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Erich Ollenhauer

(b. 1901)


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(b. Magdeburg, 27 Mar. 1901; d. Bonn, 14 Dec. 1963)

German; leader of the SPD 1952–63 Ollenhauer was one of the least charismatic but most honourable of the post-1945 German party leaders. Born in Magdeburg, a stronghold of the SPD, he was also born in the party; his father and his grandfathers were members. Although he completed an apprenticeship with a paint firm, at 18 Ollenhauer was already an SPD member and a trainee journalist on the local party newspaper. During the Weimar years he climbed the SPD ladder, serving as chairman of the Socialist Young Workers (SAJ) 1928–33. He was elected to the Executive of the SPD just after Hitler's takeover and was sent by the party to carry on the fight from Prague.

The SPD exiles, generously received by their Czechoslovak comrades, remained in Prague until the Anschluss of Austria with Germany in 1938. From France many, including Ollenhauer, escaped just ahead of the Gestapo in 1940. Helped by the British Labour Party, and later Swedish comrades, Ollenhauer and his family remained until 1946 in London, where he carried on the propaganda war against Hitler.

On his return to Germany Ollenhauer helped Kurt Schumacher rebuild the SPD in the western zones; in the Soviet Zone Grotewohl had led the SPD into a forced merger with the Communists. They emphasized traditional SPD values and the restoration of German unity as their aims. In the elections of 1949, 1953, and 1957 Adenauer and his Christian Democrats stressed Western integration, NATO membership, and the social market economy, and won decisively. At Bad Godesberg (1959) the SPD adopted a new programme designed to put them in line with current reality. Ollenhauer, deputy chairman of the SPD from 1946 and, on Schumacher's death in 1952, chairman until his death, supported the change without enthusiasm.

Subjects: Politics.


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