Former German chancellor Helmut Schmidt dies aged 96

Social Democrat politician led West Germany during tense period of the Cold War


Former West German chancellor Helmut Schmidt, who led the country for eight years at the height of the Cold War, has died at the age of 96, his office in Hamburg said on Tuesday.

Schmidt was West Germany’s second centre-left Social Democrat (SPD) chancellor from 1974 to 1982 and a leading proponent of European integration.

Media reported that Schmidt caught an infection after having surgery to remove a blood clot from his leg about two months ago.

In recent years, Schmidt, a chain smoker, was a frequent talk show guest and he commanded more respect as an elder statesman than he did when he led the country.

“I am deeply saddened by Helmut Schmidt’s death. He was an outstanding chancellor, his death is a loss for Germany and Europe, ” tweeted European Parliament head Martin Schulz, a Social Democrat.

As chancellor, Schmidt tried to balance a conciliatory tone towards Moscow and Communist East Germany with a strengthening of West Germany’s standing within Nato and Europe.

Schmidt, who had served as finance minister from 1972 to 1974, was in office at the time of West Germany’s “economic miracle” although he tried to make some welfare cuts as the situation worsened.

One of his biggest challenges was dealing with the ultra-left Red Army Faction, whose attacks on the political and business establishment included a wave of killings and kidnappings that peaked in the “German Autumn” of 1977.

He took over as chancellor after his SPD ally Willy Brandt resigned after his close aide Guenter Guillaume was uncovered as an East German spy. Schmidt was succeeded by conservative chancellor Helmut Kohl.

Born in the northern port of Hamburg in 1918, Schmidt fought in World War Two and was taken prisoner by the British.

He was married for 68 years to Loki, his childhood sweetheart. She died in 2010. They had a son who died in his first year and later a daughter.

President Michael D Higgins said he was “deeply saddened” to learn of the former chancellor’s death.

In a statement, the President said Schmidt was a leader in troubled times, steering his country through two oil crises and the growing threat to democracy posed by the rise of violent terror groups in the years of his chancellorship.

“His legacy is shaped by his understanding of Germany’s role in the construction of a modern, social and democratic Europe, and his often stated view that a Social Europe was the best source of security on the continent.

“With the passing of Helmut Schmidt, Europe has lost one of its key architects.”