World

Richard von Weizsaecker, former president who urged Germany to confront past, dies at 94

  • In this photo taken Sunday, July 20, 2014 in Berlin, former German President Richard von Weizsaecker attends a wreath laying ceremony to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the attempted assassination of Adolf Hitler .  Former German President Richard von Weizsaecker, who urged his country to confront its dark past, promoted reconciliation and denounced far-right violence during a 10-year tenure spanning the reunification of west and east, has died. He was 94. The German president’s office announced the death of Weizsaecker, who was president from 1984 to 1994, on Saturday Jan. 31, 2015.  (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber,file)

    In this photo taken Sunday, July 20, 2014 in Berlin, former German President Richard von Weizsaecker attends a wreath laying ceremony to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the attempted assassination of Adolf Hitler . Former German President Richard von Weizsaecker, who urged his country to confront its dark past, promoted reconciliation and denounced far-right violence during a 10-year tenure spanning the reunification of west and east, has died. He was 94. The German president’s office announced the death of Weizsaecker, who was president from 1984 to 1994, on Saturday Jan. 31, 2015. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber,file)  (The Associated Press)

  • In this Dec. 12, 2008 picture former German President Richard von Weizsaecker speaks  in Berlin, Germany.  Former German President Richard von Weizsaecker, who urged his country to confront its dark past, promoted reconciliation and denounced far-right violence during a 10-year tenure spanning the reunification of west and east, has died. He was 94. The German president’s office announced the death of Weizsaecker, who was president from 1984 to 1994, on Saturday Jan. 31, 2015. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)

    In this Dec. 12, 2008 picture former German President Richard von Weizsaecker speaks in Berlin, Germany. Former German President Richard von Weizsaecker, who urged his country to confront its dark past, promoted reconciliation and denounced far-right violence during a 10-year tenure spanning the reunification of west and east, has died. He was 94. The German president’s office announced the death of Weizsaecker, who was president from 1984 to 1994, on Saturday Jan. 31, 2015. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)  (The Associated Press)

  • FILE - In this   June 11, 1982 file picture then  U.S. President Ronald Reagan, center,  waves to the crowd as he stands with then Mayor of West Berlin, Richard von Weizsaecker, left, and then West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt in the American Sector at the Checkpoint Charlie in West Berlin. Former German President Richard von Weizsaecker, who urged his country to confront its dark past, promoted reconciliation and denounced far-right violence during a 10-year tenure spanning the reunification of west and east, has died. He was 94. The German president’s office announced the death of Weizsaecker, who was president from 1984 to 1994, on Saturday Jan. 31, 2015.  (AP Photo, str.file)  B/W ONLY

    FILE - In this June 11, 1982 file picture then U.S. President Ronald Reagan, center, waves to the crowd as he stands with then Mayor of West Berlin, Richard von Weizsaecker, left, and then West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt in the American Sector at the Checkpoint Charlie in West Berlin. Former German President Richard von Weizsaecker, who urged his country to confront its dark past, promoted reconciliation and denounced far-right violence during a 10-year tenure spanning the reunification of west and east, has died. He was 94. The German president’s office announced the death of Weizsaecker, who was president from 1984 to 1994, on Saturday Jan. 31, 2015. (AP Photo, str.file) B/W ONLY  (The Associated Press)

Former German President Richard von Weizsaecker, who urged his country to confront the Nazi past, promoted reconciliation and denounced far-right violence during a 10-year tenure that spanned the reunification of west and east, has died. He was 94.

President Joachim Gauck's office announced Weizsaecker's death on Saturday. Weizsaecker, a patrician and eloquent figure who was president from 1984 to 1994, raised the profile of the largely ceremonial presidency and established himself as a moral conscience for the nation.

Weizsaecker's May 1985 speech marking the 40th anniversary of Nazi Germany's defeat in World War II cemented his reputation. It won widespread praise as an effort to bring fellow Germans to terms with the Holocaust.

"All of us, whether guilty or not, whether young or old, must accept the past. We are all affected by its consequences and liable for it," said Weizsaecker, who served as a regular soldier in Adolf Hitler's army. "Anyone who closes his eyes to the past is blind to the present."

"The 8th of May was a day of liberation," he told the West German parliament. "It freed us all from the system of National Socialist tyranny."

Later that month, the Netherlands' German-born Prince Claus presented the president with a Dutch translation of the speech, telling him that it enabled him finally to acknowledge his roots in a country where resentment of the Nazi occupation remained widespread.

In October 1985, Weizsaecker made the first visit to Israel by a West German head of state. His Israeli counterpart, Chaim Herzog, said the comments had won Weizsaecker "a special place in the history of your people."

"Richard von Weizsaecker stood worldwide for a Germany that had found its way to center of the democratic family of peoples," current President Joachim Gauck said in a message of condolences to Weizsaecker's widow. "He stood for a federal republic that faces up to its past."