Helmut Kohl, the long-serving German leader who reunified his country after the fall of the Berlin Wall and championed Europe’s integration, died on Friday at 87.
Kohl served as chancellor — first of West Germany and then of unified Germany — from 1982 until 1998, a 16-year term in office not seen since Bismarck. (Kohl’s one-time protegée, Angela Merkel, is now in her 12th year as chancellor.)
He left an indelible mark on German politics through his deep commitment to European integration, a conviction rooted in his personal memories of the destruction of the war and the divided Continent left in its wake.
He contributed fundamentally to aspects of current European political architecture, especially the strong cooperation between Germany and France. While he succeeded in uniting Germany and much of Europe behind the euro, the compromises he made along the way contributed to the recent crises that have plagued the common currency.
Born in 1930, Kohl experienced the Nazi regime only as a child and young teenager. Like most boys of his generation he was pushed into the Hitler Youth. He was drafted into the Wehrmacht in 1945 but never saw action. He later referred to his “good fortune of late birth” to describe how his youth spared him greater complicity.
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