Willy Brandt

Willy Brandt

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Willy Brandt was born in Lubeck in 1913. He joined the Social Democratic Party in 1930 and was active in the campaign against Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party.

Brandt, like many young radicals, was critical of the leadership of people like Rudolf Breitscheild. In 1931 he helped form Socialist Workers Party (SAP), a Marxist left-wing organization. By October 1931 SAP claimed to have over 50,000 members.

When Adolf Hitler came to power members of the Socialist Workers Party were arrested by the Nazi authorities. Brandt fled to Norway and after studying at Oslo University he worked as a journalist.

In February 1937, Brandt travelled to Spain to cover the Spanish Civil War. He based himself in Barcelona where he developed close links with the Worker's Party (POUM). While covering the war he developed a life long suspicion of communism. He later recalled how the "POUM were persecuted, dragged before the courts, or even murdered by the Communists."

On his return to Norway he wrote about the dangers for socialists working with Joseph Stalin and the Soviet Union. After the signing of the Nazi-Soviet Pact he wrote: " It is hardly a novel situation to find the leaders of the Soviet Union in a state of outright war against the socialist movement. It has happened before. But today the whole movement is obliged to stand up and fight, and draw a clear dividing line between itself and the Soviet Union. It is not the socialist movement but the Soviet Union which has changed. It is not the socialist movement but the Soviet Union which has entered a pact of friendship with Nazism.

With the invasion of the German Army in 1940 Brandt was forced to move to Sweden. For the rest of the Second World War Brandt gave support to the German resistance movement.

Brandt returned to Germany after the war and in 1949 was elected to the Bundestag. In 1957 Brandt became a mayor of West Berlin and campaigned in favour of the removal of the Berlin Wall.

A socialist, Brandt became chairman of the Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands (SPD) in 1964. Two years later he joined the coalition government led by Kurt Kiesinger. Brandt, as Foreign Minister, developed the policy of Ostpolitik (reconciliation between eastern and western Europe).

Brandt was a strong supporter of Britain joining the European Economic Community. In December 1967 he argued "Our own interest, which it is up to us to represent, and our understanding of the state of European interests, obliges us to speak a clear language and urge our French neighbours not to make things too difficult for themselves and others."

In 1969 Brandt became Chancellor of Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany). He continued with his policy of Ostpolitik and in 1970 negotiated an agreement with the Soviet Union accepting the frontiers of Berlin. Later that year he signed a non-aggression pact with Poland.

The Basic Treaty was signed in 1972. In this treaty the Federal Republic of Germany and German Democratic Republic committed themselves to developing normal relations on the "basis of equality, guaranteeing their mutual territorial integrity as well as the border between them, and recognizing each other's independence and sovereignty".

As a result of Ostpolitik the Federal Republic of Germany exchanged ambassadors with the Soviet Union, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Bulgaria. Brandt won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1971.

Brandt was forced to resign as Chancellor in April 1974 after it was discovered that his close political aide, Gunther Guillaume, was an East German spy.

Brandt continued to be active in politics and between 1977 and 1983 was chairman of the Brandt Commission on economic development. Its report, North-South: A Programme for Survival, argued that the rich north should help countries in the poor southern hemisphere.

Willy Brandt died in 1992.

I suppose I inherited a desire for social justice and political progress. That brought me into the workers' movement. It duplicated every form of social activity, even down to collecting postage stamps. It was an alternative society of its own, in cultural affairs, in sport and in social activities of every kind.

The election results (1930) were a shock. The Nazis were talking of putting an end to the Republic, abolishing the free vote, using force. Their so-called 'socialism' meant nothing to us - it was an obvious fraud. I had one school-friend who was an ardent Nazi; he was honest and sincere. I talked to him in order to learn about the Nazis. I came to the conclusion that they represented an unbridled nationalism, devoid of spiritual content. Nazism was brutal and scorned humanity; it was steering in the direction of a new war.

If I think back now on that spring and summer nearly thirty years ago, those unedifying squabbles and sordid intrigues have entirely faded into the background.... The image which remains most clearly of all in my mind is that of the proverbial pride of the Spanish people, their vitality, love for freedom and faith in the future, and the creative power which time and again would fight its way to the surface.

