Historical study of German Foreign Ministry attracts controversy

Historians in the News

In late October, a group of historians published a surprisingly popular and controversial study of the German Foreign Ministry's complicity in Nazi crimes. DW spoke to one of the authors, Professor Norbert Frei.

The book, entitled "The Foreign Ministry and the Past," was commissioned in 2005 by then Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, after a minor scandal surrounding his decision not to pay the customary retirement honors to diplomats with Nazi pasts.

The 800-plus-page study documents the general lack of resistance by diplomats to Nazism and, in some cases, their active participation in Nazi crimes. It also described how many diplomats with Nazi backgrounds were quickly reintegrated into the reformed post-war German Foreign Ministry in West Germany.

The book has sold surprisingly well to a broad audience. But even four months after publication, it continues to attract critics, who say that it offers nothing new or doesn't present a nuanced portrait of diplomats' ability to act during the Third Reich.

Deutsche Welle talked to one of the authors, Norbert Frei, Professor of History at the University of Jena.

DW: The commission's work was both to collect facts about and offer a general analysis of the German Foreign Ministry. Can you tell us about that and the discussions and perhaps disagreements between the individual committee members?

Norbert Frei: Right from the very beginning, there was a lot of agreement about what the commission's job was: not just to investigate how the foreign office functioned and became complicit during the Third Reich, but also to look at continuities beyond 1945 in terms of personnel and mentality. In this sense there was consensus about how we organized our work....

comments powered by Disqus