He will never vote for Angela Merkel, but he can vouch that the German
chancellor is a staunch friend of Israel’s, former German Foreign Minister
Joschka Fischer said in Tel Aviv on Thursday.
Fischer was speaking at a
symposium on the role of the German Foreign Ministry during the Nazi era. The
event at the Tel Aviv Museum was cohosted by the Israel Council on Foreign
Relations, the Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya, and the Heinrich Böll
During his tenure as foreign minister (1998 to 2005), he
appointed a commission of German, American and Israeli historians to research
the Foreign Ministry’s complicity with the Nazi regime. The findings were
recently released in a 900-page report that has been the subject of considerable
private anguish, public debate and media attention in Germany.
Fischer has been praised in many quarters and criticized in others for
initiating such an investigation, he declined to take the credit and said that
it belonged to a 92- year-old woman by the name of Marga Hensler, who lives in
Bonn. Hensler worked a translator during the Third Reich, and knew a great deal
about former Nazis.
Fischer confessed that he hadn’t really thought about
doing anything to expose the involvement of the Foreign Ministry in the Third
It was fairly common knowledge in Germany after the
Nuremberg trials and after the Eichmann trial, which had been televised and
closely watched by German viewers, he said. Moreover, there had been other cases
and many books and newspaper articles, and Fischer had been under the impression
that Germany had made tremendous progress in confronting its past.
he entered the ministry in 1998, he thought it was all done, and that Germany
had reached consensus. As far as he was concerned, there was no need for further
“It was a mistake, a miscalculation,” he
What contributed to a major change in his attitude was the
publication in a Foreign Ministry magazine of an obituary for Franz Nusslein, a
very senior German diplomat, who during World War II was the prosecutor in
occupied Prague, where he signed thousands of death warrants against people who
allegedly belonged to the resistance. He was also a protégé of Reinhard
Heydrich. But the details of his shameful Nazi past had been omitted from his
Hensler, who knew about Nusslein, wrote a letter of
protest to Fischer, but it did not reach him. It had been dealt with through the
usual bureaucratic channels, and Hensler, incensed at the pro-forma reply she
received from the Foreign Ministry, wrote another letter of protest to
then-chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, complaining about Fischer who, as a
representative of the Green Party – which stood for, among other things, social
justice, nonviolence and democracy – had disappointed her.
brought the complaint to Fischer’s attention. It turned out that Nusslein was on
the United States war criminals list and had been convicted to serve 25 years in
prison, but was released without pardon in the mid-1950s, at which time he
joined the Foreign Service.
After learning about Nusslein, Fischer
decided that there would be no more Foreign Ministry obituaries for former
members of the Nazi Party.
After he made that change, another very senior
diplomat died, and when someone called to ask about the lack of an obituary and
was told the reason, a large advertisement of solidarity with the deceased,
signed by many former diplomats, appeared in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.
The deceased was not only a former Nazi, but a member of the SS.
memorial advertisement shook Fischer to the core and prompted him, in 2004, to
appoint the independent commission of historians. He wanted to know what had
happened from 1933 onwards, and was obsessive about exposing the
“I was naïve. I made a mistake and I had to correct it,” he said
with hindsight, adding: “If you want to praise anyone – praise Marga
The younger generation of Germans was shocked by the report,
said Fischer, because it revealed beyond doubt that “the Foreign Office was an
integral part of the murderous machine of the Holocaust. The closeness of the
Foreign Ministry to the highest SS ranks was a well-hidden
Fischer cited as an example of the ministry’s involvement with
the SS, the head of the Jewish desk who, when he had to declare the reason for
his expenses, stated “killing Jews.”
“This was not only a collaboration;
it was part of the murderous machine,” said Fischer.
The story also
continued after the war. Fischer described the post-war history of the Foreign
Service as “very depressing.”
The reason: “The Foreign Service
successfully rearranged the facts: Hitler was bad. The SS was bad. War criminals
were bad, but the others tried to stay clean.”
Fischer was not
This was the first step of the new narrative. When the Foreign
Service started again in the 1950s, there was a need for new biographies and
control of these biographies. There were more former Nazis in the Foreign
Service than during the Nazi period. Suddenly it became very important to have
been part of the internal German resistance.
“If so many Germans had
resisted Hitler, democracy might have had a better chance; but this was part of
the rearrangement of biographies,” he said Confronting the past is part of the
battle of the German people after WWII, said Fischer.
“You couldn’t deny
the facts of Auschwitz and the moral responsibility of the German
But all that, he insisted, is part of yesteryear. “Democratic
Germany nowadays is firmly based on the rule of law.”
his country to be “a strong democracy with a strong civil
Facing the truth does not in his perception weaken a nation,
but strengthens it.
Asked whether Germany’s friendship toward Israel
would endure, Fischer was adamantly affirmative.
“There is no doubt that
Germany will be Israel’s best friend in Europe,” he said, declaring Germany’s
commitment to its security to be “bipartisan and serious.”
relationship is based on our commitment to our historical, political and moral
responsibilities,” he said.