East Germanys last defense minister H. Kessler

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General Heinz Kessler was responsible for the former East German shoot-to-kill policy to stop people from escaping to the West. Until the end, a GDR devotee died aged 97 in Berlin in 2017. Kessler, a devout supporter of the German Democratic Republic (GDR), had attended Communist Party gatherings until a few years ago. He joined the German Communist Party (DKP) in 2009 and ran for state office in Berlin as a DKP candidate in 2011. East Germanys defense minister

He abandoned the Wehrmacht during its march into the Soviet Union in July 1941 and joined the Red Army. In 1945, he returned to the Soviet occupation zone in Germany, and in 1956, he was named Chief of the East German Armed Forces’ Air Forces and Air Defense.

In the following years, Kessler rose to become a government minister and a member of the Communist Politburo, and a friend of East German leader Erich Honecker. Kessler was the GDR’s last defense minister from 1985 until 1989. He was responsible for the shoot-to-kill policy to prevent people from leaving the communist East for democratic West Germany. East Germanys defense minister

Eulenspiegel Verlagsgruppe published Kessler’s book “Without the Wall, There Would Have Been War.” Kessler argued that the people killed at the border had inflicted danger upon themselves. Hundreds of people are believed to have died at the East German border, with estimates varying wildly from 139 to 750 over the 28 years of its existence from 1961 until it was dismantled.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Kessler was arrested in Berlin in 1991 following speculation that he would flee the country. Honecker escaped to the Chilean Embassy in Moscow the same year. In 1993, Kessler was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison for incitement to manslaughter for his role in the deaths of people who tried to flee the GDR. He was released after only two years in jail. East Germanys defense minister

Kessler filed an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights, claiming that his actions were following GDR law and meant to preserve the existence of the GDR. However, his appeal was denied mainly because the GDR’s policies violated international human rights.

The following personal documents for Heinz Keßler were auctioned in 2021. East Germanys defense minister

East Germanys defense minister
Identity card of the GDR 1982, Interzone travel permit of the Soviet occupation zone 1946, passport of the GDR 1990, and passport of the Federal Republic of Germany 1994 with different visas for the Russian Federation and the Republic of Cuba.
East Germanys defense minister
Interzone travel permit of the Soviet occupation zone 1946
East Germanys defense minister
Identity card of the GDR 1982
East Germanys defense minister
Passport of the GDR 1990


FAQ Passport History
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1. What are the earliest known examples of passports, and how have they evolved?

The word "passport" came up only in the mid 15th Century. Before that, such documents were safe conducts, recommendations or protection letters. On a practical aspect, the earliest passport I have seen was from the mid 16th Century. Read more...

2. Are there any notable historical figures or personalities whose passports are highly sought after by collectors?

Every collector is doing well to define his collection focus, and yes, there are collectors looking for Celebrity passports and travel documents of historical figures like Winston Churchill, Brothers Grimm, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Read more...

3. How did passport designs and security features change throughout different periods in history, and what impact did these changes have on forgery prevention?

"Passports" before the 18th Century had a pure functional character. Security features were, in the best case, a watermark and a wax seal. Forgery, back then, was not an issue like it is nowadays. Only from the 1980s on, security features became a thing. A state-of-the-art passport nowadays has dozens of security features - visible and invisible. Some are known only by the security document printer itself. Read more...

4. What are some of the rarest and most valuable historical passports that have ever been sold or auctioned?

Lou Gehrig, Victor Tsoi, Marilyn Monroe, James Joyce, and Albert Einstein when it comes to the most expensive ones. Read more...

5. How do diplomatic passports differ from regular passports, and what makes them significant to collectors?

Such documents were often held by officials in high ranks, like ambassadors, consuls or special envoys. Furthermore, these travel documents are often frequently traveled. Hence, they hold a tapestry of stamps or visas. Partly from unusual places.

6. Can you provide insights into the stories behind specific historical passports that offer unique insights into past travel and migration trends?

A passport tells the story of its bearer and these stories can be everything - surprising, sad, vivid. Isabella Bird and her travels (1831-1904) or Mary Kingsley, a fearless Lady explorer.

7. What role did passports play during significant historical events, such as wartime travel restrictions or international treaties?

During war, a passport could have been a matter of life or death. Especially, when we are looking into WWII and the Holocaust. And yes, during that time, passports and similar documents were often forged to escape and save lives. Example...

8. How has the emergence of digital passports and biometric identification impacted the world of passport collecting?

Current modern passports having now often a sparkling, flashy design. This has mainly two reasons. 1. Improved security and 2. Displaying a countries' heritage, icons, and important figures or achievements. I can fully understand that those modern documents are wanted, especially by younger collectors.

9. Are there any specialized collections of passports, such as those from a specific country, era, or distinguished individuals?

Yes, the University of Western Sidney Library has e.g. a passport collection of the former prime minister Hon Edward Gough Whitlam and his wife Margaret. They are all diplomatic passports and I had the pleasure to apprise them. I hold e.g. a collection of almost all types of the German Empire passports (only 2 types are still missing). Also, my East German passport collection is quite extensive with pretty rare passport types.

10. Where can passport collectors find reliable resources and reputable sellers to expand their collection and learn more about passport history?

A good start is eBay, Delcampe, flea markets, garage or estate sales. The more significant travel documents you probably find at the classic auction houses. Sometimes I also offer documents from my archive/collection. See offers... As you are already here, you surely found a great source on the topic 😉

Other great sources are: Scottish Passports, The Nansen passport, The secret lives of diplomatic couriers

11. Is vintage passport collecting legal? What are the regulations and considerations collectors should know when acquiring historical passports?

First, it's important to stress that each country has its own laws when it comes to passports. Collecting old vintage passports for historical or educational reasons is safe and legal, or at least tolerated. More details on the legal aspects are here...

Does this article spark your curiosity about passport collecting and the history of passports? With this valuable information, you have a good basis to start your own passport collection.

Question? Contact me...