The Office – the German Foreign Service during the Third Reich
Published: 2011-05-25

A Review and Assessment of a Controversial German Commission Report

by Dr. Claus G. Wagner Bartach

 

Introduction

In the early 1960s, a determined, powerful group of Zionists and Israelis decided to broadcast to the world one of the horrific atrocities of the twentieth century, relating to their special concerns. Out of the more than 100 million deaths of civilians, ethnic minorities and political opponents committed in the 1940s by gruesome draconian totalitarian regimes during and after World War 2, the terrible fate of an alleged six million Jews was determined as a uniquely horrific picture of especially German atrocities and guilt towards Jews in Europe. As inconvenient as the truth may be, the reason for this special emphasis was apparently twofold: to establish a perpetual symbol for the alleged eternal suffering of Jews and to materially and politically benefit from a worldwide emotion of guilt resulting in sympathy towards Jews and Israelis, exempting them from inconvenient scrutiny and criticism of their own crass misbehavior. The term Holocaust was carefully chosen (or “invented”) and broadcast, having a vague abstract background in the Bible. An eager media was blindly following suit.

The Jewish author Norman G. Finkelstein differentiates between the “Nazi holocaust” - in which Jews and other victims were exterminated - and “The Holocaust” - the well-known public “persona” of the event, the image that he alleges is nothing but the product of propaganda of the Jewish establishment. Continuing the financial coercion of the past, “The Jewish establishment,” he tells an interviewer, “was now in a rush to shake down mainly the Swiss on the banks issue, and used pressure exerted by agencies of the American government - [saying] that if they didn't pay up, they would be boycotted in the U.S. There is an extortion racket at work here, and for this alone the extortionists should have been thrown out of public life.”

The Holocaust

In Germany, true and imagined memories of the holocaust are continuously on television, in movies, on stage, in countless monuments, museums and in schools. It is remembered every year on Nov. 9, the anniversary of the night of the broken glass, Kristallnacht, the 1938 assault on German Jewish businesses and synagogues. Germany's current small but agile, demanding and outspoken Jewish community is a living emblem of what happened in that country. About 300,000 strong before the war, it is less now, but growing, comprised of old German Jewish families (my own family had several friends and neighbors in Austria and Germany who were of Jewish extraction and were never in any special physical danger during these times), who were not persecuted, re-immigrants from Israel and thousands of Russian Jews, all of whom benefit from the over-generosity of the numbed-down German government.

Most of Germany's Jews nowadays live peacefully and comfortably and see that country as one of the safest places in the world to raise their children. But one of the leaders of that community is anything but quiet. Michel Friedman, a self-anointed and very controversial television showman, a Jew who gets increasingly on the nerves of a lot of Germans, never letting them forget that they must be careful about what they think and say.1 Friedman flatly states: “I am not responsible that Germany invented the Holocaust. They are responsible, and that's a part of their life.” He has also stated that “the Holocaust is a special case among the many genocides which took place prior to and after it, and which are still taking place“.2 In other words: The Holocaust is a “special case” since it involves the genocide of Jews. All other genocides just kill ordinary, normal human beings.

Most brainwashed Germans do not dare to argue this point. Especially young Germans, born decades after the war, have to bear the burden out of state-supported ignorance. One could ask: Is there an intrinsic risk in raising generation after generation with an imposed shame as the central characteristic of their society? While other countries may grapple with their dark histories from time to time, they have a cleansing mechanism (“Right or Wrong, my Country”), in Germany, certain dark parts of national history, and especially distorted recent history, is a fact of daily life. German have been reeducated, educated and brainwashed for many decades to believe that it is healthy for the central characteristic of their society to be that of feeling guilt. Guilt will give them a feeling, an idea, of themselves. What they have done and what they are responsible for. The above constitutes an absurd aberration of a sick and misinterpreted psychoanalysis, which ends in spiritual and intellectual self-flagellation. The allegorical Walk to Canossa (as done around 1077 by Emperor Henry IV in his dispute with Pope Gregory VII) has been done by the German nation a hundred times over, but no absolution or redemption has ever been in sight.

