Speech by State Secretary Silberberg at a conference hosted by the Evangelische Akademie zu Berlin in honour of Adam von Trott zu Solz's 100th birthday

18.06.2009 - Speech

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Ms Clarita von Trott zu Solz,

members of the von Trott zu Solz family,

ladies and gentlemen,

The archive at the Federal Foreign Office contains a personnel file on Adam von Trott zu Solz. The last page in the file is a simple, inconspicuous payment order. It is dated 25 September 1944. By then, Adam von Trott had been dead for a month – he was executed on 26 August 1944 in Plötzensee. He was only 35 years old.

This inconspicuous administrative form states that the recovery of a salary, paid in error, was not being sought as, “given the circumstances”, it was no longer creditable or recoverable.

With this piece of paper, the Central Cash Office wrote off a human life. The bureaucratic accuracy of that system of terror is shocking and shameful, even more than 60 years later. What happened then has not been forgotten, and we can never allow it to be forgotten. Every morning I walk past a plaque in the Federal Foreign Office that commemorates Adam von Trott zu Solz and others that fought for justice and morality during the National Socialist reign of terror. This uncompromising stance cost them their lives.

This year, 9 August marks the 100th birthday of Adam von Trott zu Solz. It's the occasion for this conference, for which I would like to commend you. It is important to keep alive the memory of those who were active in the resistance efforts against dictatorship and injustice, particularly in order to pass this knowledge on to future generations. Adam von Trott zu Solz stands for those who were torn between tradition and morality, between love for one's country – which he adamantly professed time and again – and the resistance to which he was devoted, even going so far as to support the plot of 20 July 1944. He was also a German diplomat, dedicated to the Federal Foreign Office. He outlined the foreign policy principles for a post-National Socialism Germany and in the opposition circles he was known as the “foreign minister of the resistance”.

Franz Josef Furtwängler, a much less famous co-conspirator and member of von Trott's staff at the Federal Foreign Office wrote in his memoirs after the Second World War: “Adam von Trott was characterized by three things: diplomatic genius, a genuine love of humanity and contempt for any personal danger. [...] While he was alive and after his death, I often imagined what this young genius could have done for the downtrodden German people after the Hitler catastrophe was over – merely through the example he set and his creativity. Now Adam von Trott inspires and lives on in the memories of those who knew him.”

Von Trott was highly regarded and trusted. Had the assassination attempt of 20 July succeeded, many thought he would have become State Secretary of the Federal Foreign Office – and I would have been proud to be his successor in this function.

Von Trott met all the criteria that were considered ideal for a diplomatic career at the time: his family had a tradition of civil service, he was trained as a lawyer, of Protestant faith and came from a good family. The son of a Prussian culture minister, he was raised in a liberal, cosmopolitan environment. His neighbours in idyllic northern Hesse were of different cultural backgrounds and many of them were Jewish. The young Adam was close to the Seeliger family. He would often stop at the working-class family's house for a piece of cake on his way home from Latin lessons. It was here that he learned the tradition of lighting a candle on the Sabbath. Throughout his life he maintained close relationships with Jewish friends.

After completing his university entrance exams, von Trott studied law and political science in Göttingen, Munich and Berlin. He obtained a doctorate in 1931 with a dissertation on Hegel's political philosophy and international law. In the dissertation he discusses the idea of unconditional human rights, to be implemented by means of recognized international law and, if need be, also sanctions. Today the impact of these ideas is obvious!

Von Trott's view of the world as a young man was decidedly shaped by his extensive experience abroad. He studied in Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. Upon returning to Germany he worked as a legal assistant beginning in 1933, though his application for a position in the judicial service was denied because he refused to join the NSDAP or one of its affiliated organizations. Instead, supported by the Rhodes Trust, he spent time studying in the United States and Asia.

Upon learning of the 1938 Reichspogromnacht (“night of broken glass”) in Germany on his way from China to Europe, von Trott wrote the following lines to his friend Wilfried Israel, a young businessman, patron of the arts and member of the Jewish Community of Berlin: “You know it is we who are humiliated by what has passed and it is for us to wonder whether our former friends wish to have anything more to do with those who – after all – (in my case through my very absence) have to accept their full share of responsibility.”

In 1939 and 1940 von Trott travelled to Great Britain and the United States on behalf of the Federal Foreign Office and subsequently became a member of the foreign service on 15 April 1940. He used the leeway he had as Head of the Special Bureau for India to establish contact with various opponents of the regime in Germany and abroad. Hans von Dohnányi as well as Dietrich Bonhoeffer were among them. Von Trott acted as foreign affairs spokesman for figures from the “Kreisau Circle”, Peter Graf Yorck von Wartenburg and Helmuth James Graf von Moltke, and worked with them to develop a whole new order for post-National Socialist Germany. During this process he also formulated the visionary concept of integrating Germany into a new European federation.

In 1944 von Trott was actively involved in preparations by the resistance group for an attempt on Adolf Hitler's life led by Graf von Stauffenberg. Again, I quote Franz Josef Furtwängler as in 1951 he described the conspiratorial meeting taking place in the lobby of State Secretary Wilhelm Keppler's office: “When I pointed out to (von Trott) how grotesque it was that Hitler's friend and most loyal follower was sitting next door while subversive activities were being discussed here, he said it's safest to nest in the scarecrow's pockets – and laughed.”

