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Independent commission of historians

Travel costs claim of the head of the so-called Jews Division

Travel costs claim of the head of the so-called "Jews Division", © picture-alliance/dpa

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The Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs established an Independent Commission of Historians in July 2005. Its remit was to examine the role of the Foreign Service during the National Socialist era, how its members perceived and portrayed this role after the re establishment of the Foreign Office in 1951 and, in terms of personnel, how much continuity or otherwise existed with the pre-1945 Foreign Service.

On 28 October 2010 the Commission presented Foreign Minister Westerwelle with the study “The Office and its Past” at an event in the Federal Foreign Office.

Westerwelle: “important historical document”

Foreign Minister Westerwelle called the report “a very important historical document” which contained “shocking revelations”. It showed “how deeply some top diplomats were involved in the regime of injustice”. However, the study was also careful to note that the debate on staff continuity or radical new starts in the Foreign Office after the Nazi dictatorship had to be pursued in a highly differentiated manner.

At the other end of the spectrum, there were diplomats like Gerhart Feine, who were “unknown, but who showed unbelievable courage not least in seeking to protect (...) Jewish citizens at the time”. Westerwelle promised that the study would be “an important contribution to the Foreign Office’s self-reflection in the 140th year of its existence”. It would also become a “fixture” of the training given to Germany’s diplomats.

Work of the Commission

The Commission acted on its own authority and was not bound by any instructions from the Federal Foreign Office. It included both internationally renowned German academics and two distinguished historians from abroad, namely:

Prof. Eckart Conze, University of Marburg (coordinator)
Prof. Norbert Frei, University of Jena
Prof. Peter Hayes, Northwestern University/Illinois
Prof. Klaus Hildebrand, University of Bonn
Prof. Moshe Zimmerman, Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

After identifying and documenting extensive source material, the Commission and its research assistants processed the files of 30 archives in Germany and abroad, including thematic files and various personnel files from the Political Archives of the Federal Foreign Office. A special database was developed to record and process the information collated.

As well as evaluating and analysing archival material and literature, in March 2009 the Commission carried out two major surveys in Bonn and Berlin among members of the Diplomatic Service of the Federal Republic of Germany – especially those who served during the founding and early years. The actual research work ended in the summer of 2009.

The findings of the Independent Commission of Historians will be published by Karl Blessing Verlag under the title “The Office and its Past. German Diplomats in the Third Reich and in the Federal Republic”.

Speech by Federal Minister Westerwelle on the presentation of the study by the Independent Comission of Historians Federal Foreign Office

Additional content

The Political Archive is the 'memory' of the foreign service. It has preserved the files on German foreign policy since 1867, as well as the international treaties signed by the Federal Republic of Germany and its predecessors in title.

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