Willy Brandt

(1913 – 1992)

Willy Brandt (Bundesarchiv B 145 Bild F057884-0009)Biographical Sketch

Willy Brandt (born Herbert Ernst Karl Frahm; Lübeck, Germany,  December 18, 1913 – Unkel near Bonn, Germany, 8 October  8,1992) was a German statesman and politician, who was leader of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) from 1964 to 1987 and served as Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany from 1969 to 1974. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1971 for his efforts to strengthen cooperation in western Europe through the European Economic Community (EEC) and to achieve reconciliation between West Germany and the countries of Eastern Europe. He was the first Social Democrat chancellor since 1930.

Fleeing to Norway and then Sweden during the Nazi regime and working as a leftist journalist, he took the name Willy Brandt as a pseudonym to avoid detection by Nazi agents, and then formally adopted the name in 1948. Brandt was originally considered one of the leaders of the right wing of the SPD, and earned initial fame as Governing Mayor of West Berlin. He served as Foreign Minister and as the 5th Vice Chancellor in Kurt Georg Kiesinger’s cabinet, and became Chancellor in 1969. As Chancellor, he maintained West Germany’s close alignment with the United States and focused on strengthening European integration in western Europe, while launching the new policy of Ostpolitik aimed at improving relations with Eastern Europe.  His best-remembered symbolic act in seeking a reconciliation with Poland was his genuflection at the monument to the Warsaw ghetto during his 1970 visit of state.  Brandt was, however, controversial on both the right wing, for his Ostpolitik, and on the left wing, for his support of American policies, including the Vietnam War, and right-wing authoritarian regimes. Brandt was also known for his fierce anti-communist policies at the domestic level, culminating in the Radikalenerlass (Anti-Radical Decree) in 1972.

Brandt resigned as chancellor in 1974, after Günter Guillaume, one of his closest aides, was exposed as an agent of the Stasi, the East German secret service.  He continued to actively take a hand in national and international politics, however; remaining chairman of the German Social Democratic Party until 1987 and putting his political weight behind initiatives seeking peace, reconciliation, the fight against hunger and poverty, and Third World development.  The so-called Brandt Report, first published in 1980 by the Independent Commission for International Developmental Issues (whose chairman Brandt had become in 1977), became a recognised measure for describing the general North-South divide in world economics and politics between an affluent North and a poor South.

Brandt had always maintained that the two German states were bound to reunite again at length, and he just about lived to see his expectation come true in 1989.  He died in 1992 in his home near Bonn.

Read more about Willy Brandt on Wikipedia.


Video: Brandt’s 1970 Warsaw genuflection


Major Awards and Honors

 Nobel Peace Prize
  • 1971
International Rescue Committee Freedom Award
  • 1957
Sovereign Order Pro Merito Melitensi
  • 1970: Grand Cross Special Class
Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany
  • 1959: Grand Cross (Großkreuz)
City of Berlin (Germany)
  • 1970: Honorary Citizen (Ehrenbürger)
City of Lübeck (Germany)
  • 1972: Honorary Citizen (Ehrenbürger)
Dolf Sternberger Society (Germany)
  • 1992: Dolf Sternberger Prize
Kingdom of Norway
  • 1960: Order of St. Olav – Knight Grand Cross
KIngdom of Denmark
  • 1970: Order of the Dannebrog – Grand Cross
Kingdom of Sweden
  • 1972: Order of Vasa – Commander Grand Cross
Order of the Falcon (Iceland)
  • 1968: Knight Grand Cross
Légion d’Honneur (France)
  • 1973: Grand Croix de la Légion
Order of Merit of the Italian Republic
  • 1965: Knight Grand Cross
Decoration of Honour for Services to the Republic of Austria
  • 1961: Grand Decoration of Honour in Silver with Sash
  • 1973: Grand Decoration of Honour in Gold with Sash 
Kingdom of The Netherlands
  • 1969: Order Of Orange-Nassau – Great Cross
Kingdom of Belgium
  • 1971: Order of the Crown – Grand Cross
Order Of The White Lion (Czech Republic)
  • 2000: Civil Division, First Class – in memoriam
Time Magazine Person of the Year (USA)
  • 1970
Albert Einstein Peace Prize Foundation (USA)
  • 1985: Albert Einstein Peace Prize
University of Notre Dame, INdiana (USA)
  • 1972: Reinhold Niebuhr Award
B’nai B’rith (Israel)
  • 1981: Presidential Gold Medal
Empire of Japan
  • 1971: Order of the Rising Sun, First Class
Orden El Sol del Perú
  • 1986: Grand Cross



