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Richard von Weizsäcker, former President of Germany, dies

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Richard von Weizsäcker, the President who oversaw German reunification in 1990, was announced to have died yesterday. He was 94.

German Federal Archives portrait of von Weizsäcker in 1973.

von Weizsäcker served as a Nazi soldier during World War II, earning promotions and an Iron Cross. He would later describe Germany's defeat as a liberation and encouraged his countrymen to acknowledge their collective past, including the Holocaust. Following a business and law career he turned to politics. He joined the Christian Democratic Union and served as mayor of West Berlin before his 1984 election as President.

The year after, he made a famed speech before West Germany's parliament marking the 40th anniversary of German defeat in the war. "All of us, whether guilty or not, whether young or old, must accept the past. We are all affected by its consequences and liable for it. Anyone who closes his eyes to the past is blind to the present." He also said Allied forces "freed us all from the system of National Socialist tyranny."

Cquote1.svg Guilt, like innocence, is always a matter for the individual Cquote2.svg

—Richard von Weizsäcker

Born in Stuttgart in 1920, von Weizsäcker oversaw reunification of West and East Germany in 1990, eleven months after the Berlin Wall fell. In 1989 he was reelected unopposed. In 1986 he became the first German to address the UK parliament.

Present President Joachim Gauck said von Weizsäcker "stood worldwide for a Germany that had found its way to centre of the democratic family of peoples."

With his father Ernst a defendant at the Nuremberg trials, Richard von Weizsäcker appeared before the court as a lawyer for his father's defence. Ernst von Weizsäcker was a member of the Schutzstaffel, better known simply as the SS, and also worked for the foreign ministry.

"Guilt," according to Richard von Weizsäcker, "like innocence, is always a matter for the individual." He claimed as a military officer he refused to obey "inhumane" orders from more senior Nazis.


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