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Richard von Weizsäcker

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Richard von Weizsäcker

Baron Richard von Weizsäcker
Richard von Weizsäcker in 1984
President of the Federal Republic of Germany
In office
1 July 1984 – 30 June 1994[1]
Chancellor Helmut Kohl
Preceded by Karl Carstens
Succeeded by Roman Herzog
Governing Mayor of West Berlin
In office
11 June 1981 – 9 February 1984
Preceded by Hans-Jochen Vogel
Succeeded by Eberhard Diepgen
Personal details
Born Richard Karl Freiherr von Weizsäcker
(1920-04-15)15 April 1920
Stuttgart, Germany
Died 31 January 2015(2015-01-31) (aged 94)
Berlin, Germany
Nationality German
Political party Christian Democratic Union
Spouse(s) Marianne von Kretschmann
Children 4
Alma mater Balliol College, Oxford
University of Grenoble
University of Göttingen
Religion Lutheran

Richard Karl Freiherr von Weizsäcker (   ; 15 April 1920 – 31 January 2015) was a German politician (CDU). Born into the aristocratic Weizsäcker family, he took his first public offices in the Evangelical Church in Germany.

A member of the CDU since 1954, he was elected as member of parliament in 1969. He continued to hold a mandate as member of the Bundestag until he became Governing Mayor of West Berlin, following the 1981 state elections. In 1984, von Weizsäcker was elected President of the Federal Republic of Germany. During his presidency, German reunification was accomplished through the incorporation of the territory of the former German Democratic Republic into the Federal Republic of Germany on 3 October 1990.

He is considered the most popular of Germany's presidents,[1] held in high regard particularly for his impartiality.[2][3] His demeanor often saw him at odds with his party colleagues, particularly long-term chancellor Helmut Kohl. He was famous for his speeches, especially one he delivered at the 40th anniversary of the end of the Second World War in Europe on 8 May 1985. Upon his death on 31 January 2015, his life and political work were widely praised, with The New York Times calling him "a guardian of his nation’s moral conscience".


  • Early life 1
    • Childhood, school and family 1.1
    • World War II 1.2
    • Education, marriage and early work life 1.3
  • German Evangelical Church Assembly 2
  • Political career 3
    • Governing Mayor of West Berlin, 1981–1984 3.1
    • President of the Federal Republic of Germany (1984-1994) 3.2
      • First term (1984-1989) 3.2.1
      • Second term (1989-1994) 3.2.2
  • Post-presidency 4
    • Death and funeral 4.1
  • Relationship with his party and Helmut Kohl 5
  • Publications 6
  • Other activities and recognition 7
  • Ancestry 8
  • References 9
  • Bibliography 10
    • Editions 10.1
    • Monographs and miscellanies 10.2
  • Notes 11
  • External links 12

Early life

Childhood, school and family

Richard von Weizsäcker (left) with his father at the latter's post-war trial

Richard von Weizsäcker was born on 15 April 1920 in the New Castle in Stuttgart,[4] the son of diplomat Ernst von Weizsäcker, a member of the noted Weizsäcker family, and his wife Marianne (née von Graevenitz).[5] Ernst von Weizsäcker was a career diplomat and a high-ranking official in the Foreign Ministry in the 1930s.[6] The youngest of four children, Richard von Weizsäcker had two brothers, physicist and philosopher Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker and Heinrich von Weizsäcker, and a sister, Elisabeth.[7] In 1967, Elisabeth married Dr. Konrad Raiser, the former General Secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC).[8] His grandfather Karl von Weizsäcker was Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Württemberg, and was ennobled in 1897 and raised to the hereditary title of Baron (Freiherr) in 1916.[9]

Because his father was a career diplomat, he spent much of his childhood in

Political offices
Preceded by
Karl Carstens
President of the Federal Republic of Germany
Succeeded by
Roman Herzog
Preceded by
Hans-Jochen Vogel
Mayor of West Berlin
Succeeded by
Eberhard Diepgen
  • Correspondence between President Weizsacker and the Israeli President Chaim Herzog during the First Gulf War, published by the blog of Israel State Archives
  • Richard von Weizsäcker on the official website of the President's Office

External links

  1. ^ From 1 July 1984 to 2 October 1990, Richard von Weizsäcker was Federal President of West Germany only. From 3 October 1990 until 30 June 1994, he was Federal President of the reunified Germany.



  • Richard von Weizsäcker. Reden und Interviews (vol. 1), 1. Juli 1984 - 30. Juni 1985. Bonn: Presse- und Informationsamt der Bundesregierung. 1986. 
  • Richard von Weizsäcker. Reden und Interviews (vol. 5), 1. Juli 1988 - 30. Juni 1989. Bonn: Presse- und Informationsamt der Bundesregierung. 1989. 
  • Richard von Weizsäcker. Reden und Interviews (vol. 7), 1. Juli 1990 - 30. Juni 1991. Bonn: Presse- und Informationsamt der Bundesregierung. 1992. 

Monographs and miscellanies

  • Gill, Ulrich (ed.) (1986). Eine Rede und ihre Wirkung. Die Rede des Bundespräsidenten Richard von Weizsäcker vom 8. Mai 1985 anläßlich des 40. Jahrestages der Beendigung des Zweiten Weltkrieges (in German). Berlin: Verlag Rainer Röll.  
  • Hofmann, Gunter (2010). Richard von Weizsäcker. Ein deutsches Leben (in German). Munich: C.H. Beck.  
  • Rudolph, Hermann (2010). Richard von Weizsäcker. Eine Biographie (in German). Berlin: Rowohlt.  
  • von Weizsäcker, Richard (1997). Vier Zeiten. Erinnerungen (in German). Berlin: Siedler Verlag.  