  • Kriget i Norge (1942)
    (Krieg in Norwegen, 9. April – 9. Juni 1940 / War in Norway)
    – Updated edition 2010.
  • Mein Weg nach Berlin (1960)
    (My Path to Berlin)
  • Begegnungen und Einsichten. Die Jahre 1960–1975 (1976)
    (Encounters and Insights 1960–1975)
  • Links und frei. Mein Weg 1930–1950 (1982)
    (Left and Free: My Path 1930–1950)
    – New edition with an updated preface by the author, 1984.
Political Writings and Speeches
  • Zur Nachkriegspolitik der deutschen Sozialisten (1944)
    – With August Enderle, Irmgard Enderle, Stefan Szende, and Ernst Behm.
  • Draußen. Schriften während der Emigration (1966)
    (Outside: Writings during the Emigration)
  • Friedenspolitik in Europa (1968)
    (The Politics of Peace in Europe)
  • North-South: A Program for Survival – Report of the Independent Commission for International Developmental Issues (1980)
    – A/K/A Brandt-Report.
  • Der organisierte Wahnsinn (1986)
    (Organized Lunacy)
Collections and Letters
  • Berliner Ausgabe (2002)
    (Collected Writings)
    – Edition compiled for Bundeskanzler Willy Brandt Stiftung, 10 volumes.

    • Volume 1: Hitler ist nicht Deutschland. Jugend in Lübeck, Exil in Norwegen 1928–1940 (2002)
    • Volume 2: Zwei Vaterländer. Deutsch-Norweger im schwedischen Exil, Rückkehr nach Deutschland 1940–1947 (2000)
    • Volume 3: Berlin bleibt frei. Politik in und für Berlin 1949–1966 (2004)
    • Volume 4: Auf dem Weg nach vorn. Willy Brandt und die SPD 1947–1972 (2000)
    • Volume 5: Die Partei der Freiheit. Willy Brandt und die SPD 1972–1992 (2002)
    • Volume 6: Ein Volk der guten Nachbarn. Außen- und Deutschlandpolitik 1966–1974 (2005)
    • Volume 7: Mehr Demokratie wagen. Innen- und Gesellschaftspolitik 1966–1984 (2001)
    • Volume 8: Über Europa hinaus. Dritte Welt und Internationale (2006)
    • Volume 9: Die Entspannung unzerstörbar machen. Internationale Beziehungen und deutsche Frage 1974–1982 (2003)
    • Volume 10: Gemeinsame Sicherheit. Internationale Beziehungen und deutsche Frage 1982–1992 (2009)
  • Willy-Brandt-Dokumente
    •  Volume 1: Forbrytere og andre tyskere (1946)
      (Verbrecher und andere Deutsche. Ein Bericht aus Deutschland 1946)
      – First German edition 2007.
    • Volume 2: Willy Brandt: Im Zweifel für die Freiheit. Reden zur sozialdemokratischen und deutschen Geschichte (2012)
  • Willy Brandt und Günter Grass – Der Briefwechsel (2013)
    – Edited by Martin Kölbel.
  • Willy Brandt, Helmut Schmidt. Partner und Rivalen. Der Briefwechsel, 1958–1992 (2015)
    – Edited by Meik Woyke.


A selection of Quotes

Erinnerungen (My Life in Politics)

“Walls in people’s heads are sometimes more durable than walls made of concrete blocks.”

[On kneeling down at the Warsaw Ghetto Monument during his 1970 state visit to Poland:]

“Es war eine ungewöhnliche Last, die ich auf meinem Weg nach Warschau mitnahm. Nirgends hatte das Volk, hatten die Menschen so gelitten wie in Polen. Die maschinelle Vernichtung der polnischen Judenheit stellte eine Steigerung der Mordlust dar, die niemand für möglich gehalten hatte. […]
Ich hatte nichts geplant, aber Schloß Wilanow, wo ich untergebracht war, in dem Gefühl verlassen, die Besonderheit des Gedenkens am Ghetto-Monument zum Ausdruck bringen zu müssen. Am Abgrund der deutschen Geschichte und unter der Last der Millionen Ermordeten tat ich, was Menschen tun, wenn die Sprache versagt.
Ich weiß es auch nach zwanzig Jahren nicht besser als jener Berichterstatter, der festhielt: ‘Dann kniet er, der das nicht nötig hat, für alle, die es nötig haben, aber nicht knien – weil sie es nicht wagen oder nicht können oder nicht wagen können.'”

(“I took an extraordinary burden to Warsaw. Nowhere else had a people suffered as much as in Poland. The robotic mass annihilation of the Polish Jews had brought human blood lust to a climax which nobody had considered possible. […]
Although I had made no plans, I left my accommodations at Wilanow Castle feeling that I was called upon to mark in some way the special moment of commemoration at the Ghetto Monument. At the abyss of German history and burdened by millions of murdered humans, I acted in the way of those whom language fails.
Even twenty years later, I wouldn’t know better than the journalist who recorded the moment by saying, ‘Then he, who would not need to do this, kneels down in lieu of all those who should, but who do not kneel down – because they do not dare, cannot kneel, or cannot dare to kneel.'”