Up until the end of August (1939) the German section of the Comintem was pushing out propaganda to the effect that if it came to the point, war should be waged against Germany, whilst simultaneously continuing to promise that a revolution in Germany was only a matter of time. Then the pact between Germany and Russia came and that silenced the German section of the Comintern. Profound disappointment was felt by those Communists who were left in Germany, and among those in exile confusion, whilst a few party secretaries actually managed to defend not only the pact which had made war against Poland possible for the German regime, but also the new Russian line which banished the word Fascism from the dictionary.

The attitude of the socialist movement towards the Soviet Union today must be considered against this background. Relations have changed almost beyond recognition. It is hardly a novel situation to find the leaders of the Soviet Union in a state of outright war against the socialist movement. It is not the socialist movement but the Soviet Union which has entered a pact of friendship with Nazism. It is the Soviet Union which stabbed Poland in the back and initiated the war against Finland.

While I have been in foreign countries, I have never tried to hide the fact that I'm a German; nor am I ashamed of it. I never hesitated about where I should go in 1933. I had been in Norway in 1931; I knew I could live there, and I wanted to. Norway has become truly my second home. In April 1940 I refused to leave Norway; I wanted to do my best for her, but sadly, there was so little that I could do. Yet my duty was to help Norway and repay my debt to her.

The Nazis took away my native country from me, and Hitler took away my German citizenship. Now I have lost my homeland twice. I intend to help them to restore themselves, as a free Norway and a democratic Germany. Today, too, there are Germans fighting against Nazism in Germany. They are my friends.

A new terror gripped the city; an icy cold. In the streets it attacked the people like a wild beast, drove them into their houses, but there they found no protection either. The windows had no panes, they were nailed up with planks and plasterboard. The walls and ceilings were full of cracks and holes - one covered them with paper and rags. People heated their rooms with benches from the public parks.... The old and sick froze to death in their beds by the hundreds. Within living memory Berlin had not experienced such a terrible winter.

Living in Berlin had a deep emotional effect on me and helped me to make up my mind what to do with myself. The question which had bothered me most was-had Germany enough vital strength left in her? The Berliners gave me the answer; and I found that same quality of endurance which the Norwegians had. The worst possible circumstances seemed to bring out the best in both, too. Conditions in Berlin, finally, reminded me of how much there was to be done for my country.

The solution of the German problem will be dependent on decisions on an international political level. But there is much to be done inside Germany in the interests of Europe, democracy and peace. There are positive forces within the German people which will be able to make their mark on future developments.

You know I have no illusions. But I wish to try to help bring Germany back into Europe.... It is fairly certain that I shall suffer disappointment and perhaps more than that. I hope I shall face defeat if it comes with the feeling that I have done my duty. I shall carry with me all the good things I have experienced in Norway.

Under the inspiring leadership of the Governing Mayor, Willy Brandt, Berlin is changing its face with the ingenuous facility of a debutante. The great gaps in the Kurfiirstendamm have almost all been filled, with new hotels, office-blocks and flats. Schloss Charlottenburg has been restored to its pristine splendour. The Dahlem picture gallery is being rehoused in the new National Gallery in the Tiergarten. The Reichstag has risen out of the ruins to which it was reduced by the Nazis....

There are to be major extensions to the Free University and the Technical University, a new City Library and a new 'cultural centre' close to the scarred and charred Potsdamer Platz. New stretches are being added to Berlin's unique feature, the City Autobahn, a dual carriageway network with a planned length of 62 miles.... Roughly 20,000 new homes are being built each year and the housing problems of a city which was nearly 50 per cent destroyed during the war will be solved in the next decade.... There will be nothing like a slum left in West Berlin by I975.

