Gustav Heinemann

Last updated
Gustav Heinemann
Bundesarchiv B 145 Bild-F029021-0010, Gustav Heinemann.jpg
Gustav Heinemann in 1969
President of Germany
(West Germany)
In office
1 July 1969 30 June 1974
Chancellor Kurt Georg Kiesinger
Willy Brandt
Helmut Schmidt
Preceded by Heinrich Lübke
Succeeded by Walter Scheel
Federal Minister of Justice
In office
1 December 1966 26 March 1969
Chancellor Kurt Georg Kiesinger
Preceded by Richard Jaeger
Succeeded by Horst Ehmke
Federal Minister of the Interior
In office
29 September 1949 11 October 1950
Chancellor Konrad Adenauer
Preceded byOffice established
Succeeded by Robert Lehr
Personal details
Gustav Walter Heinemann

(1899-07-23)23 July 1899
Schwelm, Kingdom of Prussia
Died7 July 1976(1976-07-07) (aged 76)
Essen, West Germany
Political party Christian Social People's Service
Christian Democratic Union
All-German People's Party
Social Democratic Party of Germany
Spouse(s)Hilda Ordemann (1896–1979)
Signature Gustav Heinemann Unterschrift.png

Gustav Walter Heinemann (23 July 1899 – 7 July 1976) was a German politician. He was Mayor of the city of Essen from 1946 to 1949, West German Minister of the Interior from 1949 to 1950, Minister of Justice from 1966 to 1969 and President of the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) from 1969 to 1974.

Germany Federal parliamentary republic in central-western Europe

Germany, officially the Federal Republic of Germany, is a country in Central and Western Europe, lying between the Baltic and North Seas to the north, and the Alps to the south. It borders Denmark to the north, Poland and the Czech Republic to the east, Austria and Switzerland to the south, France to the southwest, and Luxembourg, Belgium and the Netherlands to the west.

Essen Place in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany

Essen is the central and second largest city of the Ruhr, the largest urban area in Germany. Its population of 583,393 makes it the ninth largest city of Germany, as well as the fourth largest city of the federal state of North Rhine-Westphalia. On the Ruhr and Emscher rivers, Essen geographically is part of the Rhineland and the larger Rhine-Ruhr Metropolitan Region. The Ruhrdeutsch regiolect spoken in the region has strong influences of both Low German (Westphalian) and Low Franconian.

President of Germany Head of state of the Federal Republic of Germany

The President of Germany, officially the Federal President of the Federal Republic of Germany, is the head of state of Germany.


Early years and professional career

He was named after his mother's father, a master roof tiler in the city of Barmen, with radical-democratic, left-liberal, and patriotic views. His maternal grandfather, Heinemann's great-grandfather, had taken part in the Revolution of 1848. His father, Otto Heinemann, a manager at the Krupp steelworks in Essen, shared his father-in-law's views. In his youth, Gustav already felt called upon to preserve and promote the liberal and democratic traditions of 1848. Throughout his life, he fought against all kinds of subservience. This attitude helped him to maintain his intellectual independence even in the face of majorities in political parties and in the Church. [1]

Krupp German family dynasty

The Krupp family, a prominent 400-year-old German dynasty from Essen, is famous for their production of steel, artillery, ammunition and other armaments. The family business, known as Friedrich Krupp AG, was the largest company in Europe at the beginning of the 20th century, and was important to weapons development and production in both world wars. One of the most powerful dynasties in European history, Krupp flourished for 400 years as the premier weapons manufacturer of Germany. From the Thirty Years' War until the end of the Second World War, it produced battleships, U-boats, tanks, howitzers, guns, utilities, and hundreds of other commodities.

Having finished his elite secondary education in 1917, Heinemann briefly became a soldier in the First World War, but his severe illness stopped him from being sent to the front.

From 1918, he studied law, economics, and history at the universities of Münster, Marburg, Munich, Göttingen, and Berlin, graduating in 1922 and passing the bar in 1926. He received a Ph.D in 1922 and a doctorate of law in 1929.

The friendships that Heinemann formed during his student years often lasted for a lifetime. Among his friends were such different people as Wilhelm Röpke, who was to become one of the leading figures of economic liberalism, Ernst Lemmer, later a trade unionist and also a Christian Democrat, and Viktor Agartz, a Marxist.

