From Dictatorship to Democracy The Role Ex-Nazis Played in Early West Germany


By , Georg Bönisch, Thomas Darnstaedt, , and

Part 2: The Grandchildren Want to Know

And the grandchildren want to know. A specialized history book like "Das Amt" ("The Department") hasn't had this much success as a bestseller in a long time. The publisher, Blessing Verlag, has already sold more than 75,000 copies of the €34.95 thriller about the Nazi foreign ministry.

In 2005, then Foreign Minister and Green Party member Joschka Fischer deployed a commission of historians to trace the new activities of old Nazis in his ministry back to their roots. In a dispute over obituaries for deceased diplomats, which are customarily couched in reverential terms, it had become apparent that the spirit of yesterday still hovered above the Foreign Ministry, especially when it came to diplomats with a Nazi past.

It was only the work of the historians deployed by Fischer that finally debunked the legend that the diplomats had been part of a secret resistance cell in the Third Reich. The story first emerged in the years after the war when, following the Nuremberg Trials, officials from Hitler's foreign ministry were also put on trial. At the time, Ernst von Weizsäcker, the former secretary of state in Hitler's foreign ministry, defended himself against the accusation that he had been a willing helper to the dictatorship. One of the supporters of his cause was his son Richard, who later became the German president.

This old theory was still quasi-official in 1979, when Hans-Dietrich Genscher (FDP) was the foreign minister. "The Foreign Ministry put up a fierce and sustained resistance to the plans of the Nazi leaders, and yet was unable to prevent the worst from happening," a brochure titled "Foreign Policy Today" declared.

In truth, it wasn't just a few implanted Nazis who participated in the Holocaust through the so-called Judenreferat (Jewish Department). In fact, the entire ministry implemented the political dictates of the rogue regime with the practiced effectiveness of a functioning government agency. The Foreign Ministry was "part of this monstrous dictatorship, and it performed its duties," says Norbert Frei, a historian from the eastern German city of Jena and one of the authors of the study.

'Maintaining the Continuity of Berlin Tradition'

After the war, the restoration of former officials to positions in the Foreign Ministry occurred at an astonishing rate. The political division alone soon counted 13 former Nazi Party members among its top officials, while 11 of the 17 senior members of the legal department were former Nazis. "There is no other federal ministry," then SPD parliamentarian Fritz Erler concluded, "that is maintaining the continuity of Berlin tradition in this manner than the Foreign Ministry."

The restoration of the old elites also had consequences for foreign policy, which veteran diplomats still deny to this day. Old Nazis were usually sent to posts in South America and Arab countries, where they shaped the image of the supposedly new republic. The diplomats repeatedly took steps to protect Nazis hiding abroad and accused war criminals from persecution.

In the 1950s, the German embassy in Buenos Aires unquestioningly issued travel documents to the family of Adolf Eichmann, one of the key organizers of the Holocaust, for a trip to Germany. No one bothered to draw any conclusions about Eichmann's whereabouts.

As SPIEGEL revealed in 1968, the main legal protection office at the Foreign Ministry even developed into a "warning service" for old Nazis. With the help of the Red Cross, the diplomats informed about 800 Germans and Austrians that they should avoid traveling to France, because they had been convicted of war crimes there and could run into "difficulties."

The case of the Finance Ministry, in particular, highlights the dangerous pragmatism adopted by West Germany's founders in their personnel policies. Shortly after the new constitution had come into effect, Konrad Adenauer, postwar West Germany's first chancellor and anything but a Nazi sympathizer, demanded an "end to this sniffing out of Nazis."

"You can't build a Finance Ministry if you don't have at least a few people in senior positions who understand something about earlier history," Adenauer told the parliament, seeking to justify his support of staffing continuity.

An Abominable Lawyer

The chancellor, for his part, entrusted himself and his chancellery to Hans Globke, a former official in Hitler's interior ministry and one of the authors of the Nuremberg race laws. The man Adenauer once called "my dear Herr Globke" was the most powerful government official in Germany for a time, even though anyone who wanted to know could easily consult the abominable lawyer's anti-Semitic concoctions. He was responsible for the mandatory assignment of the first names Israel and Sara to Jews in Nazi Germany. The ability to quickly identify someone as a Jew was one of the preconditions of the Holocaust.

Globke was the most capable civil servant that the new country believed it had at its disposal. Part of his competence had to do with the precision with which he once distinguished among different classifications of Jews: "The three-eighths Jew, who has one fully Jewish and one half-Jewish grandparent, is considered a crossbreed with one fully Jewish grandparent, while the five-eighths Jews with two fully Jewish grandparents and one half-Jewish grandparent is considered a crossbreed with two fully Jewish grandparents." With the same Prussian bureaucrat's sense of perfection, Globke also developed Adenauer's center of power, the Federal Chancellery at Schaumburg Palace. Globke was adept at pleasing everyone. During the Nuremberg war crimes trials, he even appeared as both a witness for the defense and a witness for the prosecution.

Only once did the past catch up with Adenauer's senior state secretary. When it was revealed that Globke, as an assistant department head in the Nazi interior ministry, had announced that "the independent state of Luxembourg was dissolved" as a result of the Nazi occupation, Luxembourg demanded that Globke return the Grand Cross of the Order of the Oak Crown, which the small country had conferred on him after the war, in 1957.

This didn't seem to trouble Adenauer, who said: "I don't know of anyone who could replace Globke." The "Globke System," which SPIEGEL ridiculed at the time, wasn't just a system of spinning thread that all came together at the Chancellery. It was also a system that was holding together the young Federal Republic. Globke was a defining force in West Germany. The country needed men like him, people who were flexible and experienced -- and who didn't look back.

Institutions that, unlike the Finance Ministry, were newly established in the spirit and on the foundation of the new constitution, also employed people formerly affiliated with the Nazis. As the new study shows, former SS members with Gestapo experience were employed at the BfV as wiretapping and postal surveillance experts -- initially as free agents, "because, after all, they did have to respect the fact that these people were tainted," then BfV President Hubert Schrübbers once noted. Schrübbers himself was later removed from office over allegations of his own Nazi past. But nothing against Hitler's Gestapo. "These people were experts," a former senior BfV official said in 1965.

There was no looking back when the Globke system dominated the entire security apparatus. Even contemporaries suspected that Nazi-era experts were given jobs in the intelligence services of the new republic and at the Federal Office of Criminal Investigation (BKA).

The British press openly scoffed at the "Gestapo Boys" working for the organization headed by Reinhard Gehlen, the precursor of the Federal Intelligence Service (BND). The networks of old Nazis were also an issue in Bonn. SPD opposition leader Kurt Schumacher took Adenauer to task, claiming that the intelligence service was "infiltrated" with men from the vicious SD -- the intelligence service of the SS.

Today, experts estimate that about one in 10 of Gehlen's employees came from the empire of SS chief Heinrich Himmler, bringing the total to a few hundred men. They do not include those who may have been involved in murder campaigns while wearing the gray uniform of the Nazi armed forces, the Wehrmacht, or as Nazi officials.

The situation was even worse at the BKA. At times, former members of the SS's Totenkopf division held more than two-thirds of all senior positions. When the agency began looking into the past of its employees in 1960, about 100 officials, or a quarter of the entire workforce, were investigated.

The payrolls of the BKA, BND and BfV include men like former SS Oberführer Wilhelm Krichbaum, who, as head of the Geheime Feldpolizei (Secret Military Police), tortured and killed tens of thousands of "suspected partisans" on the Eastern Front. Krichbaum joined the Gehlen Organization in 1948 and was soon put in charge of its district office in the Bavarian town of Bad Reichenhall.


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