I think Brandt decided that the right way of helping us was for the Federal Republic to seek a more equal voice with France in the affairs of the Common Market, then put our case in a down-to-earth way. He had no dreams about an ideal form of European political unity. He was purely pragmatic and practical about what could be done for Europe. He was helped by the 1968 student riots in France - they actually began while Brandt and I were having talks. They made the West Germans realize they need not be quite so dutiful to the French - de Gaulle's regime was not, after all, omnipotent. German self-confidence vis-a-vis France rose as a result. This was something quite different from that terrible and disgusting German contempt in the past for the French, and it was all to the good - this was the right time for the Germans to stand up for themselves, especially with so sensible and civilized a man as Brandt to represent them.

Brandt has done things which require physical, mental and moral courage to an extent which few men could sustain. He inherited a German Social Democratic Party with very outdated traditional thinking, and requiring super-human energy and understanding to reform and revive. Like others, he had little in the way of natural advantages with which to do it. He was, of course, lucky in his colleagues but even so it was Brandt who saw the way through, not only to leading the Social Democratic Party to victory but towards uniting Europe. He is a man of shining courage - doing things which to everybody else it seemed impossible to ask a German politician to undertake. Thanks to Willy's courage and imagination, Germany may yet bring about the beginnings of a genuine détente between East and West.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation is first and foremost an effective defence alliance. It prevents potential opponents from being tempted to exert political pressure on any one of the allies through military force. But constant effort is required to maintain this defensive strength in the face of constantly advancing technical development. We realise that the commitment in Europe is a great burden on the United States.... I am afraid that the time for any significant lightening of the United States' burden has not yet come.

NATO and a policy of détente are not mutually exclusive. On the contrary, the existence of NATO - that is, its political weight and its readiness to defend our territory against all attacks - has shown that a policy of tensions and crises is of no avail. The weakening of NATO would reduce the possibility of a détente and lessen its effectiveness. The military deterrent has ensured the peace of Europe.... Military security and détente do not contradict, but supplement each other. Without the firm support of the alliance we cannot carry on any policy of détente. Similarly the political objective of the alliance will not be realised without an East-West détente.

It can be argued that Herr Brandt has surrendered a principle and got little in return. The East Germans, and behind them the Russians, have made only a few slight concessions in the matter of human, administrative and trading contacts across the border. But they are real concessions, whereas the reunification of Germany, short of some new world cataclysm, has become an impossible dream. Post-war international relations are difficult enough, but it is better that they should be based on present realities than on a vanished past or an imaginary future.

Willy Brandt

Willy Brandt (18 December 1913 – 8 October 1992) was a German chancellor from 1969 until 1974. He was born Herbert Ernst Karl Frahm in Lübeck, Germany. He was the leader of the Social Democratic Party of Germany 1964–1987 and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize (1971). He died on 8 October 1992 in Unkel on the Rhine.


This policy of softer lines of governmental and economic dealings with Eastern European countries came to be known as ostpolitik. Brandt signed treaties and in doing so, relaxed tensions. This enabled both Germanies to enter the United Nations and Germans to cross borders. It also led to the Nobel Peace Prize, awarded to Brandt in 1971. It also led to his resignation. In 1974 Brandt's close aide, Günter Guillaume, was revealed to be an East German spy. Though this scandal led to his resignation, Brandt remained Chairman of the SPD for 13 more years.

Willy Brandt: Social Democrat and Nobel Peace Prize Winner

Although he passed away in 1992, the life of Willy Brandt must be remembered as a life of struggle.

Brant was born in Lubeck, a city in the German Empire, in 1913. A single parent, his mother was a cashier for a department store and his father was a teacher. He joined the Social Democratic Party in 1929. However, he soon left the SDP to affiliate with the Socialist Workers Party in Germany and the Independent Labor Party in the United Kingdom. After graduating the German version of high school, he went to work, as a he became an apprentice at the shipbroker and ship’s agent F. H. Bertling. In 1933, using his connections with the port and its ships, he left Germany for Norway to escape Nazi persecution.

It was in Norway that he adopted the name Willy Brandt (his real name was Herbert Ernst Karl Frahm) to avoid Nazi agents. Brandt was in Germany from September to December 1936, disguised as a Norwegian student named Gunnar Gaasland. During the Spanish Civil War in 1937, he worked as a journalist in Spain. Germany revoked his citizenship in 1938, and he applied for citizenship in Norway. In 1940, the Germans arrested him, but they were unable to identify Brandt because he wore a German uniform.

