Today in History
7.11.1968: A Slap in the Face for the German Chancellor
The then Defense Minister Gerhard Schröder (not to be confused with Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, SPD) was calmly composing a memorandum when his head of government, Kurt Georg Kiesinger, was met with a surprise assault in the Berlin convention hall – or, more precisely, an "attack", as the Chancellor later described it.

Despite security measures at the national convention of Germany’s Christian Democratic Party on that memorable 7th day of November, 1968, an attractive young woman suddenly stormed up to the Swabian aesthete Kiesinger and slapped him in the face.

Kiesinger and the CDU should actually have been on the alert for such an occurrence, since the same woman, Beate Klarsfeld – a Frenchwoman who also held a German passport – had already caused an uproar in parliament several months earlier, when she shouted out "Nazi Kiesinger" from the spectators’ stands, in the middle of a debate in the upper house. As Klarsfeld explained to anyone who wished to hear it (and to many who didn’t), it should simply be out of the question that in this still fairly young Federal Republic, a former member of the National Socialist Party – that is, a Nazi – be allowed to become the head of government.

From the point of view of Kurt Georg Kiesinger, who suffered a slight tear to the conjunctiva of his left eye, this was the act of a woman who had links to "agitators" and was armed with "materials from Eastern resources". The acting president of the convention declared the slap to be abhorrent, whereupon the Chancellor received a standing ovation from the delegates.

It was a time when a number of leading German politicians were still burdened with an active Nazi past - for example, Hans Globke or Heinrich Lübke. And then there was Kiesinger’s successor as leader of the state of Baden-Württemberg, a certain Mr Hans Filbinger, who in his role as a navy judge in the very last days of the "Thousand Year Reich" had sentenced youths undermining the army and thus considered to be "enemies of the people" to death.

And, as Beate Klarsfeld frankly admitted afterwards, there was also a very real background to her well-planned act. In February of that year, the 28-year-old self-proclaimed Nazi hunter and pro-Jewish activist had sued the German-French Jugendwerk (youth organization) for a symbolic 1 franc in compensatory damages when she was fired from her job at the organization. And why? Because she had openly criticized the National Socialist past of this same Mr. Kiesinger.

On the evening of the very same day - this is how quickly German judges can pass sentences when necessary – on that very same evening, Beate Klarsfeld was sentenced to a remarkable twelve months imprisonment without probation on charges of libeling the Chancellor and for the premeditated infliction of bodily harm.

Beate Klarsfeld – who in the years that followed, became as famous as she was notorious – offered her own explanation for why this sentence was so remarkable from her point of view as a protestor, and why it all happened in the first place:

"Well, I believe that this was a gesture that not only struck a blow to Kiesinger, the Nazi Chancellor, but also to the public that had democratically elected him. And I think that the young generation’s slap in the face to the Nazi generation was the symbolic gesture for the year 1968, when I slapped Kiesinger in the face. "

"My husband and I considered for a long time what kind of a gesture could be symbolic – and above all, what would draw the public’s attention to Kiesinger’s Nazi past. And I did not immediately resort to these means. Rather, before I was fired from the German-French Jugendwerk, I published several articles in the "Freie Tribüne" as well as in the French newspaper "Combat", in which I attacked Kiesinger’s Nazi past and rejected him as Chancellor for the young generation, contrasting him with a resistance fighter such as Willy Brandt.

“As a result of these articles, I was fired, and felt it was necessary to carry out research into Kiesinger’s Nazi past. The slap in the face was an escalation, since I had already made many attempts to make the public aware of his history and to point out that it was unacceptable to have a former deputy department chief for the Nazis as our Federal Chancellor. So, a symbolic gesture had to be made which would firstly shake up the public and let them know exactly what kind of a person our Chancellor is, and secondly, would motivate young people to focus their criticism on Kiesinger.

"And then the gesture – the slap – took place in Berlin, which I chose on purpose because of its protected status under the allies. I had also counted on this to be a kind of personal protection for me in case I was taken to court. Since I had both German and French citizenship, I would be able to rely on my status as a French citizen, which in fact I did.

And naturally, the sentencing on the same evening to one year in prison without probation made the scandal even greater. Just a short time earlier, Rudi Dutschke had been beaten to a pulp: a former Nazi and member of the right wing beat him up and he was then sentenced to pay a fine of 200 DM - and for a slap in the face, I was given one year in prison without probation.

The judge pointed out to me that, after all, this was an act of violence, and was I aware of that? I answered him by saying, 'Forcing us to live under a Nazi Chancellor is an act of violence, but a woman slapping a man in the face is not."

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