A native of Krefeld and the first mayor of Mönchengladbach after World War II, Wilhelm Elfes (1884–1969) had belonged to the outstanding representatives of the Catholic
labor movement and the Center Party during the Weimar Republic. After 1945, Elfes became one of the leading personalities on the left wing of the western German CDU. In the 1950s, as chairman of the Bund
der Deutschen (League of Germans), Elfes lobbied – for a time in concert with the Gesamtdeutsche Volskpartei (Peoples Party for United Germany) of later German president Gustav Heinemann – to
open talks with the existing powers in Eastern Europe and for a conference on the reunifaction of Germany. The trajectory of his life – recorded in biographical form for the first time, on the
basis of many previously unknown sources – at first glance appears marred by contradictions and abrupt changes in orientation. Elfes was a CDU politician who saw himself as a socialist, a friend of
Konrad Adenauer’s for many years who nonetheless attacked the chancellor’s policy of Western integration and did not shy from cooperating with communists. Catholic social teachings and the
experiences of Catholic workers were the defining influences throughout Elfes’ life, which should be understood as a consistent whole. Albert Esser’s biography rekindles awareness of German
Catholicism’s long-repressed traditions and casts new light on politics in the early Federal Republic of Germany, so greatly shaped by Catholics.