He attained Norwegian citizenship in 1940 but escaped to neutral Sweden where he lectured on the problems social democrats had under Nazi rule in Germany. After the end of World War II in 1946, he returned to Berlin. From 3 October 1957 to 1966, Willy Brandt served as Governing Mayor of West Berlin, during a period of increasing tension in East-West relations that led to the construction of the Berlin Wall. Brandt was an outspoken critic of Soviet repression of the 1956 Hungarian Uprising and of Nikita Khrushchev’s 1958 proposal that Berlin receive the status of a free city.

At the start of 1961, U.S. President John F Kennedy saw Brandt as a figure destined for high office in West Germany and was hoping he would replace Konrad Adenauer as chancellor following elections later that year. Kennedy made this preference clear by inviting Brandt, the West German opposition leader, to an official meeting at the White House a month before meeting with Adenauer, the country’s leader. For the president, Brandt stood for Germany’s future and for overcoming traditional Cold War thinking.

Brandt was elected chancellor in 1969, the first Social Democrat in the position since the 1910’s. As chancellor, he made it a point to improve relations with East Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and the Soviet Union. The policy was called the New Eastern Policy. He thought the policy would undermine Communism in the Eastern Bloc states. In 1971, Brandt won the Nobel Peace Prize for trying to work diplomatically with an adversary.

He continued as chancellor until 1974 and was the leader of the Social Democratic Party until 1987. Brandt passed away in 1992.

Jason Sibert is the Executive Director of the Peace Economy Project in St. Louis.

Quotes of Willy Brandt

“The discipline of the Third Reich is toadyism and not freedom. Its anti-Semitism and its inflammatory nationalist propaganda are narrow mindedness and not intellectual breadth. Fascism is intellectual slavery.”
Willy Brandt about the Nazi dictatorship in an article in “Norges Gymnasialblatt”, April/May 1933

“I feel bound to Norway with a thousand ties, but I have never given up Germany – the other Germany. (…) The day will come when the hatred that seems unavoidable in war will be overcome. One day the Europe in which Europeans can live must become a reality.”
Willy Brandt in the newspaper “Trots allt”, August 1943

“Unconditional acknowledgement of the crimes that were committed against other peoples by Germans and in the name of Germany is the first precondition for a recovery of the German people.”
Willy Brandt in a speech on “Germany’s international position after the war“ in Stockholm, 9 February 1945

“The Germans must bear responsibility. But responsibility is not the same as guilt. Those who do not feel guilty and are not guilty of the Nazi crimes nevertheless cannot escape the consequences of a policy, which a far too large part of the German people had willingly joined.”
Willy Brandt in his book “Verbrecher und andere Deutsche” (“Criminals and the other Germans”), 1946

“Whoever becomes involved with the United Communist Front will go down the drain with it!”
Willy Brandt in a speech to officials of the Berlin SPD, 12 March 1948

“With the 17th of June 1953 a new chapter in the strive for the reunification of Germany has begun. (…) The 17th of June was the most urgent appeal to our own people and to the entire world that the division of Germany cannot continue forever.”
Willy Brandt in his brochure “Arbeiter und Nation”, 1954

“Dictatorship is dictatorship. Exploitation is exploitation. Our place is and remains clearly on the side of freedom and social progress, of the struggle for social security and the humanising of human society.”
Willy Brandt in his speech to the party convention of the Berlin SPD, 22 May 1955

“It is the clearly perceptible goal of Communist policy to incorporate all of Berlin into the so-called ‘GDR’. No amount of rhetoric can distract from that.”
Willy Brandt on the Khrushchev Ultimatum, 27 November 1958

“The day will come when the Brandenburg Gate will no longer stand at the border.”
Willy Brandt at a rally in West Berlin, 1 May 1959

