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Helmut Schmidt

In office
16 May 1974 – 1 October 1982
President Gustav Heinemann (1974)
Walter Scheel (1974-1979)
Karl Carstens (1979-1982)
Deputy Walter Scheel (1974)
Hans-Dietrich Genscher (1974-1982)
Egon Franke (1982)
Preceded by Willy Brandt
Walter Scheel (acting)
Succeeded by Helmut Kohl

In office
7 July 1972 – 16 May 1974
Preceded by Karl Schiller
Succeeded by Hans Apel

In office
7 July 1972 – 15 December 1972
Preceded by Karl Schiller
Succeeded by Hans Friderichs

In office
22 October 1969 – 7 July 1972
Preceded by Gerhard Schröder
Succeeded by Georg Leber

Born 23 December 1918 (1918-12-23) (age 91)
Political party SPD
Spouse(s) Hannelore "Loki" Glaser
Profession Economist, Civil servant
Religion Lutheranism

Helmut Heinrich Waldemar Schmidt (born 23 December 1918) is a German Social Democratic politician who served as Chancellor of West Germany from 1974 to 1982. Prior to becoming chancellor, he had served as Minister of Defence and Minister of Finance. He had also served briefly as Minister of Economics and as acting Foreign Minister. He is the oldest surviving German Chancellor and the last surviving person to have been solely Chancellor of West Germany (Helmut Kohl was Chancellor of both West Germany and reunified Germany). He also is the oldest Federal German Minister surviving after the death of his Interior Minister Werner Maihofer.



Helmut Schmidt was born in Hamburg, as son of two teachers. He studied at Hamburg Lichtwark school, graduating in 1937. He was conscripted into military service and began serving with an anti-aircraft battery at Vegesack near Bremen during World War II. After brief service on the eastern front he returned to Germany in 1942 to work as a trainer and advisor at the Reichsluftfahrtministerium. Also in 1942, on 27 June, he married his childhood sweetheart Hannelore "Loki" Glaser, with whom he fathered two children: Helmut Walter (26 June 1944–February 1945, died of meningitis), and Susanne (b. 1947), who works in London for Bloomberg Television. Toward the end of the war, from December 1944 onwards, he served as Oberleutnant in the artillery on the western front. He was captured by the British in April 1945 on Lüneburg Heath and was a prisoner of war until August. During his service in World War II Schmidt was awarded the Iron Cross.[1]

Schmidt's father was the illegitimate son of a Jewish businessman, although this was kept secret in the family.[2][3] This was confirmed publicly by Helmut Schmidt in 1984, after Valéry Giscard d'Estaing had, apparently with Schmidt's assent, revealed the fact to journalists. Schmidt himself is a non-practicing Lutheran.

Schmidt completed his education in Hamburg, studying economics and political science. He graduated in 1949.

Political career


Early years

Schmidt had joined the Social Democratic Party (SPD) in 1946, and from 1947 to 1948 was leader of the Sozialistischer Deutscher Studentenbund, the then-student organisation of the SPD.

Upon leaving the university, he worked for the government of the city-state of Hamburg, working in the department of economic policy. Beginning in 1952, under Karl Schiller, he was a senior figure in the Behörde für Wirtschaft und Verkehr (the Hamburg State Ministry for Economy and Transport).

He was elected to the Bundestag in 1953, and in 1957 he became member of the SPD parliamentary party executive. A vocal critic of conservative government policy, his outspoken rhetoric in parliament earned him the nick-name "Schmidt-Schnauze".[4] In 1958, he joined the national board of the SPD (Bundesvorstand) and campaigned against nuclear weapons and the equipping of the Bundeswehr with such devices. In 1958, he gave up his seat in parliament to concentrate on his tasks in Hamburg.

From 27 February 1958, to 29 November 1961, he was a Member of the European Parliament, which was not directly elected at the time.