  1. ^ Augstein, Franziska (15 April 2010). "Erster Bürger seines Staates" (in German). Süddeutsche Zeitung. Retrieved 20 April 2015. 
  2. ^ """Gauck würdigt "großen Deutschen (in German). Deutschlandfunk. 11 February 2015. Retrieved 20 April 2015. 
  3. ^ Schäuble, Wolfgang (11 February 2015). "Er ist immer unser Präsident geblieben" (in German). Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. Retrieved 20 April 2015. 
  4. ^ a b "Richard von Weizsäcker (1984–1994)". Bundespräsidialamt. Retrieved 1 February 2015. 
  5. ^ Hofmann 2010, p. 23.
  6. ^ Hofmann 2010, p. 19.
  7. ^ von Weizsäcker 1997, p. 38-43.
  8. ^ "Konrad Raiser - Former WCC General Secretary (from 1993–2003)". WCC Press Corner - Biographies.  
  9. ^ Rudolph 2010, p. 24.
  10. ^ Rudolph 2010, p. 25.
  11. ^ von Weizsäcker 1997, p. 49-51.
  12. ^ von Weizsäcker 1997, p. 71.
  13. ^ Hofmann 2010, p. 30.
  14. ^ von Weizsäcker 1997, p. 72-73.
  15. ^ Rudolph 2010, p. 39.
  16. ^ Rudolph 2010, p. 40.
  17. ^ Finker, Kurt (1993), "Das Potsdamer Infanterieregiment 9 und der konservativ militärische Widerstand", in Kroener, Bernhard R., Potsdam. Staat, Armee, Regiment, Berlin 
  18. ^ von Weizsäcker 1997, p. 90.
  19. ^ von Weizsäcker 1997, p. 91.
  20. ^ von Weizsäcker 1997, p. 95.
  21. ^ Rudolph 2010, p. 54.
  22. ^ von Weizsäcker 1997, p. 98-102.
  23. ^ Rudolph 2010, p. 61.
  24. ^ Hofmann 2010, p. 88.
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  29. ^ Kaiser, Carl-Christian (29 January 1993). "Unter Brüdern" (in German). Die Zeit. Retrieved 6 October 2015. 
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  32. ^ "Odenwaldschule: Familie Weizsäcker bricht Schweigen" (in German). Spiegel Online. 27 March 2010. Retrieved 6 October 2015. 
  33. ^ Rudolph 2010, p. 83.
  34. ^ Rudolph 2010, p. 91.
  35. ^ Rudolph 2010, p. 98.
  36. ^ von Weizsäcker 1997, p. 179-185.
  37. ^ Rudolph 2010, p. 116.
  38. ^ Rudolph 2010, p. 119.
  39. ^ a b c James M. Markham (24 May 1984), A Patrician President in Bonn; Richard von Weizsacker New York Times.
  40. ^ a b James M. Markham (23 June 1994), Facing Up To Germany’s Past The New York Times Magazine.
  41. ^ Thomas, Sven (2005). Die informelle Koalition. Richard von Weizsäcker und die Berliner CDU-Regierung (1981-1983). Wiesbaden: Deutscher Universitäts-Verlag.  
  42. ^ "Die Bundesversammlungen 1949 bis 2010" (PDF) (in German). Deutscher Bundestag. Retrieved 8 September 2015. 
  43. ^ Richard von Weizsäcker. Reden und Interviews (vol. 1), 1. Juli 1984 - 30. Juni 1985. Bonn: Presse- und Informationsamt der Bundesregierung. 1986. p. 16. 
  44. ^ von Weizsäcker 1997, p. 308-316.
  45. ^ Andresen, Dirk J. (31 January 2015). "Richard von Weizsäcker: Der Präsident, den die Deutschen liebten" (in German). Berliner Kurier. Retrieved 11 May 2015. 
  46. ^ a b c Speech in the Bundestag on 8 May 1985 during the Ceremony Commemorating the 40th Anniversary of the End of War in Europe and of National-Socialist Tyranny, Landesmedienzentrum Baden-Württemberg, retrieved on 31 January 2014 (PDF, 123 KB).
  47. ^ Saxon, Wolfgang (31 January 2015). "Richard von Weizsäcker, 94, Germany’s First President After Reunification, Is Dead". (New York Times). Retrieved 1 February 2015. 
  48. ^ a b Gill 1986, p. 7.
  49. ^ a b von Weizsäcker 1997, p. 317.
  50. ^ Weinraub, Bernard (6 May 1985). "Reagan Joins Kohl in Brief Memorial at Bitburg Graves". The New York Times. Retrieved 11 May 2015. 
  51. ^ a b c d James M. Markham (9 May 1985), 'All of Us Must Accept the Past,' The German President Tells M.P.'s New York Times.
  52. ^ "Denkmal für die im Nationalsozialismus verfolgten Homosexuellen". Memorial site for the persecuted homosexual victims of National Socialism. Retrieved 1 February 2015. 
  53. ^ Gill 1986, p. 27.
  54. ^ a b Gill 1986, p. 8.
  55. ^ Gill 1986, p. 13.
  56. ^ Gill 1986, p. 37.
  57. ^ a b Leinemann, Jürgen (13 May 1985). "Möglichkeiten, das Gewissen abzulenken". Der Spiegel. Retrieved 11 May 2015. 
  58. ^ Gill 1986, p. 137-138.
  59. ^ Gill 1986, p. 91.
  60. ^ Gill 1986, p. 94.
  61. ^ Richard von Weizsäcker. Reden und Interviews (vol. 5), 1. Juli 1988 - 30. Juni 1989. Bonn: Presse- und Informationsamt der Bundesregierung. 1989. pp. 69–79. 
  62. ^ a b c Serge Schmemann (22 October 1988), Bonn Journal; Facing the Mirror of German History New York Times.
  63. ^ Richard von Weizsäcker. Reden und Interviews (vol. 7), 1. Juli 1990 - 30. Juni 1991. Bonn: Presse- und Informationsamt der Bundesregierung. 1992. p. 66.  Translated by User:Zwerg Nase
  64. ^ Studemann, Frederick. "Richard von Weizsäcker, German president 1920-2015". Financial Times. Retrieved 1 February 2015. 
  65. ^ "Die Bundesversammlungen 1949 bis 2010" (PDF) (in German). Deutscher Bundestag. Retrieved 6 October 2015. 
  66. ^ Rudolph 2010, p. 245.
  67. ^ """Ansprache von Bundespräsident Richard von Weizsäcker beim Staatsakt zum "Tag der deutschen Einheit. Bundespräsidialamt. Retrieved 11 April 2015. 
  68. ^ Borders Will Stay, Bonn's President Says in Poland Los Angeles Times, 3 May 1990.
  69. ^ Tyler Marshall (18 October 1992), Germans Lay Beloved Statesman Brandt to Rest Los Angeles Times.
  70. ^ Jochen Thies (14 January 1993), A New German Seriousness on the Asylum Problem International Herald Tribune.
  71. ^ Mary Williams Walsh (23 May 1994), German Electoral College to Pick New President Los Angeles Times.