“A clique which calls itself a government has to try to fence in its own population. The concrete columns, the barbed wire, the death strips, the watch towers and the machine guns, those are the hallmarks of a concentration camp. It will not stand.”
Willy Brandt in his address to the Berlin House of Representatives on the construction of the Wall, 13 August 1961

“There is nothing lost with this treaty which had not been squandered away a long time ago.”
Willy Brandt in his television address to federal citizens after the signing of the Moscow Treaty, 12 August 1970

“History, as bitter as it may be, is a reality which each and every day continues to affect our present and our future.”
Willy Brandt in an address in Jerusalem, 7 June 1973

“I belong to a generation which has experienced twice how hunger results from war. That is why I would not like to see a new generation experience how war can result from hunger.”
Willy Brandt in an interview for the journal “Bild der Wissenschaft”, 1979

„The globalization of dangers and challenges – war, chaos, self-destruction – calls for a domestic policy which goes much beyond parochial or even national items.“
Willy Brandt in his introduction to the North-South Report, 1980

“The experience we have had is that – with all due respect to Russian power and my own interest in having reasonable relations – Russia as a superpower just does not have the inner strength to digest Poland and Czechoslovakia and Hungary, to take these countries. They belong to Europe.”
Willy Brandt in a hearing before members of the U.S. Congress in Washington D.C., 29 September 1983

“The shocking contrast between the well-nourished and the hungry in the world demonstrates every day that fundamental human rights begin with the right to live.”
Willy Brandt in his book “Menschenrechte – mißhandelt und mißbraucht” (“Human Rights – mistreated and misused”), 1987

“If I were to say what is, next to peace, more important to me than anything else, then without qualification my answer would be: freedom. Freedom for many, not only for the few. Freedom of conscience and of opinion. Freedom as well from need and from fear.”
Willy Brandt in his speech at the SPD Special Party Convention in Bonn, 14 June 1987

“I think my real success was in having contributed to the fact that in the world in which we live the name of our country, Germany, and the concept of peace can again be mentioned in the same breath.”
Willy Brandt in a TV interview, December 1988

“To the sum total of my life belongs the insight that there is no complete hopelessness.”
Willy Brandt in his memoirs ”Erinnerungen”, 1989

“A welfare state is liberal only if it averts the danger of bureaucratic overgrowth and writes self-dependent involvement with capital letters.”
Willy Brandt in his memoirs ”Erinnerungen”, 1989

“Why preclude that one day in Leipzig and Dresden, Magdeburg and Schwerin – and in East Berlin – not hundreds but hundreds of thousands are on their feet and demanding their civil rights as citizens? (…) And Berlin? And the Wall? The city will live and the wall will fall.”
Willy Brandt in his memoirs ”Erinnerungen”, 1989

“Now what belongs together will grow together. This applies for Europe as a whole.”
Willy Brandt on the fall of the Berlin Wall, 10 November 1989

“Wherever people are afflicted with grave suffering, it affects us all. Don’t forget: Whoever allows an injustice to continue for long is preparing the way for the next one.”
Willy Brandt’s greeting to the Congress of the Socialist International in Berlin, 15 September 1992

“Nothing happens of its own accord. And very little is lasting. Therefore – be aware of your strengths and of the fact that each era requires its own answers and you really must feel up to its expectations if you hope to achieve good things.”
Willy Brandt’s greeting to the Congress of the Socialist International in Berlin, 15 September 1992

The Social Democratic-Free Democratic Coalition, 1969-82 and Willy Brandt

In the West German Bundestag elections of September 1969, the CDU/CSU remained the largest political group, holding eighteen more seats than the SPD. With the help of the FDP, which had earlier supported the candidacy of the SPD minister of justice Gustav Heinemann for the federal presidency, Willy Brandt was able to form an SPD-FDP coalition government, with himself as federal chancellor. The SPD-FDP coalition lasted until late 1982 and was noted for its accomplishments in the area of foreign policy. The formation of this new coalition forced the CDU/CSU into opposition for the first time in the history of West Germany.