Another abuse is the way that other countries help to keep alive the image of Germany as an eternally recovering Nazi. The whole nation has been treated as a criminal on probation, and aggressive anti-German Zionist groups work diligently to keep alive the perception that Germans are not yet accepted, and that a German is not yet a normal man or Germany a normal nation. These groups are the ruthless activists and beneficiaries of the Holocaust industry.

The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering is a book published in 2000 by Norman G. Finkelstein which argues that the American Jewish establishment exploits the memory of the Nazi Holocaust for political and financial gain, as well as to further the interests of Israel. According to Finkelstein, this “Holocaust industry” has corrupted Jewish culture and the authentic memory of the Holocaust. Finkelstein's parents were both Holocaust survivors who had been inmates of concentration camps.

Prof. Moshe Zimmerman of the Hebrew University's German history department, who has himself been the target of some criticism for his style, argues that one of Finkelstein's problems is not the content of his claims, but the style in which they are written: “What is irritating about him is his caustic style and choice of words. The claims themselves, both those that attack the centrality of the Holocaust in Jewish-American identity and the compensation affair, contain at least a kernel of truth.”3

Finkelstein analyzes and sharply criticizes the exploitation of the Holocaust for financial profit. He singles out the author and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Elie Wiesel as having reaped great personal benefit. But Finkelstein also assails the general Jewish campaigns to restore property and/or to arrange compensation for assets allegedly stolen during the Third Reich period. He views the campaigns and their methods as “those of extortionist gangsters.”4

Increasingly, Germans feel they have done everything to face up to their past – having paid and still paying billions and billions of dollars for reparations, apologizing, seeking forgiveness. Mind you, nobody of the Victors apologized for the horrific atrocities committed on Germans and German ethnics during and after the War. Based on this background, it is for German historians a challenging task to write about the time during the totalitarian regime of the National Socialist Party.

Besides the new generation of historians having been exposed to the abovementioned manipulative background, objective research is extremely hampered in certain areas by severe restrictions and even federal laws which do not allow to critical scrutiny of state-determined historiography, i.e. distorted historiography established by lawyers and not by historians.

A peculiar way to become known or recognized in a special field of historic interest in Germany these days is to “cooperate” with Jewish and foreign “experts” - experts, who will always redirect any factual research about German history to their only concern and interest: The Holocaust. This has happened recently with the publication of a survey of the activities and functions of the German diplomatic service during the Third Reich and thereafter.

Das Amt und die Vergangenheit (The Office and the Past) chronicles how the German foreign diplomatic service was allegedly aware of the persecution of Jews and was “actively involved,” thus debunking the myth that most German diplomats of that time had managed to keep their hands clean.

Another Book of late Revenge?

A “Historical Commission”, composed of historians Eckart Conze (Germany), Norbert Frei (Germany), Peter Hayes (United States) and Moshe Zimmermann (Israel), was established in 2005 by then German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer (member of the Green Party), to investigate the role of the German Foreign Ministry during the period of Hitler’s rule, and how it was subsequently reestablished in the post-war period. At the end of October 2010, the commission published their abovementioned report Das Amt und die Vergangenheit, which immediately caused extraordinary criticism from different quarters .5

 

The Office – Das Amt

We must start by noting that the Commission has not produced any new or important true information; rather it has re-arranged, re-assessed and re-edited existing and available material and added significant personal and extremely biased ideological comments, which make the result more of a journalistic review than a factual work of historiography.

The book is quite cavalier in its approach, one example being its arbitrary definitions. For example, the Commission says that the claim that the Foreign Office under Hitler's regime was a non-political body, a place of opposition, or even a hotbed of resistance, is a “myth.” Such a historical assessment was cultivated for decades by the post-war Foreign Office of the German Federal Republic.

