Childhood and life in East Germany (1940–1989) Joachim Gauck was born into a family of sailors in Rostock
, the son of Olga (née
Warremann; born 1910) and Joachim Gauck Sr. (born 1907). His father was an experienced ship's captain and distinguished naval officer (Kapitän zur See
– captain at sea), who after World War II
worked as an inspector at the Neptun Werft
shipbuilding company. Both parents were members of the Nazi Party
Following the Soviet occupation
at the end of World War II, the communists were installed into power in what became the German Democratic Republic (East Germany
). When Joachim Gauck was eleven years old, in 1951, his father was arrested by Soviet occupation forces; he was not to return until 1955.
He was convicted by a Russian military tribunal of espionage for receiving a letter from the West and also of anti-Soviet demagogy for being in the possession of a western journal on naval affairs, and deported to a Gulag
where he was mistreated to the extent that he was considered physically disabled
after one year, according to his son.
For nearly three years, the family knew nothing about what had happened to him and whether he was still alive. He was freed in 1955, following the state visit of Konrad Adenauer
to Moscow. Adenauer negotiated the release of thousands of German prisoners of war and civilians who had been deported.
Gauck graduated with an Abitur
from Innerstädtisches Gymnasium in Rostock
. According to Gauck, his political activities were inspired by the ordeal of his father,
and he stated that he grew up with a "well-founded anti-communism".
Already in school in East Germany, he made no secret of his anti-communist position, and he steadfastly refused to join the communist youth movement, the Free German Youth
. He wanted to study German and become a journalist, but because he wasn't a communist, he wasn't allowed to do so.
Instead he chose to study theology
and become a pastor in the Protestant church in Mecklenburg. He has stated that his primary intention was not to become a pastor, but the theology studies offered an opportunity to study philosophy
and the church was one of the few institutions in East Germany where communist ideology was not dominant.
Nevertheless, he did eventually become a pastor. His work as a pastor in East Germany was very difficult due to the hostility of the communist regime towards the church, and for many years he was under constant observation and was harassed by the Stasi
(the secret police).
The Stasi described Gauck in their file on him as an "incorrigible anti-communist" ("unverbesserlicher Antikommunist").
He has said that "at the age of nine, I knew socialism
was an unjust system."
In his memoirs, he writes that "the fate of our father was like an educational cudgel. It led to a sense of unconditional loyalty towards the family which excluded any sort of idea of fraternisation with the system."
Career during and after the Peaceful Revolution of 1989
Gauck in 1990
On 2 October 1990, the day before the dissolution of the GDR, the People's Chamber elected him Special Representative for the Stasi Records. After the dissolution of the GDR the following day, he was appointed Special Representative of the Federal Government for the Stasi Records by President Richard von Weizsäcker
and Chancellor Helmut Kohl
. As such, he was in charge of the archives of the Stasi and tasked with investigating communist crimes. In 1992, his office became known as the Federal Commissioner for the Stasi Records. He served in this position until 2000, when he was succeeded by Marianne Birthler
Gauck served as a member of the Bundestag
, the Parliament of Germany, from 3 to 4 October 1990 (the 1990 People's Chamber was granted the right to nominate a certain number of MPs as part of the reunification process). He stepped down following his appointment as Special Representative of the Federal Government. As such, he was the shortest serving Member of Parliament of Germany ever.
He refused the position of President of the Federal Agency for Civic Education
as well as offers to be nominated as a candidate for parliament by the SPD. Voices inside the CSU proposed him as a possible conservative presidential candidate (against SPD career politician Johannes Rau
) in 1999,
and his name was also mentioned as a possible candidate for CDU/CSU and Free Democratic Party in subsequent years. For instance the Saxon FDP state party proposed him as a liberal-conservative candidate in 2004, before the leaders of the parties agreed on Horst Köhler
Political views and reception
Gauck in 2008
On the occasion of his 70th birthday in 2010, Gauck was praised by Chancellor Angela Merkel
as a "true teacher of democracy" and a "tireless advocate of freedom, democracy and justice".
In an interview with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
in 2007, Gauck said that "we have to delegitimatize [the communist era] not only because of the many victims and criminal acts, but [also because] modern politics in the entire Soviet empire was basically taken backward."
According to The Wall Street Journal
, he "has dedicated his life to showing that the Soviet system's evils were no less than the Third Reich's."
In his 2012 book Freedom. A Plea
, he outlines his thoughts on freedom, democracy, human rights and tolerance.
In May 2015, Gauck urged Germans to openly acknowledge that "millions of soldiers of the Red Army
lost their lives during Nazi internment
2010 presidential candidate
"Citizens for Gauck," a demonstration in support of Gauck in front of the Brandenburger Tor
On 3 June 2010, Joachim Gauck was nominated for President of Germany
in the 2010 election
by the SPD and the Greens.
Gauck is not a member of either the SPD or the Greens (although his former party in East Germany eventually merged with the Greens after reunification),
and has stated that he would have accepted a nomination by the CDU as well.
