German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who opened her nation's border to hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees and managed Europe's debt crisis, is Time magazine's Person of the Year.
"This year she really was tested in how she would respond to some of the most difficult challenges," Time's managing editor Nancy Gibbs said Wednesday morning on NBC's "Today" show.
Gibbs said, Merkel, 61, "has stepped up in a way that was uncharacteristic even for her."
Time's short list for the award this year included ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, Black Lives Matter activists, Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Caitlyn Jenner. The award goes to an individual or group who has had the most impact on the world and the news — positive or negative — over the past year.
Merkel, who became Germany's chancellor in 2005, is the first individual woman to receive the "Person of the Year" award since Time changed its title from "Man of the Year" in 1999. Women have been recognized in the past as part of a group, such as last year's winner, the Ebola Fighters, who worked to contain the deadliest Ebola outbreak in history.
The world leader has had a very busy year. She countered Putin earlier in 2015, slowing down his attempt to take over Ukraine, then tackled Greece's financial crisis that threatened the entire European euro zone. Her decision to welcome refugees despite criticism from her own citizens and conservative allies has lead people to call her "Europe's conscience," according to Time.
"By viewing the refugees as victims to be rescued rather than invaders to be repelled, the woman raised behind the Iron Curtain gambled on freedom. The pastor's daughter wielded mercy like a weapon," Gibbs wrote in an essay explaining the magazine's choice. "You can agree with her or not, but she is not taking the easy road. Leaders are tested only when people don't want to follow."
Wednesday's news came in as Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert was leading a government press conference in the German capital, while Merkel herself was at an event in Leipzig. When asked about it by The Associated Press, Seibert said he had only just received word on his phone himself.
"I'm sure the chancellor will regard this as an encouragement for her political work, for a good future for Germany as well as for Europe," Seibert said.
Trump, who for months has topped Republican polls for the 2016 U.S. presidential election and dominated headlines, reacted to being slighted soon after Times' announcement.
"I told you @TIME Magazine would never pick me as person of the year despite being the big favorite," he tweeted. "They picked person who is ruining Germany."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.