The fact that the traditional diplomatic elite was slowly displaced by members of the party is also refuted by the commission. “With few exceptions, German diplomats continued their activities, also in the transition from the Weimar Republic to the Third Reich,” it says in the introduction. “From 30 January 1933, the Foreign Ministry became the Foreign Office of the Third Reich, and also functioned as such until 1945. (...) The Foreign Office represented, thought and acted on behalf of the regime”.6

The Commission’s report states that the Foreign Office supported the aggressive policies of the Nazi regime. The motives for this were supposedly manifold: “They ranged from a patriotic mentality of duty—‘one does not desert one’s country because it has a bad government’—to hopes for a re-emergence of Germany as a political power on the basis of authoritarianism, to agreement with the premises of Nazi policy; from hostility to democracy to anti-Semitism”.7

The diplomats supported Hitler not because they were all convinced party members, but because they shared some of Hitler’s most important political goals: “In part, there was a far-reaching identity with the [Nazis’] objectives, which helps explain the continued functioning of the top diplomacy”.8

The Historical Commission shows in cumbersome detail how the process of “self-consolidation” (“Selbstgleichschaltung”) took place in the case of the Foreign Office. It is quite appalling how they “discretely” smear Ernst von Weizsäcker, and his patriotic family.

The Weizsäcker family symbolizes the “continuity of the elites”, which extends from the Kaiser’s Empire to the Weimar Republic, into the Third Reich and from there into the post-war Federal Republic. Karl Hugo von Weizsäcker served the King of Württemberg from 1906 to 1918 as prime minister. He was a loyal supporter of the monarchy. His son, Ernst von Weizsäcker, made a career as an officer in the Imperial Navy and then in 1920, shortly after the founding of the Weimar Republic, joined the Foreign Office. From 1938 to 1943, he served as secretary of state, the number two behind Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop. As a young lawyer, Karl Hugo von Weizsäcker’s grandson Richard von Weizsäcker defended after the war his father Ernst at the so-called Nuremberg Wilhelmstrasse trial (named after the location of the Foreign Office), then made a political career in the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), and from 1984 to 1994 was President of the Federal Republic of Germany.

The Historical Commission can obviously not depict Ernst von Weizsäcker and other senior diplomats as fanatical Nazis. They served Hitler as Germans first and not because they were zealous members of the party. Weizsäcker noted already in 1933, after Hitler took power: “People like us must support the new era. For what would come afterwards if they failed!”9

In 1938 von Weizsäcker, like Chamberlain and Daladier, apparently held the honest illusion that Hitler could be appeased by the ethnic restructuring of the artificially created Czechoslovakia. At Nuremberg, he defended himself with the argument that he wanted to stop a potential war in 1938. The reason for this was not the opposition to Hitler’s foreign policy, but von Weizsäcker’s realistic pessimism about the German chances of victory in a war.

In 1949 in Nuremberg, Ernst von Weizsäcker was sentenced to five years in prison for “crimes against humanity” (a newly established term in war trials - created by parties themselves heavily involved in horrific atrocities), however, he was finally released a year later because of an amnesty. The US military court had found him guilty of “participating” in crimes by the German regime, and in particular in the alleged murder of European Jews. Many German historians and politicians, including his son Richard, deny the historical and moral justification of this absurd ruling.

That it came to a conviction of von Weizsäcker at all was mainly due to the deputy chief prosecutor Robert Kempner, a German Jew who had fled unharmed to the US in the 1930’s. Against him, von Weizsäcker’s defence did emphasize in vain his extremely one-sided, biased and revengeful polemics.10

The Historical Commission also tried to oppose the position that the Foreign Office did not participate in alleged crimes of the Second World War, which, as the Commission allegedly establishes, was from the beginning “a war of conquest and extermination determined by a racist ideology”. This quite distorted comment alone disqualifies any objectivity of the Historical Commission. “The Foreign Office did not stand apart from the rapid erosion of civilized standards and the development towards a murderous war of conquest and destruction”, the Commission concludes. “Regarding the mass deaths of over three million Soviet prisoners of war, regarding the methods of warfare and the criminal character of German occupation policy especially in the East, Wilhelmstrasse [headquarters of the Foreign Service in Berlin] was (...) extremely well informed. German diplomats were (...) assisting the occupation, confidantes, and—time and again—accomplices”.11

This results in a a totally distorted picture, reflecting ignorance and confusion of facts and acts by the members of the Commission.