The government of the city-state of Hamburg is known as the Senate, and from 1961 to 1965 Schmidt was the Innensenator, that is Minister of the Interior. He gained the reputation as a Macher (doer) – someone who gets things done regardless of obstacles – by his effective management during the emergency caused by the 1962 flood. Schmidt used all means at his disposal to alleviate the situation, even when that meant overstepping his legal authority, including federal police and army units (ignoring the German constitution's prohibition on using the army for "internal affairs"; a clause excluding disasters was not added until 1968). Describing his actions, Schmidt said, "I have not been put in charge of these units; I have taken charge of them!"

This characteristic was coupled with a pragmatic attitude and opposition to political idealism, including those of student protests, best symbolised by his well known remark that "People who have a vision should go see a doctor."

Return to Federal politics

In 1965, he was re-elected to the Bundestag. In 1967, after the formation of the Grand Coalition between SPD and CDU, he became chairman of the Social Democrat parliamentary party, a post he held until the elections of 1969.

In 1967, he was elected deputy party chairman.

In October 1969, he entered the government of Willy Brandt as defence minister. In July 1972, he succeeded Karl Schiller as Minister for Economics and Finances, but in November 1972, he relinquished the Economics department, which was again made a separate ministry. Schmidt remained Minister of Finances until May 1974.

From 1968 to 1984, Schmidt was deputy chairman of the SPD (unlike Willy Brandt and Gerhard Schröder, he was never actually chairman of the party).


He became Chancellor of West Germany on 16 May 1974, after Brandt's resignation in the wake of an espionage scandal. The worldwide economic recession was the main concern of his administration, and Schmidt took a tough and disciplined line. During his term, Germany had to cope with the oil crisis of the 1970s; according to some judgments, Germany managed better than the most of the industrial states. Schmidt was also active in improving relations with France. Together with the French President Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, he was one of the fathers of the world economic summits, the first of which assembled in 1975.

In 1975, he was a signatory of the Helsinki Final Act to create the Conference for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the precursor of today's OSCE.

He remained chancellor after the 1976 elections in coalition with the FDP.

Regarding the terrorist Red Army Faction he held to a tough, no compromise line. Specifically, he authorized the GSG 9 anti-terrorist unit to end the hijacking of the Lufthansa aircraft Landshut by force in the German Autumn of 1977.

During his tenure as chancellor Schmidt drew criticism from Israel for commenting that Palestine should receive an apology because the Holocaust of European Jewry seemingly prompted the establishment of the State of Israel.[5]

Concerned about the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the Soviet superiority regarding missiles in Central Europe, Schmidt issued proposals resulting in the NATO Double-Track Decision concerning the deployment of medium-range nuclear missiles in Western Europe should the Soviets not disarm. He was re-elected as chancellor in November 1980. In October 1981, Schmidt was fitted with a cardiac pacemaker.

At the beginning of his period as Bundeskanzler, Schmidt was a proponent of Keynesian economics. By the end of his term, however, he had turned away from deficit spending. Large sections of the SPD increasingly opposed his security policy while most of the FDP politicians strongly supported that policy; while representatives of the left wing of the social democratic party opposed reduction of the state expenditures, the FDP began proposing a monetarist economic policy. In February 1982, Schmidt won a Motion of Confidence, however on 17 September 1982, the coalition broke apart, with the four FDP ministers leaving his cabinet. Schmidt continued to head a minority government composed only of SPD members, while the FDP negotiated a coalition with the CDU/CSU. During this time Schmidt also headed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. On 1 October 1982, parliament approved of a Vote of No-Confidence and elected the CDU chairman Helmut Kohl as the new Chancellor. This was the first time and only time in the history of the Federal Republic that a Chancellor was ousted from office in this way.

After politics

In 1982, along with his friend Gerald Ford, he cofounded the annual AEI World Forum.

In 1983, he joined the nationwide weekly Die Zeit newspaper as co-publisher. In 1985, he became Managing Director. With Takeo Fukuda he founded the Inter Action Councils in 1983. He retired from the Bundestag in 1986. In December 1986, he was one of the founders of the committee supporting the EMU and the creation of the European Central Bank.

