Former German Chancellor and DIE ZEIT publisher Helmut Schmidt has passed away. He died on Tuesday at the age of 96 in his Hamburg home.
The DIE ZEIT newspaper and publishing house bid farewell to Helmut Schmidt in deep mourning and profound gratitude: "As publisher of DIE ZEIT -- for a time also as head of the Zeitverlag publishing house and Managing Director -- he oversaw the fate of our paper for 32 years. We have lost a shrewd counselor, a reliable companion and a good friend. We will miss Helmut Schmidt terribly."
Schmidt’s influence on German politics is almost unmatched, initially as senator in the Hamburg city-state government and then as a federal cabinet member before becoming chancellor. He gained his reputation for pragmatism and for being a successful crisis manager as Hamburg interior minister by organizing relief measures during the massive 1962 Hamburg floods: Even absent constitutional authority, he requested the help of helicopters from the German military and from the Royal Air Force to rescue people in the disaster zone.
Four years later, he joined Social Democratic Party (SPD) head Willy Brandt in the formation of Germany’s first "Grand Coalition," pairing the SPD with the center-right Christian Democrats. In 1967, Schmidt became SPD floor leader in the Bundestag, Germany’s federal parliament. In 1969, Schmidt was tapped as defense minister in Brandt’s second cabinet, formed in coalition with the business-friendly Free Democrats (FDP). Shortly before 1972 general elections, he took over leadership of the Finance Ministry and, temporarily, also that of the Economics Ministry.
When Brandt was forced to step down in 1974 after a close advisor of his was revealed to be an East German spy, in what became known as the Guillaume Affair, the SPD-FDP coalition elected Schmidt as chancellor. His government found itself confronted with numerous foreign and domestic crises. But under Schmidt’s leadership, Germany found its way through the global economic downturn and the 1970s oil crises relatively unscathed. It was the terror attacks perpetrated by the left-wing militant group Red Army Faction that exacted the most difficult decisions of his term. Can a state allow itself to be blackmailed? That was the question facing the chancellor when the Lufthansa passenger jet Landshut was hijacked to Mogadishu in 1977, and the RAF kidnapped and threatened to murder Hanns Martin Schleyer, the president of the Confederation of German Employers' Associations, in order to force the release of RAF prisoners. Schmidt decided against a prisoner exchange and ordered a GSG-9 special forces unit to storm the plane. The RAF murdered Schleyer in response.
Schmidt’s party and a significant share of the populace distanced themselves from Schmidt two years later when he pushed through the NATO Double-Track Decision, which foresaw the stationing of medium-range ballistic missiles in West Germany. Then, in 1982, Schmidt’ governing coalition with the FDP collapsed in a no-confidence vote and Helmut Kohl, of the Christian Democrats, was chosen to replace him.
Just a short time later, DIE ZEIT’s founding publisher Gerd Bucerius brought Schmidt on board as publisher of the weekly paper. He remained in that position for more than 32 years. Up until the very end, he enriched the paper with his analyses, commentaries and interviews on current events.
Should you wish to pay your respects, please visit our condolence page.