Morgen, Berlin 1985
  • Manfred Gerlach: Standortbestimmung. Buchverlag Der Morgen, Berlin 1989
  • Manfred Gerlach: Mitverantwortlich: Als Liberaler im SED-Staat. Morgenbuch-Verlag, Berlin 1991, ISBN 3-371-00333-7
  • (English) David Childs, The GDR: Moscow's German Ally, London: George Allen & Unwin 1984
Political offices
Preceded by
Egon Krenz
Chairman of the Council of State of the German Democratic Republic
Succeeded by
Sabine Bergmann-Pohl
(President of the People's Chamber)

External links