The dramatic failure of the 20 July plot meant a death sentence for von Trott. He was arrested on 25 July and executed on 26 August in Berlin-Plötzensee after being unjustly sentenced to death by the self-styled Volksgerichtshof (“People's Court”).

Von Trott's vision of Germany as part of a unified, peaceful Europe lives on today. For us diplomats today, his belief that war as a means of national assertion had become “absurd” rings truer than ever. At the time, Adam von Trott wrote that “a State has to assert itself through the development of the law, not through war.” How right he was!

This year we celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Basic Law which was signed on 23 May 1949, thereby giving the Federal Republic of Germany a free and democratic constitution. This laid the foundation for Germany's successful integration into Europe. Two years ago we commemorated the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Treaties of Rome where Germany was one of the original Signatory States. The European Union now has 27 member states, a development that only became possible after the peaceful fall of the Berlin Wall 20 years ago; Europe had finally overcome the division of Germany and the continent brought about by the Second World War. Today we all realize that no country in Europe can solve the challenges we now face on its own. To have an impact, we must constantly redefine our vision of Europe – Adam von Trott zu Solz was one of the few people who did this at a time when such ideas were likely to be labelled “utopian”, to say the least.

One of the lectures at this conference is titled: “No stronghold of the resistance. The Federal Foreign Office during the Second World War”. This is indeed an issue we have to investigate properly. The entire spectrum ranging from approval to indifference could be found at the Federal Foreign Office of that period. The majority of the diplomats were no heroes; there were onlookers, tacit supporters and perpetrators as well. Among Hitler's “willing helpers” were also diplomats. Through politics and propaganda abroad, they covered for and hid the dictatorship in Germany. They helped with preparations for the Second World War, assisted in plundering natural resources and food stocks in South East and Eastern Europe and occasionally stole works of art. After the Wehrmacht had occupied large sections of the continent, German diplomats also proved to be quite efficient at registering, expropriating and imprisoning Jews, thereby contributing to their extermination in the concentration camps. A representative of the Federal Foreign Office also took part in the Wannsee Conference. Through these actions, German diplomats contributed to the Holocaust.

Yet there was also dissent, opposition and resistance within the foreign service and at the Federal Foreign Office – regretfully, far too little. There were opponents of the totalitarian state in all branches of the foreign service. It was reasons of conscience, ideological or religious convictions, that kept them from associating with the National Socialists in the first place or later made them turn away from the Nazis. Friedrich Wilhelm von Prittwitz did not want to serve the regime as the German ambassador in Washington and resigned from his post. Georg Ferdinand Duckwitz helped save Jews in Denmark from being deported and murdered. Fritz Kolbe, Herbert Gollnow and Rudolf von Scheliha passed on their knowledge of the Third Reich's crimes and plans to its enemies. Working for the opposition cost some of these people their life. Gollnow and Scheliha were arrested with the resistance group “Rote Kapelle” and subsequently executed. A military tribunal sentenced Herbert Litter to death for making defeatist comments. Herbert Mumm von Schwarzenstein belonged to a resistance group, was betrayed and shot in prison. Eduard Brücklmeier, Hans Bernd von Haeften, a friend of von Trott's from his time at Oxford, Ulrich von Hassell, Otto Kiep, Friedrich-Werner Graf von der Schulenburg and Adam von Trott zu Solz were all arrested in connection with the assassination attempt of 20 July 1944. They were all sentenced to death by the Volksgerichtshof and executed in Berlin-Plötzensee. Albrecht Graf von Bernstorff and Richard Kuenzer in Berlin-Moabit were also murdered in connection with the plot of 20 July 1944. The plaque in the Federal Foreign Office I mentioned at the start of this talk commemorates these victims of National Socialism as well as all those anonymous members of the opposition.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The Federal Foreign Office has always been a self-confident institution mindful of tradition. Public Relations is working on a 140-year timeline of the ministry. Of course, the period of National Socialism is an inseparable part of its history. The Federal Foreign Office was not a stronghold of resistance during that time. Their supposed cosmopolitanism did not prevent the diplomats from serving the dictatorship, assisting with, or even initiating crimes. The Federal Foreign Office was part of what happened, was part of it all. After the war it was very tempting to conceal the perpetrators, forgive the followers and forget that many witnessed and knew about the crimes.

Today we know better.

A public debate began in 2005 over the ministry's commemoration of deceased staff members. The public had gotten the impression that some diplomats valued tradition over morality. The Federal Foreign Office took this as an opportunity to submit itself to a critical external evaluation. At the request of the Federal Minister, a commission of historians is researching the role the foreign service played in the Third Reich and the issue of personnel continuity in the early years of the Federal Republic. Professor Conze, who will give a talk here tomorrow, is the coordinator of this independent commission. I, along with the Federal Foreign Office staff, am very interested to see the commission's results.

Today the foreign service aims to follow the example set by Adam von Trott zu Solz. His courageous stance, going far beyond the call of duty, and his commitment to the vision of a peaceful family of nations is both a responsibility and an example for us to follow. He lived up to the principle of listening to one's conscience and acting righteously.

I would like to congratulate the Evangelische Akademie zu Berlin (The Protestant Academy Berlin) on this conference. I am very grateful to the many people who worked to make it happen, particularly Mr Mehlhorn, who heads the Central and Eastern Europe programme, and all of the speakers. I hope this will be an informative event that encourages more in-depth study of Adam von Trott zu Solz and his thinking.

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