  72. ^ Germans Applaud "Schindler's List" International Herald Tribune, 2 March 1994.
  73. ^ a b Translated by User:Zwerg Nase
  74. ^ Rudolph 2010, p. 261.
  75. ^ Richard von Weizsäcker. Reden und Interviews (vol. 7), 1. Juli 1990 - 30. Juni 1991. Bonn: Presse- und Informationsamt der Bundesregierung. 1992. pp. 391–397. 
  76. ^ a b Michael Farr (21 April 1993), Economic Slide Rekindles Debate on Capitals International Herald Tribune.
  77. ^ Rudolph 2010, p. 256.
  78. ^ a b Rudolph 2010, p. 257.
  79. ^ Augstein, Rudolf (29 June 1992). "Weizsäcker und sein Traditionsbruch". (in German). Der Spiegel. Retrieved 11 April 2015. 
  80. ^ Weizsaecker Urges Openness to Truth of the Past : W. German President Makes Rare Israel Visit Los Angeles Times, 9 October 1985.
  81. ^ Bonn Official in Britain Los Angeles Times, 2 July 1986.
  82. ^ Grothe, Solveig (22 November 2010). "Politiker-Entgleisungen". Spiegel online. Retrieved 10 May 2015. 
  83. ^ a b "Eine Kooperation auf neuem Niveau". Der Spiegel (28/1987). 6 July 1987. Retrieved 10 May 2015. 
  84. ^ von Weizsäcker 1997, p. 343. Translated by User:Zwerg Nase.
  85. ^ von Weizsäcker 1997, p. 343-344.
  86. ^ von Weizsäcker 1997, p. 346.
  87. ^ "Violations Von Weizsaecker Starts State Visit to Moscow : End Bloc Thinking, Bonn President Says". Los Angeles Times. Reuters. 7 July 1987. Retrieved 11 May 2015. 
  88. ^ von Weizsäcker 1997, p. 349-350.
  89. ^ Sarah Means Lohmann (25 December 2003), In Berlin, a Showcase of American Talent and Thought Marks an Anniversary New York Times.
  90. ^ Advisory Council Transparency International.
  91. ^ Kinkel, Weizsäcker call for release of Nigeria’s Obasanjo – An international campaign led by TI is to increase the pressure on Nigeria’s rulers Transparency International, press release of 29 September 1996.
  92. ^ Abschiedsfeier für Alt-Bundespräsident von Weizsäcker Hamburger Abendblatt, 7 November 2014..
  93. ^ a b Saxon, Wolfgang (31 January 2015). "Richard von Weizsäcker, 94, Germany’s First President After Reunification, Is Dead". The New York Times. Retrieved 1 February 2015. 
  94. ^ van der Vat, Dan. "Richard von Weizsäcker obituary". The Guardian. Retrieved 11 April 2015. 
  95. ^ a b Conrad, Naomi. "Berlin pays last respects to former president". Deutsche Welle. Retrieved 11 April 2015. 
  96. ^ "Die Gäste der Trauerfeier - Abschied von Richard von Weizsäcker". (in German). Handelsblatt. Retrieved 11 April 2015. 
  97. ^ Ohmann, Oliver. "Berliner pilgern zum Grab von Richard von Weizsäcker". (in German). Bild. Retrieved 11 April 2015. 
  98. ^ Rudolph 2010, p. 131.
  99. ^ "Näher den Grünen als Kohl". Der Spiegel (28/1987): 22–23. 6 July 1987. Retrieved 10 May 2015. 
  100. ^ a b Rudolph 2010, p. 258.
  101. ^ Rudolph 2010, p. 259.
  102. ^ a b Schmidt-Klingenberg, Michael (22 September 1997). "Die Zierde der Partei". (in German). Der Spiegel. Retrieved 11 April 2015. 
  103. ^ Spörl, Gerhard (31 January 2015). "Erinnerungen an Richard von Weizsäcker: Er hat uns befreit" (in German). Der Spiegel. Retrieved 8 September 2015. 
  104. ^ von Weizsäcker 1997, p. 288. Translated by User:Zwerg Nase.
  105. ^ Rudolph 2010, p. 269.
  106. ^ von Weizsäcker 1997, p. 288.
  107. ^ Rudolph 2010, pp. 270–271.
  108. ^ "Von Deutschland aus / Richard von Weizsäcker" (in German). Deutsche Nationalbibliothek. Retrieved 8 September 2015. 
  109. ^ "Von Deutschland nach Europa : die bewegende Kraft der Geschichte / Richard von Weizsäcker" (in German). Deutsche Nationalbibliothek. Retrieved 8 September 2015. 
  110. ^ "Vier Zeiten : Erinnerungen / Richard von Weizsäcker" (in German). Deutsche Nationalbibliothek. Retrieved 8 September 2015. 
  111. ^ "From Weimar to the Wall : my life in German politics / Richard von Weizsäcker. Transl. from the German by Ruth Hein" (in German). Deutsche Nationalbibliothek. Retrieved 8 September 2015. 
  112. ^ Fromme, Friedrich Karl (29 May 1998). "Ein Mann der indirekten Sprache" (in German). Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. Retrieved 8 September 2015. 
  113. ^ Gauland, Alexander (16 September 2009). "Memoiren – Richard von Weizsäcker eckt nicht an" (in German). Die Welt. Retrieved 8 September 2015. 
  114. ^ Verzeichnis der Mitglieder der Balley Brandenburg des Ritterlichen Ordens St. Johannis vom Spital zu Jerusalem; Berlin: Johanniterorden, 2011; page 18.
  115. ^ a b "Hedersdoktor vid fakulteten avliden" (in Swedish). Uppsala Universitet. 31 January 2015. Retrieved 3 May 2015. 
  116. ^ "Landmarks - 1991".  
  117. ^ Borrud, Gabriel. "'The greatest German friend Poland has ever had'". Deutsche Welle. Retrieved 1 February 2015. 
  118. ^ a b Reuters. "Merkel, Gauck laud Richard von Weizsäcker". Deutsche Welle. Retrieved 1 February 2015. 
  119. ^ "Muere Richard von Weizsäcker, primer presidente de la Alemania reunificada". (in Spanish). 31 January 2015. Retrieved 3 May 2015. 
  120. ^ "Inkomend staatsbezoek" (in Dutch). Het Koninklijk Huis. Retrieved 3 May 2015. 
  121. ^ Icelandic Presidency Website (Icelandic), Order of the Falcon, Weizsäcker, Richard von, 4 July 1988, Grand Cross with Collar
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Both chancellor Angela Merkel as well as president Joachim Gauck lauded von Weizsäcker, with the latter declaring upon the news of his death: "We are losing a great man and an outstanding head of state."[118] French president François Hollande highlighted Weizsäcker's "moral stature."[118]

