Brandt spent the war years as a journalist and organizer. He returned surreptitiously to Berlin in 1936 to reorganize the SAP resistance, then went to Spain as an observer reporting from the republican side of the civil war there. The Nazi government stripped him of German citizenship in 1938. When World War II ended, Brandt returned to Germany; among his first jobs was covering the Nuremberg trials for the Scandinavian press.
Brandt became involved in politics again once his citizenship was restored in 1948. As a pragmatic socialist who was also an anticommunist, he was elected to the German parliament in 1949 as a member of the SPD. He served as president of the senate for the City of Berlin during 1955–1957 and, in 1957, won election as mayor of Berlin. Brandt proved his mettle during the crises of 1958–1962 and especially during the construction of the Berlin Wall in August 1961.
The SPD subsequently put Brandt forward as its candidate for chancellor in 1961 and again in 1965. Although both campaigns were unsuccessful, Brandt became foreign minister and vice chancellor in the SPD-Christian Democratic Union (CDU) Grand Coalition government that emerged in 1966. In 1969, when the SPD led a coalition with the Free Democratic Party, Brandt became chancellor.
He quickly set about implementing the policy that would become his legacy: Ostpolitik, or eastern politics. Brandt believed that the path to German success and unity lay in reconciliation with the Soviets and with Eastern Europe. He was particularly concerned with establishing normal relations with the German Democratic Republic (GDR, East Germany), a direct contravention of the previous regime's Hallstein Doctrine. Where Adenauer and the CDU had claimed to be the sole legitimate representatives of the German nation, Brandt was willing to accommodate "two states in one nation." In the wake of the Prague Spring of 1968, moreover, he had openly renounced violence and the threat of violence as political tools in favor of mediation. To that end, he became the first chancellor of the FRG to visit the GDR when he went to Erfurt in March 1970 as part of an exchange of visits with Willi Stoph, chairman of the Council of Ministers for the GDR.
By all accounts, Brandt was received "like a rock star" in East Germany, and he moved quickly to consolidate his position. In August 1970, the FRG concluded a treaty of non-aggression with the Soviet Union, the so-called Moscow Treaty. The FRG recognized the borders of Poland and of the GDR and agreed to make no territorial claims. The Soviets, for their part, recognized that the FRG's position on unification remained unchanged but agreed to work for the normalization of the situation in Berlin. The Four-Power Agreement realizing that goal was signed in September 1971.
With the groundwork for normal relations with East Germany in place, Brandt signed a similar agreement with the Poles. In the Warsaw Treaty of December 1970, the FRG gave assurances that West Germany would accept the borders established in 1945, but Brandt's performance during the concluding visit was even more spectacular. At a ceremony commemorating the victims of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, Brandt dropped to his knees before a memorial to Jews victimized by the SS in 1943 and bowed his head in a gesture that demonstrated to many people that Germany had turned over a new leaf. In addition to being named Time magazine's Man of the Year for 1970, Brandt won a Nobel Peace Prize in 1971.
Brandt's achievements were not always readily accepted in the FRG. However, a constructive no-confidence vote forced the issue in April 1972. Brandt and the SPD were returned the following November with 45 percent of the vote, and they forged ahead. In June 1973, Brandt became the first German chancellor to visit Israel, where he offered words of consolation and apology for Germany's actions during World War II. Three months later, he became the first German chancellor to address the General Assembly of the United Nations.
Brandt's term as chancellor came to an end in 1974, when his loyalty to Gunter Guillaume, an aide who was revealed to be an East German spy, caused a scandal that brought down the government. Brandt continued in politics outside of Germany following his resignation. He was involved in negotiations for peace in the Middle East at several points and worked on nonproliferation issues in a number of capacities. Brandt died in Unkel am Rhein, near Bonn, on 8 October 1992.
Marshall, Barbara. Willy Brandt: A Political Biography. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 1997.; Pulzer, Peter G. J. German Politics, 1945–1995. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995.; Sarotte, M. E. Dealing with the Devil: East Germany, Detente, and Ostpolitik, 1969–1973. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001.