Willy Brandt was born in Lübeck, Germany in December 1913 to an unwed shop girl named Martha Frahm. At birth he was named Herbert Ernst Frahm. Later in life Brandt discovered that his biological father was a man named John Möller of Hamburg, but he never made contact with him. Instead, Brandt was raised by his mother and her parents in a home that suported Social Democratic ideologies.
image © Willy Brandt Center
In 1929 Brandt joined the SPD, but then switched to the more radical spin-off, the SAD in 1930. During this time he was active in the campaign against Hitler and the National Socialist Party. He passed his university entrance exam in 1932 but a year later had to move underground to avoid the Gestapo. In 1933 he assumed the name Willy Brandt, andt that same year he fled to Norway. During his time in exile, Brandt worked as a journalist and was educated in Oslo. From September until December of 1936 Brandt spent time in Berlin as a Norweigen press officer under the guise of a Norwegian student named Gunner Gaasland. In 1937 he worked in Spain as a political observer and representative of humanitarian relief organizations. The following year he was expatriated by the German government.
In 1940 Brandt gained Norwegian citizenship just in time for Germany to occupy Norway. He was captured but then released because he was not identified as anything but a Norwegian. After this incident he fled to Sweden and lived in Stockholm until 1945.
Post-war, Brandt returned to Germany and became once again active in the Berlin SPD. On July 1, 1948 he had his citizenship restored and the following year he was elected as a member of West Germany’s first parliament. He was sworn as Mayor of Berlin on October 3, 1957 and served in that position until 1966.
In both 1961 and 1965 Brandt was the SPD candidate for Chancellor, but he did not win either year. In 1964 he became chairman. In 1966 he became West Germany’s foreign minister in a coalition government with the Christian Democrats.
Finally, in 1969 Brandt became the fourth Federal Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany. During this period he focused on foreign affairs and sought to improve relations with East Germany, other communist nations in eastern Europe, and the Soviet Union. This was all part of the formulation of his policy known as Ostpolitik. His term ws ended by the revelation that one of his personal assistants Günther Guillaume was a spy for East Germany. Brandt accepted responsibility for the situation and the Federal President acted on his resignation and discharged Brandt on May 7, 1974.
From 1976 until 1992 he was the head of Socialist International, a member of European Parliament from 1979-1983, and Honorary Chairman of the SPD from 1987-1992. In 1971 he recieved the Nobel Peace Prize for his work improving relations with East Germany, Poland, and the Soviet Union. In 1970 he was voted Time Magazines’ “Person of the Year”. Throughout his career he wrote several books including Willy Brandt in Exile (1971) and People and Politics (1978). The “ Willy Brandt Center” in Jerusalem tries to build bridges between young Palestinians and Isaelis.
In addition to all the positive press Willy Brandt received, there was also negative. He is sometimes described as thin skinned and too sensitive. He has been called a traitor for fleeing during the Nazi years. In response to this last charge Brandt replied: “I did not regard my fate as an exile as a blot on my copybook, but rather as a chance to serve the other Germany, which did not resign itself submissively to enslavement.” Willy Brandt died on October 8, 1992.
A quick but thorough and concise summary
Another good, quick summary of his life
His history on CNN
A summary of his political achievements
His CV on nobelprize.org
Brandt's Ostpolitik Policy
Video of Brandt as Mayor of Berlin (in English)