Revolution as a Career? On the Biography of the First East German Interior Minister, Carl Steinhoff

Abgeschlossenes Projekt


Carl Steinhoff became the president of the provincial administration for Brandenburg within the Soviet Occupation Zone in 1945 and subsequently the first Minister-President of Brandenburg – and namely did so without having a relevant communist background. A member of the Social Democratic Party since 1923, the doctor of jurisprudence rose to the position of regional vice president in Prussia. After being removed from all public offices in 1932/33, he lived a private life with his family in Wilhemshorst, near Potsdam, during the “Third Reich”. Once the war ended, Steinhoff quickly traded in his moderate socialist convictions for a more communist ideology. He was a key figure in advocating for the unification of the SPD and KPD and for several years was a member of the Central Committee of the SED, which was created in 1946 as the result of those efforts. In 1949, Carl Steinhoff was named Interior Minister of the German Democratic Republic. His post-war career would, however, come to a sudden end with his dismissal in 1952. As part of the proclaimed move towards “Building the Foundations of Socialism” in the GDR, the former Social Democrat’s political loyalty and professional competence were no longer deemed acceptable. Three years later, Steinhoff was removed from his position at East Berlin’s Humboldt University, thus fully excluding him from political life. He lived in Wilhelmshorst until his death in 1981, in a period of political self-reflection.


Steinhoff’s biography is a part of the history of German Social Democracy before and after 1945 and also reveals diverse facets and patterns of the SED’s instrumentalization of centrist-liberal politicians of the Weimar era. It addresses questions of traditional political molds and self-understandings as well as the motives, expectations, and the limits of engagement experienced by those involved. A prosopographical approach is to be used for the biography in order to define what was particularly characteristic of Steinhoff and to place him in the proper context. One must contrast this particular biography with those of other “bourgeois” politicians involved with the Soviet Zone and the GDR as a means of establishing differences and commonalities with regard to motives, the willingness to compromise, and strategies of adaptation. At the same time, both Steinhoff’s socialization within the SPD and his understanding of politics and the law need to be taken into account as well. The project will achieve this by offering a comparison with other “academic” figures like Steinhoff who contrasted with the “autodidacts” of the Weimar-era SPD.


Publications within the project

Lutz Maeke

Carl Steinhoff: Erster DDR-Innenminister.

Göttingen 2020


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