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Holocaust Crimes by German Diplomats Exposed, Ending `Cover-Up'

Joschka Fischer
Joschka Fischer, Germany's foreign minister under Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. In 2005, he commissioned a historical study of the role played by the Foreign Ministry during the Nazi era, published this week. Photographer: Michele Tantussi/Bloomberg

Germany’s foreign service played a bigger role in the Holocaust than previously acknowledged, with diplomats actively engaged in deporting, dispossessing and murdering Jews, a study reveals.

The book, commissioned by former foreign minister Joschka Fischer in 2005, also exposes to what extent the diplomatic service of the Federal Republic of Germany retained the same staff when it was set up after the war, and how it sought to whitewash its activities under Adolf Hitler’s dictatorship. The book debunks the myth that the Foreign Ministry served as a center for the resistance.

“The results are a shock,” Fischer told an audience of about 1,000 at a presentation late yesterday. “This report shows that the Foreign Ministry was part of the Nazis’ extermination machine.”

The book, “Das Amt und die Vergangenheit: Deutsche Diplomaten im Dritten Reich und in der Bundesrepublik” (“The Ministry and the Past: German Diplomats in the Third Reich and the Federal Republic”), will from now on be part of the training syllabus for German diplomats, the current minister, Guido Westerwelle, said in a speech yesterday.

The contributing historians -- Eckart Conze, Norbert Frei, Peter Hayes and Moshe Zimmermann -- gained access to files that were previously secret. Before their study, the Foreign Ministry had “covered up facts” and “maintained an extremely restrictive archive policy,” the historians write.

“German foreign policy makers made ‘resolving the Jewish question’ and then ‘the final solution’ their task; putting it into action became part of the remit of German diplomats across Europe,” the historians write.

Contact With Himmler

They describe contacts between the Foreign Ministry and Heinrich Himmler’s Reichssicherheitshauptamt, the center of Nazi terror, as “fluid.” The R.S.H.A. sent regular reports to the ministry during the war, informing it in detail about the number of Jews killed by SS death squads in Eastern Europe.

As early as 1933, diplomats’ training included a reception with Hitler in his Alpine retreat and a visit to the Dachau concentration camp. The ministry organized the expulsion of thousands of Jews and opponents of the Nazi regime -- Willy Brandt, Albert Einstein and Thomas Mann among them.

Franz Rademacher, the ministry official responsible for implementing Hitler’s anti-Semitic policies, traveled to Serbia in 1941. On his expense claim, accessible to everyone in the ministry’s accounts department, he described the reason for his trip as “liquidation of Jews in Belgrade.”

Wannsee Conference

The ministry was represented by its state secretary Martin Luther at the 1942 Wannsee conference, which paved the way for the murder of the Jews in the death camps. The only minutes of the conference found after 1945 were in the Foreign Ministry’s files.

“When war breaks out, the role of the diplomatic service disappears,” Conze said at the presentation. “So diplomats were seeking tasks, and they turned to the central project of the Nazis: The persecution and extermination of the Jews.”

When the Federal Republic of Germany established its Foreign Ministry in 1951, 40 percent of the diplomats in high office were former members of the Nazi Party. These included Ernst Kutscher, whose job description in 1944 was “anti-Jewish action abroad.” He worked as a diplomat in Paris in the 1960s and continued his career in Brussels.

Stigmatized as Traitor

Yet Fritz Kolbe, who refused to join the Nazi Party and secretly passed documents to the U.S. beginning in 1943, was stigmatized as a traitor after the war and denied work as a diplomat. The ministry has only honored Kolbe’s resistance since 2004, naming a hall in its Berlin headquarters after him.

As late as 1979, a Foreign Ministry brochure said it “provided persistent opposition that succeeded in stalling the Nazi government’s plans, without being able to prevent the worst.”

That was a myth “cultivated over decades,” the historians conclude. Those who were part of the resistance -- such as Gerhard Feine, a diplomat in Budapest who helped many Hungarian Jews escape deportation to the death camps -- were “outsiders” working individually, they write.

War Crimes

It was the curriculum vitae of Franz Nuesslein that prompted Fischer to address the way the Foreign Ministry dealt with its past. As a prosecutor in occupied Czech territories during World War II, Nuesslein approved hundreds of death sentences against Czech citizens, and was sentenced to 20 years in jail for war crimes in 1948. In 1955, he used his connections to secure a post in the West German diplomatic corps. He ended his career in 1974 as Consul General in Barcelona.

After his death, the Foreign Ministry published a flattering tribute in its magazine. It was brought to Fischer’s attention by a reader, Marga Henseler, who was outraged that a war criminal could receive such an honor.

After that, Fischer decreed that diplomats with a Nazi past should no longer receive an obituary, and later commissioned the historical study.

“Das Amt und die Vergangenheit” is published by Karl Blessing Verlag in Germany.

(Catherine Hickley writes for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are her own.)

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