Wilhelm Röpke German economist

Wilhelm Röpke was Professor of Economics, first in Jena, then in Graz, Marburg, Istanbul, and finally Geneva, Switzerland, and one of the spiritual fathers of the social market economy, theorising and collaborating to organise the post-World War II economic re-awakening of the war-wrecked German economy, deploying a program sometimes referred to as the sociological neoliberalism.

At the beginning of his career, Heinemann joined a renowned firm of solicitors in Essen. In 1929, he published a book about legal questions in the medical profession. From 1929 to 1949, he worked as a legal adviser to the Rheinische Stahlwerke in Essen, and from 1936 to 1949, he was also one of its directors.

The steelworks were considered to be essential for the war so Heinemann was not drafted into the army. He was a lecturer at the law school of the University of Cologne between 1933 and 1939. It was probably his refusal to become a member of the Nazi Party that finished his academic career. [2]

Nazi Party Fascist political party in Germany (1920-1945)

The National Socialist German Workers' Party, commonly referred to in English as the Nazi Party, was a far-right political party in Germany that was active between 1920 and 1945, that created and supported the ideology of National Socialism. Its precursor, the German Workers' Party, existed from 1919 to 1920.

He was also invited to join the board of directors of the Rheinisch-Westfaelisches Kohlesyndikat in 1936, but he refused, as he was expected to end his work for the Confessing Church.

Family and religion

In 1926, Heinemann married Hilda Ordemann (1896-1979), who had been a student of Rudolf Bultmann, the famous Protestant theologian. His wife and the minister of his wife's parish, Wilhelm Graeber, led Heinemann back to Christianity from which he had become estranged. [2] Through his sister-in-law, he became acquainted with Swiss theologian Karl Barth, who strongly influenced him such as in his condemnation of nationalism and antisemitism.

Rudolf Bultmann German theologian

Rudolf Karl Bultmann was a German Lutheran theologian and professor of New Testament at the University of Marburg. He was one of the major figures of early-20th-century biblical studies and a prominent voice in liberal Christianity.

Karl Barth Swiss Protestant theologian

Karl Barth was a Swiss Reformed theologian who is most well known for his landmark The Epistle to the Romans, involvement in the Confessing Church, authorship of the Barmen Declaration, and especially his thirteen volume Church Dogmatics (1932-1967). Barth's influence expanded well beyond the academic realm to mainstream culture, leading him to be featured on the cover of Time on April 20, 1962 and Pope Pius XII said Barth was “the greatest theologian since Thomas Aquinas.”

Gustav and Hilda Heinemann had three daughters, Uta (later Uta Ranke-Heinemann), Christa (mother of Christina Rau, former federal president Johannes Rau's wife) and Barbara; they also had a son, Peter.

Heinemann was an elder (Presbyter) in Wilhelm Graeber's parish in Essen, when Graeber was sacked in 1933 by the new church authorities who co-operated with the Nazis. Opposition against those German Christians came from the Confessing Church, and Heinemann became a member of its synod and its legal adviser. As he disagreed with some of the developments within the Confessing Church, he withdrew from the church leadership in 1939, but he continued as an elder in his parish, in whose capacity he gave legal advice to persecuted fellow Christians and helped Jews who had gone into hiding by providing them with food. [3]

Information sheets of the Confessing Church were printed in the cellar of Heinemann's house at Schinkelstrasse 34 in Essen, Moltkeviertel, and distributed all over Germany.

From 1936 to 1950, Heinemann was head of the YMCA in Essen.

Heinemann, at the general synod of the Evangelical Church in Germany, 1949 Bundesarchiv Bild 183-R95855, Bethel, Generalsynode, Gustav Heinemann spricht.jpg
Heinemann, at the general synod of the Evangelical Church in Germany, 1949

In August 1945, he was elected as a member of the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany. The Council issued the Stuttgart Declaration of Guilt in October 1945 in which it confessed guilt for the failure of the Protestant church not to oppose the Nazis and the Third Reich. Heinemann regarded the declaration as a "linchpin" in his work for the church.

