Willy Brandt - spymuseum.devThe Guillaume Affair was an espionage scandal that threatened to bring down the government of West Germany during the Cold War.

Willy Brandt was born Herbert Ernst Karl Frahm to an unwed mother in the Free and Hanseatic City of Lübeck, a part of the German empire. At the age of 19, he fled Germany to escape Nazi persecution and changed his name to Willy Brandt to avoid detection by Nazi agents hunting him down for his anti-Nazi activities. He soon thereafter became a Norwegian citizen. He returned to Germany in 1946 and became the Mayor of Berlin in 1957, a position he would hold until 1966 when he became the German Foreign Minister and Vice-Chancellor. In 1969, he was elected Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany.

As Chancellor, Brandt was a controversial but admired figure for his work in trying to solidify relations between West Germany and Cold War adversaries. He was named Time magazine’s Man of the Year in 1970 and in 1971 and was awarded the Nobel Peace prize for his work in improving relations between Poland, East Germany and the Soviet Union. He negotiated a peace treaty with Poland and agreed on boundaries between Poland and West Germany as well as between Czechoslovakia and West Germany.

One of Brandt’s closest aides was his personal assistant Gunter Guillaume. In 1973, West German intelligence agents became suspicious of Gullaume and determined that he was an East German spy operating under Markus Wolf, the head of intelligence for the East German Ministry for State Security and Guillaume was arrested on April 24, 1974. He was sentenced to 13 years in prison for espionage and his wife Christel was sentenced to eight for aiding him. They had both become spies for the East Germans in 1956 and returned to the country in 1981 as they were released separately in a prisoner exchange between the East and West German governments. Guillaume was treated as a hero upon his return.

For Brandt and his Social Democratic Party, the revelation was an enormous blow to an already fragile government. Brandt had been caught up in several scandals for alleged adultery as well as other personal issues. He accepted the brunt of the blame for Guillaume’s espionage and resigned from his position as Chancellor on May 6, 1974.

Despite Brandt’s suggestion that Guillaume was planted as a spy in order to orchestrate his (Brandt’s downfall) Markus Wolf later swore that such was not the case and that the Guillaume affair had been of the biggest mistakes in the history of the East German secret service.