Erich Ernst Paul Honecker was an East German communist politician who led the German Democratic Republic from 1971 until shortly before the fall of the Berlin Wall in October 1989. He held the posts of General Secretary of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany and Chairman of the National Defense Council; in 1976, he replaced Willi Stoph as Chairman of the State Council, the official head of state. As leader of East Germany, Honecker had close ties to the Soviet Union, which maintained a large army in the country.
Honecker's political career began in the 1930s when he became an official of the Communist Party of Germany, a position for which he was imprisoned by the Nazis. Following World War II, he was freed by the Soviet army and relaunched his political activities, founding the SED's youth organization, the Free German Youth, in 1946 and serving as the group's chairman until 1955. As the Security Secretary of the SED Central Committee, he was the prime organiser of the building of the Berlin Wall in 1961 and, in this function, bore responsibility for the "order to fire" along the Wall and the larger inner German border.