Speech by Foreign Minister Steinmeier at the ceremony in honour of Ilse Stöbe at the Federal Foreign Office on 10 July 2014

10.07.2014 - Speech

-- Translation of advance text --

Ladies and gentlemen,

colleagues from the German Bundestag,
colleagues from the Federal Foreign Office,
and all our guests!

Outside these doors is the place where the Federal Foreign Office honours its employees who lost their lives in service. Some of them served the Federal Foreign Office for many years. Ilse Stöbe, however, did not have a chance to serve for long. She only worked for a few months in the Foreign Office’s Information Department. Her job was to draft articles about the Wehrmacht’s conquests across Europe. And she found this task difficult.

Ilse Stöbe was an attractive young woman who often joked in the office about the badly written texts by her head of department. But what truly set her apart was that when she learned about Germany’s plans to deploy troops to the East, her conscience, her convictions and her opposition to the Nazis did not allow her to keep this information to herself. She wanted to warn people.

This cost Ilse Stöbe her life.

She was arrested by the Gestapo in September 1942. On 22 December, she was executed in Plötzensee, shortly after her former superior Rudolf von Scheliha, who had acquired the information and passed it on to her. Both of them worked together in an attempt to halt the Nazi triumph in Europe.

Rudolf von Scheliha is the first name on the list where the Federal Foreign Office commemorates the resistance by a number of its employees against National Socialism. But one name was missing from this list until now, that of Ilse Stöbe. It has now been added to the commemorative wall, as the last name on the list of resistance fighters. It looks as if it has been added as an afterthought. And I believe it should look like this!

We shouldn’t pretend that her name was put there earlier. In fact, we should feel ashamed that we have only now completed the list of people who were killed for fighting against Hitler.

For decades, Stöbe’s activities in the Foreign Office were regarded as treason rather than as resistance. This was not just the opinion of the Nazis – many staff members here also felt that way after the war.

The Federal Foreign Office paid tribute to those who planned or knew about the plot to assassinate Hitler on 20 July 1944, but for a long time it ignored people such as Scheliha and Stöbe. The fact that they had provided information to the communist Soviet Union made their actions even more reprehensible in the eyes of many people.

But even after the end of the Cold War, it took time for such resistance to be seen in a new way. As stated critically in the book “Das Amt und die Vergangenheit” (“The Office and the Past”), “spying” was regarded as “resistance in the second degree”.

The Federal Foreign Office in Bonn did honour Rudolf von Scheliha in 1995 by mounting a special plaque. This came about as a result of former German Ambassador Ulrich Sahm’s ambition to research the history of German diplomats during the Third Reich and lobbying by Scheliha’s relatives, who even had to take the case to court. When the Federal Foreign Office moved to Berlin, Scheliha’s name was added chronologically to the list of resistance fighters.

Ilse Stöbe didn’t have anyone to lobby on her behalf after the war. Her relatives were dead, and none of the diplomats spoke up for the former low‑ranking employee.

The Federal Foreign Office struggled for a long time to come to grips with its past. The prevailing opinion was that its diplomats had more or less kept their hands clean during the Third Reich. People believed that the perpetrators, such as those actively involved in the murder of the Jews in Europe as members of the Judenreferat, the so‑called Jew Department, had been planted from outside.

We now know that this was not so simple. Many diplomats were also actively involved in Germany’s wars of aggression and in the Holocaust. We should realise that Ilse Stöbe probably started working at the Foreign Office precisely because she knew that her job would give her access to large quantities of highly sensitive information at an early stage.

Nevertheless, we don’t know exactly what motivated her. One reason for this lack of information is that the files stored in Moscow are not available to German researchers. Her opponents liked to refer to her as “the beautiful communist”. However, she probably wasn’t a member of the Communist Party of Germany. The reports published to date contain little documentation on her political views.

But the work she produced as a journalist helps us to see what she was like and shows us that she was an independent and intelligent woman. In a travel report for the “Neue Zürcher Zeitung”, she described the Tatra Mountains and wrote that the area’s remote location meant that it wasn’t overrun with day‑trippers from the city, “with their sandwich wrappers, office mentality and noise”. She apparently also continued to form her own opinions. In 1938, she published a remarkably open article about the situation of the Jews in Poland, describing it as contrary to the “images that the world is used to forming about Judaism and the Jewish question because of the expulsion of Jews from Germany and Austria” – in other words, their situation was far worse than what people thought.

“Keep your eyes open and don’t fool yourselves” is a motto handed down to us by Ilse Stöbe. This sentence stands for her alert mind, her talent for expressing herself succinctly, and sadly also for the futility of her actions. Scheliha and Stöbe’s warning that Hitler was planning to attack his allies in the near future was not taken seriously by the Soviet secret service.

The new permanent exhibition at the German Resistance Memorial Center shows the very wide range of motives and methods among the opponents of Hitler’s regime. Some people, such as Stauffenberg, planned assassinations, while others, such as the members of the White Rose resistance group, distributed flyers. The belated success of Hans Fallada’s novel “Alone in Berlin” shows us the continued great importance of the fates of those who lost their lives in the resistance against Hitler. Many of their stories, like that of Ilse Stöbe until now, remain untold so far.

The resistance fighters’ motives and methods certainly varied greatly, but we have to bear one thing in particular in mind – the fact that not many people resisted. And a large number of those who had the courage to resist, including Ilse Stöbe, paid for their bravery with their lives.

The fact that we have added Ilse Stöbe’s name to the end of the list should not only serve as a reminder of the Federal Foreign Office’s great difficulties in remembering her. It also gives us an opportunity to look towards the future. The history of how and when we paid tribute to Ilse Stöbe should serve as a reminder to us to keep memories of the past alive and to constantly and critically review them.

I would like to thank all those involved in researching and publicising Ilse Stöbe’s life and actions. Without you, we would not be here today and a chapter about resistance against Hitler in the Foreign Office would have remained unpublished.

Many thanks!

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