Weizsäcker received many honors in his career, including honorary membership in the Order of Saint John (Bailiwick of Brandenburg);[114] an honorary doctorate from Johns Hopkins University in 1993; creation of the Richard von Weizsäcker Professorship at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) of Johns Hopkins University and the Robert Bosch Foundation of Stuttgart in 2003; and more than eleven other honorary doctorates, ranging from the Weizmann Institute in Israel to Oxford, Cambridge and Harvard universities, the Charles University in Prague, Uppsala University[115] and the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras,[116] the Leo Baeck Prize from the Central Council of Jews in Germany, and the Buber-Rosenzweig Medallion from the Society for Christian-Jewish Cooperation. After his death, deputy director of Poland's international broadcaster, Rafal Kiepuszewski, called von Weizsäcker "the greatest German friend Poland has ever had".[117]

Richard von Weizsäcker at a Transparency International event in 2013

Other activities and recognition

Weizsäcker's publications include Die deutsche Geschichte geht weiter (German History Continues), first published in 1983;[83] Von Deutschland aus (From Germany Abroad), a collection of speeches first published in 1985;[108] Von Deutschland nach Europa (From Germany to Europe, 1991)[109] and his memoirs Vier Zeiten (Four Times), published in German in 1997[110] and in English as From Weimar to the Wall: My Life in German Politics in 1999.[111] In a review in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Friedrich Karl Fromme wrote that the memoirs tell nothing new about the times he lived in, but "something about the person".[112] In 2009, he published a book on his recollections of German reunification, titled Der Weg zur Einheit (The Path to Unity). German newspaper Die Welt dismissed the book as "boring", accusing the account of being too balanced.[113]


After his presidency ended, von Weizsäcker remained vocal in daily politics, e.g. speaking for a more liberal immigration policy, calling the way his party handled it "simply ridiculous".[105] He also spoke out in favour of dual citizenship and a change of German citizenship law from jus sanguinis to jus soli, a view not generally shared by his party colleagues.[106] Towards the former East-German leading party, the PDS (today called Die Linke), von Weizsäcker urged his party colleagues to enter into a serious political discussion. He went as far as speaking in favor of a coalition government between Social Democrats and the PDS in Berlin after the 2001 state election.[107]

It were specifically Berlin's Turks from whom I won my view that the German citizenship law was in an urgent need for reform. [...] The longer it lasted, the more the jus sanguinis lost its sense compared to a jus soli. Should it really be made difficult for children of foreigners in the third generation to become Germans, even though it would not be a return, but emigration for them to go to the country of their ancestors [...]?[104]

Von Weizsäcker about his years as Governing Mayor of West-Berlin and his views on citizenship.

