Life and career
Wolf was born 19 January 1923, in Hechingen, Province of Hohenzollern (now Baden-Württemberg), to a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother. His father was the writer and physician Friedrich Wolf (1888–1953) and his mother was the teacher Else Wolf (née Dreibholz; 1898–1973). He had one brother, who was the film director Konrad Wolf (1925–1982). His father was a member of the Communist Party of Germany, and after Adolf Hitler gained power in 1933, Wolf emigrated to Moscow with his father, via Switzerland and France, because of their Communist convictions and because Wolf's father was Jewish.
During his exile, Wolf first attended the German Karl Liebknecht School and later a Russian school. In 1936, at the age of 13, he obtained Soviet identity documents. Afterwards, he entered the Moscow Institute of Airplane Engineering (Moscow Aviation Institute) in 1940, which was evacuated to Alma Ata after Nazi Germany's attack on the Soviet Union. There he was told to join the Comintern, where he among others was prepared for undercover work behind enemy lines. He also worked as a newsreader for German People's Radio after dissolution of Comintern, from 1943 until 1945.
After the war he was sent to Berlin with the Ulbricht Group, led by Walter Ulbricht, to work as a journalist for a radio station in the Soviet Zone of occupation. He was among those journalists who observed the entire Nuremberg trials against the principal Nazi leaders. Between 1949 and 1951 Wolf worked at the East German embassy in the Soviet Union. That same year he joined the Ministry for State Security (Stasi).
In December 1952, at the age of 29, Wolf was among the founding members of the foreign intelligence service within the Ministry for State Security. As intelligence chief, he achieved great success in penetrating the government, political and business circles of West Germany with spies. The most notable individual in this regard was Günter Guillaume, who was secretary to and close friend of West German Chancellor Willy Brandt, and whose exposure as an East German agent led to Brandt's resignation in 1974.
For most of his career, Wolf was known as "the man without a face" due to his elusiveness. It was reported that Western agencies did not know what the East German spy chief looked like until 1978, when he was photographed by Säpo, Sweden's National Security Service, during a visit to Stockholm, Sweden. An East German defector,
Werner Stiller, then identified Wolf to West German counter-intelligence as the man in the picture. It has also beem suggested that elements within the CIA had identified him by 1959 from photographs of attendees at the Nuremberg trials.
He retired in 1986, being succeeded by Werner Grossmann as head of the East German foreign intelligence service. He continued the work of his late brother Konrad in writing the story of their upbringing in Moscow in the 1930s. The book Troika came out on the same day in East and West Germany. He distanced itself from the hardline positions taken by Honecker, favouring reform. 
He spoke at the November 1989 Alexanderplatz demonstration where he was booed during his speech. The dissident Bärbel Bohley would later say:
When I saw that his hands were trembling because the people were booing I said to Jens Reich: We can go now, now it is all over. The revolution is irreversible."
In September 1990, shortly before German reunification, Wolf fled the country, and sought political asylum in Russia and Austria. When denied, he returned to Germany where he was arrested by German police. Wolf claimed to have refused an offer of a large amount of money, a new identity with plastic surgery to change his features, and a home in California from the Central Intelligence Agency to defect to the United States.
In 1993, he was convicted of treason by the Oberlandesgericht Düsseldorf and sentenced to six years' imprisonment. This was later quashed by the German supreme court, because West Germany was a separate country at the time. In 1997, he was convicted of unlawful detention, coercion, and bodily harm, and was given a suspended sentence of two years' imprisonment. He was additionally sentenced to three days' imprisonment for refusing to testify against
Paul Gerhard Flämig when the former West German (SPD) politician was accused in 1993 of atomic espionage. Wolf said that Flämig was not the agent that he had mentioned in his memoirs: Flämig had unwittingly been probed by intelligence agents during authorised discussions in East Germany.
Markus Wolf died in his sleep at his Berlin home on 9 November 2006.