Walter Ulbricht (Dictionary of World Biography: Twentieth Century)
Article abstract: As Moscow’s loyal ally, Ulbricht helped to found East Germany and make it into the most stable and prosperous socialist state in Eastern Europe during his lifetime. His oppressive rule in the 1950’s and 1960’s, including the building of the Berlin Wall in 1961, prolonged the Cold War and cemented the political division of Germany.
Walter Ulbricht was born in Leipzig, Germany, on June 30, 1893. Son of an impoverished Social Democratic tailor, he learned about radical socialism at home and in the city’s seamy Naundörfchen workers’ district. The family’s poverty forced “Red Walter”—as he was known to classmates—to leave school at the age of fourteen and apprentice himself to a cabinetmaker. Ulbricht’s political education continued, however, first in Leipzig’s Socialist youth movement, and, after his journeyman travels across Europe in 1911 and 1912, in the Social Democratic Party (SPD). It was in this prewar, proletarian environment that his dogmatic Marxist outlook took shape.
World War I pushed this shy but talented young Socialist in radical new directions. In August, 1914, he joined revolutionary Social Democrat Karl Liebknecht in condemning his party’s support for the kaiser’s war. Drafted in 1915, he served unwillingly on the Macedonian front and, in 1918, on the Western Front, where he twice tried unsuccessfully to desert. Following the November,...
(The entire section is 1950 words.)
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