Helmut Kohl, who served as Chancellor of Germany from 1982 to 1998, was an early patron of von Weizsäcker's, effectively helping him into parliament. However, their relationship took a first strain in 1971, when von Weizsäcker supported Rainer Barzel over Kohl for the CDU-chairmanship. Subsequently, Kohl unsuccessfully tried to deny Weizsäcker the chance to become president in 1983.[100] After he had taken office, von Weizsäcker criticized Kohl's government on numerous occasions, taking liberties not previously known from someone in a ceremonial role such as his. For instance, he urged the chancellor to recognize the Oder–Neisse line[101] and spoke out for a more patient approach on the way towards German reunification.[100] Other examples include the aforementioned speech in 1985 and his critique of party politics in 1992. Following a critical interview von Weizsäcker gave the Spiegel magazine in September 1997, Kohl reacted during a meeting of his parliamentary group by saying von Weizsäcker (whom he called "that gentleman")[73] was no longer "one of us".[102] This was followed by CDU spokesman Rolf Kiefer stating the CDU had removed von Weizsäcker from its membership database, since the former president had not paid his membership fees in a long time. Von Weizsäcker took the matter to the party's arbitrating body and won. The tribunal ruled that he was allowed to let his membership rest indefinitely.[102] After his death, Spiegel editor Gerhard Spörl called von Weizsäcker the "intellectual alternative draft to Kohl".[103]

Richard von Weizsäcker, who had joined the CDU in 1954, was known for often publicly voicing political views different from his own party line, both in and out of the presidential office. While he was himself sceptical of Willy Brandt's Ostpolitik, he urged his party not to block it entirely in the lower diet, the Bundestag, since rejection would be met with disgruntlement abroad. When the CDU took a sweeping victory in the state elections in Baden-Württemberg in April 1972, his party decided to take the opportunity to dispose of chancellor Brandt with a vote of no confidence, replacing him with Rainer Barzel. Von Weizsäcker was one of only three CDU MPs to speak out against the proposal.[98] He kept an open and tolerant demeanor towards members of all other parties. In 1987, at a time when the CDU actively tried to label the Green Party as unconstitutional, the President had regular contact with high-ranking Green politicians such as Antje Vollmer, who was also active in the Evangelical Church in Germany, and Joschka Fischer, who said that with his understanding of state "he [Weizsäcker] is closer to the Green Party than to Kohl, not NATO, but Auschwitz as reason of state (Staatsräson)."[99]

Von Weizsäcker (center) and Kohl (right) during a CDU press conference in June 1975.

Relationship with his party and Helmut Kohl

He was honored with a state funeral on 11 February 2015 held at Berlin Cathedral. Eulogies were given by incumbent president Joachim Gauck, foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier (SPD), finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble (CDU) and former vice president of the Bundestag, Antje Vollmer (Green Party). Steinmeier lauded Weizsäcker's role in foreign politics, where he worked towards reconciliation with France and Poland and supported a dialogue with the communist regimes in the East, often against his own party.[95] The funeral was attended by many serving high-ranking politicians in Germany, including chancellor Angela Merkel. Also in attendance were former presidents Roman Herzog, Horst Köhler and Christian Wulff as well as former chancellors Helmut Schmidt and Gerhard Schröder. Princess Beatrix, former Queen of the Netherlands was present, as was former Polish president Lech Wałęsa.[96] After the ceremony, soldiers stood salute as von Weizsäcker's coffin was brought to its resting place at Waldfriedhof Dahlem.[95] In the subsequent days, many Berliners visited von Weizsäcker's grave to pay tribute and lay down flowers.[97]

Weizsäcker died in Berlin on 31 January 2015. He was survived by his wife, Marianne, and three of their four children.[93] Upon his death, there was general praise for his life and political career. In their obituary, the New York Times called von Weizsäcker "a guardian of his nation’s moral conscience",[93] while The Guardian commented that Germany was "uniquely fortunate" in having had him as a leader.[94]

Death and funeral

Weizsäcker also served on many international commissions. He was chairman of the Independent Working Group on the future of the United Nations and was one of three "Wise Men" appointed by European Commission President Romano Prodi to consider the future of the European Union. From 2003 until his death, he was a member of the Advisory Commission on the return of cultural property seized as a result of Nazi persecution, especially Jewish property, led by the former head of the Federal Constitutional Court, Jutta Limbach. In November 2014, Weizsäcker retired as chairman of the Bergedorf Round Table, a discussion forum on foreign policy issues.[92]

Weizsäcker served as a member of the Advisory Council of Transparency International.[90] In a letter addressed to Nigeria's military ruler Sani Abacha in 1996, he called for the immediate release of General Olusegun Obasanjo, the former head of state of Nigeria, who had become the first military ruler in Africa to keep his promise to hand over power to an elected civilian government but was later sentenced to 15 years imprisonment.[91]

As an elder statesman, Weizsäcker long remained involved in politics and charitable affairs in Germany. He was the chair of a commission installed by the then Social Democratic-Green government for reforming the Bundeswehr. Along with Henry A. Kissinger, he supported Richard Holbrooke in creating the American Academy in Berlin in 1994.[89] He was also a member of the Board of Trustees of the Robert Bosch Stiftung.

Richard von Weizsäcker in 2009


In 1987, he travelled to Moscow to meet Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in what was perceived as a difficult time in West German-Soviet relations, after chancellor Kohl had angered Moscow by comparing Gorbachev to Joseph Goebbels.[82][83] During a speech at the Kremlin, Weizsäcker said: "The Germans, who today live separated in East and West, have never stopped and will never stop to feel like one nation."[84] His speech was however censored in the official Communist Party newspaper Pravda. Upon protest by German foreign minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher with his Soviet counterpart Eduard Shevardnadze, the speech was then printed unabridged in the smaller paper Izvestia. Weizsäcker also appealed to the Soviet authorities to agree to a pardon for the last inmate in the Spandau Prison, former Deputy Führer Rudolf Hess. This proved unsuccessful and Hess committed suicide six weeks later.[85] The visit was nevertheless considered a success, as Gorbachev was quoted afterwards saying that "a new page of history was opened",[86] after the two had discussed matters of disarmament.[87] Also in 1987, Erich Honecker became the first East German leader to visit the Federal Republic. While state guests in Germany are usually welcomed by the President, Honecker was still not greeted officially by Weizsäcker, but by chancellor Kohl, since the Federal Republic did not consider the GDR a foreign state. Weizsäcker did however receive Honecker later at his seat of office, the Hammerschmidt Villa.[88]

