September 11, 2017

1949. The Bonn Government Elects West Germany's First Chancellor

Chancellor Konrad Adenauer Takes Office
Convening of the Bundestag on September 7, 1949 (source)
Bill Downs

CBS Berlin

September 11, 1949

The creation of the Federal Republic of Germany this week presents Europe with another political enigma. The fateful question being asked today is: "What kind of a government will the new German state turn out to be?"

The other day in Bonn, the man who most likely will head the new republic, Dr. Konrad Adenauer, gave CBS News an exclusive interview. The 73-year-old Rhineland politician outlined to me the goals toward which he hopes to lead the German democracy as the nation's first chancellor since Adolf Hitler.

The recent German elections, and the resultant right wing victory, according to Adenauer marks a distinct change in the thinking and attitude of the people. "It is a great shift in public opinion," he says. "Since the end of the war the attitude of the German people has been 'let the government or the occupation powers solve our problems.' But in the past year, with the currency reform and the boom in German industry, the individual is beginning to set out to solve his own problems."

It is this spirit within the people that moved the vote away from the left; away from the Socialists and Communists, Adenauer declared. Thus, he maintains, his government has the mandate to continue the free economic policies instituted by the American military government in Frankfurt. "Individual enterprise must be given a chance to continue its upward climb which already has achieved so much in Germany."

I asked Dr. Adenauer about the threat of nationalism in Germany, a threat that incidentally comes from the right. The chancellor-to-be said he had heard of the outside criticism which arose during the campaign. "But," he said, "these reports of growing German nationalism are exaggerated. They were started by people whose motives are questionable" . . . by which he meant his political opponents in the Socialist Party. Then, in the strongest statement on the subject thus far, Adenauer declared: "We are conscious of the threat. Any government that I head will be alert for signs of the wrong kind of German nationalism . . . and will beat it down."

I asked Adenauer what would be the foreign policy of the Federal Republic. He protested that he could not go into detail on this subject, since the occupation powers have reserved the right to dictate in this field. "Germany must incorporate her hopes and goals with the Western world." Earlier Adenauer had advocated that the republic join the Council of Europe, which just completed its meeting in Strasbourg.

Then the German political leader said a strange thing. "America," he stated, "won the war by entering into it. But I think that history will remember the United States far more for her participation in the postwar world than her victories on the battlefield. Never before in history has a victor set out to deliberately rebuild the vanquished. This fact alone gives great hope for the future," Dr. Adenauer concluded. "This is implementing the Christian principle of 'love thy neighbor' . . . a principle which can be the basis for a peaceful and prosperous world."

This is Bill Downs in Berlin. Now back to CBS in New York.

Bill Downs

CBS Bonn

September 12, 1949

A few hours from now the parliament of the Federal Republic of Germany will elect a president—the first president Germany has had since the death of Field Marshal von Hindenburg fifteen years ago, whereafter Hitler abolished the job.

After the election of the president, he will go before the parliament and will swear this oath:

"I swear that I shall dedicate my strength to the well-being of the German people, enhance what is to its advantage, ward off what might harm it, uphold and defend the Basic Law and the laws of the Federation, fulfill my duties conscientiously, and do justice to every man. So help me God."

The man most likely to take this oath and become the titular head of this new state is Professor Theodore Heuss of Stuttgart—65, white-haired, dignified leader of the Free Democratic Party.

Heuss heads the party which is one of the mainstays of the right wing coalition government that must be formed by Dr. Konrad Adenauer, the man expected to become chancellor. A student of art and economics, the professor is the author of several books, including one called "Hitler's Way," which was publicly burned by the Nazis.

For seven years he served as a member of the German Democratic Party in the old Reichstag. The only blot on his record is that he voted for the enabling of the law in 1933 that allowed Hitler to become dictator of Germany. Heuss also made some political deals with some strange neo-Nazi cats in strengthening his Free Democratic Party in the last campaign.

