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Willy Brandt

Willy Brandt

Order: 30th Chancellor of Germany
(4th of the Federal Republic)
Term of Office: October 21, 1969May 6, 1974
Predecessor: Kurt Georg Kiesinger
Successor: Helmut Schmidt
Date of Birth: December 18, 1913
Date of Death: October 8, 1992
Political Party: SPD

Willy Brandt (December 18, 1913October 8, 1992) was a left German politician and Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany from 1969 to 1974. The left social democrat received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1971 for his work in improving relations with the German Democratic Republic, Poland and the Soviet Union, but is controversial in Germany and had to resign after an espionage scandal.


Early life, the war

Brandt was born Herbert Ernst Karl Frahm in Lübeck, Germany to a mother who worked as a cashier for a department store. He became an apprentice at the shipbroker and ship's agent F.H. Bertling. He joined the "Socialist Youth" in 1929 and the Social Democratic Party (SPD) in 1930. He left the SPD to join the more left wing Socialist Workers Party (SAP) which was allied to the POUM in Spain and the ILP in Britain. In 1933, using his connections with the port and its ships from the time he had been apprentice, he left Germany for Norway on a ship to escape Nazi persecution. It was at this time that he adopted the pseudonym Willy Brandt to avoid detection by Nazi agents. 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; 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 and formally adopted his pseudonym as legal name. 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 1970, he was named TIME magazine's Person of the Year.

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.

Willy Brandt at the Warsaw Ghetto Memorial in 1970.
Willy Brandt at the Warsaw Ghetto Memorial in 1970.

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 on a motion of no confidence (Mißtrauensvotum) in the parliament to remove Brandt and 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 the Ministry for State Security (Stasi) in the German Democratic Republic to vote for Brandt. Some Germans considered Brandt's "Ostpolitik" illegal and high treason.

The politic of dialogue with the Communist countries however helped to break open the siege mentality of the Eastern Bloc and to increase the awareness of the contradictions in real-life communism/socialism, and - together with other events - eventually led to its downfall.

To counter any notions about being sympathetic to communism, Brandt implemented a tough legislation that barred "radicals" from public service ("Radikalenerlass"). Although that legislation theoretically applied to extremists from both the left and right, it was almost exclusively applied to people considered to be left extremists.


Around 1973, German security organizations received information that one of Brandt's personal assistants, Günter Guillaume, was a spy of the GDR. 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 (he had had frequent short-lived affairs with much younger women) 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 stated after the reunification that the resignation of Brandt had never been intended, and that the affair had been 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 his fellow social democrat and longtime rival Herbert Wehner had been scheming for his downfall, but evidence for this seems scant.

The story of Brandt and Guillaume is told in the new play Democracy by Michael Frayn, directed by Michael Blakemore. The play follows the astonishing career of Willy Brandt (James Naughton), the first left-of-center chancellor in West Germany in 40 years, and his downfall at the hands of his trusted assistant, Günter Guillaume (Richard Thomas), who is secretly spying on Brandt for the notorious East German Stasi. The play examines Guillaume's dual identity, as his duty to Brandt's enemies conflicts with his genuine love and admiration for his prey.

Late life

After his term as Chancellor, he remained head of his party, the SPD until 1987, and retained his seat in the Bundestag. Brandt was head of the Socialist International from 1976 to 1992, working to enlarge that organization beyond the borders of Europe. In 1977 he was appointed chair of the Independent Commission for International Developmental Issues, which produced a report in 1980 calling for drastic changes in the world's attitude to development in the Third World. This became known as the Brandt Report .

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.

In late 1989, he became one of the first leftist leaders in West Germany to publicly favor reunification over some sort of two-state federation. His public statement "Now grows together what belongs together" was much quoted in those days.

One of Brandt's last public appearances was flying to Baghdad, to free some Western hostages held by Saddam Hussein, after the invasion of Kuwait in 1990.

Brandt was a member of the European Parliament from 1979--1983, and Honorary Chairman of the SPD from 1987 until his death in 1992. When the SPD moved its headquarters from Bonn back to Berlin in the mid-1990s, the new headquarters was named the "Willy Brandt Haus".

Brandt's First Ministry, 21 October 1969 - 14 December 1972

  • Willy Brandt (SPD) - Chancellor
  • Walter Scheel (FDP) - Vice Chancellor and Minister of Foreign Affairs
  • Helmut Schmidt (SPD) - Minister of Defense
  • Hans-Dietrich Genscher (FDP) - Minister of the Interior
  • Alex Möller (SPD) - Minister of Finance
  • Gerhard Jahn (SPD) - Minister of Justice
  • Karl Schiller (SPD) - Minister of Economics
  • Walter Arendt (SPD) - Minister of Labour and Social Affairs
  • Josef Ertl (FDP) - Minister of Food, Agriculture, and Forestry
  • Georg Leber (SPD) - Minister of Transport, Posts, and Communications
  • Lauritz Lauritzen (SPD) - Minister of Construction
  • Käte Strobel (SPD) - Minister of Youth, Family, and Health
  • Hans Leussink - Minister of Education and Science
  • Erhard Eppler (SPD) - Minister of Economic Cooperation
  • Horst Ehmke (SPD) - Minister of Special Tasks
  • Egon Franke (SPD) - Minister of Intra-German Relations


  • 13 May 1971 - Karl Schiller (SPD) succeeds Möller as Minister of Finance, remaining also Minister of Economics
  • 15 March 1972 - Klaus von Dohnanyi (SPD) succeeds Leussink as Minister of Education and Science.
  • 7 July 1972 - Helmut Schmidt (SPD) succeeds Schiller as Minister of Finance and Economics. Georg Leber (SPD) succeeds Schmidt as Minister of Defense. Lauritz Lauritzen (SPD) succeeds Leber as Minister of Transport, Posts, and Communications, remaining also Minister of Construction.

Last updated: 05-18-2005 18:53:23