Germany: Kai-Uwe von Hassel, former Christian Democrat leader, dies aged 92

BERLIN, Feb 8 (Reuters) – Kai-Uwe von Hassel, a former conservative German defence minister who played a key role in reconciliation with France after World War Two and was a prominent member of the Christian Democrat party, has died aged 92, the party said on Monday.

Von Hassel, who had been suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, died on Friday, the Christian Democrats (CDU) said in a statement.

As defence minister from 1963 to 1966, von Hassel helped to strengthen the Bundeswehr, Germany’s armed forces, and worked to improve relations with France and other Western allies during the Cold War.

He was also a key figure in the development of Germany’s post-war defence strategy, which aimed to prevent a future conflict with the Soviet Union.

Von Hassel was born in 1913 in the Baltic port city of Danzig, which is now Gdansk in Poland. He joined the Nazi Party in 1933, but later claimed that he had been unaware of the party’s true nature.

He served in the Wehrmacht during World War Two, rising to the rank of captain. He was captured by the British in 1945 and held as a prisoner of war for three years.

After the war, von Hassel joined the CDU and quickly rose through its ranks. He served as governor of the state of Schleswig-Holstein from 1954 to 1963, and as president of the Bundestag, Germany’s lower house of parliament, from 1969 to 1972.

Von Hassel was a strong supporter of European integration and played a key role in the development of the European Union. He was also a vocal critic of the Soviet Union and its communist ideology.

In his later years, von Hassel became increasingly involved in charitable work. He was a co-founder of the German Red Cross and served as its president from 1973 to 1982.

Von Hassel is survived by his wife, Helga, and three children.

(Reporting by Sabine Siebold)

((Reporting by Sabine Siebold); Editing by Peter Graff)

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