[Note: The quotation used by Brandt is from the article Ein Stück Heimkehr [A Partial Homecoming] (Hermann Schreiber/ Der Spiegel No. 51/1970, Dec. 14, 1970]

“Warum, mit welchem Recht und aufgrund welcher Erfahrung ausschließen, daß eines Tages in Leipzig und Dresden, in Magdeburg und Schwerin – und in Ostberlin – nicht Hunderte, sondern Hunderttausende auf den Beinen sind und ihre staatsbürgerlichen Rechte einfordern? Einschließlich des Rechts, von einem Teil Deutschlands in den anderen überzusiedeln?”
(“Why, from what right and based on what experience exclude the possibility that one day in Leipzig and Dresden, in Magdeburg and Schwerin – and in East Berlin – not merely hundreds but hundreds of thousands will take to the streets and demand their rights as citizens? Including the right to move from one part of Germany to the other?”)

“Und Berlin? Und die Mauer? Die Stadt wird leben, und die Mauer wird fallen. Aber eine isolierte Berlin-Lösung, eine, die nicht mit weiterreichenden Veränderungen in Europa und zwischen den Teilen Deutschlands einhergeht, ist immer illusionär gewesen und im Laufe der Jahre nicht wahrscheinlich geworden.”
(“And Berlin? And the Wall? The city will remain alive, and the Wall is going to come down. But an isolated solution for Berlin, one that does not go hand in hand with the broader changes in Europe and between the two parts of Germany, has always been illusionary and has not become any more probable over the course of the years.”)

“Seit Jahr und Tag ist notorisch, daß unsere Erde das vorausberechenbare Wachstum der Bevölkerung, die Erschöpfung der natürlichen Ressourcen und die Auszehrung der Umwelt nicht lange erträgt. Wir leben seit geraumer Zeit auf Kosten kommender Generationen. […] Die Gefahr, daß die Menschheit sich selbst zerstört, ist auch dann nicht gebannt, wenn der Atomkrieg ausbleibt.”
(“It has been an obvious fact for the longest time that our earth will not be able to sustain for long the foreseeable growth of its population, the exhaustion of its natural resources, and the emaciation of its natural environment. We have been living for quite a while at the expense of our future generations. […] The absence of a nuclear war does not, by itself, diminish the danger of humanity’s self-destruction.”)

First Inaugural Address as West German Chancellor, October 28, 1969

“Auch wenn zwei Staaten in Deutschland existieren, sind sie doch füreinander nicht Ausland; ihre Beziehungen zueinander können nur von besonderer Art sein.”
(“Even though two states in Germany exist, they are not foreign countries to each other—their relations with each other can only be of a special kind.”)

“Wir wollen ein Volk der guten Nachbarn sein und werden, im Innern und nach außen.“
(“We as a people want to be and become good neighbors, both domestically and abroad.”)

Speech before the United Nations General Assembly, September 26, 1973

“Wo Hunger herrscht, ist auf die Dauer kein Friede.“
(“Where there is hunger, there cannot be lasting peace.)

Speech before an extraordinary convention of the Social Democratic Party in Bonn, Germany, June 14, 1987

“Wenn ich sagen soll, was mir neben dem Frieden wichtiger sei als alles andere, dann lautet meine Antwort ohne Wenn und Aber: Freiheit. Die Freiheit für viele, nicht nur für die wenigen. Freiheit des Gewissens und der Meinung. Auch Freiheit von Not und von Furcht.“
(“If I am to say what, besides peace, is more important to me than anything else, my unconditional answer is: Freedom. Freedom for the many, not merely for a few. Freedom of conscience and of opinion. And also freedom from poverty and fear.”)

Berlin radio interview, November 10, 1989

“Jetzt sind wir in einer Situation, in der wieder zusammenwächst, was zusammengehört.“
(“Now we are in a situation where what belongs together, will grow back together.”)

Speech at Rathaus Schöneberg (Berlin City Hall) on November 10, 1989

“[I]ch habe es noch in diesem Sommer erneut zu Papier gebracht: Berlin wird leben, und die Mauer wird fallen.”
(“I put it down on paper again in the summer of this year: Berlin will live, and the Wall will come down.”)

Message to the Socialist International Congress in Berlin, September 15, 1992

“Nichts kommt von selbst. Und nur wenig ist von Dauer. Darum — besinnt Euch auf Eure Kraft und darauf, dass jede Zeit eigene Antworten will und man auf ihrer Höhe zu sein hat, wenn Gutes bewirkt werden soll.“
(“Nothing happens automatically. And only few things last. Therefore — be mindful of your strength, and of the fact that every era wants its own answers, and you have to be up to its speed in order to be able to do good.”)

Find more quotes by Willy Brandt on Wikiquote and Goodreads.