BERLIN – Germany’s diplomats were much more deeply involved in carrying out the Holocaust than previously known, according to a new report about the Foreign Ministry’s Nazi past published Monday.
Despite decades-long efforts by ministry employees to present the foreign office as a place of opposition during the Third Reich, diplomats were actually willing participants in the Nazis’ campaign against the Jews, the report concluded – from spying on Jewish-German emigrants abroad to actively contributing to the mass murder of Europe’s Jewry until 1945.
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“The German Foreign Ministry collaborated with the Nazis’ violent politics and especially assisted in all aspects of the discrimination, deportation, persecution and genocide of the Jews,” Eckhart Conze, one of four historians who helped prepare the official report on the German Foreign Ministry’s involvement in the Holocaust, said Monday.
Former Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer commissioned the report while he was in office in 2005. His decision was prompted by a public debate over the ministry’s Nazi past, after it became known that the ministry was still publishing well-meaning obituaries about former employees who were committed Nazis.
Conze, a history professor at Marburg University, and his three colleagues spent four years preparing the 900-page government report. The book, called The Office and the Past: German Diplomats in the Third Reich and the Federal Republic, was released in stores Monday and will officially be handed over to Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle on Thursday.
Westerwelle told German Television ARD on Sunday that he was thinking of making it mandatory reading material for all future diplomats.
The American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants welcomed the report and said Germany had “taken an honest and painful look at its past.” The group’s vice president, Elan Steinberg, said that “previous efforts to whitewash the role of the Foreign Ministry and its personnel in the crimes of the Holocaust are now categorically refuted.”
For decades, leading employees of the Foreign Ministry had always upheld the notion that their ministry was not involved in executing the Nazis’ fascist ideology and also not involved in the so-called “final solution” – the mass murder of European Jewry, Conze said.
Yet, several documents the team of historians retrieved during their research in 32 different archives worldwide and material they found out about in dozens of interviews with eyewitnesses, painted a starkly different picture.
Leading staff members of the Foreign Office were involved in the organized killings of Jews, the historians’ report shows.
For example, Conze said, documents indicate Franz Rademacher, head of the ministry’s so-called Jew Department, traveled to Serbia during the Third Reich to help organize the killing of Jews in eastern Europe.
The historians found Rademacher’s travel expenses from a trip to Serbia in October 1941 which he had titled “liquidation of Jews in Belgrade” – one of many documents the historians said showed employees were aware and actively supported the Nazis’ efforts.
The report noted young Foreign Ministry attaches’ were made to visit Dachau concentration camp in Bavaria as part of their training up until the outbreak of World War II in 1939.
Though mass-scale extermination of Jews had not begun by that point, the mandatory concentration camp visits would have set a very anti-Semitic tone within the ministry, the historians concluded.
Similar indoctrination methods by the Nazis were also carried out at other ministries, the police and the courts, with the goal of creating an ideologically uniform elite.
In addition to looking at the ministry’s Third Reich past, the historians also looked at how it reemployed known Nazis immediately after the war – some then went on to have successful careers in postwar West Germany.
Many Foreign Ministry staffers even went a step further and helped convicted war criminals from getting arrested abroad.
“Even in the 1950s and 1960s, convicted war criminals were warned again
and again by foreign office staffers to not travel to certain countries
where they might have been arrested,” Conze said.
The New York-based Holocaust Survivors organization expressed
satisfaction that the report sheds light on a chapter that had remained
shrouded in secrecy more than six decades on.
Steinberg, the vice president of the group, added, “This report is a
pointed reminder of the broad cross-section of German society and
institutions which were implicated in the Holocaust and the brutalities
of the Nazi regime.”