From 1949 to 1955, Heinemann was president of the all-German Synod of the Protestant Churches of Germany. He was among the founders of the German Protestant Church Congress (Deutscher Evangelischer Kirchentag), a congress of the Protestant laity. In 1949, he was also one of the founding editors of Die Stimme der Gemeinde ("The Voice of the Congregation"), a magazine which was published by the Bruderrat (Brethren's Council) of the Confessing Church. In the World Council of Churches he belonged to its "Commission for International Affairs".

Early political career

As a student, Heinemann, like his friends Lemmer and Roepke, belonged to the Reichsbund deutscher demokratischer Studenten, the student organization of the liberal German Democratic Party, which strongly supported the democracy of the Weimar Republic.

He heard Hitler speak in Munich in 1920 and had to leave the room after interrupting Hitler's diatribe against the Jews. [4]

In 1930, Heinemann joined the Christlich-Sozialer Volksdienst ("Christian Social People's Service"), but he voted for the Social Democratic Party in 1933 to try to prevent a victory of the NSDAP. [3]


After the Second World War, the British authorities appointed Heinemann mayor of Essen, and in 1946, he was elected to that office, which he kept until 1949. He was one of the founders of the Christian Democratic Union in North Rhine-Westphalia, in which he saw an interdenominational and democratic association of people opposed to Nazism. He was a member of the North Rhine-Westphalian parliament (Landtag, 1947–1950), and from 1947 to 1948, he was Minister of Justice in the North Rhine-Westphalian government of CDU Prime Minister Karl Arnold.

When Konrad Adenauer became the first Chancellor of the newly founded Federal Republic of Germany in 1949, he wanted a representative of the Protestants in the CDU in his government. Heinemann, the president of the Synod of Protestant Churches, reluctantly agreed to become the Minister of the Interior although he had planned to resume his career in industry. [5]

A year later, when it became known that Adenauer had secretly offered German participation in a Western European army, Heinemann resigned from the government. He was convinced that any form of armament in West Germany would diminish chances of German reunification and increase risk of war. [6]

Heinemann left the CDU, and, in 1952, he founded his own political party, the All-German People's Party (Gesamtdeutsche Volkspartei). Among its members were such politicians as future Federal President Johannes Rau and also Erhard Eppler. They advocated negotiations with the Soviet Union with the aim of a reunited, neutral Germany between the blocs, but the GVP failed to attract many voters. Heinemann dissolved his party in 1957 and joined the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD), whose aims were relatively close to his own.

There, he soon became a member of the party's National Executive. He helped the SPD to change into a Volkspartei (party of the people) by opening it up for socially-minded Protestants and middle-class people especially in the industrial districts of Germany.

In October 1950 Heinemann had started practising as a lawyer again. In court, he predominantly represented political and religious minorities. He also worked for the release of prisoners in East Germany. [3] Later, he defended conscientious objectors to compulsory military service and Jehovah's Witnesses in court. The latter refused to do even community work instead of military service because of their absolute conscientious objection. [7]

As an MP in the Bundestag, the parliament of West Germany, Heinemann passionately fought against Adenauer's plans of acquiring atomic weapons for the West German army ( Bundeswehr ).

In the "Grand Coalition" government of Chancellor Kurt Georg Kiesinger (CDU) and Foreign Minister Willy Brandt (SPD) Heinemann was Minister of Justice (1966–1969). He initiated a number of liberal reforms, especially in the field of criminal law.

President of the Federal Republic of Germany

In March 1969 Gustav Heinemann was elected President of the Federal Republic of Germany. As he was elected with the help of most delegates of the Free Democratic Party (FDP/Liberals) his election was generally understood as a sign of the re-orientation of the FDP with regard to a future coalition with the SPD (Social-liberal coalition, October 1969 - October 1982).

In an interview Heinemann once said that he wanted to be "the citizens' president" rather than "the president of the state". He established the tradition of inviting ordinary citizens to the president's New Year's receptions, and in his speeches, he encouraged the Germans to overcome the tradition of submissiveness to the authorities, to make full use of their democratic rights and to defend the rule of law and social justice. [8] That attitude and his open-mindedness towards the student protests of 1968 made him popular among the younger generation as well.

