25 October 2010
A task force of historians commissioned in 2005 by then German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer has found that during the Nazi-era many diplomats at the Foreign Office were in the Holocaust and covered up their involvement in the crimes after the end of World War II. Fischer said he was “disgusted” by the revelations. A report by four historians confirms that diplomats actively assisted in the prosecution and killing of Jews by the Nazis, contrary to impression conveyed by the German Foreign Office after the war of a ministry that disapproved of the Nazis’ actions and tried preserve a certain distance to the Hitler regime.
"The Foreign Ministry was a criminal organization," the news magazine ‘Der Spiegel’ quoted the chairman of the historians’ panel, Eckart Conze, as saying. After five years of probing diplomatic archives, Conze said the German Foreign Office had supported Nazi violence at every point and played a key role in the killing of Jews across Europe. Claims that officials had resisted the will of the Nazi Party were false, Conze said. In fact, the ministry usually helped the Nazis even before it was asked to do so.
The 880-page report entitled ‘The Office and the Past’ was written by Conze and fellow historians Norbert Frei (Germany), Peter Hayes (USA) and Moshe Zimmermann (Israel). It will be published as a book this week. In one chilling document, the Nazi-era official in charge of Jews, Franz Rademacher, justified why he had to travel on an official mission to Belgrade. "Liquidation of Jews in Belgrade and talks with Hungarian envoys in Budapest," he wrote.
The report also finds that post-war Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, who also served as German foreign minister from 1951 to 1955, kept many of the Nazi-era diplomats on staff. As diplomatic envoys they were often sent to Arab countries or Latin America, where public protest over their past was less likely. In 1966, then Foreign Minister Willy Brandt, who would later become chancellor, maintained Ernst Achenbach as a top diplomat, despite his involvement in the Holocaust. Achenbach had been a high-ranking staff member at the German Embassy in Paris during the war and was "actively involved in deportations", the historians said. He managed to block until 1974 an agreement with Paris allowing Nazis who had committed crimes in France to be prosecuted. The cover-up continued at least into the 1980s, when the ministry declined to hand over damaging documents from the Third Reich to researchers.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle hailed the report as "an important work" that would help the ministry to know itself. His predecessor, the current opposition leader Frank-Walter Steinmeier, said it was "incredible" that it took 60 years to launch the inquiry. Diplomats had refused to look into the Foreign Office’s past until Fischer complained that the ministry was writing admiring obituaries for former Nazis.
The American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants hailed the report as shedding light on a chapter that had remained shrouded in secrecy more than six decades on. "Germany has taken an honest and painful look at its past," Elan Steinberg, vice-president of the organization, said in a statement. "Previous efforts to whitewash the role of the foreign ministry and its personnel in the crimes of the Holocaust are now categorically refuted. 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," Steinberg emphasized.
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