BERLIN (Reuters) - Erich Honecker's widow Margot has belittled the 136 people killed while trying to escape over the Berlin Wall during the Cold War, calling them stupid in an interview with German television aired on Monday evening.
Known as the "Purple Witch" in Communist East Germany for her tinted hair and hardline stance, Margot Honecker, 84, served alongside her dictator husband as minister for education. She was hated and feared by many East Germans.
In a rare interview, Margot Honecker told the German TV network ARD that she and other East German leaders never understood why so many tried to flee to the West over the Berlin Wall when so many died in the attempt. About 5,000 made it over alive.
"The question we always kept asking ourselves was: why did he risk that? Why? There was no need for that, there was no need for him to climb over the Wall. It's certainly bitter to have to pay for such stupidity with their lives," she said.
Honecker has been living as a recluse in her Chilean exile and only rarely grants interviews to German journalists. But when she does, her comments still make headlines in Germany more than two decades after Communist East Germany collapsed.
"There was no need to climb over the Wall," Honecker said. "There was no automatic order to shoot in East Germany but rather a code for the use of weapons that was no different than in other countries," she said.
Erich Honecker, who oversaw the building of the Berlin Wall on August 13, 1961, was forced to stand down by his Politburo comrades shortly before the Berlin Wall fell on November 9, 1989.
The Honeckers fled to Moscow to avoid criminal charges in 1991, the year after East and West Germany were unified, but were forced to leave when the Soviet Union fell. He was extradited to Germany in 1992.
Erich Honecker was charged in Germany with crimes committed during the Cold War, but was released in 1993 when he became sick with liver cancer. He lived briefly with his wife in Santiago before his death in 1994 at the age of 81.
Margot Honecker, who also complained about the 1,500 euros ($2,000) monthly pension she gets from the German state, called the demise of Communist East Germany and the fall of the Berlin Wall a "counter-revolution". She defended the Communist state.
"What was criminal about East Germany?" she asked in the ARD interview. "Was it criminal that people lived in peace? That they had perspective? That they could support themselves with honest work?"
(Editing by Alison Williams)