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Helmut Kohl (1930 – 2017)

by Legacy Staff

Former German chancellor presided over his country’s reunification…

Helmut Kohl, the German statesman who served as chancellor of West Germany, oversaw reunification, and then served as chancellor of a united Germany, died Friday, June 16, 2017, according to the German newspaper Bild. He was 87.

In total, Kohl was chancellor for 16 years: from 1982 to 1990 serving West Germany, and from 1990 to 1998 leading the newly reunified nation. His leadership after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 allowed reunification to happen quickly and smoothly.


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Born April 3, 1930, in Ludwigshafen, Germany, the same city in which he died, Kohl was not drafted into the World War II-era German armed forces until 1945, and the war ended before he saw any combat. He later referred to this as Gnade der Späten Geburt, a grace of late birth. Following the war, he studied history and political science, receiving a doctorate in 1958. At the same time, he was involved in the recently formed Christian Democratic Union Party, serving in a series of regional positions in the late 1950s and throughout the ’60s.

In 1973, Kohl ascended to party chairman and became chancellor when his party won control of the West German government in 1982. He continued to hold the party chairmanship through the end of his chancellorship in 1998. During a relatively uneventful first phase of his tenure as chancellor, Kohl built solid relationships with leaders of Western states such as France and the United States, and also with the former Soviet Union. These relationships proved invaluable when East Germany began to unexpectedly collapse in 1989: Kohl was able to address concerns of international parties on all sides while also on the domestic intricacies of reunification.

As chancellor of a unified Germany, Kohl reassured its neighbors by definitively relinquishing claims on their territories that had historically had ethnically German populations, and that Nazi Germany had claimed. He also played a major role in advocating for the euro, though the international currency was not introduced until after his term as chancellor. His legacy, however, was somewhat tarnished by financial scandal within his political party that came to light in 1999.

In 2011, President Bill Clinton called Kohl “the most important European statesman since World War II,” adding that “the 21st century in Europe really began on his watch.”

President George H.W. Bush similarly recognized Kohl as “a true friend of freedom, and the man I consider one of the greatest leaders in postwar Europe.”

Kohl is survived by his wife, Maike Richter, and two children from his previous marriage to Hannelore Renner.

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