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Gustav Heinemann

(b. 1899)


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(b. Schwelm, Ruhr, 23 July 1899; d. Essen, 7 July 1976)

German; President of Federal Republic of Germany 1969–74 Heinemann was elected third President of the Federal Republic in 1969, the first, and so far only, Social Democrat to hold this position. His election was due to Liberal FDP support. It was seen as a victory of the ‘democrats from conviction’ rather than of those who were fair-weather democrats.

Heinemann was the son of a Krupp director and, after studying law and economics, worked for Krupp, serving from 1936 to 1949 as a director of the steel company Rheinische Stahlwerke. From 1933 onwards he was also a director of a coal-mining company. Remarkably, he was also an organizer of the anti-Nazi Confessing church.

In common with most of his social class he joined the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) in 1945, and was appointed Justice Minister for North Rhine-Westphalia. Adenauer, in need of prominent Protestants for his new government, appointed Heinemann Minister of the Interior in 1949. Heinemann held the job for just over a year, resigning because of Adenauer's authoritarian style, the drift to the right in the CDU, and his opposition to German rearmament and Western integration without reunification.

In 1952 Heinemann resigned from the CDU and in the following year established the All-German People's Party (GVP). The party stood for total neutrality of a united Germany. In the 1953 election it attracted only 1.2 per cent of the votes, a result that led to the party being dissolved and most of its members, including Heinemann, joining the SPD. From 1957 until 1969 Heinemann was a member of the Bundestag, serving as Minister of Justice in the grand coalition 1966–9. Heinemann remained a committed Christian, serving on the Executive of the Evangelical Church from 1945 to 1967. This helped in his election as Federal President on the third ballot with only the smallest of margins over his CDU opponent. As President he helped to create a more tolerant atmosphere in West Germany. He served until 1974, not seeking re-election.

Subjects: Politics.


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