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Renger, Annemarie (1919—)

Renger, Annemarie (1919—)

German politician, leader of the Social Democratic Party, who was elected the first woman Speaker of the West German Bundestag in December 1972. Name variations: Annemarie Renger-Loncarevic. Born Annemarie Wildung in Leipzig on October 7, 1919; daughter of Fritz Wildung and Martha (Scholz) Wildung; had four brothers and one sister; married Emil Renger; married Aleksandar Loncarevic; children: (first marriage) Rolf Renger.

A war widow, began working for Social Democratic leader Kurt Schumacher (1945), thus starting an improbable career that brought her to the heights of political life in the German Federal Republic, culminating in her election as Speaker of the Bundestag (December 1972); retired (December 1990).

Born in Leipzig in 1919, the sixth and last child of working-class parents, Annemarie Renger grew up in a Social Democratic environment, her father Fritz Wildung being one of the founders of the German socialist workers' sports movement (a street has been named in his honor in Berlin's Wilmersdorf district). After her family moved to Berlin in 1924, Renger attended a lyceum in the German capital. Expelled from school because of her father's "un-German" Marxist politics, Annemarie was accepted as a trainee in a publishing firm, and then worked as a stenotypist. In 1938, she married Emil Renger, an advertising manager. That same year, she gave birth to their son, Rolf. World War II shattered Renger's life. In summer 1944, her husband was killed fighting near Chartres, France, and three of her four brothers lost their lives on battlefields as German soldiers.

As an impoverished war widow with a young child, she began looking for a suitable job only weeks after war's end. By chance, in May 1945 she read printed excerpts of a speech by Kurt Schumacher, the leader of the Social Democratic Party (SPD). Schumacher, a man of courage and will, had been severely wounded in World War II and had survived the entire 12 years of the Third Reich in a series of concentration camps. Despite her family background, Renger had had little interest in politics. But, moved by his idealism, she wrote and asked him if she might be able to work for him. Amazingly, she soon found herself in Schumacher's presence as a job interviewee.

Renger began working as Schumacher's personal assistant in mid-October 1945. Soon, their relationship turned from professional to personal. Until his death in August 1952, Schumacher would depend on Renger as a trusted adviser, friend, and companion. In 1953, she successfully ran as a Social Democratic candidate for a seat representing Schleswig-Holstein in the Bundestag (West Germany's parliament). She would retain her parliamentary seat without interruption until 1990. With the passage of time, Renger's responsibilities within the Social Democratic Party grew significantly, so that from 1961 through 1973 she was a member of the SPD Parteivorstand (managing committee), serving as well from 1970 through 1973 as a member of the SPD Parteipräsidium (party council). During the same period, from 1969 until 1972, she was one of the four members of the SPD parliamentary office responsible for the financial, personnel, and organizational affairs of the party within the Bundestag. As the SPD's Bundestag floor manager, Renger was known for her detailed knowledge of parliamentary routine. Despite her hectic schedule during these years, Renger somehow found time to play tennis and drive around Bonn in her sporty Mercedes coupe.

After the SPD won the German Federal Republic's national elections in November 1972, the party leadership nominated Renger for president of the Bundestag. On December 13, she was elected, the first woman to hold that high office. In her post-election address, she indicated her hope that in the future her election would not be regarded as a unique event that would never be repeated: "I am convinced that the women in this chamber have no desire to be regarded as exceptions, or treated differently in any way." Within a short time, Renger had become by any criterion the best-known West German woman in public office. In 1976, she relinquished the Bundestag presidency to run unsuccessfully for the presidency of the Federal Republic, losing to Karl Carstens, the candidate of the Christian Democratic Party. She then became the Bundestag's vice-president, a post she retained until the first national elections of newly unified Germany were held in December 1990. At this juncture, Renger retired from politics.

Among her many activities, Renger was chair of the Bundestag delegates working for better German-Israeli relations and chaired the German Helsinki Human Rights Committee; she was also a leading personality of the German Council for the European Movement, serving as its president for many years. As probably the most respected senior woman in the Social Democratic Party, Renger was honored when she was selected to head the Arbeiter-Samariter-Bund (Workers' Samaritan League). Near to her heart is the Kurt-Schumacher-Gesellschaft (Kurt Schumacher Society), of which she has been president since 1985.

sources:

Enssle, Manfred J. "Five Theses on German Everyday Life after World War II," in Central European History. Vol. 26, no. 1, 1993, pp. 1–19.

"Frau Präsidentin: Annemarie Renger-Loncarevic," in The New York Times Biographical Edition. December 1971, p. 2245.

Huber, Antje. Verdient die Nachtigall Lob, wenn sie singt?: Die Sozialdemokratinnen. Stuttgart: Seewald, 1984.

Latka-Jöhring, Sigrid. Frauen in Bonn: Zwanzig Porträts aus der Bundeshauptstadt. Bonn: J. Latka, 1988.

Merseburger, Peter. Der schwierige Deutsche, Kurt Schumacher: Eine Biographie. 2nd ed. Stuttgart: Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, 1995.

Renger, Annemarie. "Am Ende der Tausend Jahre," in Heinz Friedrich, ed., Mein Kopfgeld: Die Währungsreform—Rückblicke nach vier Jahrzehnten. Munich: DTV-Deutscher Taschenbuch, 1988, pp. 79–93.

——. Ein politisches Leben: Erinnerungen. Stuttgart: Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, 1993.

——. Fasziniert von Politik: Beiträge zur Zeit. Stuttgart: Seewald, 1981.

Roedl, Franz. "Annemarie Renger—the First German Woman Speaker," in Central Europe Journal. Vol. 21, no. 3–4. March–April 1973, pp. 72–74.

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

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