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Ulrich Friedrich Wilhelm Joachim von Ribbentrop (30 April 1893 – 16 October 1946) was Foreign Minister of Germany from 1938 until 1945. He was later hanged for war crimes after the Nuremberg Trialsmarker.

Early life

Ribbentrop was born in Weselmarker, Rhenish Prussiamarker, the son of Army officer Richard Ulrich Friedrich Joachim Ribbentrop and Johanne Sophie Hertwig. Ribbentrop was educated somewhat irregularly until his mid-teens at private schools in Germany and Switzerland. Ribbentrop’s father had been cashiered from the German Army in 1908 following a series of disparaging remarks he had made about the alleged homosexuality of Kaiser Wilhelm II, and as such, the Ribbentrop family were often short of money. Fluent in French and English, Ribbentrop lived at various times in Grenoblemarker, France, and London, before traveling to Canada in 1910. He worked for the Molson's Bank on Stanley Streetmarker in Montrealmarker and then for the engineering firm M.P. and J.T. Davis on the reconstruction of the Quebec Bridgemarker. He was also employed by the National Transcontinental Railway, which constructed a line from Monctonmarker to Winnipegmarker. Following a brief stint in New York Citymarker and Bostonmarker as a journalist and a period of rest recuperating from tuberculosis in his native Germany, he returned to Canada and set up a small business in Ottawa importing German wine and champagne. In 1914, Ribbentrop competed for Ottawa's famous Minto ice-skating team, participating in the Ellis Memorial Trophy tournament in Boston in February of that year. Following the outbreak of World War One, Ribbentrop left Canada, and returned home to join his country in war. He made his way back via Hoboken, New Jerseymarker on the Holland-America ship The Potsdam, which left for Rotterdammarker on 15 August 1914. By the autumn of 1914, he was back in his homeland and joined the 125th Regiment of the Hussars.

Ribbentrop reached the rank of first lieutenant and was awarded the Iron Cross. He served initially on the Eastern Front, and then was transferred to the Western Front. In 1918 Ribbentrop was stationed in Constantinoplemarker, Ottoman Empire, (modern Istanbulmarker, Turkeymarker) as a staff officer. During his time in Turkeymarker in World War I, Ribbentrop befriended another officer named Franz von Papen.


In 1919 Ribbentrop met Anna Elisabeth Henkell, known as "Annelies" to her friends. She was the daughter of wealthy champagne producer Otto Henkell and his wife Katharina "Käthe" Michel from Wiesbaden. They were married on 5 July 1920, in Wiesbadenmarker, and Ribbentrop travelled to Europe selling the family firm's wares. Between 1921 and 1940, Annelies gave birth to five children:

  • Rudolf von Ribbentrop (born 11 May 1921, in Wiesbadenmarker), married in 1960 Ilse-Marie Freiin von Münchhausen (born 1914)
  • Bettina von Ribbentrop (born 20 July 1922, in Berlin)
  • Ursula von Ribbentrop (born 29 December 1932, in Berlin)
  • Adolf von Ribbentrop (born 2 September 1935, in Berlin), married first to Marion von Strempel and later to Maria de Mercede Christiane Josefine Thekla Walpurga Barbara Gräfin und Edle Herrin von und zu Eltz genannt Faust von Stromberg (born 27 November 1951 at Eltvillemarker), and had two sons from each marriage:
    • Joachim von Ribbentrop (born 5 July 1963)
    • Dominik von Ribbentrop (born 25 September 1965)
    • Rudolf von Ribbentrop (born 5 July 1989 in Frankfurt-am-Mainmarker)
    • Friedrich von Ribbentrop (born 28 June 1990 in Frankfurt-am-Mainmarker)
  • Barthold Henkell von Ribbentrop (born 19 December 1940, in Berlin), married to Brigitte von Trotha, the parents of:
    • Sebastian von Ribbentrop (born 3 February 1971), married on 12 May 2001 at Fuschlmarker to Elisabethe/Isabelle Freiin Schuler von Senden (born 6 July 1975 in Munichmarker).

Annelies von Ribbentrop was reputed to be a haughty, controlling woman and was often described as being a Lady Macbeth-type character who dominated her husband. Ribbentrop persuaded his aunt Gertrud von Ribbentrop - whose husband had been ennobled - to adopt him on 15 May 1925, allowing him to add the aristocrat von to his name. Nevertheless this adoption did not make him a member of the nobility, nor was he ever recognized as such. For most of the Weimar Republicmarker era, Ribbentrop was apolitical and had no anti-Semitic prejudices. As a wealthy partner with his father-in-law in the Henckel-Trocken champagne firm, Ribbentrop did a great deal of business with Jewish bankers, and he was able to organize the Impegroma Importing Company ("Import und Export großer Marken") with financing from a Jewish lender.

Early career

In 1928, Ribbentrop was introduced to Hitler, reportedly as a man who "gets the same price for German champagne as others get for French champagne" as well as a businessman with foreign connections. He joined the National Socialist German Workers' Party on 1 May 1932 at the urging of his wife. In January 1933, there was a complex set of intrigues which saw Franz von Papen and various friends of the President Paul von Hindenburg negotiating with Hitler to oust the Chancellor, General Kurt von Schleicher.On 22 January Meissner and Hindenburg (the younger) met Hitler, Göring and Frick at Ribbentrop's house. After brief chitchat, Hitler invited Hindenburg into a private room, where they sat for over an hour.

After the meeting Hindenburg was a changed man and was ready to convince his father to accept Hitler's demand for the Chancellorship. Speculation (although well founded) runs that Hitler used his typical methods of carrot-and-stick:

the carrot being promotion for Hindenburg in the newly revived Reichswehr after Hitler's appointment, along with additional money from the Reich treasury;
the stick being the threat to make public the details of the financial dealings of the Hindenburgs in Prussia, wherein they had received considerable "contributions" from the Junker elements and had, furthermore, transferred the properties from the elder to the younger without payment of the transfer taxes, in order to avoid death taxes on the property (a rather mild type of fraud, but they were, after all, Hindenburgs and that would be an embarrassment).

The end result of these talks was the appointment of Hitler as Chancellor on 30 January 1933. Ribbentrop, who was both a Nazi Party member and an old friend of von Papen, facilitated the negotiations by arranging for von Papen and Hitler to meet secretly at his house in Berlin. This assistance endeared Ribbentrop to Hitler. Because Ribbentrop was a latecomer to the Nazi Party, the Alte Kämpfer (Old Fighters) of the party disliked him. Typical of this hatred for Ribbentrop was the diary entry of Joseph Goebbels: "Von Ribbentrop bought his name, he married his money, and he swindled his way into office". To compensate for this, Ribbentrop became a fanatical Nazi, almost to the point of becoming a caricature of a Nazi brought to life. In particular, Ribbentrop became a vociferous anti-Semite.

He became German dictator Adolf Hitler's favourite foreign policy adviser, partly by dint of his knowledge of the world outside Germany, but mostly by means of shameless flattery and sycophancy. The professional diplomats of the elite Auswärtiges Amt (Foreign Office) told Hitler the truth about what was happening abroad in the early years of Nazi Germany; Ribbentrop told Hitler what he wanted Hitler to hear. In particular, Ribbentrop acquired the habit of listening carefully to what Hitler was saying, memorizing pet ideas of the Führer, and then later presenting Hitler's ideas as his own - a practice that much impressed Hitler as proving Ribbentrop was an ideal National Socialist diplomat. Ribbentrop quickly learned that Hitler always favored the most radical solution to any problem, and accordingly tended his advice in that direction. As one of Ribbentrop's aides, the SS man Reinhard Spitzy recalled, "When Hitler said "Grey", Ribbentrop said "Black, black, black". He always said it three times more, and he was always more radical. I listened to what Hitler said one day when Ribbentrop wasn't present: "With Ribbentrop it is so easy, he is always so radical. Meanwhile, all the other people I have, they come here, they have problems, they are afraid, they think we should take care and then I have to blow them up, to get strong. And Ribbentrop was blowing up the whole day and I had to do nothing. I had a break - much better!" Ribbentrop in turn was a great admirer of Hitler. Ribbentrop was emotionally dependent on Hitler's favor to the extent that he suffered from psychosomatic illnesses if Hitler was unhappy with him. In 1933 he was given the title of SS-Standartenführer. For a time, Ribbentrop was friendly with the Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler, but ultimately the two became enemies mostly because the SS insisted upon the right to conduct its own foreign policy independent of Ribbentrop.