The same applied to the deportation of European Jews. At the beginning of Nazi rule, while the Foreign Office had “developed terminology that sought to limit Germany’s loss of reputation as result of its Jewish policies”, it later became involved “more and more in the planning, preparation and implementation of measures against the Jewish population of Europe”. “The more territories fell into the sphere of the Third Reich, the more radical Jewish policy became, the more the Foreign Office became involved with the planning and policy of the ‘Final Solution’.”12 These concoctions bear no relevance to the objective truth and contradict the fact that there was never any documentation for central planning for genocide found after the War.

Hans Mommsen speaks out

Das Amt und die Vergangenheit found first – as usual in Germany for books of this type - a largely positive response in some political circles and the media when the book was presented to the public in late October 2010. Then on November 16, the senior historian Hans Mommsen spoke out in the Frankfurter Rundschau with a first critical review.13 (Mommsen is a leading expert on Nazi Germany and the Holocaust. He is a functionalist in regard to the origins of the Holocaust, seeing the Final Solution as a result of some “cumulative radicalization” of the German state as opposed to a long-term plan on the part of Adolf Hitler).14

In this first article, Mommsen described the book, compliant with the German official party line, as a kind of “masterpiece” and acknowledged that the authors were “quite outstanding compilers of some history” with “adequate staff.” Two weeks later, however, and after other critical voices had begun to be raised, he sounded more serious and irritated. In an interview with Deutschlandfunk radio, Mommsen characterized the authors in a rather negative manner.15 He described them as “gentlemen publishers, who moreover did not necessarily do the work themselves”, accusing them of “massive failures” and recommending that they take an introductory history seminar, that is, a beginners’ course. He criticized the fact that the assignment had been delegated to the Commission by a ministry, claiming this was the “government-directed science of history”, placing the Commission’s independence in question. One must remember here that Germany has a law forbidding research of the holocaust that would contradict the legally accepted version!

Mommsen had already formulated the core of his substantive criticisms in his first article in the Frankfurter Rundschau. In this, he complained about “the tendency of the authors, which surfaces everywhere, to identify the plans for the deportation of Jewish citizens, or the creation of ‘Jewish reservations’ with the later practice of mass destruction”. That was certainly true in the end result, he said, “but before the Wannsee Conference, it was not the specific orientation of the actions of the Nazis”. A strong apostate statement for a German historian.

Mommsen’s argument amounts to the claim that the genocidal dimension of the Nazi persecution of the Jews was not predictable because it had only assumed some vague and undocumented form at the Wannsee Conference in January 1942. Thus he does not want to consider the support provided by the Foreign Office to justify the Nuremberg racial laws, to prepare the plans for deportations to Madagascar and Poland and to implement other anti-Semitic measures as sharing responsibility for the subsequent mass deportations and extermination.

He accuses the Historical Commission of not understanding the practical implementation of the Holocaust as the “result of a gradual process.” Therefore, it lost “sight of a self-evolution of the ‘ultimate goal’ in the shadows of official secrecy”. “Time and again”, it was “assumed that the ‘Final Aim’ and its attainment existed a priori in people’s minds”.

Here, Mommsen accuses the Historical Commission of adopting implicitly a position that they do not explicitly take themselves. Nowhere does the Commission say that the “ultimate goal”— mass shootings, gas chambers, Auschwitz—“existed a priori in people’s minds”. Such a presentation would be unhistorical, indeed.

The consequences of Hitler’s coming to power could be seen long in advance. Nazism was an expression of reactionary tendencies of German imperialism. Already in the spring of 1932, Leon Trotsky, a political communist observer and an equally radical fanatic of his time, published an article entitled “Hitler’s victory means war against the USSR”.16

The Nazis’ anti-Semitism was never a secret, at the latest it became clear since the Kristallnacht pogrom of November 9. 1938. In 1938, Ernst von Weizsäcker allegedly told the Swiss ambassador in Paris that the Jews had to leave Germany, “or they would meet their destruction in the short or long term.” And on January 30, 1939 in the Reichstag (parliament), Hitler threatened openly that if “international finance Jewry” once again plunged the peoples into a world war, the result would be “the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe”. Both are quoted by the Historical Commission.17

Mommsen counter-poses the “plans for the deportation of Jewish citizens” and “the later practice of mass destruction”. The deportation plans, in which the Foreign Office was active, were the immediate precursor of mass resettlements. They were part of a general scheme for massive resettlement and depopulation, an “ethnic land clearance project”, as Hitler called it. It was not an extermination plan. No-one had forced Weizsäcker and the other officials at the Foreign Office to endorse, approve and accept this “ethnic land clearance project”. They could have come out of what Mommsen calls the “shadows of official secrecy”, however, they did not openly do this.

