Historians Deliver Damning Verdict Study Highlights German Foreign Ministry's Role in Holocaust
Part 2: Study Lacks Balance
But Fischer's victory isn't that clear-cut. The study shows that membership in the Nazi party in itself says nothing about the extent of involvement in crimes. But above all, it isn't as balanced as the studies that usually put debates such as this to rest.
It contains repeated references to "the" diplomats even though they didn't all commit crimes, as the book itself emphasizes in another passage. In addition, it assumes that diplomats had demonstrated their support for the "Final Solution" -- the term the Nazis used for the Holocaust -- just by reading the reports filed by the murderous death squads and signing them as read.
The study also creates the impression that several diplomats were involved in murders, but then fails to provide proof.
For example, Krapf was stationed at the German embassy in Tokyo during the war. The historians write: "Little is known about Krapf's activities (editor's note -- in Japan), but it's clear that German diplomats dealt with the 'Final Solution' of the Jewish question even in the Far East." That is supposed to mean: Krapf took part in the genocide somehow.
Former diplomats won't be the only ones to scrutinize such passages. The historians are also likely to face criticism from younger diplomats because the study accuses staff members of having failed to question the official line right up to the 1990s. One high-ranking ministry official said that wasn't true. He pointed to research conducted long ago by the historian Hans-Jürgen Döscher about the crimes committed by diplomats. Staff members had read that research, the official said.
Contrary to the commission's claims, the ministry has already adopted a differentiated view of its own past, the official added. An official brochure published in 1995 says the ministry had contained "several fanatical supporters" and a "considerable number" of people who went along with the Nazis and were indifferent about their crimes.
In a sign of how sensitive the study's findings are, Westerwelle cancelled a joint book presentation with Steinmeier and Fischer after the publishing firm said it planned a panel discussion between the three ministers and the historians.
Westerwelle seems to have had a feeling that he couldn't win in a clash with the eloquent Fischer, for whom confronting Germany's Nazi past has been a lifelong theme and who always relishes taking a swipe at Westerwelle.
New Approach to Dealing With Past
But Westerwelle too has praised the book as "a weighty piece of work" which would help reaffirm the ministry's sense of self. He wants to incorporate the book in the training course for young diplomats and to change the way the ministry observes its traditions.
The ministry also plans to revise any brochures that fail to mention the roles former staff members played during the Nazi era. In addition, it will take a closer look at the portraits of diplomats hanging on the walls of the ministries and of embassies.
It may well be that embassies follow the example of the London embassy, which mentions the Nazi past of Konstantin von Neurath, the foreign minister from 1932 to 1938, beneath a portrait of him. It may be that in future, only portraits of post-war ambassadors will be shown.
The study in itself represents a break with the past in one important respect: The foreign ministry has put itself at the forefront of historical research into its past. The other ministries largely ignore their Nazi history to this day.
- Part 1: Study Highlights German Foreign Ministry's Role in Holocaust
- Part 2: Study Lacks Balance