Willy Brandt

Willy Brandt

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.

Willy Brandt
Willy Brandt

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.

Primary Sources

(1) Willy Brandt interviewed by Terence Prittle (1974)

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.

(2) Willy Brandt wrote about his experiences of the Spanish Civil War in his book In Exile (1971)

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.

(3) Willy Brandt, Det fri Aktuelt (December, 1939)

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.

(4) Willy Brandt, Det fri Aktuelt (January, 1940)

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 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. It is the Soviet Union which stabbed Poland in the back and initiated the war against Finland.

(5) Willy Brandt, letter to Herbert George (August 1943)

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.

(6) Willy Brandt, interviewed by Leo Lania, My Road to Berlin (1960)

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.

(7) Willy Brandt, letter to Halvard Lange (7th November, 1957)

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.

(8) Terence Prittle, Manchester Guardian (2nd April, 1966)

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.

(9) Michael Stewart, Foreign Secretary, interviewed by Terence Prittle about Willy Brandt (1974)

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.

(10) George Brown, In My Way (1971) page 252

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.

(11) Willy Brandt, A Peace Policy for Europe (1968)

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.

(12) The Sunday Telegraph (12th November, 1972)

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.