Former German President Roman Herzog dies

Jan 10, 2017

Roman Herzog, who was Germany's ceremonial head of state from 1994 to 1999, has passed away aged 82. Herzog was the first German President to be elected into office following Germany's reunification.

Roman Herzog had a difficult start to his presidency: The Federal Assembly, which convenes for the sole purpose of electing Germany's ceremonial head-of-state, only confirmed his election after three rounds of balloting.

Furthermore, he was only a second-choice candidate for the ruling Christian Democrats (CDU), who had originally wanted to send Saxony's Justice Minister Steffen Heitmann in. Heitmann was disqualified after making contentious remarks regarding the German role in the Holocaust.

Despite these initial difficulties, Herzog immediately started to turn the tables on those who opposed him.
"I will try my best to lead this administration in such a way that you will regret not having given me your vote," he said upon his election, setting the tone for his leadership.

Dedication to law and justice

Herzog was born in the Bavarian city of Landshut in 1934 and followed an academic career path at first. He joined the CDU in 1970, becoming an active politician three years later.

Herzog was later elected a judge at Germany's Constitutional Court, serving from 1983 to 1987. He was chief justice on the court's panel from 1987 to 1994, prior to becoming Germany's seventh president.

His entire political career was devoted to ensuring the rule of law and the prevalence of justice in Germany, for which he was respected in Germany and beyond.

Incumbent German President Joachim Gauck paid tribute to Roman Herzog, saying he was a "distinctive personality" with "forward-looking courage."

"With expertise, wisdom and drawing on enormous experience of life, he stood up for our country and its free constitution," Gauck added.

The German Foreign Office meanwhile shared a statement by Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, saying that Herzog was a "great constitutionalist, politician and statesman."

Acceptance of Germany's guilt

Roman Herzog was venerated abroad, as he dared to squarely approach Germany's history during World War II. In 1994, he apologized for war crimes committed by Nazi Germany during a public ceremony marking the 50th anniversary of the Warsaw uprising:

"I ask for your forgiveness for all that was done to you by Germany," he said in Warsaw on August 1, 1994, attracting positive reactions from Poland and the rest of the world. Herzog continued to stress the importance of remembering Germany's history. Garnering support from all political parties, he established January 27 as Holocaust Memorial Day; the Auschwitz death camp had been liberated on this date in 1945.

Roman Herzog told DW in an interview in May 1999 that his and Germany's reputation abroad was of particular importance to him:
"I've always put a firm emphasis on that, and in most instances, I've managed to succeed," he said at the time. Herzog was known for making sober, to-the-point remarks but remained modest at heart throughout his presidency.

No beating around the bush

Herzog is most succinctly remembered for a speech he held on April 26, 1996, as Germany was suffering economic decline five years into its reunification:

"Durch Deutschland muss ein Ruck gehen," he said, which roughly translated as "Germany needs a jolt to push through it," meaning a renewal of hope and self-reliance.

"We have to part with a certain level of affluence which we cherish and take for granted. Everyone has to make sacrifices," Herzog said, referring one by one to the economic downturn and general sense of depression at the time.

Herzog served as Germany's president for a single term from 1994 to 1999. Upon leaving office, he remarked that there was no need for him to leave behind a legacy of note: "I'm merely retiring from office and not retiring from life," he said at the time.

© 2017 Deutsche Welle

Former German President Roman Herzog dies

Former German President Roman Herzog dies