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1949-63 - Konrad Adenauer

Konrad Adenauer (1876-1967) was the political architect who anchored the new West German state in Western Europe, reconciled it with its neighbors, and closely attached it to the Atlantic Alliance. Konrad Adenauer was a former mayor of Cologne, Germany, who had been twice imprisoned during the Nazi era. He was chancellor of West Germany from 1949-1963, during which time he did much to consolidate Germany's first effective democratic and republican form of government. He sponsored a Western European union and a close alliance with France and presided over a resurgence of German industry.

Even before he participated in fashioning the country's constitution, Adenauer had had a long and eventful political career. Born in 1876 in Cologne, he studied law and economics and became active in local politics. As a member of the Catholic-based Center Party, he became the mayor of his home town in 1917. The National Socialists deposed him in 1933, and, after the attempt on Hitler's life on July 20, 1944, he was arrested and imprisoned for four months. After the war, the United States reinstalled him as mayor of Cologne. The British military authorities, however, fired him from this position because of alleged incompetence. In March 1946, Adenauer became chairman of the CDU in the British occupation zone and, after having shown extraordinary leadership in the deliberations on the Basic Law, became the first chancellor of the newly formed state.

At the end of World War II, Germany was a defeated nation occupied by foreign powers. It had lost its national sovereignty, and the world saw it as a pariah, guilty of crimes without parallel in history. In addition to rebuilding their shattered country in a physical sense, most leading German politicians saw their main goals in the coming decades as restoring their country's reputation, regaining its sovereignty, and becoming once again a member in good standing in the community of nations.

The figure who dominated West Germany's politics in its first two decades was Konrad Adenauer, a politician totally committed to restoring his country to an honored place among nations. He saw little likelihood that the Soviet occupation of East Germany would soon end; hence, he sought to build a strong West Germany firmly attached to the Western community of parliamentary democracies. Even before the founding of the Federal Republic of Germany, Konrad Adenauer had an important role to play in the drafting of the Basic Law (Grundgesetz): He was the president of the “Parliamentary Council”. As president of the Parliamentary Council, Adenauer had played a leading role in the process of finalizing and passing the Basic Law in 1949.

Konrad Adenauer made sure that the newly founded nation was firmly embedded within the community of free countries in the West. When, shortly after the end of the Second World War, confrontation between the West and the East seemed inevitable, it was Adenauer who integrated West Germany into the Western democracies.

On May 23, 1949, the Basic Law, intended as a provisional constitution, came into effect. On August 14, the first elections to a West German federal parliament were held. On September 12, Konrad Adenauer was sworn in as the first chancellor of the new government. The Soviets responded by allowing the East German Communist leaders to draft a constitution and form a central government of their own. On October 7, 1949, the German Democratic Republic was founded.

Konrad Adenauer (CDU) was elected as the first Federal Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany in September 1949. He held office for 14 years and shaped Germany in its founding years. The reconstruction of democratic and economic structures in West Germany after the Second World War is inextricably linked with the name of Konrad Adenauer.

West Germany was included in the Marshall plan in 1949 after a measure of self-government had been restored. Postwar German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, assessing the Marshall Plan in 1964, said, “Probably for the first time in history a victorious country held out its hand so that the vanquished might rise again.” When roughly one-half of the German housing stock was destroyed or severely damaged as a result of WWII—producing a shortage of 4.5 million homes—the German government under Chancellor Konrad Adenauer (CDU) decided to stimulate both rental and owner-occupied housing. Included in this larger effort to stimulate housing were tax breaks for homeowners dating back to the early years of the Federal Republic, in 1949.

One of Adenauer's main goals was regaining his country's sovereignty. Although the Basic Law gave full legislative, executive, and judicial powers to the new FRG and its Länder, certain powers were reserved for the occupying authorities. The Occupation Statute, drawn up in April 1949 by the foreign ministers of the Four Powers, gave the occupation authorities the right to supervise the new state's foreign policy, trade, and civil aviation, as well as the right, under special circumstances, to assume complete control over their own occupation zones.

Above all, Adenauer wanted economic, political, and military integration with the West, including rapprochement with the French, whatever implications this policy might have for relations with the Soviet Union and reunification. In return, he hoped for treatment by the Western Allies as an equal partner. This goal was largely but not entirely achieved in 1955, when the Federal Republic was granted sovereignty over its own affairs; however, it was not fully achieved until reunification in 1990.

One of his most important foreign policy projects was reconciliation with France. This was a historic feat given the three wars that had been waged between the two neighbors in the period since 1870.