Travelling diplomat

In November 1933, Ribbentrop began his work as an unofficial diplomat when he visited London and met the Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald and Foreign Secretary Sir John Simon. Nothing of any substance emerged from these talks. Up to the time of his appointment as German Foreign Minister, Ribbentrop aggressively competed with the Auswärtiges Amt and sought to undercut the current Foreign Minister, Baron Konstantin von Neurath, at every turn. Initially, Neurath held his rival in contempt, regarding anyone whose written German, to say nothing of his English and French, was full of atrocious spelling and grammatical mistakes to be unworthy of attention. Speaking of views of Prince Bernard von Bülow, the State Secretary at the Auswärtiges Amt between 1930-1936 and the nephew of the former Chancellor Bernhard von Bülow, one contemporary recalled that "Bülow could not regard as a serious competitor a man who had no formal training in diplomacy, who could not write a report in correct German, who did not listen carefully enough to the remarks of foreign statesmen to interpret them correctly, and who insisted upon seeing possibilities of alliance [with Britain] where none existed".

In April 1934, Ribbentrop was named Special Commissioner for Disarmament by Hitler, which made him part of the same Auswärtiges Amt that was the center of his competition with Neurath. After Ribbentrop's appointment as Special Commissioner, Neurath informed Erich Kordt, the diplomat assigned to Ribbentrop as his aide, not to correct any of Ribbentrop's spelling mistakes. Ribbentrop was given the office of Special Commissioner in large part because of doubts created in foreign capitals over just what precisely was his status as a diplomat. In his capacity as Special Commissioner, Ribbentrop frequently visited London, Paris and Rome. In his early years, Hitler's aim in foreign affairs was to persuade the world that he wished to reduce military spending by making idealistic but very vague offers of disarmament (in the 1930s, the term disarmament was used to describe arms-limitation agreements). At the same time, the Germans always resisted making concrete proposals for arms limitation, and they went ahead with increased military spending on the grounds that other powers would not take up German offers of arms limitation. Ribbentrop's task was to ensure that the world was convinced that Germany sincerely wanted an arms-limitation treaty while also ensuring that such a treaty never actually emerged. In the first part of his assignment, Ribbentrop was partly successful, but in the second part he more than fulfilled Hitler's expectations.

On 17 April 1934, French Foreign Minister Louis Barthou issued the so-called "Barthou note" terminating French involvement in the World Disarmament Conference on the grounds that Germany had been negotiating in bad faith, declaring henceforth that France would look after its own security. The aggressive tone of the "Barthou note" led to concerns on the part of Hitler that the next meeting of the Bureau of Disarmament of the League of Nations would see the French asking for sanctions against Germany for violating Part V of the Treaty of Versailles. Ribbentrop volunteered to stop the rumored sanctions, and visited London and Rome. During his visits, Ribbentrop met with Simon and Benito Mussolini, and asked them to postpone the next meeting of the Bureau of Disarmament, in exchange for which Ribbentrop offered nothing in return other than promises of better relations with Berlin. Despite Ribbentrop's efforts, the meeting went ahead as scheduled, but since no sanctions were sought against Germany, this led to Ribbentrop claiming success (in fact, Ribbentrop's efforts had nothing to do with the lack of sanctions). As Special Commissioner, Ribbentrop was allowed to see all diplomatic correspondence relating to the subject of disarmament, which Ribbentrop refused to share with Neurath or von Bülow. Due to Ribbentrop's perceived success in stopping sanctions being applied against Germany, Hitler ordered that Ribbentrop be allowed to see all diplomatic correspondence that was not "Marked for the Foreign Minister" or "For the Secretary of State". Ribbentrop used this privilege to go through the incoming diplomatic messages, snatching certain messages, taking them to Hitler and having a reply written without Neurath or Bülow being informed first.

In August 1934, Ribbentrop founded an organisation linked to the Nazi Party called the Büro Ribbentrop (later renamed the Dienststelle Ribbentrop) that functioned as an alternative foreign ministry. The Dienststelle Ribbentrop which had its offices located directly across from the Auswärtiges Amt building on the Wilhelmstrasse in Berlin, had in its membership a collection of Hitlerjugend alumni, dissatisfied businessmen, former reporters, and ambitious Nazi Party members, all of whom tried to conduct a foreign policy independent of and often contrary to the Auswärtiges Amt. Though the Dienststelle Ribbentrop concerned itself with German foreign relations with every part of the world, a special emphasis was put on Anglo-German relations, as Ribbentrop knew an alliance with Britain was a project specially favored by Hitler. Ribbentrop made frequent trips to Britain, and upon his return he always reported to Hitler that the great mass of the British people longed for an alliance with Germany. In November 1934, Ribbentrop visited Britain where he met with George Bernard Shaw, Sir Austen Chamberlain, Lord Cecil, and Lord Lothian. On the basis of remarks from Lord Lothian praising the natural friendship between Germany and Britain, Ribbentrop informed Hitler that all elements of British society wished for closer ties with Germany, a report which delighted Hitler, causing him to remark that Ribbentrop was the only person who told him "the truth about the world abroad". Since the diplomats of the Auswärtiges Amt were not so sunny in their appraisal of the prospects of an Anglo-German alliance, Ribbentrop's influence with Hitler increased. Hitler later stated: "In 1933-34 the reports of the Foreign Office were miserable. They always had the same quintessence: that we ought to do nothing". By contrast, Hitler found that the reports of the extremely aggressive and energetic Ribbentrop were more in tune with what Hitler wanted to hear, leading to the influence of the former being much increased at the expense of the Auswärtiges Amt. Moreover, since Hitler regarded the diplomats of the Auswärtiges Amt as a collection of stodgy reactionaries out of touch with the spirit of "New Germany", the personality of Ribbentrop, with his disregard for diplomatic niceties, was in line with what Hitler felt should be the relentless dynamism of a revolutionary regime.

Ribbentrop was rewarded by Hitler by being made Reich Minister Ambassador-Plenipotentiary at Large (1935-1936). Ribbentrop then made numerous trips all over Europe, where he constantly presented various German proposals meant to upset the international order such as his 1935 offer to Belgium that Germany would renounce its claim to the Eupen-Malmedy region in exchange for a Belgian renunciation of the 1920 alliance with France. Throughout his time as Ambassador at Large, Ribbentrop refused to share any information about his activities to the Auswärtiges Amt, who were very much frustrated by Ribbentrop's non-cooperative attitude. In his capacity as Ambassador-Plenipotentiary at Large, he negotiated the Anglo-German Naval Agreement (A.G.N.A.) in 1935 and the Anti-Comintern Pact in 1936. In regards to the former, Neurath did not think the A.G.N.A. was possible; to discredit his rival, he appointed Ribbentrop head of the delegation sent to London in June 1935 to negotiate it. Once the talks began, Ribbentrop, who possessed a certain elan and sense of audacity, issued Sir John Simon an ultimatum. He informed Simon that if Germany's terms were not accepted in their entirety, the German delegation would go home. Simon was angry with this demand and walked out of the talks. Much to everyone's surprise, the next day the British accepted Ribbentrop's demands and the A.G.N.A. was signed in London on 18 June 1935 by Ribbentrop and Sir Samuel Hoare, the new British Foreign Secretary. This diplomatic success did much to increase Ribbentrop's prestige with Hitler. Hitler called 18 June, the day the A.G.N.A. was signed, “the happiest day in my life” as he believed it marked the beginning of an Anglo-German alliance, and ordered celebrations throughout Germany to mark the event.