When asked whether he loved the German state, he answered that he loved not the state but his wife. [9]

Heinemann mainly visited countries that had been occupied by German troops in World War II. He supported the social-liberal government's policy of reconciliation with the Eastern European states. He promoted research into the nature of conflicts and of peace, as well as about problems of the environment. [3]

It was Heinemann's idea to found a museum for the commemoration of German liberation movements, and he was able to open such a place officially in Rastatt in 1974. His interest in that subject was partly from the involvement of his own ancestors in the revolution of 1848. [10]

On account of his age and fragile health, he did not stand for a possible second term as President in 1974. He died in 1976.

A short time before his death he published an essay in which he criticized the Radikalenerlass ("Radicals Decree") of 1972, a rule that subjected all candidates for the civil service (including prospective teachers, railway engine drivers, and postmen) to special scrutiny to exclude political radicals. He thought it was not compatible with the spirit of the constitution that a large group of people were generally treated as suspects. [11]

Farewell at Cologne station, 1974 Bundesarchiv B 145 Bild-F043317-0068, Bahnhof Koln, Abschied Bundesprasident Heinemann.jpg
Farewell at Cologne station, 1974

The Gustav-Heinemann-Friedenspreis (Gustav Heinemann Peace Prize) is an annual prize for children's and young people's books that are deemed to have best promoted the cause of world peace.

Honours and awards

Named after Heinemann

Related Research Articles

Free Democratic Party (Germany) political party in Germany

The Free Democratic Party is a liberal and classical liberal political party in Germany. The FDP is led by Christian Lindner.

Johannes Rau President of Germany from 1 July 1999 until 30 June 2004

Johannes Rau was a German politician of the SPD. He was President of Germany from 1 July 1999 until 30 June 2004, Minister President of North Rhine-Westphalia from 20 September 1978 to 9 June 1998 and President of the Bundesrat from 1 November 1982 to 31 October 1983 and from 1 November 1994 to 31 October 1995.

Konrad Adenauer German statesman, Federal Chancellor of Germany, politician (CDU)

Konrad Hermann Joseph Adenauer was a German statesman who served as the first Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany from 1949 to 1963. He was co-founder and first leader of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), a Christian Democratic party that under his leadership became one of the most influential parties in the country.

Kurt Georg Kiesinger Chancellor of West Germany

Kurt Georg Kiesinger was a German politician who served as Chancellor of Germany from 1 December 1966 to 21 October 1969. Before he became Chancellor he served as Minister President of Baden-Württemberg from 1958 to 1966 and as President of the Federal Council from 1962 to 1963. He was Chairman of the Christian Democratic Union from 1967 to 1971.

Christian Democratic Union of Germany political party in Germany

The Christian Democratic Union of Germany is a Christian democratic and liberal-conservative political party in Germany. It is the major catch-all party of the centre-right in German politics. The CDU forms the CDU/CSU grouping, also known as the Union, in the Bundestag with its Bavarian counterpart the Christian Social Union in Bavaria (CSU). The party is widely considered an effective successor of the Centre Party, although it has a broader base.

Social Democratic Party of Germany political party in Germany

The Social Democratic Party of Germany is a social-democratic political party in Germany.

Gerhard Schröder (CDU) German politician (CDU), federal minister

Gerhard Schröder was a West German politician and member of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party. He served as Federal Minister of the Interior from 1953 to 1961, as Foreign Minister from 1961 to 1966, and as Minister of Defence from 1966 until 1969. In the 1969 election he ran for President of Germany but was outpolled by Gustav Heinemann.

Kurt Schumacher German politician

Kurt Ernst Carl Schumacher was a German social democratic politician, who served as chairman of the Social Democratic Party of Germany from 1946 and was the first Leader of the Opposition in the West German Bundestag from 1949 until his death in 1952. An opponent of Chancellor Konrad Adenauer's government, but an even stronger opponent of the East German Socialist Unity Party and communism in general, he was one of the founding fathers of post-war German democracy. He was also a noted opponent of the far-right and the far-left, i.e. the Nazi Party and the Communist Party of Germany, during the Weimar Republic, and is famous for his description of the communists as "red-painted Nazis." He spent over ten years in Nazi concentration camps, where he was severely mistreated.

Parlamentarischer Rat West German constituent assembly in 1948–1949

The Parlamentarischer Rat was the West German constituent assembly in Bonn that drafted and adopted the constitution of West Germany, the Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany, promulgated on 23 May 1949.

