In 2005, Joschke Fischer, then foreign minister, appointed a commission of historians to examine the role of the Foreign Office in the Nazi era, first in-house, later international scholars. Their 900-page report has just come out.
It documents in detail how officials of the ministry participated, from the very beginning, “in the persecution, expropriation, expulsion and extermination of the Jews.” Fischer and the current foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, were appalled by the extent of the complicity, and its cover-up. Since 1945, great efforts had been made to create the impression that the ministry in fact exercised a moderating influence. By no means, said the report. Part of the training of young diplomats, for example, was not only a visit to the Führer on his mountaintop Obersalzberg, but also of the Dachau concentration camp. After 1945, lists were distributed warning colleagues against travelling to countries where they might be prosecuted as war criminals.
A revelation about Ernst von Weizsäcker, the father of former president Richard von Weizsäcker, now ninety years old, was particularly astounding. In a letter written in 1936, Ernst von Weizsäcker, then second-in-command under foreign minister Ribbentropp, wrote that there was no longer any objection to depriving Thomas Mann of his nationality since the writer was spreading propaganda against the regime from abroad. In an interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, the son said that he did not know of his father’s letter, and that his father had attempted “whenever there was a change in the European situation” to preserve the peace.
Ernst von Weizsäcker was convicted in Nuremberg in 1949 in the Wilhelmstrassen-Prozess for crimes against humanity, specifically for his involvement in the deportation of French Jews to Auschwitz, and served time in prison.