Willy Brandt became the first democratically elected Social Democrat to hold the chancellorship. Born in Luebeck in 1913, Brandt first joined the SPD in 1930 and later joined a smaller leftist grouping, the Socialist Workers Party (Sozialistiche Arbeiterpartei–SAP). After Hitler came to power, Willy Brandt emigrated to Norway, where he became a citizen and worked as a journalist. After Germany occupied Norway in 1940, he fled to Sweden. Willy Brandt returned to Germany after the war as a news correspondent and later as a Norwegian diplomat in Berlin. After he had again assumed German citizenship, Willy Brandt rejoined the SPD in 1947.

He became mayor of Berlin in 1957 and was the SPD candidate for the chancellorship in 1961. In the late 1950s, Brandt was a principal architect of the SPD’s rejection of its Marxist past and adoption of the Bad Godesburg Program, in which the party accepted the free-market principle. The triumph of the CDU/CSU in the 1957 national elections and widespread and increasing prosperity made such a step necessary if the SPD were to win the electorate’s favor. In 1964 Brandt became the chairman of the SPD. From 1966 to 1969, he served as minister for foreign affairs and vice chancellor in the Grand Coalition.

When Brandt became chancellor in 1969, he proposed a new policy toward the communist states of Eastern Europe this policy later became known as Ostpolitik (policy toward the East). In recognition of his efforts toward détente in Europe, he received the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1971. In the early 1970s, Brandt also engineered a package of treaties that normalized the FRG’s relations with the Soviet Union and with Poland, the GDR, and other Soviet-bloc nations. He successfully withstood a vote of no-confidence in the Bundestag in April 1972 and won the Bundestag elections in November 1972 with an impressive relative majority of nearly 45 percent. Brandt resigned in May 1974, shocked by the discovery that one of his personal assistants, Guenter Guillaume, was a spy for the GDR.

In domestic policy, Willy Brandt and his FDP coalition partners initiated legal reforms, including the passage of more liberal laws regarding divorce and abortion, the latter reform generating intense public discussion. Education reforms calling for new types of schools and for overhauling administration of the universities were only partially carried out. Brandt and his coalition partners were more successful in realizing their foreign policy goals than in achieving their domestic aims.

Death and memorials [ edit | edit source ]

Berlin Brandenburg Airport has been named after Willy Brandt.

Brandt´s memorial is within sight of the Warsaw Ghetto Memorial.

Willy-Brandt-Memorial in Nuremberg by the artist Josef Tabachnyk, 2009

Willy Brandt died of colon cancer at his home in Unkel, a town on the Rhine River, on 8 October 1992, and was given a state funeral. He was buried at the cemetery at Zehlendorf in Berlin.

When the SPD moved its headquarters from Bonn back to Berlin in the mid-1990s, the new headquarters was named the "Willy Brandt Haus". One of the buildings of the European Parliament in Brussels was named after him in 2008.

On 6 December 2000, a memorial to Willy Brandt and Warschauer Kniefall was unveiled in Warsaw, Poland.

German artist Johannes Heisig painted several portraits of Brandt of which one was unveiled as part of an honoring event at German Historical Institute Washington, DC on 18 March 2003. Spokesmen amongst others were former German Federal Minister Egon Bahr and former U.S. Secretary of state Henry Kissinger. ⏚]

In 2009, the Willy-Brandt-Memorial was opened up in Nuremberg at the Willy-Brandt Square. ⏛] It was created by the artist Josef Tabachnyk.

In 2009, the University of Erfurt renamed its graduate school of public administration as the Willy Brandt School of Public Policy. A private German-language secondary school in Warsaw, Poland, is also named after Brandt.

Main boulevard on the north entrance to Montenegrin capital Podgorica is named Willy Brandt Boulevard in 2011. ⏜]

Willy Brandt in Warsaw: Kniefall before history

It was a gesture that moved the world. In December 1970, Federal Chancellor Willy Brandt knelt in Warsaw in front of the memorial to the victims of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. For his courage, the Social Democrat was celebrated by the world - only the Germans were skeptical.

