for Der Spiegel on Oct. 29, 2010
Joachim von Ribbentrop, German foreign minister from 1938 until 1945, was executed for war crimes
Historians have found that the German Foreign Ministry was far more deeply involved in the Holocaust than had been thought. A new study commissioned by former minister Joschka Fischer in 2005 is due to present its findings this week, and concludes that diplomats went on covering up the past for decades.
As far as book launches go, this will be an unusual one. Three German foreign ministers past and present will be marking the publication on Thursday of a history about the ministry's role during the Nazi era.
The 880-page work compiled by a panel of historians was commissioned in 2005 by Joschka Fischer shortly before the end of his tenure as Germany's top diplomat. It will be formally handed over to the present incumbent, Guido Westerwelle, on Thursday afternoon.
That evening, Fischer and Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who was foreign minister from the end of 2005 until last year, will be attending an event hosted by the publishing company Blessing Verlag.
All three ministers will have to talk about the Holocaust, about war crimes, about diplomatic failure, about perfidious behavior and about rare incidents of heroism, all in the context of the German Foreign Ministry during the Third Reich.
The book will be presented by a commission that includes the historians Eckart Conze and Norbert Frei of Germany, Peter Hayes of the United States and Moshe Zimmermann of Israel. Their book deals with the history of this most distinguished of German ministries during this dark chapter, and about how it dealt with its past after the war.
Diplomats 'Actively Involved' in Holocaust
The experts' verdict is damning. "The diplomats were aware of the Jewish policy throughout," they write, "and actively involved in it." Cooperating in mass murder was "an area of activity" of ministry staff "everywhere in Europe."
Fischer had commissioned the study in 2005 to settle a heated dispute in his ministry about the extent of its historical guilt. The results are unlikely to calm the controversy. Fischer was shocked by the findings. "It makes me feel sick," he said.
The head of the commission, Eckart Conze, even described the Foreign Ministry as a "criminal organization" in an interview with SPIEGEL (to be published in English later this week). That was the term used at the Nuremberg Trials to describe the SS. Conze's assessment amounts to a condemnation of Germany's upper classes during the Nazi era. No other institution had so many members from illustrious families on its staff -- the Weizsäckers, the Bismarcks, the Mackensens.
The historians' findings about the ministry in the post-war West German era are also explosive. Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, who had the job of foreign minister from 1951 until 1955 during his tenure as West German leader, allowed former Nazis to remain on the ministry's staff even though he was well aware of the roles they had played under Hitler. Diplomats with Nazi pasts were posted in Arab countries and Latin America where they were unlikely to encounter public criticism.
To read more: http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/0,1518,725248,00.html