Gustav Heinemann

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Gustav Walter Heinemann, GCB (b. July 23, 1899, in Schwelm - d. July 7, 1976, in Essen) 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 from 1969 to 1974.


Early years and professional career

Gustav Walter Heinemann 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. Gustav Heinemann's father, Otto Heinemann, a manager at the Krupp steelworks in Essen, shared his father-in-law's views. In his youth, Gustav Heinemann 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]

Having finished grammar school in 1917, Heinemann briefly became a soldier in the First World War, but on account of severe illness he was not 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 passed the bar in 1926. He received a Ph.D in 1922 and a doctorate of law in 1929.

The friendships 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.

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, from 1936 to 1949 also as 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 Cologne university between 1933 and 1939. It was probably his refusal to become a member of the NSDAP which finished his academic career.[2] He was also invited to join the board of directors of the Rheinisch-Westfaelisches Kohlesyndikat in 1936, but turned the offer down as he was expected to end his work for the Confessing Church.

Family and religion

In 1926 Heinemann married Hilda Ordemann, who had been a student of Rudolf Bultmann's, 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, e. g. in his condemnation of nationalism and antisemitism.

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