It is a wet, gray day when Willy Brandt visits the memorial for the victims of the Warsaw ghetto uprising on December 7 in the capital of Poland. With a serious, almost mask-like expression on his face, he walks to the expressionist bronze monument and lays down a large wreath of white carnations. Brandt tugs the loop, steps back a few steps, then suddenly drops to his knees. Federal Foreign Minister Walter Scheel, who stands behind him on the right, is as surprised as the Polish Prime Minister Jozef Cyrankiewicz Even Brandt's closest confidant, State Secretary Egon Bahr, is irritated.

Brandt's gaze goes into the distance. He looks like petrified. He kneels in front of the memorial for about half a minute. The photographers and cameramen know that they are taking pictures that will go around the world. "Brandt takes seconds," said Hans Ulrich Kempski, then chief reporter of the "Süddeutsche Zeitung", "who seem endless to the witnesses of the scene until he stands again, it looks like he needs all the strength to fight back tears."

The images of the Federal Chancellor kneeling in the square of the heroes of the ghetto, the German, bowing to the victims of the Germans, carry a drama that is rare in politics. It is no coincidence that it was Willy Brandt who chose this stirring gesture of empathy. No politician has so polarized the West German republic, but also excited as many people as Willy Brandt.

Brandt's hardest journey

Nevertheless, it is an absurd scene: a German anti-fascist who had fled the Nazis into exile and was therefore attacked by the rightists as a "traitor to the fatherland" recognizes the German guilt and expresses sadness.

Brandt's trip to Poland was the most difficult since he was elected Federal Chancellor in October 1969. Nowhere had Germans raged worse during the Second World War than in the eastern neighboring country no other country had occupied them longer. Six million Poles were killed between 1939 and 1945. Converted to the population, Nazi tyranny did not demand more sacrifices from any people in Europe. The extermination camps of the Holocaust were operated by the SS, especially in Poland. German occupiers and their helpers murdered the three million Polish Jews.

The flight and expulsion of the Germans, the decision of the victorious powers to hand over a quarter of the territory of the German Reich to Poland, did not make the situation any easier. Relations with Poland were the most heavily-strained for the Germans after the Second World War. This was true even for the GDR allied with the People's Republic of Poland. Until well into the sixties, the "friendship and peace border" was hermetically sealed off and heavily guarded.

A spontaneous emotional outburst

The federal governments led by the CDU had not recognized the Oder-Neisse line as the Polish western border, but insisted on illusory territorial claims. Only the SPD, with Willy Brandt in the grand coalition as foreign minister, dared to ask this question. Egon Bahr developed the New Ostpolitik with the guiding principle "Change through rapprochement". The Brandt government then recognized the territorial reorganization of Europe decided on in Potsdam in 1945 by the allied victorious powers. At the same time, it tried to mitigate and overcome the division of Europe and, above all, Germany through the Iron Curtain.

German-Polish Relationship: Willy Brandt's Greatest Gesture

Brandt later wrote: "The key to normalization was in Moscow." In order to reach an understanding with Poland and to improve relations with the GDR, Egon Bahr started negotiations in Moscow. On 12 August 1970, Brandt and Soviet Prime Minister Alexey Kossygin signed the "Moscow Treaty", which established the inviolability of European borders. Similarly short - and limited to renouncing violence and accepting the European borders - was also the Warsaw Treaty, signed by Brandt on 7 December 1970 in Warsaw after the knee blow.

Soon after the symbolic kneeling down, the question arose: Was the kneeling a long considered and calculated action? Hansjakob Stehle, at that time a correspondent for the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung", stood a few meters from Brandt and clearly rejects this: "No," he said, "it was a spontaneous emotional outburst."

Brandt himself has kept it all his life, how and when he got the idea to kneel in front of the memorial. In his "Memoirs" he wrote simply: "I had planned nothing, but Wilanow Castle, where I was housed, leaving in the feeling of having to express the peculiarities of the commemoration of the ghetto monument on the abyss of history and under the Last of the millions murdered, I did what people do when language fails. "

Brandt also quotes SPIEGEL reporter Hermann Schreiber in his memoirs. He wrote about the scene at the monument: "Then he kneels, who does not need it, because for all who need it, but do not kneel there - because they do not dare or can not or can not dare."

