Heinrich Lübke

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Heinrich Lübke
Bundesarchiv Bild 146-1994-034-22A, Heinrich Lübke.jpg
Heinrich Lübke in 1959
President of Germany
(West Germany)
In office
13 September, 1959 – 30 June, 1969
ChancellorKonrad Adenauer
Ludwig Erhard
Kurt Georg Kiesinger
Preceded byTheodor Heuss
Succeeded byGustav Heinemann
Federal Minister of Food, Agriculture
and Forestry
In office
20 October, 1953 – 15 September, 1959
ChancellorKonrad Adenauer
Preceded byWilhelm Niklas
Succeeded byWerner Schwarz
Member of the Bundestag
In office
6 September, 1953 – 2 September, 1959
Preceded byFranz Etzel
Succeeded byArnold Verhoeven
In office
14 August, 1949 – 19 November, 1950
Preceded byConstituency created
Succeeded byErnst Majonica
Personal details
Karl Heinrich Lübke

(1894-10-14)14 October 1894
Enkhausen, Province of Westphalia, Kingdom of Prussia, German Empire
Died6 April 1972(1972-04-06) (aged 77)
Bonn, West Germany
Political partyCentre Party (Zentrumspartei) (1930–1933)
Christian Democratic Union (1945–1972)
(m. 1885)
Military service
Allegiance German Empire
 Weimar Republic
 Nazi Germany
Branch/service Imperial German Army
 German Army
Battles/warsWorld War I

Karl Heinrich Lübke (German: [ˈhaɪnʁɪç ˈlʏpkə] (About this soundlisten); 14 October 1894 – 6 April 1972) was a German politician who was the second President of the West Germany from 1959 to 1969.

He suffered from deteriorating health towards the end of his career and is known for a series of embarrassing incidents that may have resulted from his health issues. Lübke resigned three months before the scheduled end of his second term amid a scandal as to his involvement with the Nazi regime during World War II.


Lübke with President of Kenya Jomo Kenyatta and his son Uhuru

Born in Enkhausen, Westphalia, Lübke had a very humble upbringing. He was the son of a shoemaker and farmer from the Sauerland, and was a surveyor by training.[1] He volunteered for service in World War I, reaching the rank of lieutenant.

After working from 1923 as an officer of a pressure group representing the interests of small-scale farmers in Berlin, in 1930 he became a member of the Roman Catholic Centre Party (Zentrumspartei) and in April 1932 was elected as a member of the Prussian Parliament.

After the seizure of power by the National Socialists in 1933 and the subsequent dissolution of the Zentrumspartei, Lübke was accused of misappropriating public funds and imprisoned; after 20 months in prison he was released, when no evidence could be produced to back up the politically motivated charges. It was not until 1937 that he was able to get a senior position with a building society (German: Wohnungsbaugesellschaft). In 1939, just before the outbreak of World War II, he moved to a company of building engineers managed by the architect Walter Schlempp. Here he came to the notice of Albert Speer and was given responsibility for major building projects, some of which were under the aegis of the Armaments Ministry run by Speer. One of these was the extension of the 'Army Research Center Peenemünde' (Heeresversuchsanstalt Peenemünde in German, abbreviated HVP) and the 'Air Force Test Centre' (Erprobungsstelle der Luftwaffe in German), Peenemünde-West.[1]

After the war, Lübke returned to his career in politics, becoming a member of the West German CDU party, being appointed Minister of Agriculture in the state parliament of North Rhine-Westphalia in 1947. In 1953 Konrad Adenauer appointed him to his cabinet as Federal Minister of Agriculture in Bonn.[1]

Definitive stamp during his term

Lübke was chosen by Adenauer as a candidate for the largely ceremonial post of president to ensure that Adenauer's political schemes were not disturbed by too strong a personality in this position,[citation needed] which is nominally the highest post in the German state. Lübke defeated Carlo Schmid, the SPD candidate, and Max Becker, the FDP candidate for the presidency, in the second round of voting in 1959.

The historian Tony Judt has observed that Lübke's presidency, like the chancellorship of Kurt Georg Kiesinger, showed the "a glaring contradiction in the Bonn Republic's self-image" in view of their previous Nazi allegiances.[2] Lübke's status as a one-time political prisoner under the National Socialists placed him in good stead, and it was not until 1966 that accusations started to be made by sources in the GDR that he had at the very least been aware of the use of slave labour on his projects; building plans bearing his signature and containing concentration camp barrack blocks were advanced as evidence of his complicity, but these were dismissed in the West as East German propaganda.[1] Nevertheless, the potential scandal threatened to damage the office of the Federal President; in 1968 Lübke announced that he would resign the following year, his resignation taking effect three months before the scheduled end of his term of office.

