HAMBURG, Germany, Nov. 10 (UPI) — Helmut Schmidt, the iconic former chancellor of West Germany from 1974 to 1982, died Tuesday at age 96 in his hometown of Hamburg, Germany.
Regarded as an intellectual economist who promoted international cooperation for economic prosperity and the fight against terrorism, Schmidt led Germany through its phase in the 1970s as a “Wirtschaftwuinder,” or economic miracle.
He was respected for his tough stance against terrorists in the Red Army Faction, or Baader-Meinhof Gang. In the “German autumn” of 1977, the group killed Germany’s top prosecutor and kidnapped Hanns-Martin Schleyer, president of the German Employers Association.
Schmidt, leading a crisis committee, refused to give into terrorist’s demands that their jailed members be freed. Schleyer was found dead days after a German plane with 86 people aboard was hijacked to Somalia.
Schmidt ordered a successful counter-terrorist assault on the plane, freeing the hostages.
During his administration, Germany improved disability and pension services, raised the minimum working age and in 1977, enabled women to seek employment without her husband’s permission.
Although he did not participate in anti-Nazi resistance movements in his youth, he insisted he offered no support of the regime. He was drafted into the German military in 1937 and awarded the Iron Cross for service in World War II.
A 2014 biography contended documents from 1943 were found congratulating Schmidt for “impeccable national-socialist (Nazi) behavior.”
A heavy smoker, he was regularly interviewed on German television after his retirement and stayed in the public eye through speeches, interviews and a 2015 autobiography.
“A great German statesman has passed away,” French President Francois Hollande commented Tuesday. “He ran his country in difficult times and led it to economic stability. He was also a great Social Democrat who said you had to let the free market breathe but you had to give it a social dimension.”