Today in History
10.10.1962: Spiegel Incident
In the report entitled "Only Ready to Fight up to a Point" the magazine had reported on a dispute between the USA and Federal Minister of Defence Franz-Josef Strauß. Washington was calling for the reinforcement of the German army with conventional weapons, whilst Strauß was pushing for the introduction of nuclear weapons. It was a report that had obviously been based on good insider information.

The federal prosecutor’s office had however been set on to the "Spiegel" even before this cover story had been published: Following a string of accusations directed at the "Spiegel", the Bavarian constitutional lawyer Friedrich August von der Heyde, who was also a reserve general of the German army and member of the CSU, accused "Spiegel" of treason in Karlsruhe on 1 October. The critical reporting on the minister and CDU leader Franz-Josef Strauß was a thorn in Heyde’s side and the public prosecutors in Karlsruhe saw a reason to take action in the manoeuvre report.

The testimonial of the senior government counsellor was completed nine days later and shortly afterwards he brought it to Karlsruhe personally. Franz-Josef Strauß was informed and the matter led to close co-operation between the Ministry of Defence and the Federal Prosecutor’s Office. And, of course, "Spiegel" announced that an investigation was underway.

Managing director of the publishing house, Hans Detlev Becker, later criticised the matter: "We have doubts as to whether this testimonial could have been completely objective, as the plaintiff to some extent became the judge".

The Federal Prosecutor’s Office evidently didn’t have such doubts. On 27 October, a week after receiving the testimonial, Spiegel’s offices were searched, and a few editors were arrested. They were suspected of treason and bribery of officials. The editor responsible for the controversial NATO report, Conrad Ahlers, was arrested in Spain due to the intervention of Minister Strauß. "Spiegel" publisher Rudolf Augstein turned himself in.

The population was given the impression that the former Federal Chancellor Konrad Adenauer summed up shortly and sweetly but also incorrectly: "We have a deep hole of treason in this country".

The "Spiegel" temporarily moved to other publications’ editorial offices, which had been provided as an act of solidarity. The press refused to accept the accusations and regarded the "Spiegel Incident" as an extremely serious case of abuse of office.

Franz-Josef Strauß was the focus of attention and it was alleged that his attack on the "Spiegel" was an attempt to silence a disagreeable critic. It was however also proven that he had abused his office by personally intervening in the arrest of the editor Ahlers.

Even conservative media criticised and condemned the procedure and Adenauer and Strauß had very little support in the Bundestag.

"As long as a final verdict of an independent court has not been reached, based on our code of criminal procedure, all are regarded as suspects and accused but not yet as condemned traitors", declared the head of the Liberal Democrats, Erich Mende, in the Bundestag, and clearly distanced himself from Adenauer.

And even Rainer Barzel, party leader of Adenauer’s CDU-CSU, was unable to back the chancellor: "Everyone in this State is innocent until proven guilty".

The guilt was never proven: The arrested individuals were released again after a few months. Over a year after the arrests, the lawsuit was dropped due to "lack of evidence". The Federal Government resigned as a result of the "Spiegel Incident" and Franz-Josef Strauß was no longer a member of the next cabinet - although his political career only suffered temporarily as a result.

He was not prosecuted and years later a constitutional complaint made by the "Spiegel" was rejected. Nevertheless, the "Spiegel Incident" is regarded as a classic touchstone for German democracy and freedom of the press in Germany. Politics and the law have never again attempted to so boldly combat the freedom of the press.

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What was the “Spiegel Incident” on 10 October 1962 about?
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