The Tortured Life of Mrs Helmut Kohl

Article excerpt

A new book reveals that the former German leader's wife was raped as a child and hated life in the political spotlight

HANNELORE KOHL, the wife of Helmut Kohl, Germany's "unification chancellor", was raped by Russian soldiers when she was 12 and spent her married life in the shadow of her fanatically ambitious husband, a new biography has revealed.

Published this week, The woman at his side - the life and suffering of Hannelore Kohl was written by Heribert Schwan, a journalist who gained unprecedented access to the former chancellor's wife and eventually became her confidant in the months before her death in 2001.

"I understood her openness to be her granting me permission to one day publish what she told me over the months and weeks before her death," Schwan writes. Mrs Kohl committed suicide after contracting a crippling allergy to light which caused her to lose her hair and made even watching television unbearable.

Schwan's biography starts with a graphic and hitherto unpublished account of the traumatic experience which would affect Mrs Kohl for the rest of her life. It describes how the young Hannelore and her mother were set upon by a group of Red Army soldiers in May 1945 and gang raped.

Mrs Kohl recalls how she was "dumped like a sack of cement" out of a first floor window by the Russians, suffering damage to her back from which she would never recover. The psychological scars were worse; Schwan writes that the "smell of male sweat, garlic and alcohol, and even the sound of spoken Russian" haunted her permanently.

Her marriage to Helmut Kohl, at the time a provincial conservative politician in the Rhineland palatinate, began with high hopes. But Hannelore did not expect her husband to enter national politics. When he became Chancellor in 1982, it came as shock. Loathing the glare of publicity, she refused to discuss politics and forbade her two sons to do so.

Schwan cites dozens of occasions on which politics brought Mrs Kohl to the brink of despair. Watching her husband surrounded by party acolytes, she tells one of her women friends: "You can't imagine how much I hate all this. …