Immediately after the signing of the A.G.N.A., Ribbentrop followed up with the next step that was intended to create the Anglo-German alliance, namely the Gleichschaltung (co-ordination) of all societies demanding the restoration of the former German colonies in Africa into the Reichskolonialbund (Reich Colonial League) under General Franz Ritter von Epp. General von Epp in turn reported to Ribbentrop, who used the noisy agitation of the Reichskolonialbund to press for Germany's “inalienable” right to her former African colonies. It was the joint idea of Hitler and Ribbentrop that demanding colonial restoration would pressure the British into making an alliance with the Reich on German terms. However, there was a certain difference of opinion between Ribbentrop and Hitler in that Ribbentrop sincerely wished to recover the former German African colonies, whereas for Hitler, colonial demands were just a negotiating tactic that would see Germany “renounce” her colonial claims in exchange for a British alliance.

The Anti-Comintern Pact of November 1936 marked an important change in German foreign policy. The Auswärtiges Amt had traditionally favoured a policy of friendship with China, one that Neurath very much believed in following. Ribbentrop was opposed to the pro-China orientation of the Auswärtiges Amt and instead favoured an alliance with Japan. To this end, Ribbentrop often worked closely with General Hiroshi Ōshima, who served first as the Japanese military attaché, and then as Ambassador in Berlin in strengthening German-Japanese ties, in spite of furious opposition from the Wehrmacht and the Auswärtiges Amt, who preferred closer Sino-German ties. The origins of the Anti-Comintern Pact went back to the summer and fall of 1935, when in an effort to square the circle between seeking a rapprochement with Japan and Germany’s traditional alliance with China, Ribbentrop, together with General Ōshima, devised the idea of an anti-Communist alliance as a way of binding China, Japan and Germany together. However, when the Chinese made it clear that they had no interest in such an alliance (especially given that the Japanese regarded Chinese adhesion to the proposed pact as way of subordinating China to Japan), both Neurath and the War Minister Field Marshal Werner von Blomberg persuaded Hitler to shelve the proposed treaty in November 1935, lest it damage Germany's good relations with China. Ribbentrop for his part, who valued Japanese friendship far more than Chinese friendship argued that Germany and Japan should sign the pact, even without Chinese participation. By November 1936, a revival of interest in a German-Japanese pact in both Tokyo and Berlin led to the signing of the Anti-Comintern Pact in Berlin. When the Pact was signed, invitations were sent out for Italy, China, Britain and Poland to adhere; of the invited powers, only the Italians were ultimately to sign the Anti-Comintern Pact. The Anti-Comintern Pact marked the beginning of the shift on Germany's part from China's ally to Japan's ally.

During the same period, Ribbentrop often visited France to try to influence, though not very successfully, French politicians into adopting a pro-German foreign policy. Ribbentrop enjoyed more success in the United Kingdom, where he was able to persuade an impressive array of British high society to visit Hitler in Germany. The most notable guest Ribbentrop brought to Hitler was the former Prime Minister David Lloyd George in 1936. Hitler's British guests were a mélange of aristocratic Germanophiles such as Lord Londonderry, professional pacifists such as George Lansbury and Lord Allen, retired politicians, ex-generals, fascists such as Admiral Barry Domvile, journalists such as Lord Lothian and G. Ward Price, academics such as the historian Philip Conwell-Evans, and various businessmen like the newspaper magnate Lord Rothermere or the merchant banker Lord Mount Temple. Very few of these people were actual decision-makers in the British government, such as Cabinet-level politicians or high-ranking bureaucrats. Neither Hitler nor Ribbentrop understood very well that when people like Lloyd George, Londonderry, Lansbury, Mount Temple, Allen, Lothian or Rothermere declared that they favoured closer Anglo-German ties, they were speaking as private citizens, not on behalf of Whitehall. As a German diplomat, Truetzschler von Falkenstein complained after the war that "Ribbentrop, having had contact with only a small group in England – representatives of the so-called two hundred families – did not know the great mass of the English people. The England with which he had hoped to collaborate was the England of this select group, since he believed that its members controlled Britain". Another German diplomat commented that Ribbentrop had the strange idea to "conduct international relations through aristocrats". Yet another German diplomat noted that, "He [Ribbentrop] did not have the capacity to form an overview; to see things in perspective. In England, for example he relied upon people like Conwell-Evans who had no real influence". Earlier, speaking of Ribbentrop's activities and of the views of his British friends, Leopold von Hoesch, the German Ambassador in London from 1932-36, warned that Berlin should "...not pay any attention to the Londonderrys and Lothians, who in no way represented any important section of British opinion".

Ambassador to Britain

In August 1936, the German government appointed Ribbentrop Ambassador to Britainmarker with orders to negotiate the Anglo-German alliance that Hitler had predicted in Mein Kampf. Ribbentrop arrived to take up his position in October 1936. The two month delay between Ribbentrop's appointment and his arrival in London was due to the fracas caused by the death of the Auswärtiges Amt's State Secretary Prince von Bülow in July 1936. Ribbentrop immediately suggested to Hitler that he succeed Bülow as State Secretary. Neurath informed Hitler that he would rather resign than have Ribbentrop as State Secretary and proceeded to appoint his son-in-law Hans Georg von Mackensen to that office. Hitler, for his part, had been highly impressed by Neurath's skillful efforts at defusing the crisis caused by remilitarization of the Rhineland in March 1936, and moreover felt that Ribbentrop's talents better suited him to serving as Ambassador than as State Secretary. Ribbentrop, who would have much preferred to be State Secretary than Ambassador, spent the next two months attempting to persuade Hitler to give him the former office rather than the latter before reluctantly leaving for Britain in October 1936.

Before leaving to take up his post in London, Ribbentrop was commissioned by Hitler: “Ribbentrop...get Britain to join the Anti-Comintern Pact, that is what I want most of all. I have sent you as the best man I’ve got. Do what you can... But if in future all our efforts are still in vain, fair enough, then I’m ready for war as well. I would regret it very much, but if it has to be, there it is. But I think it would be a short war and the moment it is over, I will then be ready at any time to offer the British an honorable peace acceptable to both sides. However, I would then demand that Britain join the Anti-Comintern Pact or perhaps some other pact. But get on with it, Ribbentrop, you have the trumps in your hand, play them well. I'm ready at any time for an air pact as well. Do your best. I will follow your efforts with interest”. The vain, arrogant, and tactless Ribbentrop was not the man for such a mission, but it is doubtful that even a more skilled diplomat could have fulfilled Hitler's dream of a grand Anglo-German alliance. His time in London was marked by an endless series of social gaffes and blunders that worsened his already poor relations with the British Foreign Office. In May 1937, he greeted King George VI with "Heil Hitler!". (Punch referred to him as Von Brickendrop and the Wandering Aryan due to his frequent trips back to Germany.) In addition, the fact that Ribbentrop chose to spend as little time as possible in London irritated the British Foreign Office immensely, as Ribbentrop's frequent absences prevented the handling of many routine diplomatic matters. To help with his move to London, and with the design of the new German Embassy Ribbentrop had built (the existing Embassy was deemed insufficiently grand for Ribbentrop), Ribbentrop hired a Berlin interior decorator named Martin Luther. Upon the recommendation of his wife, Ribbentrop hired Luther to work for the Dienststelle Ribbentrop. Luther proved to be a master intriguer, and became Ribbentrop's favorite hatchet man.

