The newly elected President of the West German Federal Republic is a man with an impeccable anti-Nazi record who has long been in the forefront of efforts to assure that Nazi war criminals yet to be tried do not cheat justice. Dr. Gustav Heinemann, a Social Democrat and Minister of Justice of West Germany, was elected by a small margin on the third ballot by the electoral assembly that met in West Berlin yesterday. His office is mainly ceremonial.
But his victory was seen by observers here as having profound significance in view of the Nazi Party membership of his chief rival. Defense Minister Gerhard Schroder and the nature of some of the forces arrayed on Mr. Schroder’s side. It was also a political blow to the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), the party of Chancellor Kurt Georg Kiesinger, and presaged, according to some viewers, the break-up of the CDU-Social Democratic coalition.
Dr. Heinemann, who is 69, has been described as a man of strong moral convictions. This was manifested in 1950 when he resigned as Minister of Interior in the cabinet of the late Chancellor Konrad Adenauer when the latter advocated the re-armament of Germany. He joined the Social Democratic Party in 1958. Over the past two years he has been one of the strongest advocates of abolition of the statute of limitations on Nazi war crimes. The statute, due to go into effect at the end of this year, would bar further prosecutions of war criminals involved in crimes of murder. Dr. Heinemann has said that if the statute is allowed to become law, thousands of war criminals against whom evidence is now being amassed would go free.
The West German President was elected by an assembly of over 1,000 members of the State and Federal Parliaments. Dr. Heinemann led on the first two ballots but failed to get the needed absolute majority. He won on the third ballot, when only a simple majority was required, by 512-506 with three abstentions. His victory was based on the combined votes of the Social Democrats and the small Free Democratic Party, a faction outside of the coalition which appeared anxious to assume a more liberal image. The candidacy of Mr. Schroder was said to have been kept alive through the balloting by the ultra right-wing, reputedly neo-Nazi National Democratic Party (NPD), whose 22. delegates were believed to have voted in a bloc for the CDU candidate. Mr. Shroder was nominated by the CDU even though his past record proved embarrassing to the party. He was a former member of the Nazi Party and admittedly had applied for membership in the notorious “SA” during his student days in Hitler Germany.
Dr. Heinemann, an ardent Lutheran, was a member of anti-Nazi groups before the war who looked toward the leadership of Pastor Martin Neimoller. It was learned after the war that he kept a secret press in the cellar of his home where anti-Nazi leaflets were printed. Dr. Heinemann was warmly received when he visited Israel last year. He met with President Zalman Shazar and with the late Prime Minister Levi Eshkol.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.