1972 West German federal election

Federal elections were held in West Germany on 19 November 1972 to elect the members of the 7th Bundestag. In the first snap elections since 1949, the Social Democratic Party for the first time in the history of the second German republic became the largest party in the Bundestag, winning 242 of the 518 seats. The coalition with the Free Democratic Party was resumed.

1949 West German federal election

Federal elections were held in West Germany on 14 August 1949 to elect the first Bundestag, with a further eight seats elected in West Berlin between 1949 and January 1952 and another eleven between February 1952 and 1953. They were the first contested elections since 1933 and the first after the division of the country.

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Germany) minister in the Federal Republic of Germany

The Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs is the head of the Federal Foreign Office and a member of the Cabinet of Germany. The current office holder is Heiko Maas. Since 1966, the Foreign Minister has often also simultaneously held the office of Vice Chancellor.

Thomas Dehler German politician

Thomas Dehler was a German politician. He was the Federal Republic of Germany's first Minister of Justice (1949–1953) and chairman of Free Democratic Party (1954–1957).

Erhard Eppler German politician

Erhard Eppler is a German Social Democratic politician and founder of the GTZ.

Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs Ministry of Labour of Germany

The Federal Ministry for Labour and Social Affairs (BMAS) is a federal ministry of the Federal Republic of Germany headed by the Federal Minister of Labour and Social Affairs as a member of the Cabinet of Germany (Bundesregierung). Its first location is on Wilhelmstrasse in Berlin, the second in Bonn.

CDU/CSU, unofficially the Union parties or the Union, is the centre-right Christian democratic political alliance of two political parties in Germany, namely the Christian Democratic Union of Germany (CDU) and Christian Social Union in Bavaria (CSU).

All-German Peoples Party former political party of Germany

The All-German People's Party was a minor political party in West Germany active between 1952 and 1957. It was a Christian, pacifist, bourgeois centre-left party that opposed the re-armament of West Germany because it believed that the remilitarisation and NATO integration would make German reunification impossible, deepen the division of Europe and pose a danger to peace.

Diether Posser German politician

Diether Posser was a German politician, representative of the Social Democratic Party.

Evangelical Working Group of the CDU/CSU

The Evangelical Working Group of the CDU/CSU (EAK) is a specialized agency of the CDU and CSU. The term evangelical is not to be confused with a more conservative or radical connotation in the English language, but refers to the Evangelische Kirche in Deutschland, the general union of mostly Lutheran and mainstream regional churches.

Helene Wessel German politician

Helene Wessel was a German politician. From October 1949 to January 1952 she was chairwoman of the Centre Party and a founding member of the All-German People's Party, which eventually joined the SPD. She was elected to the Parlamentarischer Rat, the West German constitutional convention.


  1. Helmut Lindemann: Gustav Heinemann. Ein Leben für die Demokratie. Munich (Koesel) 1986, (1st ed. 1978), ISBN   3-466-41012-6, p. 14
  2. 1 2
  3. 1 2 3 4 Diether Koch (2000). "Gustav Heinemann". In Bautz, Traugott. Biographisch-Bibliographisches Kirchenlexikon (BBKL) (in German). 17. Herzberg: Bautz. cols. 620–631. ISBN   3-88309-080-8.
  4. Lindemann (1986), p. 32
  5. Lindemann (1986), p. 89
  6. Hans Prolingheuer: Kleine politische Kirchengeschichte. Cologne 1984, p. 123
  7. Diether Posser: Erinnerungen an Gustav W. Heinemann, Bonn, 1999
  8. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2011-04-03. Retrieved 2017-03-11.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  10. Posser (1999)
  11. Freimütige Kritik und demokratischer Rechtsstaat in: Aus Politik und Zeitgeschichte, supplement to Das Parlament, 22 May 1976
  12. "HEINEMANN Dott. Gustav W. decorato di Gran Cordone" (in Italian). Retrieved 14 October 2012.
  13. "Reply to a parliamentary question" (pdf) (in German). p. 369. Retrieved 14 October 2012.

Further reading

Political offices
Preceded by
Heinrich Lübke
President of West Germany
Succeeded by
Walter Scheel