In his dealings with the British government, most of Ribbentrop's time was spent either demanding that Britain sign the Anti-Comintern Pact or that London return the former German colonies in Africa. Other than his fruitless meetings with the British Foreign Secretary Sir Anthony Eden, who always refused on behalf of his government Ribbentrop's demands about the former colonies or the Anti-Comintern Pact, Ribbentrop spent most of his time as Ambassador courting what Ribbentrop called the “men of influence” as the best way of bringing about an Anglo-German alliance. Ribbentrop had developed the notion that the British aristocracy comprised some sort of secret society that ruled from behind the scenes, and if he could befriend enough members of Britain's “secret government”, then he could bring about an alliance with his country. Almost all of the initially favorable reports Ribbentrop provided to Berlin about the prospects of an Anglo-German alliance were based on friendly remarks about the “New Germany” from various British aristocrats like Lord Londonderry; the rather cool reception that Ribbentrop received from British Cabinet ministers and senior bureaucrats did not make much of an impression on him at first. In 1935, Sir Eric Phipps, the British Ambassador to Germany, complained to London about Ribbentrop's British associates in the Anglo-German Fellowship, that they created "false German hopes as in regards to British friendship and caused a reaction against it in England, where public opinion is very naturally hostile to the Nazi regime and its methods". In September 1937, the British Consul in Munichmarker writing about the group Ribbentrop had brought to the Nuremberg Party Rally reported that there were some "serious persons of standing among them" and that an equal number of Ribbentrop's British contingent were "eccentrics and few, if any, could be called representatives of serious English thought, either political or social, while they most certainly lacked any political or social influence in England". In June 1937, when Lord Mount Temple, the Chairman of the Anglo-German Fellowship asked to see the British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain after meeting Hitler in a visit arranged by Ribbentrop, Robert Vansittart, the British Foreign Office's Undersecretary wrote a memo stating that:"The P.M. [Prime Minister] should certainly not see Lord Mount Temple – nor should the S[ecretary] of S[tate]. We really must put a stop to this eternal butting in of amateurs – and Lord Mount Temple is a particularly silly one. These activities – which are practically confided to Germany – render impossible the task of diplomacy. Lord Londonderry goes to Berlin; Lord Lothian goes to Berlin; Mr. Lansbury goes to Berlin; and now Lord Mount Temple goes. They all want interviews with the S of S, and two at least have had them. This flow is quite unfair to the service and Sir E. Phipps rightly complained of these ambulant amateurs. So did Sir N. Henderson in advance, and rightly, for Lord Lothian's last visit is being mischievously and unintelligently misused, particularly at the Imperial Conference. The proper course for any ambulant amateur is to be seen by someone less important than Ministers. If there is anything worthwhile in their remarks – there never is, for, of course, we have much better information than this naïf propaganda stuff – we can report it to the S of S. But a stage has now been reached where the service is entitled to at least this amount of protection. These superficial people are always gulled into the lines of least resistance – vide Lord Lothian – and we then have the ungrateful but necessary task of pointing out the snags and appearing obstructive. It is quite unfair and should cease”. After Vansittart's memo, members of the Anglo-German Fellowhship ceased to see Cabinet ministers after going on Ribbentrop-arranged trips to Germany.

Ribbentrop did not understand the King's limited role in government as he thought King Edward VIII could decide British foreign policy. He convinced Hitler that he had Edward's support; but this, like his belief that he had impressed British society, was a tragic delusion. During the abdication crisis of December 1936, Ribbentrop reported to Berlin that the reason the crisis had occurred was an anti-German Jewish-Masonic-reactionary conspiracy to depose Edward, and that civil war would soon break out in Britain between supporters of the King and supporters of the Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin. This led to a false sense of confidence about British intentions with which he unwittingly deceived his Führer. In March 1937, Ribbentrop attracted much adverse comment in the British press when he gave a speech at the Leipzig Trade Fairmarker in Leipzigmarker, where he declared that German economic prosperity would be satisfied either "through the restoration of the former German colonial possessions, or by means of the German people's own strength”. The implied threat that if colonial restoration did not occur, then the Germans would take back by force their former colonies attracted a large deal of hostile commentary on the inappropriateness of an Ambassador threatening his host country in such a manner.

His aggressive and overbearing manner towards everyone except his wife and Hitler meant that to know him was to dislike him. His negotiating style, a strange mix of bullying bluster and icy coldness coupled with lengthy monologues praising Hitler, alienated many. The American historian Gordon A. Craig once observed that of all the voluminous memoir literature of the diplomatic scene of 1930s Europe, there are only two positive references to Ribbentrop. Of the two references, General Leo Geyr von Schweppenburg, the German military attaché in London commented that Ribbentrop had been a brave soldier in World War I while the wife of the Italian Ambassador to Germany, Elisabetta Cerruti called Ribbentrop "one of the most diverting of the Nazis". In both cases the praise was limited with Cerruti going on to write that only in the Third Reich was it possible for someone as superficial as Ribbentrop to rise to be a minister of foreign affairs while Geyr von Schweppenburg called Ribbentrop an absolute disaster as Ambassador in London.

In November 1937, Ribbentrop was placed in a highly embarrassing situation when his forceful advocacy of the return of the former German colonies led to the British Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden and the French Foreign Minister Yvon Delbos offering to open talks on returning the former German colonies, in return for which the Germans would make binding commitments to respect their borders in Central and Eastern Europe. Since Hitler was not really interested in obtaining the former colonies, especially if the price was a brake on expansion into Eastern Europe, Ribbentrop was forced to turn down the Anglo-French offer that he had largely brought about. Immediately after turning down the Anglo-French offer on colonial restoration, Ribbentrop for reasons of pure malice ordered the Reichskolonialbund to increase the agitation for the former German colonies, a move which exasperated both the Foreign Office and Quai d'Orsay.

Ribbentrop's inability to achieve the alliance that he had been sent out for frustrated him as he feared it could cost him Hitler's favour, and it made him a bitter Anglophobe. As the Italian Foreign Minister, Count Galeazzo Ciano noted in his diary in late 1937, Ribbentrop had come to hate Britain with all the “fury of a woman scorned”. When Ribbentrop travelled to Rome in November 1937 to oversee Italy's adhesion to the Anti-Comintern Pact, he made clear to his hosts that the pact was really directed against Britain. As Count Ciano noted in his diary, the Anti-Comintern Pact was "anti-Communist in theory, but in fact unmistakably anti-British". Believing himself to be in a state of disgrace with Hitler over his failure to achieve the British alliance, Ribbentrop spent December 1937 in a state of depression, and together with his wife, wrote two lengthy documents for Hitler denouncing Britain. In the first of his two reports to Hitler, which was presented on 2 January 1938, Ribbentrop stated that "England is our most dangerous enemy". In the same report, Ribbentrop advised Hitler to abandon the idea of a British alliance, and instead embrace the idea of an alliance of Germany, Japan and Italy, who would destroy the British Empire. Ribbentrop, and Hitler for that matter, never understood that British foreign policy aimed at the appeasement of Germany, not an alliance.

While the Ribbentrops were in Britain, his son, Rudolf von Ribbentrop, attended Westminster Schoolmarker in London.Peter Ustinov was Rudolf's schoolmate at this time, as related in his autobiography Dear Me (1971). Ustinov is also supposed to have clandestinely leaked Rudolf's presence at his school to The Times. The result of this was the prompt withdrawal of the younger Ribbentrop from the school as a precautionary measure for his safety, as well as for security of his father's mission in London.

Rumors of affair with Wallis Simpson

Ribbentrop's time in London was also marked by scandal. It was believed by many members of the British upper classes that he was having an affair with Wallis Simpson, the wife of British businessman Edward Simpson and the mistress of King Edward VIII. According to files recently declassified by the United States Federal Bureau of Investigationmarker, Mrs. Simpson was believed to be a regular guest at Ribbentrop's social gatherings at the German Embassy in London where it was thought the two struck up a romantic relationship. It was believed by the Americans at the time that Ribbentrop was said to have used Simpson's access to the King to funnel important information about the British to the German government. Supposedly, Simpson was paid by the Germans for this information and was happy to continue the relationship as long as she received payment. The FBI took the matter seriously enough to advise President Roosevelt of their findings; he once commented to a confidante that Simpson "played around...with the Ribbentrop set."

The truth of the matter is still very much in doubt. Simpson, who later married the former king – he had abdicated to marry her – and was known in later life as the Duchess of Windsor, noted in her book The Heart has its Reasons that she met Ribbentrop on only two occasions and had no personal relationship with him.

Foreign Minister of the Reich


On 5 November 1937, the conference between the Reich’s top military-foreign policy leadership and Hitler recorded in the so-called Hossbach Memorandum occurred. At the conference, Hitler stated that it was the time for war, or, more accurately, wars, as what Hitler envisioned were a series of localized wars in Central and Eastern Europe in the near future. Hitler argued that because these wars were necessary to provide Germany with Lebensraum, autarky and the arms race with France and Britainmarker made it imperative to act before the Western powers developed an insurmountable lead in the arms race. Of those invited to the conference, objections arose from Neurath, the War Minister Field Marshal Werner von Blomberg, and the Army Commander in Chief, General Werner von Fritsch that any German aggression in Eastern Europe was bound to trigger a war with France because of the French alliance system in Eastern Europe, the so-called cordon sanitaire, and if a Franco-German war broke out, then Britain was almost certain to intervene rather than risk the prospect of France’s defeat. Moreover, it was objected that Hitler's assumption that Britain and France would just ignore the projected wars because they had started their re-armament later than Germany was flawed. Accordingly, Fritsch, Blomberg and Neurath advised Hitler to wait until Germany had more time to re-arm before pursuing a high-risk strategy of localized wars that was likely to trigger a general war before Germany was ready (none of those present at the conference had any moral objections to Hitler’s strategy, with which they were in basic agreement; only the question of timing divided them). Hitler was most displeased with the criticism of his intentions, and in early 1938 asserted his control of the military-foreign policy apparatus through the Blomberg-Fritsch Affair, the abolition of the War Ministry and its replacement by the OKW, and finally by sacking Neurath as Foreign Minister on 4 February 1938. In the opinion of the official German history of World War II, from early 1938 Hitler was not carrying out a foreign policy that had carried a high risk of war, but was carrying out a foreign policy aiming at war. Ribbentrop was chosen as Neurath’s successor as Hitler judged the former would be a more willing instrument to realize Hitler’s foreign policy than the latter.


On 4 February 1938, Ribbentrop succeeded Baron Konstantin von Neurath as Foreign Minister. Ribbentrop's appointment was generally taken at the time and since as indicating that German foreign policy was moving in a more radical direction. In contrast to Neurath's less bellicose and cautious nature, Ribbentrop unequivocally supported war in 1938-39. In May 1938 Benito Mussolini commented, "Ribbentrop belongs to the category of Germans who are a disaster for their country. He talks about making war right and left, without naming an enemy or defining an objective".

Ribbentrop's time as Foreign Minister can be divided into three periods. In the first, from 1938-39, he tried to persuade other states to align themselves with Germany for the coming war. In the second from 1939-43, Ribbentrop attempted to persuade other states to enter the war on Germany's side or at least maintain pro-German neutrality. In the final phase from 1943-45, he had the task of trying to keep Germany's allies from leaving her side. During the course of all three periods, Ribbentrop met frequently with leaders and diplomats from Italy, Japan, Romaniamarker, Spain, Bulgariamarker, and Hungary. During all this time, Ribbentrop feuded with various other Nazi leaders; at one point in August 1939 an armed clash took place between supporters of Ribbentrop and those of Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels over the control of a radio station in Berlin that was meant to broadcast German propaganda abroad (Goebbels claimed exclusive control of all propaganda both at home and abroad whereas Ribbentrop asserted a claim to monopolize all German propaganda abroad). As Foreign Minister, Ribbentrop was highly concerned with counteracting the damage that he himself inflicted on the influence of the Auswärtiges Amt. Friedrich Gaus, the chief of the Legal Division of the Auswärtiges Amt testified at the Nuremberg war crimes trials that: "He [Ribbentrop] used to say, that everything the Foreign Office lost in the way of terrain under Neurath he wanted to win back and, with all his passion, he fought for this aim in a manner which can only be understood by somebody who actually saw it". Gaus went to state that "My main activity was 90 per cent concerned with competency conflicts". Moreover, as time went by, Ribbentrop started to oust the old diplomats from their senior positions in the Auswärtiges Amt and replaced them with men from the Dienststelle. As early as 1938, 32% of the offices in the Foreign Ministry were held by men who previously served in the Dienststelle. Ribbentrop was widely disliked by the old diplomats in Auswärtiges Amt. Herbert von Dirksen who served as Ribbentrop's successor as German Ambassador in London in 1938-1939 described Ribbentrop as "an unwholesome, half-comical figure". Many of the people Ribbentrop appointed to head German embassies, especially the "amateur" diplomats from the Dienststelle were grossly incompetent, thus limiting the effectiveness of the Auswärtiges Amt.


One of Ribbentrop's first acts as Foreign Minister was to achieve a total volte-face in Germany's Far Eastern policies. Ribbentrop was instrumental in February 1938 persuading Hitler to recognize the Japanese puppet state of Manchukuo and to renounce German claims upon her former colonies in the Pacific, which were now held by Japan. By April 1938, Ribbentrop had ended all German arms shipments to China and had all of the German Army officers serving with the Kuomintang government of Chiang Kai-shek recalled (with the threat that the families of the officers in China would be sent to concentration camps if the officers did not return to Germany immediately). In return, the Germans received little thanks from the Japanese, who refused to allow any new German businesses to be set up in the part of China they had occupied, and continued with their policy of attempting to exclude all existing German (together with all other Western) businesses from Japanese-occupied China.


As Foreign Minister, Ribbentrop was noted for his virulent Anglophobia and anti-Semitism. Although he was almost lackey-like in Hitler's presence, he could be boorish when he was alone. At a meeting between Ribbentrop, Hitler and Henderson on 3 March 1938 during which Henderson offered on behalf of his government a proposal for an international consortium to rule much of Africa, in which Germany would play a leading role in exchange for which Germany would agree not to change its borders through violence, the British offer was flatly refused by Hitler, who had no real interest in colonies in Africa, and was more interested in the idea of Lebensraum or expansionism, in Eastern Europe. At the same meeting, Ribbentrop stated that the British government secretly controlled the British press, and hence could silence at any moment all press criticism of the Nazi regime; the fact that the British government had not done so was proof of British malevolence towards Germany. After the meeting, Henderson reported to the British Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax about a private conversation he had with Ribbentrop: "He [Ribbentrop] talked so much... about what Great Britain should do that I warned at last that you [Lord Halifax] would be expecting rather to hear what Germany would be prepared to do. His reply was: "What can we do? We have nothing to give". Ribbentrop loathed Neville Chamberlain, and viewed his appeasement policy as some sort of British scheme to block Germany from her rightful place in the world.

Munich Agreement and conquest of Czechoslovakia

During the May Crisis of 1938, Ribbentrop boastfully told the British Ambassador, Sir Nevile Henderson that Germany was prepared to struggle to the death with Britain and France and that in regards to Czechoslovakiamarker "...there would not be a living soul in that state". In response to objections from Baron Ernst von Weizsäcker, (the Auswärtiges Amt State Secretary 1938-1943) in August 1938 that if Germany attacked Czechoslovakia, it would cause a world war that Germany could not win, Ribbentrop replied:"...the Führer had never yet been wrong...One must believe in his genius as he, Ribbentrop, did, from long years of experience. If I had not yet come to blind faith in this matter, he urged me to do so". Ribbentrop regarded the Munich Agreement as a diplomatic defeat for Germany, as it deprived Germany of the opportunity to wage the war to destroy Czechoslovakia that Ribbentrop wanted to see; the Sudetenland issue, which was the ostensible subject of the German-Czechoslovak dispute, had been just a pretext for German aggression. Like Hitler, Ribbentrop was determined that in the next crisis Germany would not have its professed demands met in another Munich-type summit, and that the next crisis to be caused by Germany would result in the war that Chamberlain had “cheated” the Germans out at Munich.

