Helmut Kohl, a former Chancellor of West Germany, was a true reformer, and one of the principal architects of Germany’s peaceful reunification.
As a child, Kohl grew up amid the turbulence of totalitarianism and war. He witnessed the devastation wrought by conflict on his home town of Ludwigshafen and saw the brutality the Nazis inflicted on their own people as the Allies closed in on Hitler’s Berlin. The experiences of his formative years forged in Kohl a lifelong commitment to unity, peace, and freedom across the whole of Europe.
In the wake of war, Germany was divided. The Soviet-occupied East, later the “German Democratic Republic,” quickly became an armed camp run by communist parvenus flanked by the soldiers of the Red Army. Meanwhile, in the West, nascent democracy began to grow under the auspices of the United States, Great Britain, and France. Soon, the Berlin Wall became a physical reminder of the fractured Germany and the pervasive oppression under which the Easterners lived.
Kohl became a youth member of the Christian Democratic Union in 1946 and embarked on a career in politics. Rising through the ranks of the CDU, Kohl made himself known as a reformer. In 1982, Kohl began his first term as Chancellor of the Federal Republic Germany.
A contemporary of President Ronald Reagan and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Kohl worked to heal the divisions left by World War II and recommitted West Germany to the active defense of Europe against the encroaching military might of the Soviet Union. He sought to bring home Germans living in the Eastern Bloc and pressed the Soviet government to better treat those who could not leave.
In 1987, President Reagan visited West Berlin. With Chancellor Kohl by his side, Reagan demanded that Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev tear down the Berlin Wall. Within two years, protests for freedom and democracy broke out all through East Germany. In East Berlin, activists and citizens began to batter down the hated barrier that had separated them for twenty-eight years.
Once the wall collapsed, so too did the ossified communist GDR. Kohl moved swiftly and masterfully to reunify the two states into one free country. On October 3, 1990, the German Democratic Republic ceased to exist. Germany’s peaceful reunification after decades of separation remains one of the most remarkable foreign policy triumphs of our time. Kohl would be Chancellor of a united and democratic Germany for another eight years, though the end of his career was marked by allegations of political misconduct.
Nevertheless, none deny Helmut Kohl’s steadfast resistance to Soviet occupation, his deep commitment to a peaceful, unified, and democratic Europe, or his unwavering dedication to the reunification of a free Germany.