Former German president von Weizsäcker remembered for addressing Nazi past

(Photo: Reuters)Former presidents of the United States George Bush (L), Poland Lech Walesa (2ndL) and Germany Richard von Weizsacker (2nd R) lay a wreath at the monument to shipyard workers killed during 1970 anti-Communists strikes. Today the former presidents of the U.S.A., Germany and Poland will receive honorary citizenship's of Gdansk. The decision, connected with the ongoing celebrations as part of the Gdansk millennium, was made in recognition of the three presidents' roles in supporting the independence movements in Poland and Europe that began in Gdansk.

Former German President Richard von Weizsäcker, who has died, is being praised for his contribution to post-World War II reconciliation by addressing Nazi crimes more directly than his predecessors.

Von Weizsäcker died on January 31, aged 94 was also known for his behind the scenes work for Christian unity and the ecumenical movement.

The World Council of Churches wrote in a tribute to him that his speech in 1985 on the 40th anniversary of the end of World War II was received with great respect and recognition.

"Here was a German who took responsibility for the past and stretched out his hands to work together with others for peace, justice and care for creation.

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"It was during his tenure as federal president that the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 and Germany was reunited.

"He saw German reunification as an opportunity to meet the obligation to work for peace and common security for all countries of Europe," the WCC wrote in a February 2 obituary statement on von Weizsäcker.

"The World Council of Churches remembers with deep gratitude Dr. Richard von Weizsäcker for the gifts he brought to his church, the wider ecumenical movement and the world," wrote WCC general secretary Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit in a letter to von Weizsäcker's wife Marianne von Weizsäcker.

Tveit, a Norwegian Lutheran, studied in Germany during the von Weizsäcker's presidency.

He lauded the former Germany president for his and decades-long involvement in the Synod of the Evangelical Church of Germany.

The EKD is the umbrella church for Lutherans and other Protestants in Germany and along with the Roman Catholic Church it is the biggest church in the country with some 30 percent of Germans members.

"By advocating mutual accountability for the past and our common future as Christians, Weizsäcker showed us how we can contribute to the political discourse and development of justice and peace among peoples and nations," said Tveit.

ECUMENICAL INVOLVEMENT

Von Weizsäcker was also on the presidium of the German Evangelical Kirchentag an ecumenical organization.

"Richard von Weizsäcker shaped German Protestantism with openness to the world and with great responsibility for freedom and justice," said Tveit.

From 1968 to 1975, he was a member of the WCC's chief governing body, its Central Committee and contributed to debates.

The WCC said he had "outstanding political and human experience... farsightedness...vision and diplomatic skills."

It said, "He was one of those personalities who contributed decisively to a clearer social and political profile of the WCC so that the voice of the WCC was heard in contemporary conflicts and the United Nations."

In 1985 his brother, Carl-Friedrich von Weizsäcker, called on the 21st German Kirchentag in Düsseldorf to establish a Christian peace council.

At that ecumenical meeting Richard von Weizsäcker presented a thoughtful speech on "What it means to be German."

In it he referred to the meeting of the WCC's highest governing body, its 1983 Assembly in Vancouver.

"The assembly of the WCC in Vancouver went on record saying that there could never be peace anywhere 'unless and until there will be justice for all, everywhere.'

"We in Europe have to and desire to dedicate all our forces to the control and, above all, the reduction of armaments. But we should be very careful to avoid security policy becoming an obsession between East and West.

"We are not solely concerned with weapons and disarmament, but rather with peaceful relations and cooperation in all fields between East and West."

In his speech von Weizsäcker said it was only by the alleviation of poverty and hunger in the world and by ensuring justice that a path for peace could be laid.

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