On his trip to Israel in October 1985, Weizsäcker was greeted on arrival by his Israeli counterpart, President Chaim Herzog. The president was given a full honor-guard welcome at Ben-Gurion Airport; among Cabinet ministers who lined up to shake his hand were right-wingers of the Herut party, the main faction of Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir's Likud party, who had previously refused to greet German leaders. Weizsaecker's visit was the first by a head of state, it is not the first by a West German leader. Chancellor Willy Brandt had paid a visit to Israel in June 1973.[80] During a four-day state visit to the United Kingdom in July 1986, Weizsäcker addressed a joint session of the Houses of Parliament, the first German to be accorded that honor.[81]

Richard von Weizsäcker and his wife visiting Jordan in 1985.


The immediate reactions toward the interview were mixed. Prominent party politicians such as Rainer Barzel or Johannes Rau criticized the remarks, as did Minister of Labour Norbert Blüm, who asked the president to show more respect towards the work done by normal party members. Former chancellor Helmut Schmidt on the other hand conceded that von Weizsäcker was "essentially right". While comments from politicians were mainly negative, a public poll conducted by the Wickert-Institut in June 1992 showed that 87.4 per cent of the population agreed with the president.[78] Political commentators generally interpreted the remarks as a hidden attack of incumbent chancellor Helmut Kohl, since von Weizsäcker's relationship with his former patron had cooled over the prior years.[78] In a column for the German newspaper Der Spiegel chief-editor Rudolf Augstein criticized the president for his attack, writing: "You cannot have it both ways: on the one hand giving a right and seminal political incentive, but on the other hand insulting the governing class and its chief".[79]

In an interview book released in 1992, midway through his second term, von Weizsäcker voiced a harsh critique of the leading political parties in Germany, claiming that they took a larger role in public life than awarded to them by the constitution. He criticized the high number of career politicians (Berufspolitiker), who "in general are neither expert nor dilettante, but generalists with particular knowledge only in political battle".[77]

Critique of party politics

[76].Tiergarten park beyond Bellevue Palace boulevard, and to use instead his existing official residence in West Berlin, the Unter den Linden (Crown Prince's Palace) at Berlin's Kronprinzenpalais He decided not to wait for the renovation and conversion as the presidential seat of the [76] To compensate for the delay in the government's move to transfer both the government and the parliament, Weizsäcker declared in April 1993 that he would be performing an increased share of his duties in Berlin.[75][74] During the debate over the change of the seat of government from

In March 1994, Weizsäcker attended the Frankfurt premiere of Schindler's List along with the Israeli ambassador, Avi Primor, and the head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Ignatz Bubis.[72]

Weizsäcker stretched the traditionally ceremonial position of Germany’s president to reach across political, national, and generational boundaries to address a wide range of controversial issues. He is credited with largely being responsible for taking the lead on an asylum policy overhaul after the arson attack by neo-Nazis in Mölln, in which three Turkish citizens died in 1993.[70] He also earned recognition at home and abroad for attending memorial services for the victims of neo-Nazi attacks in Mölln and Solingen. The services were snubbed by Chancellor Helmut Kohl, who dismayed Germans by saying it was not necessary for the government to send a representative.[71]

In 1992, Weizsäcker gave the eulogy at the state funeral of former Chancellor Willy Brandt at the Reichstag, the first state funeral for a former chancellor in Berlin since the death of Gustav Stresemann in 1929. The funeral was attended by an array of leading European political figures, including French President François Mitterrand, Spanish Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez and former Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev.[69]

In 1990, Weizsäcker became the first West German head of state to visit Poland. During his four-day visit, he reassured Poles that the newly unified German state would treat their western and northern borders, which include prewar German lands, as inviolable.[68]

President in a unified Germany

Weizsäcker took office for his second presidential term on 1 July 1989. His second term oversaw the end of the Cold War and Reunification of Germany. Upon reunification, Weizsäcker became the first all-German Head of State since Karl Dönitz in May 1945. At midnight on 3 October 1990, during the official festivities held before the Reichstag building in Berlin to mark the moment of the reunification of Germany, President Weizsäcker delivered the only speech of the night, immediately after the raising of the flag, and before the playing of the National Anthem. His brief remarks, however, were almost inaudible, due to the sound of the bells marking midnight, and of the fireworks that were released to celebrate the moment of reunification.[66] In those remarks he praised the accomplishment of German unity in freedom and in peace. He gave a longer speech at the act of state at Berliner Philharmonie later that day.[67]

Because of the high esteem in which he was held by Germany's political establishment and in the population,[64] Weizsäcker is so far the only candidate to have stood for elections for the office of President uncontested; he was elected in such a way to a second term of office on 23 May 1989.[65]

Weizsäcker delivering a speech during the act of state for the Reunification of Germany on 3 October 1990 at Berliner Philharmonie.

In free self-determination we want to complete Germany's unity and freedom; for our task, we are aware of our responsibility before God and the people; in a united Europe, we want to serve the peace of the world.

