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Häftlinge für Bananen? Der Freikauf politischer Gefangener aus der DDR und das ,,Honecker-Konto“

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Between 1963 and 1990, the West German Federal Government spent more than 3.44 bn Deutschmarks for goods delivered to a few East German firms in exchange for the release of GDR citizens imprisoned for political reasons. Eventually, those firms re-sold most of the goods on international commodity markets in order to cash in hard currency. Since 1974, the “earnings” from this kind of trafficking in human beings were deposited on a special banking account, which was opened by order and on behalf of East Germany's party chief Erich Honecker. The article investigates the proportion of the various sources of the accounts deposits and the different purposes, the assets were spent on. The in-depth analysis proofs that more than three fifths of the deposits originated from buying GDR's political prisoner's freedom by West German authorities, enabling the accounts trustees at Alexander Schalck-Golodkowski's “Department of Commercial Coordination” to earn additional interest. The text also shows that trustees had to give up on Honecker's initial intentions to use the assets for the financing of imports of consumer goods to the benefits of GDR's population. Over time, other purposes became pre-dominant: Financing imports of industrial goods and raw materials and – above all – securing East Germanys liquidity in serving its liabilities. Eventually, only 11 per cent of the assets were spent on imports of consumer goods.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: October 1, 2007

More about this publication?
  • Founded in 1903, Vierteljahrschrift für Sozial- und Wirtschaftsgeschichte is the oldest German periodical of social and economic history. The international, peer-reviewed journal features original articles in German, English, French and Italian.

    Today, VSWG is edited by Günther Schulz, Jörg Baten, Markus A. Denzel, Gerhard Fouquet and Hans Pohl and deals with all aspects of social history, social developments from the Middle Ages to today, as well as history of finance and economic history.

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