Mommsen repeatedly comes back to the same point. In his interview with Deutschlandfunk he expressed “dismay” and concern that the Historical Commission had not been more “nuanced” in its treatment of the “totalitarian conditions” under which the Foreign Office was involved in the enforcement of the Holocaust.

In a further contribution to the Süddeutsche Zeitung, he said that the commission had exposed the role of the Foreign Office, “in the form of a ‘strategy of exposure’ without regard to the particular chronological context”. He refers to the hysteria that is meted out to those who call for a “more nuanced assessment of the role of the Foreign Office”.18

Mommsen is particularly irritated that Commissioner Eckart Conze describes the Foreign Office as a “criminal organization”—as if a body serving an alleged criminal regime could somehow be otherwise.

Mommsen further objected to the attempted rewriting of history by the Commission, claiming on Deutschlandfunk that: “The overall impression is created that the Foreign Office was the decisive or major driving force in the enforcement of the Holocaust.” This was “just not right.” The key movers were to be found in the apparatus of Himmler (SS) and Heydrich (SD), he claims.

 

Gregor Schöllgen and Daniel Koerfer comments

Following Mommsen, other historians have contributed with additional critical comments. Gregor Schöllgen, an acknowledged specialist in German foreign policy, published an indignant article in the cultural section of the Süddeutsche Zeitung. He accuses the commission of not adequately addressing the extensive, publicly available edition of the Akten zur Deutschen Auswärtigen Politik 1918-1945 (“Documents on German Foreign Policy 1918-1945”, ADAP) and the Akten zur Auswärtigen Politik der Bundesrepublik Deutschland (“Documents on the foreign policy of the Federal Republic of Germany” (AAPD), edited by himself. The Commission report creates the false impression that the “Foreign Office had consistently denied its history for decades, or worse still, had consciously misled the public”, he claims.19

The historian Daniel Koerfer attacked also the objectivity and truth of the report of the Commission. A long conversation which he held with Frank Schirrmacher, an editor of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, culminated in the accusation that it is a fanatic “book of revenge”.20

Koerfer is an honorary professor at the Free University in Berlin, teaching contemporary history. His grandfather, Gerhart Feine, worked under von Weizsäcker at the Foreign Office. In his posting in Budapest, he opposed the deportation of Hungarian Jews. Koerfer’s godfather, Helmut Becker, defended Ernst von Weizsäcker at Nuremberg. At that time, as Koerfer stated it himself, “he mobilized the entire network of the two families in Germany to defend von Weizsäcker” against wrongful accusations.

Political Background

The fierce controversy that has erupted 65 years after the fall of the Third Reich around Das Amt und die Vergangenheit has not only historical but also current foundations. Ever since the German reunification 20 years ago, German foreign policy has again become increasingly self-assured and sovereign. Since the 1990s several major German companies and banks, which in the 1980s still fiercely resisted opening up their archives, commissioned historical research on the roles of their companies during the time of the Third Reich. They have now been joined by the Foreign Ministry and, more recently, the Federal Ministry of Finance. These late initiatives have been motivated by aggressive threats by ruthless Zionist groups who are specialized in blackmailing industry and banks with worldwide dire consequences if these vulnerable but lucrative targets would not kick back funds to them. An important defense against these tactics has been to utilize an open debate on such historical matters to guard against those seeking legal redress or sanctions.

The effective goal of the Historical Commission was also seen in this way by the German Foreign Ministry, as made clear by Frank-Walter Steinmeier (SPD), Foreign Minister from 2005 to 2009, when presenting the report in Berlin. “Hardly anyone knows better than those in the Foreign Ministry that some shadows of the past are catching up with us all over the world,” he said. “But also, no one knows better what we can win if we face up to this past, without taboos, without myths, confident, courageous, humbly and without pride.”