Gauck once described himself as a "leftist, liberal conservative"
and after his nomination, stated: "I'm neither red nor green, I'm Joachim Gauck".
The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung
described him as a liberal conservative
Gauck is widely respected across the political spectrum,
and is very popular also among CDU/CSU and FDP politicians due to his record as an upstanding, moral person during the communist dictatorship as well as his record as a "Stasi
hunter" in the 1990s.
His main contender, Christian Wulff
, and politicians of all the government parties, stated that they greatly respected Gauck and his life and work. Jörg Schönbohm
, former Chairman of the CDU of Brandenburg
, also supported Gauck.
The only party that in principle rejected Gauck as a possible president was the legal successor of the East German communist party, Die Linke
, which interpreted the nomination of the SPD and Greens as a refusal to cooperate with Die Linke.
CSU politician Philipp Freiherr von Brandenstein argued that the election of Joachim Gauck would prevent any cooperation between SPD/Greens and the party Die Linke for years to come: "Gauck has likely made it perfectly clear to [Sigmar] Gabriel
that he will never appoint any of the apologists of the communist tyranny as government members".
Die Linke nominated their own candidate, former journalist Luc Jochimsen
and chose to abstain in the third ballot.
Die Linke's refusal to support Gauck drew strong criticism from the SPD and Greens. Sigmar Gabriel
, the SPD chairman, described Die Linke's position as "bizarre and embarrassing," stating that he was "shocked" that the party would declare Joachim Gauck their main enemy due to his investigation of communist injustice.
According to Gabriel, Die Linke had manifested itself once again as the successor of the East German communist party.
A politician of Die Linke compared the choice between Gauck and Wulff to the choice between Adolf Hitler
and Joseph Stalin
, drawing strong condemnation from the SPD and Greens.
Gauck was originally proposed as a presidential candidate for the Greens by Andreas Schulze
, then communications adviser to the Greens in the Bundestag. Schulze was appointed as Gauck's spokesman in 2010, and again in 2012.
President of Germany
Gauck in 2012
Following the resignation of President Christian Wulff
on 17 February 2012, Joachim Gauck was nominated on 19 February as the joint candidate for President of Germany by the government parties CDU, CSU and FDP, and the opposition SPD and the Alliance '90/The Greens. This happened after the FDP, the SPD and the Greens had strongly supported Gauck and urged the conservatives to support him.
The SPD chairman, Sigmar Gabriel
, said Gauck was his party's preferred candidate already on 17 February, citing Gauck's "great confidence among the citizens."
Reportedly, Chancellor Merkel gave in to FDP chairman (and Vice-Chancellor) Philipp Rösler
's staunch support for Gauck; the agreement was announced after the FDP presidium had unanimously voted for Gauck earlier on 19 February.
He was thus supported by all major parties represented in the Federal Convention
, except Die Linke
, the successor party to the former East German communist party.
According to a poll conducted for Stern
, the nomination of Gauck was met with high approval. The majority of the voters of all political parties represented in the Bundestag approved of his nomination, with the Green voters being most enthusiastic (84% approval) and Die Linke's voters least (55% approval); overall, 69% support him, while 15% oppose him.
His nomination was "broadly welcomed" by the German media,
which were described as "jubilant."
However, his candidacy was criticized by Die Linke
, and met with some other individual criticism; he was criticized by individual CSU members for not being married to the woman he lives with,
and by individual politicians of the Greens, notably for his earlier statements on Thilo Sarrazin
and the occupy movement
The SPD chairman, Sigmar Gabriel
, however, stated that the reason that Die Linke was the only party that did not support Gauck was its "sympathy for the German Democratic Republic
On 18 March 2012, Gauck was elected President of Germany
with 991 of 1228 votes in the Federal Convention
Upon accepting his election, he assumed the presidency immediately.
The new President took the oath of office required by article 56 of Germany's Constitution on Friday 23 March 2012 in the presence of the assembled members of the Bundestag and the Bundesrat.
On 6 June 2016, President Gauck announced he would not stand for re-election in 2017, citing his age as the reason.
Presidential visits to foreign countries
On 3 August 2014, he joined French President François Hollande
to mark the outbreak of the war between Germany and France in 1914 during World War I
by laying the first stone of a memorial in Hartmannswillerkopf
, for French and German soldiers killed in the war.
Gauck regularly welcomed state officials in different parts of Germany, especially for remarkable events in history.
Gauck married Gerhild "Hansi" Gauck (née Radtke), his childhood sweetheart whom he met at age ten,
but the couple has been separated since 1991.
They were married in 1959, at 19, despite his father's opposition, and have four children: sons Christian (born 1960) and Martin (born 1962), and daughters Gesine (born 1966) and Katharina (born 1979). Christian, Martin and Gesine were able to leave East Germany and emigrate to West Germany
in the late 1980s, while Katharina, still a child, remained with her parents. His children were discriminated against and denied the right to education by the communist regime because their father was a pastor.
His son Christian, who along with his brother decided to leave the GDR in early 1984 and was able to do so in 1987, studied medicine in West Germany and became a physician.
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