Contrary to the current line of his party, Helmut Schmidt is a determined opponent of Turkey's entry into the EU. He also opposes phasing out nuclear energy, something that the Red-Green coalition of Gerhard Schröder supported.

Schmidt is author of numerous books on on his political life, on foreign policy and political ethics. He remains to be one the most renowned political publicists in Germany.

In recent years, Schmidt has been afflicted with increasing deafness.

2007 Criticism of the United States

In November 2007, Schmidt wrote in the German weekly Die Zeit that the United States was a greater threat to world peace than Russia. He argued that Russia had not invaded its neighbors since the conclusion of the Cold War and that he was surprised that Russia allowed Ukraine and other former components of the Soviet Union to secede peacefully. He noted that the United States' invasion of Iraq under George W. Bush was "a war of choice, not a war of necessity."

Personal life

  • He is a great admirer of the philosopher Karl Popper, and contributed a Foreword to the 1982 Festschrift in Popper's honor.[6]
  • Schmidt and his wife are both smokers. He is well known for lighting up cigarettes on TV interviews or talkshows. In January 2008, German police launched an enquiry after Schmidt was reported by an anti-smoking initiative for defying the recently introduced smoking ban. The initiative claimed that Helmut Schmidt had been flagrantly ignoring laws "for decades". Despite pictures in the press, the case was subsequently dropped after the public prosecution service decided that Schmidt's actions had not been a threat to public health.[7]

Schmidt's first term as Federal Chancellor, 16 May 1974–15 December 1976

  • Helmut Schmidt (SPD) - Chancellor
  • Hans-Dietrich Genscher (FDP) - Vice Chancellor and Minister of Foreign Affairs
  • Georg Leber (SPD) - Minister of Defense
  • Werner Maihofer (FDP) - Minister of the Interior
  • Hans Apel (SPD) - Minister of Finance
  • Hans-Jochen Vogel (SPD) - Minister of Justice
  • Hans Friedrichs (FDP) - Minister of Economics
  • Walter Arendt (SPD) - Minister of Labour and Social Affairs
  • Josef Ertl (FDP) - Minister of Food, Agriculture, and Forestry
  • Kurt Gscheidle (SPD) - Minister of Transport, Posts, and Communications
  • Karl Ravens (SPD) - Minister of Construction
  • Katharina Focke (SPD) - Minister of Youth, Family, and Health
  • Hans Matthöfer (SPD) - Minister of Research and Technology
  • Helmut Rohde (SPD) - Minister of Education and Science
  • Erhard Eppler (SPD) - Minister of Economic Cooperation
  • Egon Franke (SPD) - Minister of Intra-German Relations


  • 4 July 1974 - Egon Bahr (SPD) succeeds Eppler as Minister of Economic Cooperation.

Schmidt's second term as Federal Chancellor, 15 December 1976–5 November 1980

  • Helmut Schmidt (SPD) - Chancellor
  • Hans-Dietrich Genscher (FDP) - Vice Chancellor and Minister of Foreign Affairs
  • Georg Leber (SPD) - Minister of Defense
  • Werner Maihofer (FDP) - Minister of the Interior
  • Hans Apel (SPD) - Minister of Finance
  • Hans-Jochen Vogel (SPD) - Minister of Justice
  • Hans Friedrichs (FDP) - Minister of Economics
  • Herbert Ehrenberg (SPD) - Minister of Labour and Social Affairs
  • Josef Ertl (FDP) - Minister of Food, Agriculture, and Forestry
  • Kurt Gscheidle (SPD) - Minister of Transportation, Posts, and Communications
  • Karl Ravens (SPD) - Minister of Construction
  • Antje Huber (SPD) - Minister of Youth, Family, and Health
  • Hans Matthöfer (SPD) - Minister of Research and Technology
  • Helmut Rohde (SPD) - Minister of Education and Science
  • Marie Schlei (SPD) - Minister of Economic Cooperation
  • Egon Franke (SPD) - Minister of Intra-German Relations


