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Germans rip Honecker's wife for not standing by him


BERLIN -- Margot Honecker has become the wicked witch of the East for many Germans.

She's the wife of Erich Honecker, the jailed Communist boss of the defunct German Democratic Republic. She was his helpmate in running the Marxist East German state that collapsed with the Berlin Wall in 1989. She was education minister for 27 years, nine years longer than Mr. Honecker was leader of the GDR.

Now she's been dubbed once again Honecker's Hexe, Honecker's Witch, a moniker hung on her surreptitiously in the bad old GDR days.

When Mr. Honecker returned to Germany from his uneasy sanctuary in Chile's Embassy in Moscow last week, she stayed behind, then flew to Chile the next day to stay with her daughter, Sonya, who is married to a Chilean.

"I want nothing but my peace, and a few nice days with my grandson and daughter," she told a German reporter who caught her on an Aeroflot plane.

Her husband, now in a Berlin jail, faces manslaughter charges in the deaths of 49 East Germans fleeing his regime over the Berlin Wall.

Many Germans think she should have stood by her man.

"I would never desert my husband, no matter what happened," businesswoman Hieke Werbelow, 39, told the Berlin newspaper Bild. "That she did is typical."

The Honeckers claim many friends in Chile, including Clodomiro Almeyda, who gave them refuge in Moscow when he was ambassador there. He had been defense and foreign minister in the government of Salvador Allende. When Mr. Allende was overthrown in 1973, Mr. Honecker sheltered Mr. Almeyda in East Germany.

When Mr. Almeyda was replaced as ambassador about a month ago, the pressure to return Mr. Honecker intensified.

Mrs. Honecker called the time in the Chilean Embassy "psychoterror."

"It was like jail," she said.

Now her husband is, in fact, in jail, in the old Moabit prison where he was imprisoned by Nazi Germany in the 1930s.

In 1945, the Berlin city government certified him a victim of Nazism, which would have entitled him to a pension of about $1,200 a month. But he won't get it because of a technicality. He will receive social security payments of about $400 a month from his youthful job as a roofer, not from his occupation as East German ruler.

He's been a Communist all his life, and so has his wife. They were married in 1953. She became education minister in 1963. He became party chief and boss of the GDR in 1971. She's 65; he'll be 80 Aug. 25.

She is widely seen as having deserted him by women interviewed on the street, in beauty shops, on television and in newspapers.

"Margot must not be a good wife," said Lisbeth Reinsch, 76. "She deserted her husband, even though she is as guilty as he is."

Many think she should be put on trial, maybe ahead of her husband. She is widely believed to have ordered forced adoptions of children taken from parents who opposed the GDR regime. She is also accused of running "concentration camps" for truant children, some of whom are said to have been driven to suicide, allegedly by brutal guards.

Her icy, uncommunicative demeanor shown frequently on television during the past week contributes to her image as a cold, hard, Communist functionary.

On the flight to Santiago, she told the Bild reporter that her husband is taking care of himself.

"He will talk and that will be an earthquake," she is quoted as saying.

She means that he not only knows most of the darkest secrets of the old East German government, but many buried in the West. Bild, a popular newspaper with sanguine effrontery, published a list of those "who must tremble."

"My reckoning comes later," she said. "Then must many in Bonn look out. We still have many friends in Germany."

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