Von Weizsäcker's words in front of the Reichstag on 3 October 1990, which were drowned in the noise of the celebrating crowd.[63]

Unification of Germany

Second term (1989-1994)

In his remarks to the historians, Weizsäcker said their dispute had prompted accusations that they sought to raise a "multitude of comparisons and parallels" that would cause "the dark chapter of our own history to disappear, to be reduced to a mere episode."[62] Andreas Hillgruber, a historian at Cologne University and one of the instigators of the debate with a book he published in 1986 in which he linked the collapse of the eastern front and the Holocaust, declared himself in full agreement with Weizsäcker, insisting that he had never tried to "relativize" the past.[62]

Speaking to a congress of West German historians in Bamberg on 12 October 1988, Weizsäcker rejected the attempts by some historians to compare the systematic murder of Jews in Nazi Germany to mass killings elsewhere – like those in [62]

Role in the Historians’ Dispute

The speech was later released on vinyl and sold around 60,000 copies. Two million written copies of its text were distributed globally, translated into thirteen languages, with 40,000 being sold in Japan alone. This does not include prints of the speech in newspapers, such as the New York Times, which reproduced it unabridged.[54]

Weizsäcker's speeched was praised both nationally and internationally.[54] The New York Times called it a "sober message of hope to the uneasy generations of young West Germans".[51] The president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Werner Nachmann, thanked Weizsäcker for his strong words,[55] as did Karl Ibach, a former member of the German Resistance, who called his speech a "moment of glory (Sternstunde) of our republic".[56] Weizsäcker was however criticized for some of his remarks by members of his own party. Lorenz Niegel, a politician of the sister party CSU, who had not taken part in the ceremony, objected the term "day of liberation", referring to it instead as a "day of deepest humiliation".[57] The Green Party was also absent during the speech, choosing instead to visit Auschwitz.[57] A year later, Green politician Petra Kelly called the speech "correct, but not more than self-evident", pointing to speeches president Gustav Heinemann had held during his presidency.[58] The harshest criticism came from the Federation of Expellees, whose president Herbert Czaja, while thanking the president for highlighting the expellees' fate,[59] criticized his remark that "conflicting legal claims must be subordinated under the imperative of reconciliation".[60]

Weizsäcker declared that younger generations of Germans "cannot profess a guilt of their own for crimes they did not commit."[40] With his speech, Weizsäcker was also one of the first representatives of Germany to remember homosexual victims of Nazism as a "victim group."[52] This also applied for his recognition of Sinti and Roma as a victim group, a fact that was highlighted by the long-time head of the Central Council of German Sinti and Roma, Romani Rose.[53]

Most notably, Weizsäcker spoke of the danger of forgetting and distorting. "There is no such thing as the guilt or innocence of an entire nation. Guilt is, like innocence, not collective but personal. There is discovered or concealed individual guilt. There is guilt which people acknowledge or deny. [...] All of us, whether guilty or not, whether young or old, must accept the past. We are all affected by the consequences and liable for it. [...] We Germans must look truth straight in the eye – without embellishment and without distortion. [...] There can be no reconciliation without remembrance."[51]

We must not regard the end of the war as the cause of flight, expulsion and deprivation of freedom. The cause goes back to the start of the tyranny that brought about war. We must not separate 8 May 1945 from 30 January 1933.[46]

Von Weizsäcker during his speech on 8 May 1985.

It was in this climate that von Weizsäcker addressed parliament on 8 May 1985. Here, he articulated the historic responsibility of Germany and Germans for the crimes of Nazism. In contrast to the way the end of the war was still perceived by a majority of people in Germany at the time, he defined 8 May as a "day of liberation".[51] Weizsäcker pointed out the inseparable link between the Nazi takeover of Germany and the tragedies caused by the Second World War.[46] In a passage of striking boldness, he took issue with one of the most cherished defenses of older Germans. "When the unspeakable truth of the Holocaust became known at the end of the war," he said, "all too many of us claimed they had not known anything about it or even suspected anything."[51]

It was originally planned that United States President Ronald Reagan should take part in the memorial event in the Bundestag, shifting the emphasis from remembering the past to highlighting West Germany in its partnership with the Western Bloc. On Weizsäcker's strong urgance, the day was remembered without Reagan, who visited West Germany several days earlier instead, surrounding the G7-summit in Bonn.[49] Reagan's visit nevertheless sparked controversy, especially in the United States. In an attempt to reproduce the gesture made by Kohl and French President François Mitterrand a year earlier at Verdun, the chancellor and Reagan were set to visit the military cemetery in Bitburg. This raised critique since the cemetery was also the last resting place for several members of the Waffen-SS.[48][50]

Weizsäcker, who was known as a great speaker,[45] delivered his most famous speech in 1985, marking the 40th anniversary of the end of the Second World War in Europe on 8 May 1945.[46][47] This came at a difficult political time in West Germany. The country was caught up in a debate whether the denial of the Holocaust should be criminalized. At the same time, chancellor Helmut Kohl had accepted an invitation to visit a congress by the Silesian association of expellees which was put under the motto "Silesia is ours!" ("Schlesien ist unser!"). This seemed to contradict the official position of the federal diet and government, so that Kohl needed to urge for the motto to be changed.[48][49]

Speech on the 40th anniversary of the end of the Second World War in Europe on 8 May 1945

Richard von Weizsäcker took office on 1 July 1984. In his inaugural address, he appealed to his nation's special consciousness, saying: "Our situation, which differs from that of most other nations, is no reason to deny us a national consciousness. To do so, would be unhealthy for ourselves and eerie to our neighbors."[43] He dedicated his first years in office mainly to foreign policies, travelling a lot with Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher and choosing former Foreign Office employees as his personal advisors.[44]

First term (1984-1989)

In 1984, Weizsäcker was elected President of West Germany by the German Federal Convention, succeeding Karl Carstens and drawing unusual support from both the governing center-right coalition and the opposition Social Democratic Party;[39] he defeated the Green Party’s candidate, Luise Rinser.[42]

President of the Federal Republic of Germany (1984-1994)

