Hans Modrow, 95, One of East Germany’s Last Communist Leaders, Is Dead

BERLIN — Hans Modrow, a Communist reformer who was one of the last political leaders of East Germany, died on Saturday in a hospital in Berlin. He was 95.

His party, the far-left Die Linke, confirmed his death, from a stroke.

Within East Germany’s rigid Communist Party, Mr. Modrow was widely seen as a reformer in the mold of the Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev — he was often called the German Gorbachev, in fact — who eschewed the big houses, fancy cars and other perks that many party leaders took for granted.

Though he was a member of the party’s central committee for more than two decades and a member of the East German Parliament, the Volkskammer, for more than three, Mr. Modrow did not reach the top echelons of power until just before the Berlin Wall fell in 1989.

On Nov. 8 of that year — just a day before the wall began coming down — Mr. Modrow was made a member of the Politburo, the highest political body in the German Democratic Republic, as East Germany was known. He was appointed prime minister on Nov. 18, and in that role oversaw the last Communist cabinet under the leadership of Egon Krenz, East Germany’s last party general secretary.

As prime minister, Mr. Modrow invited opposition members — including environmentalists, feminists, free socialists and social democrats — to join the government, believing he could keep East Germany from dissolving and uniting with West Germany if it adopted reforms, like free elections and state transparency.

But when he realized that the country was destined to merge with the West, he helped usher in the transition during the Communists’ final five months in power. He proposed that a unified Germany remain neutral militarily, a plan that West German leaders rejected.

“When it was essential to secure the peaceful transition from the G.D.R. dictatorship to a free country, he took on the task,” Christine Lieberknecht, a former conservative state governor from the East, wrote in the German tabloid Bild. “This is his lasting political achievement,” she added.

Before he was named prime minister, Mr. Modrow had spent more than a decade as Communist Party leader in Dresden, away from the political life of the capital, East Berlin.

While he was credited with setting up a formal dialogue with a group of dissidents in the city, he was also responsible for the harsh police response to a mass demonstration in October 1989 at the Dresden railroad station, where antigovernment protesters gathered to meet trains bearing East German refugees on their way to West Germany. About 1,320 people were arrested.

Mr. Modrow lost his post as prime minister in May 1990 in the first, and last, free elections of the Volkskammer. The body was dissolved with the unification of the country that October. Afterward, he was among the first former East German politicians to join the reunited Parliament, serving until 1994. He also served in the European Union Parliament in Brussels from 1999 to 2004.

“It was important to him to push for the interests of East Germans,” said his son-in-law Torsten Hochmuth.

After reunification, Mr. Modrow was tried on charges of falsifying election records in Dresden and giving false testimony concerning the police response to the train station protests. Convicted on both counts, he was given a suspended sentence of 10 months.

Hans Modrow was born on Jan. 27, 1928, in Jasenitz, then a German village in Pomerania and now part of the town Police in Poland. He was the third of four children of Franz and Agnes (Krause) Modrow. His father was a baker who lost his business when Hans was young and was an early member of Hitler’s Nazi party.

As a youth, Hans apprenticed as a machinist and joined a volunteer fire brigade in the final years of World War II, he told his daughter Irina Modrow. In the war’s final months, Hans, at 17, was ordered to join the Volksturm, a last-ditch defensive effort comprising very young and very old recruits.

After Germany’s defeat, as a prisoner of war, he was taken to the Soviet Union, where he embraced Communism after attending a training institute for future Communist cadres. On his return to Germany, he became active in Communist Party politics, starting with its youth wing and working his way up the party’s ranks until he was sent to Dresden in 1973.

Unlike other Communist leaders, Mr. Modrow lived what he preached. For decades his home was a modest apartment in a prefabricated Communist-era building in Dresden.

“He was part of the regular house community — from the outside nobody could really tell that he was the comrade Modrow,” Mr. Hochmuth said. “He was really just a working class boy.”

Mr. Modrow was married to Annemarie Straubing for 53 years. She died in 2003. His daughter Irina Modrow died in 2017. He is survived by his partner, Gabriele Lindner; another daughter, Tamara Singer; three grandsons; and a number of great-grandchildren.

In retirement Mr. Modrow was active in the party that succeeded the Communists, now called Die Linke. After Russia invaded Ukraine last year, he described the war there as an “internal civil war” involving “fascist elements in western Ukraine” — and was widely criticized for it.

Besides his political legacy, he was instrumental in founding the soccer team 1. FC Union Berlin in 1966; it now ranks as one of the best in Germany.

Mr. Modrow, who talked of his political career in interviews over the years, was once asked about life in East Germany.

“It was neither paradise nor hell,” he said.

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