  • 7 October 1977 - Otto Graf Lambsdorff (FDP) succeeds Friedrichs as Minister of Economics.
  • 16 February 1978 - Hans Apel (SPD) succeeds Leber as Minister of Defense. Hans Matthöfer (SPD) succeeds Apel as Minister of Finance. Volker Hauff succeeds Matthöfer as Minister of Research and Technology. Dieter Haack (SPD) succeeds Ravens as Minister of Construction. Jürgen Schmude (SPD) succeeds Rohde as Minister of Education and Science. Rainer Offergeld (SPD) succeeds Schlei as Minister of Economic Cooperation.
  • 8 June 1978 - Gerhart Baum (FDP) succeeds Maihofer as Minister of the Interior.

Schmidt's third term as Federal Chancellor, 5 November 1980–17 September 1982

  • Helmut Schmidt (SPD) - Chancellor
  • Hans-Dietrich Genscher (FDP) - Vice Chancellor and Minister of Foreign Affairs
  • Hans Apel (SPD) - Minister of Defense
  • Gerhart Baum (FDP) - Minister of the Interior
  • Hans Matthöfer (SPD) - Minister of Finance
  • Hans-Jochen Vogel (SPD) - Minister of Justice
  • Otto Graf Lambsdorff (FDP) - Minister of Economics
  • Herbert Ehrenberg (SPD) - Minister of Labour and Social Affairs
  • Josef Ertl (FDP) - Minister of Food, Agriculture, and Forestry
  • Volker Hauff (SPD) - Minister of Transport
  • Dieter Haack (SPD) - Minister of Construction
  • Antje Huber (SPD) - Minister of Youth, Family, and Health
  • Andreas von Bülow (SPD) - Minister of Research and Technology
  • Jürgen Schmude (SPD) - Minister of Education and Science
  • Rainer Offergeld (SPD) - Minister of Economic Cooperation
  • Kurt Gscheidle (SPD) - Minister of Posts and Communications
  • Egon Franke (SPD) - Minister of Intra-German Relations


  • 28 January 1981 - Jürgen Schmude (SPD) succeeds Vogel as Minister of Justice. Björn Engholm succeeds Schmude as Minister of Education and Science.
  • 28 April 1982 - Hans Matthöfer (SPD) succeeds Gscheidle as Minister of Posts and Communications. Manfred Lahnstein (SPD) succeeds Matthöfer as Minister of Finance. Heinz Westphal (SPD) succeeds Ehrenberg as Minister of Labour and Social Affairs. Anke Fuchs (SPD) succeeds Huber as Minister of Youth, Family, and Health.
  • 17 September 1982 - All the Free Democratic ministers quit the government. Helmut Schmidt (SPD) succeeds Genscher as Minister of Foreign Affairs. Jürgen Schmude (SPD) succeeds Baum as Minister of the Interior, remaining also Minister of Justice. Manfred Lahnstein (SPD) succeeds Lambsdorff as Minister of Economics, remaining also Minister of Finance. Björn Engholm (SPD) succeeds Ertl as Minister of Food, Agriculture, and Forestry, remaining also Minister of Education and Science.



  • Menschen und Mächte (Persons and Powers), Siedler, Berlin 1987. Memoirs with focus on cold war politics.
  • Die Deutschen und ihre Nachbarn (The Germans and their Neighbours), Siedler, Berlin 1990. Strong focus on European politics.
  • Kinder und Jugend unter Hitler, with Willi Berkhan et al. (Childhood and Youth under Hitler). Siedler, Berlin 1992.
  • Weggefährten (Companions), Siedler, Berin 1996. Personal memoirs, with focus on personal relations with domestic and foreign politicians

Recent political books (selection)