Steinmeier and Fischer seem to believe that German foreign policy can gain more clout if there is a more open approach to dealing with the past, which, however, as usual is based on self-flagellation. In doing so, they encounter complaints from the “old boys’ network” that their “honor” is being impugned. The extent of the criticism that has been leveled against the report of the Historical Commission shows, however, that there are a growing number of Germans who do not believe in the efficacy of such an approach, especially if and when the objectivity and facts are in question.

Conclusion

For anyone who is interested in the factual history of those tumultuous times, the “review” of the Commission has collected and rehashed a lot of normally widely distributed information. It is thus a practical collection, but there is nothing new or specially revealing contained in it. The problem an objective observer would have with this book is the many comments or commentaries or innuendos by the diverse “commentators” or historians (who may have a special personal agenda), reflecting biased and one-sided thinking, invidious assessments, and even the distortion of facts.

However, overall, it is a good example of a government’s tentacles slowly penetrating traditional or orthodox channels. Ideology is always at the forefront of any diplomatic service of any country, yet practical implementation is normally restricted to “home-based” departments and authorities. This was so with the German Foreign Office, too. This fact cannot be rewritten into the history of the “Office”, as much as some people would like to do.

In Mommsen's view, the only determinant of German foreign policy was the need to maintain prestige with the German public. In an argument consistent with the school of “Primat der Innenpolitik” (“primacy of domestic politics”) Mommsen wrote that the foreign policy of the Third Reich “was in its form domestic policy projected outwards, which was able to conceal the increasing loss of reality only by maintaining political dynamism through incessant action. As such it became ever more distant from the chance of political stabilization”.21

When will the national self-flagellation in Germany as evidenced by the reviewed report, based as it is on biased or distorted opinions, finally come to an end?

Prof. Dr. Claus G. Wagner Bartach is a multilingual polymath and research historian of culture and politics relating to the German people. He lives in the USA.


2 Raphael Geiger, “Ich habe Marcuse mit 16 begriffen”, http://streitbar.org/artikel_display.php?id=454

3 Yair Sheleg, “The Finkelstein polemic”, Ha'aretz Magazine, 30 March 2001 Online: http://www.normanfinkelstein.com/article.php?pg=3&ar=11

4 “'It Takes an Enormous Amount of Courage to Speak the Truth When No One Else is Out There'— World-Renowned Holocaust, Israel Scholars Defend DePaul Professor Norman Finkelstein”, online: http://www.democracynow.org/2007/5/9/it_takes_an_enormous_amount_of

5 Eckart Conze, Norbert Frei, Peter Hayes, Moshe Zimmermann, Das Amt und die Vergangenheit: Deutsche Diplomaten im Dritten Reich und in der Bundesrepublik, (“The Foreign Office and the Past: German Diplomats in the Third Reich and the Federal Republic”), Blessing Verlag 2010.

6 Ibid., p. 13.

7 Ibid.

8 Ibid.

9 Ibid., p. 69.

10 Ibid., p. 429.

11 Ibid., p. 167.

12 Ibid., p. 168, 170.

13 “Das ganze Ausmaß der Verstrickung”, (“The full extent of involvement”), Frankfurter Rundschau, 16 November 2010.

14 Martin Menke, “Mommsen, Hans”, in: Kelly Boyd (ed.), The Encyclopedia of Historians and Historical Writing, vol. 2, Fitzroy Dearborn Publishing, London 1999, p. 826.

15 “Das ist schon ein ziemlicher Makel”, (“This is really quite a blemish”), Deutschlandfunk, 30 November 2010

16 Leon Trotsky, Schriften über Deutschland, (“Writings on Germany”), Frankfurt am Main 1971, p. 308 ff.

17 Das Amt und die Vergangenheit, op.cit., p. 173

18“Vergebene Chancen”, (“Missed Opportunities”), Süddeutsche Zeitung, 27 December 2010

19 “Akten ohne Ende”, (“Files without end”), Süddeutsche Zeitung, 7 December 2010.

20 “Macht 'Das Amt' es sich zu einfach?” (“Is ‘The Foreign Office’ making it is too easy?"), Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 29 November 2010.

21Quoted in Ian Kershaw, The Nazi Dictatorship, Arnold, London 2000, p. 139.


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