It was during Adenauer’s period in office that West Germany and France became founding members of the European Economic Community (EEC), out of which today’s European Union has arisen. In the spring of 1950, French foreign minister Robert Schuman recommended the creation of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) to revive European economic cooperation and prevent future conflict between France and Germany. According to Schuman's plan, countries willing to place their coal and steel industries under an independent authority could join.

Once again, Adenauer seized the opportunity to further integrate West Germany into Western Europe. Against the SPD's strong opposition, the FRG entered into negotiations with France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, and Italy on the formation of the ECSC. Negotiations were successfully concluded in June 1952. The ECSC superseded the International Authority for the Ruhr and laid the foundations of the future European Community (EC). Adenauer's conciliatory but resolute foreign policy also secured the admission in 1951 of the FRG into the Council of Europe, a body established in May 1949 to promote European ideals and principles.

West Germany joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) in 1955. Admission to this military alliance was accompanied by the founding of the Bundeswehr.

Konrad Adenauer was also responsible for cementing the good, friendly relations with the United States of America that had already been in evidence during what became known as the Berlin Blockade. In 1948 the Soviet Union blocked all access routes to Berlin, as a result of which the United States and the United Kingdom launched the Berlin Airlift.

For nearly a year they flew in all the supplies the city needed – from coal to bread – in planes that were dubbed “Rosinenbomber” (literally “raisin bombers”, also known as “Candy Bombers”). The close partnership between the United States and the Federal Republic of Germany that emerged was to be one of the key conditions for Germany’s reunification in peace and freedom.

Another important step for the FRG on its path toward reentry into the community of nations was Adenauer's unwavering position on restitution to the victims of Nazi crimes. Of particular significance was the normalization of relations with Israel and with the Jewish people in general. Although the terrible atrocities that had occurred during the war could not be undone, material restitution could at least improve the lot of the survivors. Together with the Israeli Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion, Konrad Adenauer laid the foundations for German-Jewish reconciliation – virtually an insoluble problem following the murder of millions of Jews by National Socialist Germany. In 1952, the FRG agreed to pay $2 billion (DM 3.45 billion) to the state of Israel and various Jewish organizations to help finance the resettlement of Jews throughout the world to Israel. Germany in most cases made every effort to support the state of Israel diplomatically, although some Germans have been critical of Israeli treatment of Arabs. Through such actions, the FRG sought to meet its obligations as the legal successor to the German Reich, a position it had accepted since the FRG's founding.

Adenauer said that “in our name, unspeakable crimes have been committed, and they demand restitution, both moral and material, for the persons and properties of the Jews who have been so seriously harmed.” The FRG has made good on that promise. From 1949 to 1997, it provided more than $57 billion (DM 100 billion) in restitution, a figure that is expected to rise to approximately $76 billion (DM 124 billion) by the year 2030. It settled most property claims made by Jews, amounting to some $2.3 billion (DM 4 billion). It made lump sum payments to former concentration camp internees who were the objects of medical experimentation, and to prisoners of war (POW) from Palestine who, because of their Jewish background, did not receive the humane treatment guaranteed prisoners of war under international law.

During Adenauer’s chancellorship nearly eight million expellees and war refugees were integrated into West Germany: After the Second World War Germany had to relinquish nearly one quarter of its territory – and accommodate most of the Germans living there on the remaining territory.

In 1955 Chancellor Adenauer travelled to Moscow to take up diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union. As a result the last German prisoners of war were brought back to Germany from the Soviet Union.

In addition, it was during Adenauer’s period in office that the undreamt-of economic upswing began. By introducing dynamic pensions, legal protection for expectant and nursing mothers, and paid sick-leave the government also ensured that many people were covered against risks and were able to share in the economic upturn.

Until the elections of 1961, Adenauer had enjoyed the support of a healthy CDU/CSU majority in the Bundestag. Various domestic issues and very likely also the Berlin crisis, however, reduced the CDU/CSU's strength in the Bundestag and forced the formation of a coalition government with the FDP. The work of this government was impeded by differences of opinion from the outset. Following the resignation of FDP cabinet members in protest over a controversy surrounding the arrest of Rudolf Augstein, editor of the newsmagazine Der Spiegel , for allegedly having reported classified material concerning NATO exercises, the working climate of the coalition deteriorated. Forced to accept the resignation of his powerful minister of defense, Franz Josef Strauss, who had had Augstein arrested, and facing an erosion of support within the CDU, Adenauer resigned on October 15, 1963.

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