Professor Martin Sabrow

Curriculum Vitae

Professor of Modern and Contemporary History, Humboldt University, Berlin
Professor of Modern and Contemporary History, University of Potsdam; Director, Center for Contemporary History, Potsdam
Habilitation, Freie University Berlin, dissertation on East German historiography
Ph.D., University of Freiburg, dissertation on Walther Rathenau and counter-revolutionary assassinations in the early Weimar Republic
Lecturer, German and History, Berlin
Teacher training at high schools in Berlin
University studies of History, German, and Political Science in Kiel and Marburg/Lahn
Born in Kiel

Research project at the Kolleg

My current project – a biography of Erich Honecker – is an attempt to bring to light the system in the person and the person in the system. I’m interested not only in communist ideology in general but specifically how the communist ‘we-biography’ was used to perform and legitimize the SED-Party’s power; and I explore the role and limits of the personal as a factor of political influence in GDR history and in the communist power structure.
The project is divided in five parts, the first of which I plan to complete during my time in Jena. In it, I focus on Honecker’s youth and political socialization, including his time in prison up to 1945. I’m especially concerned with the relation between autobiographical truth and historical veneer in the construction of a model communist life. The further sections of the project will deal with the question of Honecker’s leadership, treating his acquisition of political power and the way his life reflected the paradoxical entanglement of external stability and internal fragmentation in his role in the downfall of the GDR. A final focus of the planned biography will treat the historical memory of Honecker after 1989. Here I will explore both the transformation of Honecker’s image, from ageless representative of power to crotchety old man, and the legal dispute accompanying his post-extradition trial over his personal liability for the actions of the GDR state.

Main areas of research 

  • Political culture in the twentieth century
  • Dictatorship studies
  • Historical perspectives on historical culture
  • Historiography

Positions and memberships

  • Member, advisory council of the Körber Foundation’s Federal President’s History Competition
  • Member, academic council of the civic trust of the Willy Brandt Forum in Unkel
  • Member, academic council of the German Historical Museum Foundation
  • Member, advisory board of the Federal Foundation for the Reappraisal of the SED Dictatorship
  • Member, advisory commission of the Brandenburg Memorials Foundation
  • Member, international academic council of the Federal Chancellor Willy Brandt Foundation
  • Member, advisory board of the Goethe Institut
  • Member, academic advisory board of the Foundation of the House of History of the Federal Republic of Germany in Bonn
  • Member, Federal Republic of Germany Ministry of Culture commission for the preservation of memorials
  • Member, independent commission on the future of the Federal Commissioner for the Records of the State Security Service of the Former German Democratic Republic