The president's job is mostly an honorary one, since the real law and policy making are done under the direction of the chancellor. But as a symbol of Germany, Professor Heuss—if he is elected this afternoon—will be that of a conservative, German intellectual. His party platform boasts that it stands without reservation for a capitalist economy, being the "bitterest foe of Socialism and planned economy, for both mean nothing less than the realization of monopoly dictatorship."

Heuss will not be elected unanimously. The opposition Socialist Party is reported to be preparing a candidate to run against him, although the Socialist nominee is not expected to get the required majority.

I talked with the aging professor the other day. He told me his prime interest in the presidency is to again raise Germany to a position of respect and honor among democratic nations.

This is Bill Downs in Bonn. Now back to CBS in New York.

Bill Downs

CBS Bonn

September 13, 1949

A lot of old Rhine wine and older platitudes are flowing in Bonn today as occupation and government officials formalize the election of Germany's new president.

At an official reception this morning, the American, British, and French high command met to congratulate Professor Theodore Heuss on his election to the presidency. The French high commissioner, M. François-Poncet, spoke for all three occupation governments, saying that Germany is now taking a new shape, and that the Western powers would cooperate to do their best for the new Germany. "It is the hope of the occupation powers that Germany will find a way back to the family of democratic and peace-loving nations of the world."

In his reply as president, the lanky white-haired professor concurred in this goal and said his government was prepared to give up part of its powers in order to return to what he called "the European community." With some significance, Heuss added that the government is not forgetting the people of Berlin and of Eastern Germany who are not yet able to join the republic.

Behind all these high-flown words, however, the politicians here resemble starving men in a bakery as they struggle for a cut of the political pie set before them by the creation of the new government.

Within the next few days—possibly today—Heuss will appoint Dr. Konrad Adenauer as chancellor and ask him to form a cabinet.

The right wing coalition gained a tenuous majority yesterday in the vote for the presidency, but there are enough uncertain votes that can spell trouble for the Adenauer government—unless, of course, he is able to pacify them by handing out political patronage and positions to the doubtful parties.

The German Communist Party here finally broke its silence which it has maintained since its poor showing in the general elections. The Communists voted yesterday straight down the line with their archenemies, the Socialists.

They explain today that this was done not because they liked the Socialists, but because they wanted a working class vote to be registered. The Communists would like to make a political marriage of convenience with the large Socialist Party which carries the main burden of the opposition to the government. However, the Socialists are having none of it.

Bill Downs

CBS Berlin

September 15, 1949

Dr. Konrad Adenauer, head of the Christian Democratic Party, is the new Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany, becoming the parliamentary strongman of the new state under what appears to be a very shaky coalition of right wing parties.

Adenauer was confirmed as chancellor at Bonn this morning by a one-vote majority. He got 202 out of 402 votes. His opposition cast 142 votes against him, and there were 44 abstentions.

The closeness of the votes means that the 73-year-old government leader is going to have to continue to play his legislative cards with extreme care if he is to guide any sort of program through the parliament. The new legislature now has dispensed with the opening formalities and is getting down to work. There was a marked absence of morning coats and wing collars at this morning's session. The coalition cabinet is expected to be announced tomorrow.

The Soviet-licensed press of East Germany has been making vitriolic attacks on the Bonn government, but I am informed that the real interest of the Communists lies not in Bonn, but in Budapest and the trial beginning Friday of László Rajk, the former Hungarian foreign minister now charged with treasonous Titoism.

My informants say that within the next few weeks a Yugoslav exile government aimed at ousting the Marshal Tito will be established in Bucharest, Romania. Already a new powerful radio transmitter called the vote of "revolutionary Yugoslav emigrants" is operating. The ultimate aim, I am told, is to promote a civil war in Yugoslavia under the direction of the Cominform, but that so far there are no plans for direct intervention by the Soviet Union in this war; that Russia does not choose to risk a larger conflict by using her own troops officially in Yugoslavia.

This intelligence, if correct, would serve to remove a large part of the threat of another world war emanating out of the Balkans—for the time being, at least.

This is Bill Downs in Berlin. Now back to CBS in New York.