From 1981 to 1983, von Weizsäcker headed a minority government after the CDU had only amassed 48 per cent of seats in the diet. His government was tolerated by the Free Democratic Party, who were in a coalition with the Social Democrats on federal level at the time. After Helmut Kohl won the federal election in 1983 and formed a government with the Free Democrats, von Weizsäcker did the same in Berlin.[41]

Weizsäcker served as the Governing Mayor (Regierender Bürgermeister) of West Berlin (1981–1984). During his tenure, he tried to keep alive the idea of a cultural nation called Germany divided into two states. In speeches and writings, he repeatedly urged his compatriots in the Federal Republic to look upon themselves as a nation firmly anchored in the Western alliance, but with special obligations and interest in the East.[39] Weizsäcker irritated the United States, France and Britain, the half-city's occupying powers, by breaking with protocol and visiting Erich Honecker, the East German Communist Party chief, in East Berlin.[40]

Richard von Weizsäcker (as Mayor of West Berlin), with US President Ronald Reagan and West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, at Checkpoint Charlie in 1982

Governing Mayor of West Berlin, 1981–1984

In 1974 Weizsäcker was the Presidential candidate of his party for the first time, but he lost out to the Free Democrat Walter Scheel, who was supported by the ruling center-left coalition.[39] Ahead of the 1976 elections, CDU chairman Helmut Kohl included him in his shadow cabinet for their party’s campaign to unseat incumbent Helmut Schmidt as chancellor. Between 1979 and 1981, Weizsäcker served as Vice President of the Bundestag.[4]

Weizsäcker joined the CDU in 1954. Subsequent Chancellor Helmut Kohl offered von Weizsäcker a safe seat for the 1965 elections, even going so far as to have Konrad Adenauer write two letters urging him to run, but Weizsäcker declined due to his work in the German Evangelical Church Assembly, wanting to avoid a conflict of interest.[37] He became a member of the Bundestag (Federal Diet) as a result of the 1969 federal elections, serving until 1981.[38]

Von Weizsäcker addressing a CDU party convention in 1972.

Political career

Between 1964 and 1970, Weizsäcker served as President of the German Evangelical Church Assembly. He was also a member of the Synod and the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany from 1967–1984.[35] During his early tenure as President, he wrote a newspaper article supporting a memorandum written by German evangelical intellectuals including Werner Heisenberg and his brother Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker who had spoken out for an acceptance of the Oder–Neisse line as the western border of Poland as an indispensable precondition for a lasting peace in Europe. While this was met by negative reactions from politicians, especially in Weizsäcker's own party, he nevertheless led the Evangelical Church on a way to promote reconciliation with Poland, leading to a memorandum by the Church in both West and East Germany. The paper was widely discussed and met with a significantly more positive response.[36]

German Evangelical Church Assembly

Von Weizsäcker worked for Mannesmann between 1950 and 1958, as a scientific assistant until 1953, as a legal counsel from 1953 and as head of the department for economic policy from 1957.[33] From 1958 to 1962, he was head of the Waldthausen Bank, a bank owned by relatives of his wife. From 1962 to 1966, he served on the board of directors of Boehringer Ingelheim, a pharmaceutical company.[34]

At the war's end he continued his study of history in Göttingen and eventually studied law,[21] but also heard lectures in physics and theology.[22] In 1947, when Ernst von Weizsäcker was a defendant in the Ministries Trial for his role in the deportation of Jews from occupied France, Richard von Weizsäcker served as his father's assistant defence counsel.[23][24] Von Weizsäcker took his first legal Staatsexamen in 1950, the second in 1953, and earned his doctorate (doctor juris) in 1955. In 1953 he married Marianne von Kretschmann. Both had met when she was 18 years old and still in school, while he was thirty. in 2010, Weizsäcker described the marriage as "the best and smartest decision of my life".[25] They had four children:[26] Robert Klaus von Weizsäcker, a professor of economics at the Munich University of Technology,[27] Andreas von Weizsäcker, an art professor at the Academy of Fine Arts Munich,[28] Beatrice von Weizsäcker, a lawyer and journalist,[29] and Fritz Eckart von Weizsäcker, chief physician at the Schlosspark-Klinik in Berlin.[30][31] In the late 1970s, his son Andreas was a student at the Odenwaldschule. When reports about sexual abuse surfaced in 2010, it was speculated by the media that Andreas might have been one of the victims, which was denied by the family.[32] Andreas died of cancer in June 2008, aged 51.[28]

Weizsäcker, his wife Marianne and daughter Beatrice in Moscow, 1987.

Education, marriage and early work life

After the outbreak of World War II, he served in the German army, ultimately as a Captain in the Reserves. He joined his brother Heinrich's regiment, the Infantry Regiment 9 Potsdam. He crossed over the border to Poland with his regiment on the very first day of the war.[15] His brother Heinrich fell just some hundred meters away from him on the second day. Von Weizsäcker watched over his brother's body throughout the night until he was able to bury him the next morning.[16] His regiment, consisting in a large part of noble and conservative Prussians, had significant part in the 20 July plot, with 19 of its officers involved in the conspiracy against Hitler.[17] Weizsäcker himself helped his friend Axel von dem Bussche in an attempt to kill Hitler at a uniform inspection in December 1943, providing him with travel papers to Berlin. The attempt had to be called off when the uniforms were destroyed by an air raid. Upon meeting von dem Bussche in June 1944, he was also informed of the imminent plans for 20 July and assured him of his support, but the plan ultimately failed.[18] Von Weizsäcker described the last nine months of the war as "agony".[19] He was wounded in East Prussia in 1945 and transported home to Stuttgart and witnessed the end of the war at a family farm at Lake Constance.[20]

World War II

[14].Reichsarbeitsdienst for the army there in 1938 and moved back to Germany the same year to start his mustered He was [13] to learn French.France in University of Grenoble He spent the winter semester 1937/38 at the [12]

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