Annemarie Renger: Former Bundestag president

Monday 17 March 2008 01:00

The slight, elegant figure of Annemarie Renger was a familiar sight in leading West German circles for decades. She was one of the most prominent and longest serving members of the German Bundestag (parliament) to which she belonged between 1953 and 1990. Only one other member had served longer than she had. As president of the Bundestag from 1972-76, Renger was officially second only to the Federal President in the hierarchy of the state. She also served as joint vice-president of the Bundestag for the following 14 years.

Born Annemarie Wildung in Leipzig, in 1919, she grew up in Berlin, the youngest of six children. Her father, Fritz Wildung, was a carpenter who became internationally known in the 1920s as the Secretary-General of the Social Democratic-orientated Zentralkommission für Sport und Körperpflege, a workers' sport organisation. His wife, Martha, was also an enthusiastic Social Democrat and gymnast. Annemarie met many prominent politicians in her parents' house.

After the Nazi seizure of power in 1933, Fritz Wildung was arrested several times. He refused to work in the Nazi sports organisation and had to live on unemployment relief. As a result of her father's courage and defiance, Annemarie was forced to give up school and seek employment. She started work in 1934 as an apprentice to a publisher of reference books. It was there she met Emil Renger, whom she married in 1938. He was called up for military service in the Second World War and was killed in France in 1944, leaving Annemarie with a six-year-old son, Rolf. She also lost two of her brothers in the war and a third died of wounds later.

At the end of the Third Reich in 1945, Annemarie Renger was a refugee in a village near Hanover, in the British Zone. She worked in the kitchen of a field hospital. It was in Hanover that Dr Kurt Schumacher, a leading member of the pre-Hitler parliament, was active in re-establishing the Social Democratic Party (SPD), helped by a handful of volunteers including a British officer, Lance Pope.

On reading about Schumacher in a local newspaper, Renger wrote him a letter offering her support. In the summer of 1945, she was interviewed by the 50-year-old Schumacher – Annemarie was 26 – and he engaged her at once as his secretary. They later became lovers and were rarely apart until his death in 1952. She had no easy time. He was serious and moody. He had lost an arm in the First World War and one of his legs had to be amputated in 1948 as a result of his incarceration in Dachau concentration camp. He had been successful in his bid for the leadership of the Western SPD in 1945, but lost his fight to save German unity and to be elected German Chancellor.

Her life with Schumacher completed the political education of Annemarie Renger. It was no surprise when she was elected to parliament in 1953 in the second West German election. She served as a member of the SPD executive committee from 1961 to 1973, and as manager of the parliamentary party 1969-72. She was happy to take up women's affairs rather than seeking areas dominated by men.

Her election as president of the Bundestag, in 1972, represented a new advance for women in politics. At that time, there were only 30 women in the Bundestag out of a total of 518 members; only 13 of these were Social Democrats. Nevertheless, she sometimes faced more criticism from women than from men. Some feminists regarded her as a "token" woman helping to perpetuate the dominance of men.

Renger married for a second time in 1966. Her husband, Aleksander Loncarevic, was a former Yugoslav diplomat who had given up his career and his country to be with her. He died of a heart attack in 1973. She herself retained her health and vigour despite two hip operations. She was fond of swimming and long walks. In her busy life, she was helped by her sister, Lotte, who acted as housekeeper.

Among Renger's other political interests and achievements were her chairmanship of the German-Israeli parliamentary group, chairmanship of the German Helsinki Committee for Human Rights and the vice-presidency of the German European Movement. In 1979 she was the SPD candidate for the federal presidency. Among her many honours was the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany, and several awards for her efforts in promoting German-Jewish reconciliation.

David Childs

Annemarie Wildung, politician: born Leipzig, Germany 7 October 1919; member, Bundestag 1953-90, president 1972-76, joint vice-president 1976-90; SPD parliamentary group manager 1969-72; married 1938 Emil Renger (died 1944; one son), 1966 Aleksandar Loncarevic (died 1973); died Remagen-Oberwinter, Germany 3 March 2008.

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