Bergmann-Pohl, Sabine (1946—)

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Bergmann-Pohl, Sabine (1946—)

German political figure and last head of state of the German Democratic Republic. Born Sabine Schulz on April 20, 1946, in Eisenach, Thuringia; trained as a physician, specialist in respiratory diseases; married twice.

The last head of state of the German Democratic Republic (GDR), as it prepared for its merger with the German Federal Republic in 1990, was a woman who had been virtually unknown a year before even to expert observers of GDR political life. Born Sabine Schulz in Eisenach, Thuringia, on April 20, 1946, Sabine Bergmann-Pohl followed in her father's footsteps to study of medicine. By the late 1970s, she was practicing as a respiratory specialist in East Berlin, advancing to become director of that city's respiratory clinics. A practicing Lutheran, in 1981 she joined the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), a satellite political party controlled by the ruling Socialist Unity Party. Relatively little known to the public, she earned a reputation for competence in her medical area as well as in the field of social welfare.

The collapse of the Communist dictatorship in the fall of 1989 radically transformed GDR political life. An independent CDU now emerged and Sabine Bergmann-Pohl (the names derive from her two marriages) now became a major political figure in a society starved of free political expression for almost 60 years. In the March 1990 elections to the Volkskammer ("People's Chamber"), she made a strong showing, coming in second to the new prime minister, Lothar de Maziere. A month later, she was elected president of the Volkskammer. In effect, this made Bergmann-Pohl head of state of the German Democratic Republic, the only democratically elected one in its 40-year history. If only for a period of a few months, she would now serve as the first female head of state in modern German history. In June 1990, a half-century after the Holocaust, she and Rita Süssmuth , the president of the Bundestag of the Federal Republic of Germany, made an emotion-laden visit to Israel in which they both spoke of the need for reconciliation between the German and Jewish people.

After unification of the two German states was achieved in October 1990, Bergmann-Pohl entered the Bundestag, joining Federal Chancellor Helmut Kohl's cabinet as minister without portfolio. Although she was elected on the CDU list in December 1990 as a deputy from Berlin, some observers were surprised when she did not receive a post in Kohl's reshuffled cabinet, viewing it as a snub to the population of the former GDR. The post she did receive was a lesser one as state secretary in the Federal Ministry of Health. In 1991, Sabine Bergmann-Pohl published her memoirs, Departure without Tears: A Look Back at the Year of Unity.

suggested reading:

Bergmann-Pohl, Sabine. Abschied ohne Tränen: Rückblick auf das Jahr der Einheit. Berlin: Ullstein Verlag, 1991.

John Haag , Associate Professor, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia

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Bergmann-Pohl, Sabine (1946—)

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