Willi Stoph (German pronunciation: [ˈvɪli ˈʃtoːf]; 9 July 1914 – 13 April 1999) was an East German politician. He served as Prime Minister (Chairman of the Council of Ministers) of the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) from 1964 to 1973, and again from 1976 until 1989. He also served as chairman of the State Council (head of state) from 1973 to 1976.
Stoph was born in Berlin in 1914; his father died the following year in World War I. In 1928, Stoph joined the Communist Youth League of Germany (Kommunistischer Jugendverband Deutschlands; KJVD) and in 1931 he joined the Communist Party of Germany. He also served in the Wehrmacht from 1935 to 1937, and again during World War II from 1940 to 1945. He was awarded the Iron Cross 2nd Class and rose to the rank of Unteroffizier.
Following the establishment of the GDR in 1949, Stoph became a member of the Central Committee of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED) and member of the Volkskammer in 1950. He was named to the Politbüro in 1953. He served as Interior Minister from 9 May 1952 to 1 July 1955, and as East Germany's first Defense Minister from 18 January 1956 to 14 July 1960. As defense minister, he was awarded the rank of Armeegeneral.
After serving as first deputy prime minister from 1960 to 1964, he was named Chairman of the Council of Ministers (Ministerrat), or prime minister, in 1964. He was initially thought to be the heir apparent to longtime East German leader Walter Ulbricht, but his ascendancy was checked by Erich Honecker. After Ulbricht's death in 1973, Stoph became Chairman of the Council of State--a post equivalent in rank to president of the GDR. After Volkskammer elections in 1976, the state and party leadership structure was re-arranged, and Stoph once again became Chairman of the Council of Ministers.
As Prime Minister, Stoph began a series of negotiations with West German Chancellor Willy Brandt in 1970. It marked the first ever meeting between the leaders of East and West Germany.
Stoph was known as a man who could be trusted to carry out the directives of the SED's Politburo; indeed, Honecker tapped him for his second stint in the premiership for this reason. For the most part, Stoph was a loyal supporter of Honecker. However, he joined the plot to remove him in October 1989. At the Politburo meeting at which Honecker was voted out, Stoph made the motion to depose Honecker and replace him with Egon Krenz. A month later, on 13 November, Stoph and his entire 44-member cabinet resigned in response to public pressure. Stoph was subsequently arrested for corruption in December 1989. In a desperate attempt to rebuild its image, the Party of Democratic Socialism, successor to the SED, expelled Stoph in January 1990. He was later spared detention due to health reasons. In 1994, a court in Berlin decided that he should not get back his seized savings of 200,000 DM.
Stoph died in Berlin at the age of 84 on 13 April 1999 as the last surviving leader of East Germany before Egon Krenz. He was buried in Wildau.