Wilhelm Pieck (1876-1960) was a German communist politician who aligned with the Soviet Union during and after World War II. Pieck became an important figure in the formation of the German Democratic Republic (GDR or East Germany) and, in 1949, its first president. Born in Gubin on the Polish border, Pieck trained and worked as a carpenter, joining his local union. He joined the German Social Democrat Party (SPD) at age 19 and aligned himself with the SPD’s left-wing, opposing German militarism and, in 1914, the war against Britain, France and Russia. Pieck joined the revolutionary Spartacus League and participated in their failed uprising in early 1919. He was captured alongside prominent socialists Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg; both were executed by the counter-revolutionary Freikorps but Pieck managed to escape.
The rise of the Nazis in 1933 prompted Pieck to flee Germany. He travelled via Paris to Moscow, where he worked alongside other exiled German communists. Pieck spent a decade working for the Communist International or Comintern, including eight years as its secretary. He returned to Germany in 1945 after the fall of Hitler and the Nazis. Pieck was chiefly responsible for reorganising German left-wing political parties after the war. He orchestrated a merger between the SPD and the German Communist Party (KPD) that formed the Socialist Unity Party (SED) in April 1946. Pieck was elected was the GDR’s first president in October 1949. The rise of Walter Ulbricht as the SED’s First Secretary curtailed much of Pieck’s influence. He remained president until his death in September 1960. Pieck’s three children held positions in the SED or the East German government.
This page was written by Jennifer Llewellyn and Steve Thompson. To reference this page, use the following citation:
J. Llewellyn & S. Thompson, “Wilhelm Pieck”, Alpha History, accessed [today’s date], https://alphahistory.com/coldwar/wilhelm-pieck/.