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Willy Brandt

Willy Brandt in 1965
Willy Brandt (December 18, 1913 - October 8, 1992) was the fourth Bundeskanzler (Federal Chancellor) of the Federal Republic of Germany, serving from 1969 to 1974. The social democrat received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1971 for his work in improving relations with East Germany, Poland and the Soviet Union.

Table of contents
1 Early life, the war
2 Mayor of Berlin, Foreign Minister, Chancellor
3 Resignation
4 Late life

Early life, the war

Born as Herbert Ernst Karl Frahm in Lübeck, he joined the "Socialist Youth" in 1929 and the Social Democratic Party (SPD) in 1930. In 1933 he left Germany for Norway to escape Nazi persecution and adopted the name Willy Brandt. He visited Germany from September to December 1936 (disguised as a Norwegian student named Gunnar Gaasland). In 1937 he worked in Spain as a journalist. In 1938 the German government revoked his citizenship, so he applied for Norwegian citizenship. In 1940 he was arrested in Norway by occupying German forces, but he was not identified (because he wore a Norwegian uniform) and on his release he escaped to neutral Sweden. In August 1940 he became a Norwegian citizen (receiving his passport from the Norwegian embassy in Stockholm, where he lived until the end of the war).

Mayor of Berlin, Foreign Minister, Chancellor

In 1946 he returned to Berlin, working for the Norwegian government. In 1948 he began his political career with the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) in Berlin. He became a German citizen again. Outspoken against the Soviet oppression of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution and against Khrushchev's 1958 proposal that Berlin receive the status of a "free city", he was considered to belong to the right wing of his party, an assessment that would later change. He was supported by the powerful publisher Axel Springer. From October 3 1957 to 1966 he was Mayor of West Berlin, a particularly stressful time for the city with the construction of the Berlin Wall. He became chairman of the SPD in 1964 (a post he retained until 1987).

He was the SPD candidate for Chancellor in 1961 and lost to Konrad Adenauer's conservative CDU. In 1965 he ran again, and lost to the popular Ludwig Erhard. But Erhard's government was short-lived, and in 1966 a grand coalition between the SPD and CDU was formed; Brandt became foreign minister and vice chancellor. After the elections of 1969, again with Brandt as lead candidate, his SPD became stronger and after three weeks of negotiation formed a coalition government with the small liberal FDP. Brandt was elected Chancellor. Brandt's domestic reforms were usually blunted by his coalition partners in the Bundestag or the resistance of local governments (often CDU/CSU).

In foreign affairs Brandt had more scope to work his Ostpolitik and he was active in creating a rapproachment, of a kind, with the German Democratic Republic and improving relations with the Soviet Union, Poland and other Eastern Bloc countries.

This policy was widely controversial, and several members of his coalition switched sides. In May 1972, the opposition CDU hoped to have the majority in the Bundestag and demanded a vote of the parliament (Mißtrauensvotum) to elect a new Chancellor. To everybody's surprise, the vote failed by an extremely narrow margin; much later it was revealed that two members of the CDU had been paid off by East Germany to vote for Brandt.


Around 1973, German security organizations received information that one of Brandt's personal assistants, Günter Guillaume, might be a spy. Brandt was asked to continue work as usual, and he agreed, even taking a private vacation with Guillaume. Guillaume was arrested on April 24, 1974. At the same time, some revelations about Brandt's private life appeared in newspapers. Brandt contemplated suicide and even drafted a suicide note. But he lived on, accepted responsibility and resigned on May 7, 1974.

Guillaume had been a spy for East Germany and was led by Markus Wolf, who later said that the resignation of Brandt was never intended, and that the affair was one of the biggest mistakes of the East German secret service.

Brandt was succeeded as Chancellor by the social democrat Helmut Schmidt. For the rest of his life, Brandt remained suspicious that the fellow social democrat and longtime rival Herbert Wehner had been scheming for his downfall, but evidence for this seems scant.

Late life

After his term as Chancellor, he remained head of his party SPD. Brandt was head of the Socialist International from 1976--1992, working to enlarge that organization beyond the borders of Europe. In 1983, it was widely feared that Portugal would fall to communism; Brandt supported the democratic socialist party of Soares which won a major victory, thus keeping Portugal democratic. He also supported Felipe González' newly legal socialist party in Spain after Franco's death. When Lech Walesa's Solidarity movement organized large strikes in Poland in 1980, Brandt visited with the head of government General Jaruzelski rather than with Walesa.

Brandt was a member of the European Parliament from 1979--1983, and Honorary Chairman of the SPD from 1987--1992.

Preceded by:
Kurt Georg Kiesinger
Chancellors of Germany Succeeded by:
Helmut Schmidt