"In the Federal Republic," recalled Brandt, "there was no lack of sardonic or stupid questions as to whether the gesture had not been overdrawn." Der SPIEGEL, on whose cover a photograph of the kneeling chancellor, gave the Allensbacher Institut a survey commissioned: "Did Brandt kneel?"

Of the interviewees, 41 percent said that the gesture was appropriate and 48 percent thought it was excessive. Only in the group of 16 to 29 years old Brandt found by a narrow majority approval. 42 percent considered the knee blow to be exaggerated and 46 percent to be appropriate.

For many of the younger ones, the election of the anti-fascist Brandt was almost the same as the establishment of a new Federal Republic. Konrad Adenauer had called Hans Globke a former anti-Semite and Nazi State Secretary in his Chancellery Brandt's direct predecessor, the CDU man Kurt-Georg Kiesinger, had been a member of the NSDAP. The Social Democrat Brandt, who had survived National Socialism in Norwegian exile, was the better German for the youth.

Similar to the West German youth, Brandt also found great approval in the Western world. The US magazine "Time" named it shortly after the knee drop to the "Man of the Year". One year later, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize - until today the only German since the Second World War. While photos of Warsaw's knees were printed in all West German newspapers, only a small sheet written in Yiddish published a picture in Poland.

Since December 2000, there is a Willy Brandt Square in Warsaw with a monument reminiscent of the grand gesture.


Primary Sources

Brandt, Willy. Berliner Ausgabe. Edited by Helga Grebing/Bundeskanzler-Willy-Brandt-Stiftung. Bonn, 2000–.

Secondary Sources

Marshall, Barbara. Willy Brandt: A Political Biography. Basingstoke, U.K., 1997.

Münkel, Daniela. Willy Brandt und die "vierte Gewalt": Politik und Massenmedien in den 50er bis 70er Jahren. Frankfurt and New York, 2005.

Schöllgen, Gregor. Willy Brandt: Die Biographie. Berlin and Munich, 2002.

Brandt and Détente

After border tensions between the Soviet Union and China had flared up in 1969, the Soviet Union was ever more willing to pursue détente with the West. In addition to their negotiations with the United States (which Nixon and Kissinger wanted), that meant an improved understanding with Western Europe (much to the dislike of Nixon and Kissinger, who preferred their allies to keep putting pressure on the Soviets).

Frenemies: While Soviet Union and China both supported North Vietnam in the Vietnam War, they also rivaled each other over who was to lead the socialist world. Hostilities with China (culminating in a bloody border clash at the Ussuri in 1969) severely weakened the Soviet position in Asia. Image © GMT Games.

As Brandt had already pursued détente with the East during his tenure as foreign minister from 1966 on, Soviet general secretary Brezhnev hoped he would win the chancellorship in the elections of 1969 and become a reliable negotiation partner. As a little election campaigning help, the Soviet Union offered more cooperation with West Germany a few weeks before the elections, giving Brandt a welcome policy success on which he could run. And indeed, Brandt won and became the USSR’s new favorite partner in the West, „to the chagrin of the French and the irritation of the Americans“ (Marshall, p. 68). Brezhnev developed a strong personal relationship with Brandt (even closer than with Nixon, whom he found indispensable to superpower détente, but with whom he probably would not have vacationed at his summer dacha on the Crimea).
Helped by this connection with Brezhnev, Brandt concluded treaties which eased the tensions between Germany and the victims of her aggression in World War II (the Soviets, Polish, and Czechoslovakians), as well as very practical improvements to the relationship and the flow of people and goods between the two German states. On the other side, the Soviets gained international standing, recognition of the post-war order they built, and an improved relationship with one of Europe’s larger countries – represented on the Willy Brandt event card by the 1VP and the 1 influence the Soviets gain. Contrary to the card event, however, Brandt never questioned Germany’s membership in NATO.

Brandt’s conciliation with the East was the groundwork for an independent German foreign policy. Image © GMT Games.