Obituary: Richard Jaeger

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
RICHARD JAEGER was known as a forthright arch-conservative Bavarian CSU politician, a man of principle who did not compromise, and a politician to his fingertips. He was prominent among the first generation of post-war German politicians. Elected to the first Bundestag in 1949, he remained a member until 1980.

The Bavarian Party (BP), for decades a significant force in Bavaria, sought to embarrass Jaeger by attempting to make political capital out of the fact that he was born in Berlin rather than Bavaria. However, both his parents were Bavarians and he came from a long line of southern Germans. His father, Dr Heinz Jaeger, was director of the Munich city insurance office. There his son Richard was born. Later the family returned to Munich where Richard attended the prestigious Maximilian Gymnasium.

On matriculation Jaeger studied law at the universities of Munich, Berlin and Bonn. As a Catholic he remained loyal to the Catholic youth organisation and the Catholic students' body when others were defecting to the Hitler Youth and National Socialist Students Corps. He qualified as a lawyer in 1939 only to find himself in the army for the duration of the war.

Remarkably, his war service, as artillery NCO in the West and in Russia, did not prevent him from continuing his legal studies. After a brief incarceration as a prisoner of war, he returned to Munich, gaining his doctorate at Munich University in 1947. He joined the new Christian Social Union (CSU), the Bavarian wing of Christian Democracy, in 1946 and gained entry into the Bavarian civil service. He served as mayor of Eichstatt 1948-49.

From the start of his parliamentary career Jaeger made his mark as a robust exponent of Bavarian interests and conservative values. Among the causes he championed was the re-introduction of the death penalty, more rigorous law enforcement, tougher sentences for sex offenders and opposition to pornography.

Despite his popularity in conservative circles, his legal mind and his relative youth, Jaeger did not get promotion under Chancellor Adenauer. Perhaps one of his problems was rivalry with Franz Josef Strauss. Both were Bavarians, both were Catholics, both had attended the same school and both had served in the artillery. Two years younger, Strauss had been promoted to officer while Jaeger ended his military career as an officer cadet.

One would have expected that Jaeger's more subdued style and temperament would have found favour with Adenauer rather than that of the more flamboyant Strauss. Jaeger had to be contented with the consolation prize of election as one of the five vice-presidents of the Bundestag, an office he held from 1953 to 1965 and 1967 to 1976.

He also served as chairman of the powerful parliamentary defence committee, 1953-65, and as such he had considerable influence on the development of West Germany's new armed forces established in 1955. He was strongly in favour of political control of the armed forces. In this he both supported the Defence Minister, Franz Josef Strauss, and later Kai-Uwe von Hassel, against the military, and sought more power for his committee. He also argued that the German forces should be equipped with nuclear weapons.

In 1963 Konrad Adenauer retired and was replaced as head of government by Ludwig Erhard. Jaeger had hopes of a ministry. Firstly, Erhard was also a Bavarian. Secondly, Jaeger supported him on his pro- American stance as against the "Gaullist" position of many Bavarian politicians. Jaeger had served for many years as President of the German Atlantic Society.

His reward came in 1965 when Erhard formed his second ministry and appointed Jaeger Minister of Justice. This was a hollow victory for Jaeger as the government of "rubber lion" Erhard was brought down in December 1966. He was not included in Kurt Georg Kiesinger's grand coalition of Christian Democrats and Social Democrats. His replacement was the very liberal Social Democrat Gustav Heinemann. Richard Jaeger's last major post came as a surprise when in 1984 he was appointed head of the West German delegation to the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva.

Richard Jaeger, politician: born Berlin 16 February 1913; married (one son, five daughters); died 14 May 1998.