The former president's health deteriorated. His intention to live in West Berlin from time to time could not be realized, nor could he, with his private library of about 5,000 books, pursue his scientific hobbies in comparative linguistics and microbiology.

Lübke's political friends ignored him, if they did not avoid him. His successor in the presidency, Gustav Heinemann, however, kept in contact with him. Trips to Tenerife in the fall of 1969 and at Christmas in 1970 and 1971 brought no improvement in his condition. Progressive cerebral sclerosis was becoming increasingly noticeable, leading to serious speech disorders and progressive memory loss. In retrospect, it became clear that this disease had started several years earlier and explained many aspects of the West German president's behavior during his last years in office. In November 1971, the former president visited his birthplace in Enkhausen for the last time.

On 30 March 1972, acute stomach bleeding required an emergency operation. It turned out that he was suffering from a very advanced stomach cancer which had already metastasized to the brain. After two more bleedings Lübke died on 6 April 1972 at the age of 77 in Bonn.

As a speaker[edit]

Lübke was a poor public speaker and was frequently subject to ridicule, especially near the end of his term of office when his age and his failing health started to affect his memory. He frequently forgot where he was (Lübke: "When I talk to you today in...eh... in.." Voice from the crowd shouting: "Helmstedt!" Lübke: "...eh...when I talk to you today in ... Helmstedt, then it was following my own will...", etc.). This was further ridiculed in the German translation of Danger Mouse, where Penfold is called "Lübke" and is frequently ordered to "shut up" ("Lübke, Schnauze!").

Various other slips are well documented, such as the address in Antananarivo, Madagascar: "My very dear Mr. President, dear Mrs. Tananarive..."[3] His word-for-word translations of German into English (see Lübke English) were also the subject of much mockery.

Tapes from Lübke's speeches were collected by the German satirical magazine Pardon and distributed on a best-selling record.[4]


National honour[edit]

Foreign honours[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Die Zeit: "Der Fall Lübke" (The Lübke Case) (2007, in German)
  2. ^ Judt, Tony (2005). Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945. New York: Penguin. p. 811. ISBN 9780143037750.
  3. ^ Die Zeit: Lübke und die Neger (2002, in German)
  4. ^ "Some examples". Heinrichluebke.de. Retrieved 27 August 2017.
  5. ^ "Photographic image : Lübke wearing Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of West Germany, Special Class insignia" (JPG). 1.bp.blogspot.com. Retrieved 17 January 2019.
  6. ^ a b "Photographic image : Wearing German and Thai orders" (JPG). Commons.wikimedia.org. Retrieved 17 January 2019.
  7. ^ a b "Wearing German and British orders" (JPG). Cache4.asset-cache.net. Retrieved 17 January 2019.
  8. ^ "Photographic image : Grand cross of the Order of valour" (JPG). C7.alamy.com. Retrieved 17 January 2019.
  9. ^ "Photographic image : receiving Knight Grand Collar of the Order of Solomon" (JPG). 4.bp.blogspot.com. Retrieved 17 January 2019.
  10. ^ "Photographic image : Lübke wearing Knight Grand Collar of the Order of Solomon" (JPG). 1.bp.blogspot.com. Retrieved 17 January 2019.
  11. ^ "Photographic image : Grand Cross of the Order of the Legion of Honour presentation" (JPG). Upload.wikimedia.org. Retrieved 17 January 2019.
  12. ^ "Photographic image : Knight Grand Cordon with Collar of the Order of Pahlavi" (JPG). Upload.wikimedia.org. Retrieved 17 January 2019.
  13. ^ "Photographic image : Knight Grand Cordon with Collar of the Order of Pahlavi" (JPG). Cache3.asset.cache.net. Retrieved 17 January 2019.
  14. ^ "Philippine Diplomatic Visits: Philippines ~ West Germany 1963". Philippinediplomaticvisits.blogspot.co.uk. 26 April 2011. Retrieved 27 August 2017.
  15. ^ "Photographic image : Lübke wearing Rajah Grand Cross with Collar of the Order of Sikatuna" (JPG). 1.bp.blogspot.com. Retrieved 17 January 2019.
  16. ^ "Photographic image : Honorary Knight Grand Cordon with Collar of the Order of the Rajamitrabhorn" (JPG). S-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com. Retrieved 17 January 2019.
  17. ^ "Photographic image : Honorary Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath" (JPG). C7.alamy.com. Retrieved 17 January 2019.
Political offices
Preceded by
Theodor Heuss
President of West Germany
Succeeded by
Gustav Heinemann