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PEN Case (1964): Wolfgang Harich – German Democratic Republic, Tried

Wolfgang Harich in his appartment.

© Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-1993-0105-514 / Kemlein, Eva / CC-BY-SA 3.0, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Germany license.


Wolfgang Harich was born in December 1923.  He deserted the German army in 1944 to join the anti-fascist resistance in Berlin and after the war became a member of the SED (the rebranded German communist party) and worked as a literary and theater critic. After graduating from university, he became the editor-in-chief of the Deutsche Zeitschrift fur Philosophie and went on to take the position of Professor at Humboldt University.

In 1956 Khrushchev denounced Stalin and an anti-Stalinist uprising took place in Hungary.  At the same time Harich and others began to explore ways of reforming GDR producing a manifesto calling for a democratic, socialist, neutral and unified Germany. Harich also reached out to West Germany’s Social Democratic Party and contacted some its members.

The ‘Harich Group’ was soon arrested and Wolfgang was charged with ‘building a conspiratorial anti-state group’ in what has been described as a show trial.  Faced with a possible death sentence he cooperated with his prosecutors even thanking them for putting him on trial and testifying against his friend, publisher Walter Janka. Harich was found guilty and sentenced to ten years in prison.

Harich was released in 1964 under an amnesty and became an editor at the publishing house Akademie Verlag. In 1979 he left the country to live in West Germany and Austria. He was, however, sometimes viewed with suspicion, his publishing house being seen as too closely connected to the Communist party as well as for having been an SED ideologue. He returned to the GDR in 1981.

In 1990 he was rehabilitated by the Supreme Court just after the election of the coalition Alliance for Germany that was to hold interim governance of East Germany until reunification later that year. He and Walter Janka were to remain estranged, their relationship embittered by Harich’s testimony against Janka. Harich died in Berlin on 21 March 1995.

Useful Links

Wikipedia entry for Wolfgang Harich:

Wolfgang Harich obituary 1995: