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Hitler's diplomats debunked

"The Foreign Ministry and the Past" comes as a sharp rebuff to Thilo Sarrazin's bestseller, showing clearly that the last place Germany should seek salvation is in its elites. By Alan Posener

Two books have shaped German debate this autumn. Thilo Sarrazin's book "Deutschland schafft sich ab" (Germany is abolishing itself) and "Das Amt und die Vergangenheit" (The Foreign Ministry and the past). On first appearances they would seem to have little in common, other than they are both published by Random House. Actually, though, these books are intricately bound up with one another, two souls in the breast of the politically-minded Bildungsburger or member of the German educated classes.

Former Foreign Ministers Joschka Fischer and Frank-Walter Steinmeier both recently alluded to this connection. At the presentation of the report on the Foreign Ministry during the Third Reich by an independent historian commission, they talked to a packed auditorium in Berlin about its involvement in the Nazi killing machine. Independently of one another Steinmeier and Fischer gave speeches in which they compared "The Ministry" with Thilo Sarrazin's bestseller. Fischer reminded his audience that it was in the Foreign Ministry that he been confronted with a "parallel society". On a similar note, Steinmeier said that anyone who wanted to learn how Germany is abolishing itself should read "The Ministry".

"The Foreign Ministry and the Past. German diplomats in the Third Reich and in the Federal Republic" by an independent historian commission
Former Finance Senator Thilo Sarrazin's bestseller Former Finance Senator Thilo Sarrazin's bestseller "Germany is abolishing itself. How we are putting our country at risk". Both published by Random House

Indeed the report reveals the near total failure of a highly educated, extremely cultivated, privileged class which regarded itself as the embodiment of German Leitkultur or guiding national culture. The memory of this failure has impact all the more devastating because it surfaces just as another book is breaking all sales records by arguing that Germany is abolishing itself because that same elite is not having children and all the wrong people are. The wrong people being the unproductive, uneducated and uncultivated welfare recipients and immigrants who are reproducing with disproportionate regularity and with money from the state. And the blame goes to the multicultural and anti-elitist policies that the Red-Green coalition made Germany's national interest on entering office in 1998.

The critique of the elite delivered by "The Ministry and the Past" could not be more devastating. The report documents the self-initiated Gleichschaltung of the diplomats after 1933. The Foreign Ministry actively committed itself to participating in the "Final Solution of the Jewish Question" and voluntarily restructured itself into a branch of the Reich Security Head Office. By way of explanation the historians point to the careerism of the diplomats on the one hand and the fondness of any form of bureaucracy for seeking new assignments; on the other hand, however, that Hitler's foreign policy objectives – in particular the "revision" of Versailles, were shared by the diplomats. The contempt for democracy that was widespread among German elites, and the almost universal "educated Judaeophobia" as Saul Friedländer described the anti-Semitism of the upper middle classes, allowed all misgivings about the upstart Hitler to slide from memory.

The historian report exposes the founding myth of the Federal Republic once again as a grand delusion, in which the old elites and institutions of the Third Reich were essentially respectable, despite Hitler's seizure of power, and "prevented worse things from happening". This rendered it unnecessary, after the war, to dismantle the institutions and exchange the elites as the American occupiers had initially intended with their radically democratic "re-education" programme.

In 2001 Albert Speer was able to dish up this version of events to his all-too gullible biographer Joachim Fest - precisely because of the latter's belief in the inherent superiority of the upper middle classes.

This was a grand delusion which passed for universal truth in the 50s and 60s and which was the target of the '68er slogans "Trust no one over 30!" It is no coincidence that the battle over the "Mummies" [as former Foreign Ministry employees refer to themselves -ed.], was started by a '68er, the then Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, over the obituaries of former Foreign Ministry employees. "Who controls the past controls the future," it says in George Orwell's 1984, and "honourable dedications" for deceased Foreign Ministry employees with Nazi pasts were intended to cement the power of the traditional elites for generations to come.

"The Ministry and the Past" is therefore – as Fischer and Steinmeier both made very clear in their speeches - the first shot fired in an ideological counter-offensive which will restore Red-Green to power. Whatever you think about this prospect, the high-ranking of both books on the bestseller lists shows that in Germany, this supposedly even-keeled middle class society which in reality is more conservative than almost any other country in Europe, a radical rethink about the worth and worthlessness of elites is long overdue.


This article was originally published in Die Welt on 8 November, 2010.

Alan Posener is a journalist who writes for Die Welt.

Translation:lp - let's talk european