In the aftermath of Munich, Hitler was in a violently anti-British mood caused in part over his rage over being “cheated” out of the war to “annihilate” Czechoslovakia that he very much wanted to have in 1938, and in part by his realization that Britain would neither ally herself nor stand aside in regards to Germany’s ambitions to dominate Europe. As a consequence, after Munich Britain was considered to be the main enemy of the Reich, and as a result, the influence of ardently Anglophobic Ribbentrop correspondingly rose with Hitler. Starting in the fall of 1938, Ribbentrop attempted to convert the Anti-Comintern Pact into an anti-British military alliance, without much success. Much to Ribbentrop's intense disappointment, the Japanese were more interested in 1938-39 in fighting the Soviets and the Chinese rather than fighting the British. As part of the anti-British course, it was deemed necessary in Germany to have Poland as either satellite state or otherwise neutralized. The Germans believed this necessary on both strategic grounds as way of securing the Reich’s eastern flank and on economic grounds as a way of evading the effects of a British blockade. Starting in October 1938, Ribbentrop during several meetings with the Polish Ambassador to Germany Józef Lipski and the Polish Foreign Minister Colonel Józef Beck expressed his wishes that Poland agree to the return of the Free City of Danzigmarker (modern Gdańskmarker, Poland) to the Reich, allow for “extra-territorial” highways across the Polish Corridor to East Prussia, and most importantly, sign the Anti-Comintern Pact (the last gesture was generally understood as placing Poland within the German sphere of influence). At a meeting with Lipski in October 1938, Ribbentrop stated that he wanted eine Gesamtlösung (total settlement) between Germany and Poland with Poland being reduced to a subordinate state to the Reich within the Anti-Comintern Pact.

In October-November 1938, Ribbentrop together with the Italian Foreign Minister Count Galeazzo Ciano, delegations led by the Czecho-Slovak foreign minister Frantisek Chvalkovsky, and the Hungarian foreign minister Count Kálmán Kánya conducted negotiations in Vienna that resulted in the First Vienna Award over the fate of the eastern part of Czecho-Slovakia (as Czechoslovakia had been renamed in October 1938). During the talks, a clash of interests arose between the Italians who favored seeing Hungary restored to pre-Trianon borders, whereas the Germans, who were disappointed over Hungary’s lukewarm attitude towards attacking Czechoslovakia in September 1938, tended to favor Czecho-Slovakia. At the same time, Ribbentrop, who was trying to enlist Italy into his anti-British alliance, was not inclinded towards pushing the Italians too hard, and the resulting Vienna Award was a compromise between the rival German and Italian claims to influence in Eastern Europe.

In regards to the anti-Semitic policies, Ribbentrop emerged as one of the leading hardliners, and refused to even consider the idea (which some of the other Nazi leaders were open to, through only on pragmatic grounds as a way of encouraging Jewish emigration) that German Jews be allowed to bring their personal possessions with them when they left Germany. At a meeting in Paris with the French Foreign Minister, Georges Bonnet in December 1938, when Bonnet asked if were possible for immigrating German Jews to bring their personal belongings with them, Ribbentrop replied: "The Jews in Germany were without exception pickpockets, murderers and thieves. The property they possessed had been acquired illegally. The German government had therefore decided to assimilate them with the criminal elements of the population. The property which they had acquired illegally would be taken from them. They would be forced to live in districts frequented by the criminal classes. They would be under police observation like other criminals. They would be forced to report to the police as other criminals were obligated to do. The German government could not help it if some of these criminals escaped to other countries which seemed so anxious to have them. It was not however willing for them to take the property, which had resulted from their illegal operations with them".

On 6 December 1938 Ribbentrop visited Paris, where he and the French foreign minister Georges Bonnet signed a grand-sounding but largely meaningless Declaration of Franco-German Friendship. Ribbentrop was later to claim that Bonnet told him that France recognized Eastern Europe as being within Germany's exclusive sphere of influence. Later in December 1938, Ribbentrop during a meeting with the Polish Foreign Minister Colonel Beck at Berchtesgaden attempted to win his acceptance of the German proposals by promising him German support for Polish annexation of the Ukrainemarker, only to be told that Poland had no interest in seeing either Danzig return to the Reich or in annexing the Ukraine. On 6 February 1939, in response to a speech given by Bonnet before the Chamber of Deputies, underlining French commitments in Eastern Europe, Ribbentrop offered a formal protest to Robert Coulondre, the French Ambassador in Berlin, arguing that because of Bonnet’s alleged statement of 6 December 1938 that “France’s commitments in Eastern Europe” were now “off limits”.

Partly for economic reasons, and partly out of fury over being “cheated” out of war in 1938, in early 1939, Hitler decided to commence the destruction of the rump state of Czecho-Slovakia (as Czechoslovakia had been renamed in October 1938). Ribbentrop played an important role in setting the crisis that was to result in the end of Czecho-Slovakia in motion by ordering German diplomats in Bratislavamarker to contact Father Jozef Tiso, the Premier of the Slovak regional government and pressuring him to declare independence from Praguemarker. When Tiso proved reluctant to do so under the grounds that the autonomy that had existed since October 1938 was sufficient for him and to completely sever links with the Czechs would leave Slovakia open to being annexed by Hungary, Ribbentrop had the German Embassy in Budapestmarker contact the Regent, Admiral Miklós Horthy. Admiral Horthy was advised that the Germans might be open to having more of Hungary restored to former borders, and that the Hungarians should best start concentrating troops on their northern border at once if they were serious about changing the frontiers. Upon hearing of the Hungarian mobilization, Tiso was presented with the choice of either declaring independence with the understanding that the new state would be in the German sphere of influence, or seeing all of Slovakia absorbed into Hungary. When Tiso had the Slovak regional government issue a declaration of independence on 14 March 1939, the ensuing crisis in Czech-Slovak relations was used as a pretext to summon the Czecho-Slovak President Emil Hácha to Berlin over his “failure” to keep order in his country. On the night of 14-15 March 1939, Ribbentrop played a key role in the German annexation of the Czech part of Czecho-Slovakia by bullying the Czechoslovakmarker President Hácha into transforming his country into a German protectorate at a meeting in the Reich Chancellerymarker in Berlin. On 15 March 1939, German troops occupied the Czech area of Czecho-Slovakia, which then became the Reich Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia.

Initially, the German hope was to transform Poland into a satellite state, but by March 1939 the German demands had been rejected by the Poles three times, which led Hitler to decide with enthusiastic support from Ribbentrop upon the destruction of Poland as the main German foreign policy goal of 1939. From March 1939, Ribbentrop had become the leading advocate within the German government of reaching an understanding with the Soviet Unionmarker as the best way of pursuing both the short-term anti-Polish and the long-term anti-British foreign policy goals. Ribbentrop's efforts to convert the Anti-Comintern Pact into an anti-British alliance met with considerable hostility from the Japanese over the course of the winter of 1938-39, but with the Italians Ribbentrop enjoyed some apparent success. Because of Japanese opposition to participation in an anti-British alliance, Ribbentrop decided to settle for a bilateral German-Italian anti-British treaty. Ribbentrop's efforts were crowned with success with the signing of the Pact of Steel in May 1939, through this was accomplished only by falsely assuring Mussolini that there would be no war for the next three years.

