Give Peace a Chance – Willy Brandt

This text tells the story of Willy Brandt, who was born in 1913 in Lübeck with the name Herbert Ernst Karl Frehm. As a young men he became involved in several socialistic youth organizations. In 1930 he joins the SPD (Social Democratic Party of Germany) which he left on year later because he was disappointed of the small resistance against the conservative coalition of Hitler’s NSDAP and the DNVP.


In 1933 Adolf Hitler became Reichskanzler of the Weimar Republic. The first step to the reign of terror which should bring the whole world to chaos was done. Brandt went in to exile to Oslo and joined the resistance. At the same time he gave Himself the name Willy Brandt which he kept until his death. He started writing critical text and reported for the socialistic POUM in the Spanish civil war. 1938 the Nazi regime decided to denationalize him. Brandt was stateless.


After the Second World War Brandt decided to go back to Germany to write about the Nuremberg trials. Back in his home country he started to get in contact with several SPD members. In 1948 Brant obtains the German citizenship back and starts to get involved in politics again. He becomes member of the parliament, major of berlin, minister of foreign affairs and in 1969 ultimately the first social democratic canceler of the FRG. In comparison to the former canceler Adenauer he changed the foreign policy to the opposite.  While Adenauer rose the claim that the FRG and its elected parliament was the only legitimate representation for all German people in east and west, Brandt acknowledged the GDR as a state. His goal was to find the commonalities not what separates them. He also wanted the GDR to be part of the rapprochement.
For many people this was the start of the reuniting process that ended with the fall of the berlin wall in 1989.

Even though the Biography of Willy Brandt is worth to be told entirety it would go beyond the scope of this article. But there is one incident in 1970whose pictures went across the globe.

A small gesture expressing so much that it is shown year in and year out and which still takes peoples breath away. And even after so many years some people can’t watch it without fighting back some tears. It was a small gesture that stood for a recommencement. It stood for a Germany that took leave of the idea to be great power.

On December the 7th 1970 Willy Brandt was in Warsaw to sign the “Warschauer Verträge” to acknowledge the border between Poland and Germany.
Part of the visit in Poland was also a remembrance ceremony at the Monument of the Ghetto Heroes. He monument commemorates the Jewish people who stood up to the suppression and the barbarous and cruel imprisonment during the occupation of Poland by the Nazi regime. During the fight 12000 died. 30 000 where executed by the SS. Another 7000 where brought into concentration camps.

Brandt himself was not guilty for these crimes against humanity committed by the Nazis. He himself was a victim, a refugee who joined the resistance. He always fought for another Germany without nationalism and imperialism. It could have been a commemoration ceremony like many before.  Brandt could have lain down a collar, have a minute’s silence and then leave. But it went different.
He walked to the memorial, lay down the collar, paused for a moment and then fell down on his knees. He didn’t say a word because no words where needed. It was not a controlled kneel down rather a breakage. It seems paradox that just this man clear of debt asked for forgiveness. Not for himself but for the whole nation. Later in his memorials brand wrote:” “Carrying the burden of the millions who were murdered, I did what people do when words fail them.”( „„Am Abgrund der deutschen Geschichte und unter der Last der Millionen Ermordeten tat ich, was Menschen tun, wenn die Sprache versagt.“). It seems paradox because he wasn’t guilty. He did not need to ask for forgiveness. But it was also paradox because it had a unique effect.
In a speech in honor of the 65 Birthday of the German “Grundgesetz” the German-Iranian Author Navid Kermani tried to explain this paradox.

Normally the rank of a state is defined by the military power, by force or by size. People are proud because a state is great. And during the time the different German nations always tried to gain recognition in the international system this way. Finally they reached it by doing the complete opposite. Brandt laid down all his pride and felt ashamed.

This gesture brought back some of the dignity that Germany hat lost because of all his atrocity.

Brandt received the Nobel peace prize for his indefatigable commitment for the international understanding. Until his death he did not stop fighting for a peaceful and united Europe. Even today he is seen as an outstanding personality not only for the German social democracy. Beyond national and ideological boarders he was a well-respected statesman.


I agree, this would be a perfect happy end. The country that is guilty for two world wars, is guilty for the most terrific genocide in the history of mankind. This country faces is guilt begs for forgiveness in an act of subservience and accepts its responsibility as a pioneer of the European idea. Sadly this is not the end. The anti-European forces are getting Stronger. The hateful language of Nationalism is rising again, even in Germany.

If Willy Brandt would alive he would be shocked. And maybe he would repeat the words of his Nobel price speech: “A good German cannot be a nationalist. A good German knows that he cannot refuse a European calling. Through Europe, Germany returns to itself and to the constructive forces of its history. Our Europe, born of the experience of suffering and failure, is the imperative mission of reason.

(“Ein guter Deutscher kann kein Nationalist sein. Ein guter Deutscher weiß, dass er sich einer europäischen Bestimmung nicht versagen kann. Durch Europa kehrt Deutschland heim zu sich selbst und den aufbauenden Kräften seiner Geschichte.“ )


Jonas Fritz is in his third semester at Johannes Gutenberg- Universität in Mainz. His subjects are  politics in his major an communication in his minor. He is a memher of the Graduates of Democracy who attended the 2016 edition. Besides his engagement in the German SPD and their youth organisation he is also the Head of Social Media at the European Student Think Tank.



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