Richard Von Weizsäcker


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(b. Stuttgart, 15 Apr. 1920)

German; President of Federal Republic of Germany 1984–94, governing mayor of West Berlin 1981–4 Richard von Weizsäcker completed his legal studies with a doctorate in law from Göttingen University. He turned to industry for employment but through his wife, Marianne von Kretschmann, he entered banking and became the head of her family's private bank. Other family contacts led to association with the pharmaceutical industry, Allianz insurance, Hill Samuel, and other firms.

Von Weizsäcker was greatly influenced by his wartime experiences. With his older brother he took part in the invasion of Poland on 1 September 1939. His brother was killed on 2 September and he was wounded but served until the end, reaching the rank of infantry captain. He had lost many of his illusions in the intervening campaigns. Worse was to come. His father Ernst von Weizsäcker was tried as a war criminal and sentenced to seven years' imprisonment by the Allies but released in a general amnesty in 1950. He had served the Nazi regime as a diplomat, his last posting being German ambassador to the Vatican, 1943–5.

Von Weizsäcker joined the CDU in 1954 and was elected to the executive of the party in 1964 and to the Bundestag in 1969. He was also, 1972–9, deputy chairman of the CDU/CSU joint parliamentary group. In 1979 he was elected one of four vice-presidents of the Bundestag. His political success was due in part to his chairmanship of the Synod of the Evangelical Church which he held from 1964 to 1970.

In 1981 von Weizsäcker beat Vogel to be governing mayor of West Berlin. His election as President of the Federal Republic followed in May 1984. Vogel had advised his SPD colleagues to vote for von Weizsäcker. He remained President until 1994 and was well received by Germany's neighbours in East and West as a man of reconciliation. In 1994–5 he was co-chairman of an independent commission appointed by the Secretary-General to review the future of the United Nations and in 1999 took part in a review of the EU at the request of Romano Prodi. His memoirs, translated as From Weimar to the Wall: My Life in German Politics, was published in German in 1997.

Subjects: Politics.

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