Pact with the Soviet Union and the outbreak of World War II

Stalin and Ribbentrop at the signing of the Non-Aggression Pact, 23 August 1939
Ribbentrop played a key role in the conclusion of the Soviet-German non-aggression pact, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact in 1939, and in the diplomatic action surrounding the attack on Poland. In public, Ribbentrop expressed great fury at the Polish refusal to allow for Danzig's return to the Reich or Polish permission for the “extra-territorial” highways, but since these matters were only intended after March 1939 to be a pretext for German aggression, Ribbentrop always refused in private to allow for any talks between German and Polish diplomats about these matters. It was Ribbentrop's fear that if German-Polish talks did take place, there was the danger that the Poles would agree to the German demands, and thereby deprive the Germans of their excuse for aggression. To further block German-Polish diplomatic talks, Ribbentrop had the German Ambassador to Poland Count Hans-Adolf von Moltke recalled, and refused to see the Polish Ambassador Lipski. Throughout 1939, in private Hitler always described Britain as his main opponent, and portrayed the coming destruction of Poland as a necessary prelude towards the goal of destroying Britain. A notable contradiction existed in Hitler’s strategic planning between embarking on an anti-British foreign policy, whose major instruments consisted of a vastly expanded Kriegsmarine and a Luftwaffe capable of a strategic bombing offensive that would take several years to build, and engaging in reckless short-term actions such as attacking Poland that were likely to cause a general war. Ribbentrop, for his part, because of his status as the alleged Nazi British expert, resolved Hitler’s dilemma by supporting the anti-British line and by repeatedly advising Hitler that Britain would not go to war for Poland in 1939. Ribbentrop informed Hitler that any war with Poland would last for only 24 hours, and that the British would be so stunned with this display of German power that they would not honor their commitments. Ribbentrop supported his analysis of the situation by only showing Hitler diplomatic dispatches that supported his view that neither Britain or France would honor their commitments to Poland. In this, Ribbentrop was particularly supported by the German Ambassador in London, Herbert von Dirksen who reported that Chamberlain knew “the social structure of Britain, even the conception of the British Empire, would not survive the chaos of even a victorious war”, and so would back down over Poland.

In July 1939, Ribbentrop's claims about Bonnet's alleged statement of December 1938 was to lead to a lengthy war of words via a series of letters to the French newspapers between Bonnet and Ribbentrop over just what precisely Bonnet said to Ribbentrop. In the spring and summer of 1939, Ribbentrop used Bonnet's alleged statement to convince Hitler that France would not go to war in the defense of Poland, despite the frequent denials by Bonnet that he ever made such a statement (which would not have been legally binding even had Bonnet had made the alleged statement). In June 1939, Franco-German relations were further strained when the head of the French section of the Dienststelle Ribbentrop, Otto Abetz was expelled from France following allegations that he had bribed two French newspaper editors to print pro-German articles. Ribbentrop was enraged by Abetz's expulsion, and attacked Count Johannes von Welczeck, the German Ambassador in Paris over his failure to have the French re-admit Abetz.

The signing of the Non-Aggression Pact in Moscow on 23 August 1939 was the crowning achievement of Ribbentrop's career. Ribbentrop flew to Moscow, where over the course of a thirteen hour visit, Ribbentrop signed both the Non-Aggression Pact and the secret protocols, which partitioned much of Eastern Europe between the Soviets and the Germans. For a brief moment in August 1939, Ribbentrop convinced Hitler that the Non-Aggression Pact with the Soviet Union would cause the fall of the Chamberlain government, and lead to a new British government that would abandon the Poles to their fate. Unlike Hitler who saw the Non-Aggression Pact as merely a pragmatic device forced on him by circumstances, namely the refusal of Britain or Poland to play the roles Hitler had allocated to them, Ribbentrop regarded the Non-Aggression Pact as integral to his anti-British policy.

On the night of 30-31 August 1939, Ribbentrop had an extremely heated interview with Henderson, who objected to Ribbentrop's demand given at about midnight that if a Polish plenipotentiary did not arrive in Berlin that night to discuss the German "final offer", then the responsibility for the outbreak of war would not rest on the Reich. Henderson argued that the terms of the German "final offer" were very reasonable, but argued that Ribbentrop's time limit for Polish acceptance of the "final offer" was most unreasonable, and furthermore, demanded to know why Ribbentrop insisted upon seeing a special Polish plenipotentiary and could not present the "final offer" to Józef Lipski or provide a written copy of the "final offer". The Henderson-Ribbentrop meeting became so tense that the two men almost came to blows. As intended by Ribbentrop, the narrow time limit for acceptance of the "final offer" made it impossible for the British government to contact the Polish government in time about the German offer, let alone for the Poles to arrange for a Polish plenipotentiary envoy to arrive in Berlin that night, thereby allowing Ribbentrop to claim that the Poles had rejected the German "final offer". The "rejection" of the German proposal was one of the pretexts used for the German aggression against Poland on 1 September 1939. When on 3 September 1939 Chamberlain followed through with his threat of a British declaration of war if Germany attacked Poland, a visibly shocked Hitler asked Ribbentrop “Now what?”, a question to which Ribbentrop had no answer except to state that there would be a "similar message" forthcoming from the French.

After the outbreak of World War II, Ribbentrop spent most of the Polish campaign traveling with Hitler. On 27 September 1939, Ribbentrop made a second visit to Moscow, where at meetings with the Soviet Foreign Commissar Vyacheslav Molotov and Joseph Stalin, he was forced to agree to revising the Secret Protocols of the Non-Aggression Pact in the Soviet Union's favor. On 1 March 1940, Ribbentrop received Sumner Welles, the American Under-Secretary of State, who was a peace mission for President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and did his best to abuse his American guest. On 7 May 1940, Ribbentrop founded a new section of the Auswärtiges Amt, the Abteilung Deutschland (Department of Internal German Affairs) under Martin Luther, to which was assigned the responsibility for all anti-Semitic affairs.

Relations with wartime allies

After June 1940, Ribbentrop, who was a Francophile, argued that Germany should allow Vichy France a limited degree of independence within a binding new Franco-German partnership. To this end, Ribbentrop appointed a colleague from the Dienststelle named Otto Abetz as Ambassador to France with instructions to promote the political career of Pierre Laval. The amount of Auswärtiges Amt influence in France varied as there were many other agencies competing for power there such as the military, the SS and the Four Year Plan office of Ribbentrop's archenemy Hermann Göring, but in general from late 1943 to mid-1944, the Auswärtiges Amt was second only to the SS in terms of power in France.

From the later half of 1937, Ribbentrop had championed the idea of an alliance between Germany, Italy and Japan that would partition the British Empire between them. After signing the Soviet-German Non-Aggression Pact, Ribbentrop expanded on this idea for an Axis alliance to include the Soviet Unionmarker to form an Eurasian bloc that would destroy maritime states such as Britain. The German historian Klaus Hildebrand argued that besides Hitler’s foreign policy programme, there were three other factions within the Nazi Party who had alternative foreign policy programmes, whom Hildebrand dubbed the agrarians, the revolutionary socialists, and the Wilhelmine Imperialists. Another German diplomatic historian, Wolfgang Michalka argued that there was a fourth alternative Nazi foreign policy programme, and that was Ribbentrop’s concept of a Euro-Asiatic bloc comprising the four totalitarian states of Germany, the Soviet Unionmarker, Italy and Japan. Unlike the other factions, Ribbentrop’s foreign policy programme was the only one that Hitler allowed to be executed during the years 1939-41, though was more due to temporary bankruptcy of Hitler’s own foreign policy programme that he had laid in Mein Kampf and Zweites Buch following the failure to achieve the British alliance, than to a genuine change of mind. Ribbentrop foreign policy conceptions differed from Hitler's in that Ribbentrop's concept of international relations owned more to the traditional Wilhelmine Machtpolitik then to Hitler's racist and Social Darwinist vision of different "races" locked in a merciless and endless struggle over Lebensraum. The different foreign policy conceptions held by Hitler and Ribbentrop were illustrated in their reaction to the Fall of Singaporemarker in 1942. Ribbentrop wanted this great British defeat to be a day of celebration in Germany, whereas Hitler forbade any celebrations on the grounds that Singapore represented a sad day for the principles of white supremacy. Another area of difference was that Ribbentrop had an obsessive hatred for Britain, which he saw as the main enemy and the Soviet Union as important ally in the anti-British struggle, whereas Hitler saw the alliance with the Soviet Union as only tactical, and was nowhere as anti-British as his Foreign Minister. Ribbentrop liked and admired Stalin and was against the attack on the USSRmarker in 1941. He passed a word to a Soviet diplomat: "Please tell Stalin I was against this war, and that I know it will bring great misfortune to Germany."

