Former West German Chancellor Willy Brandt’s Centenary and the “Warschauer Kniefall”

Updated: Jul 8, 2018

Willy Brandt, former West Berlin mayor and Chancellor of West Germany, has his birthday on 18 December. As Chancellor, Brandt implemented Ostpolitik, the strategy of talking to Warsaw Pact countries, which was greeted with bewilderment from many West Germans as well as the NATO Alliance. The German conservative opposition, the CDU/CSU heavily criticised Brandt’s Ostpolitik for undermining Western attempts at destabilising East Germany and the Warsaw Pact countries.

Besides concluding treaties with the Soviet Union and with Poland which were foundations of his policies, Brandt is perhaps most famously known for the “Warschauer Kniefall“, his genuflection in front of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising memorial on 7 December 1970.

At that time, a survey showed that West German citizens found that 48% thought that his gesture was an exaggeration, while 41% felt that the gesture was appropriate.

Brandt explained to his wife, “Something had to be done (Irgendetwas musste man tun).” His explanation to Egon Bahr, his advisor and a leading figure behind Ostpolitik, was, “I suddenly had the feeling that laying a wreath was not enough (Ich hatte plötzlich das Gufühl, Kranz niederlegen reicht nicht).” Yes, another politician laying another wreath at yet another war memorial….

Brandt won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1971.

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