Erich Ollenhauer

Last updated
Erich Ollenhauer
Leader of the Social Democratic Party
In office
Preceded by Kurt Schumacher
Succeeded by Willy Brandt
President of the Socialist International
In office
Preceded by Alsing Andersen
Succeeded by Bruno Pittermann
Personal details
Born 27 March 1901
Died 14 December 1963(1963-12-14) (aged 62)
Political party Social Democratic Party of Germany

Erich Ollenhauer (27 March 1901 – 14 December 1963) was the leader of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) 1952–1963.


Early political career and exile

Ollenhauer was born in Magdeburg and joined the SPD in 1920. When the Nazis took power in 1933 he fled Germany for Prague. After the outbreak of WW2 Ollenhauer travelled across Europe in order to avoid Nazi persecution, first going to Denmark, then France, Spain, Portugal, and eventually London, where he remained until the end of the war. In London, he kept close ties to the Labour Party, which financially supported the expatriate SPD (called SoPaDe ), of which Ollenhauer was a member. He also worked with the Union of German Socialist Organisations in Great Britain. [1]

In February 1946, Ollenhauer returned to Germany. In May the same year, he was voted deputy leader of the SPD, behind Kurt Schumacher. Ollenhauer entered the Bundestag after the 1949 German federal elections.

Leadership of the SPD

After Schumacher's unexpected death in 1952, the SPD elected Ollenhauer as its leader. He ran as the SPD's candidate for Chancellor of Germany in the 1953 and 1957 German elections, both of which were lost to Konrad Adenauer's CDU.

In 1957, Ollenhauer called for a trans-European security alliance (in place of NATO and the Warsaw Pact), in which a reunified Germany would serve as an equal partner. While the plan was denounced as radical at the time, it helped pave the way for Willy Brandt's Ostpolitik, as well as indirectly influencing some developments within the European Union, such as a European common security policy) and the eventual reunification of Germany. Ollenhauer's proposal is also known as the Ollenhauer Plan.

In 1961, Ollenhauer declined to run for Chancellor a third time, instead supporting the candidacy of Berlin mayor Willy Brandt.

Ollenhauer died in Bonn on 14 December 1963 from pulmonary embolism.


  1. Erich Ollenhauer, "Möglichkeiten und Aufgaben" Friedrich Ebert Foundation, official website. Presentation at the Union membership meeting, London. (December 6, 1942) Retrieved July 20, 2010 (in German)
Party political offices
Preceded by
Kurt Schumacher
Chairman of the Social Democratic Party of Germany
Succeeded by
Willy Brandt
Preceded by
Alsing Andersen
President of the Socialist International
Succeeded by
Bruno Pittermann