Johannes Rau (German pronunciation: [joˈhanəs ˈʁaʊ]; 16 January 1931 – 27 January 2006) was a German politician of the SPD. He was President of Germany from 1 July 1999 until 30 June 2004, Minister President of North Rhine-Westphalia from 20 September 1978 to 9 June 1998 and President of the Bundesrat from 1982-83.
Education and work
Rau was born in the Barmen part of Wuppertal, Rhine Province, as the third of five children. His family was strongly Protestant. As a schoolboy, Rau was active in the Confessing Church, a circle of the German Protestant Church which actively resisted Nazism.
Rau left school in 1949 and worked as a journalist and publisher, especially with the Protestant Youth Publishing House.
Rau was a member of the All-German People’s Party (GVP), which was founded by Gustav Heinemann. The party was known for proposing German reunification from 1952 until it was disbanded in 1957.
In 1958, the pacifist Rau and his political mentor, Gustav Heinemann, joined the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD), where he was active in the Wuppertal chapter. He served as deputy chairman of the SPD party of Wuppertal and was elected later on to the City Council (1964–1978), where he served as chairman of the SPD Group (1964–1967) and later as Mayor (1969–1970).
In 1958, Rau was elected for the first time as member of the Landtag (state parliament) of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW). In 1967, he became chairman of the SPD fraction in the Landtag, and in 1970, he was Minister of Science and Education in the cabinet of Minister President Heinz Kühn. He soon gained a reputation as a reformer. As part of the mass education campaign of the 1970s, he founded five universities, each at different sites, in North Rhine-Westphalia and initiated Germany’s first distance learning university at Hagen (modelled on the Open University).
In 1977, Rau became Chairman of the North Rhine-Westphalia SPD and, in 1978, Minister President of the state, where he remained until 1998, with four successful elections for the SPD, which became strongest party in the Landtag each time and gained an absolute majority three times, in 1980, 1985, 1990 and finally 1995. From 1995 onwards, Rau led an SPD-Greens coalition in NRW.
In 1987, Rau tried to become chancellor of Germany for the SPD, but his refusal to contemplate forming a coalition with the Green Party meant he could not win the elections against Helmut Kohl’s Christian Democrats (CDU). In 1994, Rau tried for the first time to become Federal President but lost to Roman Herzog.
Rau twice served as President of the Bundesrat in 1982 and 1983 and 1994 and 1995 and thus deputised for the Federal President. In 1998, Rau stepped down from his positions as SPD Chairman and Minister President, and on 23 May 1999, he was elected Federal President by the Federal Assembly of Germany to succeed Roman Herzog (CDU). On 1 July 2004, he was succeeded by Horst Köhler. As all Federal Presidents but his mentor Heinemann, who had not wished to be seen off in this manner, Rau was honored by a Großer Zapfenstreich which on his wish included the hymn "Jesus bleibet meine Freude" (Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring).
In 2000, Rau was the first German head of state to address the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, in German. The controversial step prompted some Israeli delegates to walk out. However, Israeli President Moshe Katsav supported and praised him for bridging the gap between the two states. Rau had a deep and lifelong commitment to bringing reconciliation between Germany and its past.
Following a long history of heart disease, he died a few days after his 75th birthday on 27 January 2006. The funeral took place on 7 February following a funeral act of state on the Dorotheenstadt cemetery in Berlin in the closest of family and friends.
Motto and maxim
The maxim of Rau was "to reconcile, not divide".
As his personal motto, Rau adopted the Confessing Church dictum "teneo, quia teneor" (I hold because I am held).
In his acceptance speech after his election, Rau claimed "A patriot I will be" because "a patriot is someone who loves his fatherland, a nationalist is someone who despises the fatherlands of the others". The quote can be attributed to the French writer Romain Gary.
Prizes and medals
Rau was awarded fifteen honorary doctorates. In 2001, he received the Leo Baeck Medal for his humanitarian work promoting tolerance and social justice.
Rau was known as a practising Christian (and sometimes titled Bruder Johannes, "Brother John", to ridicule his intense Christian position; however, he sometimes used this term himself). He held lay positions in, and was a member of, the Synod of the Evangelical Church in the Rhineland, a member church of the Evangelical Church in Germany.
On 9 August 1982, Rau married the political scientist, Christina Delius (born 1956). Christina Rau is a granddaughter of her husband's mentor, Gustav Heinemann, former President of Germany. The couple had three children: Anna Christina, born 1983, Philip Immanuel, born 1985 and Laura Helene, born 1986. Since 1995 Rau was aware of his dangerous aneurysm in the abdominal aorta, but declined an operation out of respect for his office and the upcoming election as president. On 23 July 2000 the operation took place at the University Hospital of Essen. On 18 August 2004, he had to undergo serious heart surgery, in which an artificial heart valve was inserted. Only two months later (19 October 2004) a hematoma in the abdominal cavity was surgically removed.
After leaving office, Rau lived with his family in the federal capital, Berlin. However, they also kept a house in Wuppertal.
- Germany : Grand Cross Special Class of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany
- Austria : Grand Star of the Decoration of Honour for Services to the Republic of Austria (2004)
- Czech Republic : Collar of the Order of the White Lion
- Estonia : Collar of the Order of the Cross of Terra Mariana
- Iceland : Grand Cross with Collar of the Order of the Falcon (1 July 2003)
- Latvia : 2nd Class, then, 1st Class with Chain of the Order of the Three Stars
- Poland : Order of the White Eagle (Poland)
- Slovakia : Grand Cross (or 1st Class) of the Order of the White Double Cross (2001)
- Turkey : First Class of the Order of the State of Republic of Turkey (2000)
- Denmark : Knight of the Order of the Elephant (24 April 2002)
- Spain : Collar of the Order of Isabella the Catholic (8 November 2002)
- Olympic Order
- Politics of Germany
- (English) www.bundespraesident.de: Johannes Rau—Official biography
- (German) online book of condolence for Johannes Rau