RUT BRANDT ; Jackie Kennedy of German Politics

Article excerpt

Rut Brandt was for 32 years married to Willy Brandt, supporting him during his early political career in post-war Germany through his time as Mayor of West Berlin, Foreign Minister and, from 1969 to 1974, Chancellor. On more than one occasion, when Brandt was on the point of giving up the leadership of the German Social Democratic Party, Rut was a decisive influence in his resolve to carry on. Stylish and good-looking, she was a popular and successful First Lady, a Jackie Kennedy of the Social Democrats.

Born Rut Hansen in Hamar, a small market town in Norway in 1920, her father, a chauffeur, died when she was only three. After leaving school aged 15, Rut started work in a bread shop. Later she became an apprentice tailor. As her mother was a socialist and a Christian it was not surprising that by 16 Rut was already politically active in a socialist youth group.

When the Germans occupied Norway, in 1940, Rut Hansen became active in the resistance. Exposed, in 1942, its members sought sanctuary in neutral Sweden. There Rut married a fellow Norwegian socialist, a railwayman called Ole Olstadt Bergaust. Both had found employment in the Norwegian embassy. It was in these resistance circles that she also got to know, in 1944, Willy Brandt, a German socialist migr journalist. Brandt had found refuge from Nazi Germany in Norway and then fled to Sweden. The two soon became an item. …