  • Balance of Power, Kimber, 1971, ISBN 978-0718301125
  • The Soviet Union: Challenges and Responses As Seen from the European Point of View, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 1984, ISBN 978-9971902759
  • A Grand Strategy for the West: The Anachronism of National Strategies in an Interdependent World, Yale University Press, reprint 1987, ISBN 978-0300040036
  • Men and Powers: A Political Retrospective, Random House, 1989, ISBN 978-0394569949
  • A Global Ethic and Global Responsibilities: Two Declarations, with Hans Kung, SCM Press, 1998, ISBN 978-0334027409
  • Bridging the Divide: Religious Dialogue and Universal Ethics, Queen's Policy Studies, 2008, ISBN 978-1553392200
  • Auf der Suche nach einer öffentlichen Moral (In Search of a Public Morality), DVA, Stuttgart 1998.
  • Die Selbstbehauptung Europas (The Self-Assertion of Europe), DVA, Stuttgart 2000.
  • Die Mächte der Zukunft. Gewinner und Verlierer in der Welt von morgen (The Powers of the Future. Winners and Losers in the World of Tomorrow) Siedler, Munich 2004
  • Nachbar China, with Frank Sieren (Neighbour China), Econ, Berlin 2006
  • Ausser Dienst (Out of Service), Siedler, Munich 2008. A political legacy

Further reading

  • Carr, Jonathan: Helmut Schmidt: Helmsman of Germany. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1985. ISBN 0312367449

External links


  1. ^ Woolf, Harry (1976-07-16). "Verleihung der Ehrendoktorwürde der Johns-Hopkins-Universität; Laudatio verlesen von Harry W o o l f bei der Überreichung des Grades eines Doktors der Rechtswissenschaften an Bundeskanzler Helmut Schmidt am 16. Juli 1976:" (in German) (pdf). Retrieved 2009-03-20. "Bundeskanzler Schmidt wurde 1918 in Hamburg als Sohn eines Lehrers geboren. Er besuchte die fortschrittliche Lichtwarkschule, wo er auch seine zukünftige Frau Hannelore kennenlernte. Im Zweiten Weltkrieg gehörte er einer Flak-Einheit an, wurde mit dem Eisernen Kreuz ausgezeichnet und geriet gegen Ende des Krieges in britische Gefangenschaft"  
  2. ^ Lehrer, Steven (2000). Wannsee house and the Holocaust. McFarland. p. 74. ISBN 9780786407927.  
  3. ^ "Told French President of Jewish Origins - Helmut Schmidt's Revelation Reported". Los Angeles Times. 1988-02-25. Retrieved 2009-09-25.  
  4. ^ The German word Schnauze designates the mouth and nose area of an animal like a dog or a wolf; so the epithet indicates a ready wit and a sharp tongue, suitable for (metaphorically) tearing his opponents' arguments to pieces.
  5. ^,7340,L-3550506,00.html Don't count on Europe, Ynet News
  6. ^ Helmut Schmidt, "The Way of Freedom," in In Pursuit of Truth: Essays on the Philosophy of Karl Popper, On the Occasion of his 80th Birthday, ed. Paul Levinson, Humanities Press, 1982, pp. xi-xii.
  7. ^ [1] and [2] Spiegel Magazine, online edition (German), 25.01.2008.
Political offices
Preceded by
Wilhelm Kröger
Senator of the Interior of Hamburg
Succeeded by
Heinz Ruhnau
Preceded by
Fritz Erler
Chairman of the SPD faction
Succeeded by
Herbert Wehner
Preceded by
Gerhard Schröder
Minister of Defence
Succeeded by
Georg Leber
Preceded by
Karl Schiller
Minister of Finance
Succeeded by
Hans Apel
Preceded by
Karl Schiller
Minister of Economics
7 July–15 December 1972
Succeeded by
Hans Friderichs
Preceded by
Willy Brandt
Chancellor of Germany
Succeeded by
Helmut Kohl
Preceded by
Hans-Dietrich Genscher
Foreign Minister of Germany

17 September–1 October 1982
Succeeded by
Hans-Dietrich Genscher
Preceded by
James Callaghan
Chair of the G8
Succeeded by
Masayoshi Ohira


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