Walter Ulbricht

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Walter Ulbricht

Growing up in Leipzig, Germany, Walter Ulbricht was born to working class parents on June 30, 1893.  He only attended school for eight years before he was trained as a cabinet maker.  In 1908, he joined the Socialist Workers Youth movement and in 1912 officially joined the German Socialist Party.  In 1915, during World War I, he fought for the German Army up until his desertion in 1918.  During his participation in the German Army, Ulbricht joined the radical Spartacus League.  This league was the predecessor to the German Communist Party (KPD). Ulbricht became an important member of this party in 1923, and was elected to the KPD’s central committee.  Later in 1928, he was elected to the Reichstag, which was home to German’s parliament at the time, and continued to be a member up until 1933.  When Hitler took control of Germany, Ulbricht fled the country because Hitler was imprisoning the KPD’s leaders and banned the party.

As World War II drew to a close, Ulbricht finally returned to Germany in 1945.  He played a key role when the KPD merged with the Social Democratic Party (SPD) in 1946 to create the Socialist Unity Party (SED).  In 1949, Ulbricht became the deputy prime minister of Eastern Germany.  Then in 1950, he was elected to the position of general secretary in the SED, which made him the leader of the Communist party.   He signed the Warsaw Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance in 1955 as a response to the decision of letting Western Germany, also known as the Federal Republic of Germany, join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.  The Warsaw Pact was an agreement between Bulgaria, Albania, Hungary, Poland, Czechoslovakia, the Soviet Union, and Romania. Following the death of President Wilhelm Pieck in 1960, the presidential role was abolished, and a council of state took its place.  Walter Ulbricht formally became the chairman of this council and therefore, became Germany’s newest leader.


Due to the millions of refugees fleeing from Eastern Germany in the years following World War II, a resolution was formed to stem the flow. In August of 1961, Ulbricht along with Erich Honecker had the Berlin Wall built.  The Berlin Wall separated the Eastern and Western parts of Berlin, and was a success in stopping the fleeing refugees.  Suffering from poor health, Ulbricht retired from his leadership role in 1971 and was replaced by Erich Honecker.  Despite leaving the office, he still retained the title of head of state until his death.  Walter Ulbricht died on August 1, 1973 at the age of eighty in Dollnsee near Berlin. Ulbricht played an important role in the early development of Eastern Germany and is well known for his “imprisonment” of his people.  His implementation of communist ideals, along with his close ties to the Soviet Union, made Ulbricht an international figure. 

Research by Lindsey Murad

Volunteer for the Cold War Museum

Cosby High School


"Cold War International History Project's Cold War Files." Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Web. 30 Apr. 2010. <>. "Communist Party (KPD)." Spartacus Educational - Home Page. Web. 04 May 2010. <>. "The Ulbricht Era, 1949-71: German History." German Culture. Web. 30 Apr. 2010. <>. "Walter Ulbricht." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2010. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 30 Apr. 2010 <>.  

"Walter Ulbricht : Nazi Germany." Spartacus Educational - Home Page. Web. 30 Apr. 2010. <>.

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