Johannes Rau was a German politician who served as the President of Germany for five years. Before getting to the topmost position of the country, he held various political positions including the post of mayor of Wuppertal. Influenced by his protestant family, he regularly participated in ‘The Confessing Church’, which worked to actively raise their voice against the rise of Nazism. Rau considered it his life’s mission to mend the cracks that had developed in his country’s reputation and image due to Germany’s violent past. His attitude was one of a patriot rather than a nationalist, because more than anything, Rau worshipped his ‘fatherland’ and wished to lead it in the right direction. A number of doctorates and honorary prizes were conferred upon him in his political career. He was an ardent follower of Christianity and was even included as a member of the prestigious Synod of the Evangelical Church, Rhineland. The motto that he constantly swore by in his political career was ‘to reconcile, not divide’. This helped him win the hearts of his countrymen, who still recognize his contribution in German history.
Childhood & Early Life
Johannes Rau was born on 16th January 1931in Wuppertal, Rhine Province.
He decided to drop school in the year 1949. The ideals and beliefs of his Protestant family rubbed off on the young Rau and he began his career by collaborating with the Protestant Youth Publishing House, as a publisher and journalist.
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Rau’s first step into joining politics was to become a member of GVP or the All German People’s Party. This party was founded by Rau’s mentor, Gustav Heinemann in the year 1952. The main agenda of the party was to reunify Germany. Unfortunately, GVP had a brief run and was disbarred in 1957.
Later, he followed his mentor into SPD or the Social Democratic Party of Germany in 1958, where he was given the responsibility of overseeing the Wuppertal region. After being appointed the deputy chairman of the region, he also joined the City Council, where he served in the post of the chairman of the entire SPD Group, from 1964 to 1967. He also went on to become the Mayor of Wuppertal, from 1969 to 1970.
He was elected to become the chairman of the SPD group in the Landtag. His efforts at education reformation in his country soon grabbed everyone’s attention. In the 1970s, he had initiated a mass-education campaign, under which he established five universities as well as Germany’s first university which facilitated distance learning.
In the years 1977 and 1978, he was appointed Chairman and Minister President, respectively of the North Rhine-Westphalia wing of the SPD. Since his party remained in the majority for a considerable period of time, he retained his positions without difficulty till 1998.
Rau served two terms as the President of the Bundesrat, which kind of pre-approved him as a possible candidate for the position of Federal President. He stepped down from his positions as the Minister President and Chairman of SPD voluntarily in 1998. The Federal Assembly of Germany elected him as the Federal President on 23 May 1999.
The main focus of Rau, during the five years as the President of Germany, was to attempt a reunification of his country. He did so by eliminating all the negativity that had been bred through Germany’s violent and unstable past.
His contribution towards ushering development in the field of higher studies was commendable. After becoming the Science and Education Minister in 1970, he went on to set up five universities at different locations. Rau is also credited with establishing the first distance learning institute at Hagen.
Awards & Achievements
Rau was awarded the Leo Baeck Medal for his outstanding work as a humanitarian, who championed the causes of social justice and tolerance, among the masses of Germany. He also received fifteen honorary Doctorate degrees from various accomplished institutions.
He was awarded the ‘Grand Cross Special Class’, which was among the highest honors given in the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany. Among the honors bestowed by other countries, was the honor of the ‘Grand Sta’r by the Republic of Austria in 2004, a ‘Collar’ each from Estonia and Czech Republic etc.
Personal Life & Legacy
Rau got married to Christina Delius on 9 August 1982. They were blessed with two daughters and a son.
He had a serious case of abdominal aneurysm since 1995 but refused surgery till 2000, because his election campaign was in full swing at the time. In 2004, he faced another life-threatening heart operation, where he was fitted with artificial heart valve. With this began his long history of heart diseases which finally culminated in his death on 27 January 2006.
One of his significant contributions during his five year term as the President of Germany was his extensive foreign tours across the globe to promote anti-Nazism. He is said to have visited about 76 countries during his term as the President.
He will always have a special place in the hearts of the people of Israel. All the Israelis will remember the moving speech that he gave in Israel’s parliament in the year 2000, in which he went on to apologize the merciless prosecution of the Jews by the Nazis. Moreover, he had delivered the entire speech in his native language, German.