In the fall of 1940, Ribbentrop made a sustained, but unsuccessful effort to have Spain enter the war on the Axis side. During his talks with the Spanish foreign minister, Ramón Serrano Súñer, Ribbentrop affronted the Spaniard with his tactless behavior, especially his suggestion that Spain cede the Canary Islandsmarker to Germany. Another area where Ribbentrop enjoyed more success occurred in September 1940, when Ribbentrop had the Far Eastern agent of the Dienststelle Ribbentrop, Dr. Heinrich Georg Stahmer start negotiations with the Japanese foreign minister, Yosuke Matsuoka for an anti-American alliance (the German Ambassador to Japan, General Eugen Ott was excluded from the talks on Ribbentrop's orders). The end result of these talks was the signing in Berlin of the Tripartite Pact by Ribbentrop, Count Ciano and the Japanese Ambassador Saburo Kurusu. It was Ribbentrop's hope that the prospect of facing the Tripartite Pact would deter the United States from supporting Britain, but since the Pact was more or less openly directed against the United States, it had the opposite effect to the one intended on American public opinion. In the spring of 1941, Ribbentrop strongly pushed for German aid to for the Rashid Ali al-Gaylani government in Iraq, where he saw a great opportunity of striking a blow at British influence in the Middle East.

Ribbentrop was found to have had culpability in the Holocaust on the grounds that he persuaded the leaders of satellite countries of the Third Reich to deport Jews to the Nazi extermination camps. He championed the so-called Madagascar Plan in June 1940 to deport all of Europe's Jews to Madagascarmarker after the presumed imminent defeat of Britain. As World War Two went on, Ribbentrop's once friendly relations with the SS became increasingly strained. In January 1941, the nadir of SS-Auswärtiges Amt relations was reached when the Iron Guard attempted a coup in Romaniamarker with Ribbentrop supporting the government of Marshal Ion Antonescu and Himmler supporting the Iron Guard. In the aftermath of the failed coup in Bucharestmarker, the Auswärtiges Amt assembled evidence that the SDmarker had backed the coup, which led to Ribbentrop sharply restricting the powers of the SD police attachés, who since October 1939 had operated largely independently of the German embassies at which they had been stationed. In the spring of 1941, Ribbentrop appointed an assemblage of SAmarker men to German embassies in Eastern Europe with Manfred von Killinger going to Romaniamarker, Siegfried Kasche to Croatiamarker, Adolf Beckerle to Bulgariamarker, Dietrich von Jagow to Hungary and Hans Ludin to Slovakiamarker. The major qualifications of all these men, none of whom had previously held a diplomatic position before were that they were close friends of Luther and as a way of spiting the SSmarker (the traditional rivalry between the SS and SA was still running strong).

In August 1941, when the question of whether to deport foreign Jews living in Germany arose, Ribbentrop argued against deportation, but had Luther negotiate agreements with the governments of Romania, Slovakia and Croatia to allow Jews holding citizenships of those states to be deported. In September 1941, the Reich Plenipotentiary for Serbiamarker, Felix Benzler of Auswärtiges Amt reported to Ribbentrop that the SS had arrested 8,000 Serbian Jews, whom they were planning to execute en masse, and asked for permission to try to stop the massacre. Ribbentrop assigned the question to Luther, whom in turn ordered Benzler to co-operate fully in the massacre. Despite the often fierce rivalry with the SS, the Auswärtiges Amt played a key role in arranging the deportations of Jews to the death camps from France (1942-44), Hungary (1944-45), Slovakia, Italy (after 1943), and the Balkans. Ribbentrop assigned all of the Holocaust-related work to an old crony from the Dienststelle named Martin Luther, who represented the Foreign Ministry at the Wannsee Conferencemarker. In 1942, Ambassador Otto Abetz secured the deportation of 25,000 French Jews and Ambassador Hans Ludin secured the deportation of 50,000 Slovak Jews to the death camps. Only once, in August 1942, did Ribbentrop attempt to impede the deportations, but only because of jurisdictional disputes with the SS. Ribbentrop ordered the halt of deportations from Romaniamarker and Croatiamarker: in the case of the former, he was insulted because the SS were negotiating with the Romanians directly, and in the case of the latter because the SS and Luther were jointly pressuring the Italians in their zone of occupation in Croatia to deport their Jews without informing Ribbentrop first, who was supposed to be personally kept abreast of all developments in Italo-German relations. In September 1942, after a meeting with Hitler, who was most unhappy with his Foreign Minister's actions, Ribbentrop promptly changed course and ordered that the deportations be resumed at once with all speed.

Another low point in Ribbentrop's relations with the SS occurred in February 1943, when the SD backed an internal putsch attempt by Luther to oust Ribbentrop as Foreign Minister. Luther had become estranged from Ribbentrop because he continued to be treated as a household servant by Frau Ribbentrop, who, in turn, had pressured her husband into ordering an investigation into allegations of corruption on Luther’s part. The putsch failed largely because at the last minute Himmler decided that a Foreign Ministry headed by Luther would be a more dangerous opponent than one by Ribbentrop, and so withdrew his support from Luther. In the aftermath of the failed putsch, Luther was sent to Sachsenhausenmarker concentration camp.

In the spring of 1944, the German Reich Plenipotentiary for Hungary, Edmund Veesenmayer (formally Ribbentrop’s liaison man with the IRA) of the Auswärtiges Amt played a major role in helping to arrange the deportation of 400,000 Hungarian Jews to the death camps. Veesenmayer kept Ribbentrop fully informed about the Hungarian deportations, sending the Foreign Minister weekly reports about the deportations, and threatened the Hungarian Regent, Admiral Miklós Horthy, when he ordered a halt to the deportations in July 1944. On 28 April 1944, Ribbentrop, who had finally won control of foreign propaganda, founded a new section at the Auswärtiges Amt called "Anti-Jewish Action Abroad" under Rudolf Schleier, which included Mohammad Amin al-Husayni and Rashid Ali al-Gaylani as members, and was given the responsibility of conducting anti-Semitic propaganda abroad.

Declining influence

As the war went on, Ribbentrop's influence declined. As much of the world was at war with Germany and as Germany was losing, the usefulness of the Foreign Ministry became increasingly limited. Hitler, for his part, found Ribbentrop increasingly tiresome and sought to avoid him. The Foreign Minister's ever more desperate pleas for Hitler to allow him to find some way of making peace with at least some of Germany's enemies — the Soviet Union in particular — certainly played a role in this estrangement. As Ribbentrop's influence with Hitler went into a sharp decline after 1943, he increasingly spent his time feuding with other Nazi leaders over control of anti-Semitic policies as way of trying to win back Hitler's favor.

Ribbentrop's last significant act in field of foreign relations was his role in the Ryti-Ribbentrop Agreement with Finnishmarker President Risto Ryti.

A major blow against Ribbentrop was the participation of many old diplomats from the Auswärtige Amt in the 20 July 1944 putsch and assassination attempt against Hitler. Ribbentrop had no knowledge of the plot, but the involvement of so many former and serving members of the Foreign Ministry reflected badly on him. Hitler felt with some justification that Ribbentrop was not keeping proper tabs on what his diplomats were up to, because of his "bloated administration". After 20 July, Ribbentrop (who by this time was reconciled with SS) worked closely with the SSmarker in purging the Auswärtige Amt of those suspected of involvement with the putsch. Two of the more notable diplomats to be executed after the July putsch were Count Friedrich Werner von der Schulenburg and Ulrich von Hassell. As part of the purge effort, and at the instigation of his wife, Ribbentrop had Lieny Behlau, the widow of Frau Ribbentrop's younger brother sent to a concentration camp in August 1944 under the Sippenhaft law, and the custody of her two children assigned to himself and his wife, which had the benefit of making the Ribbentrops the legal guardians of Behlau's share of the Henkell family fortune. Ribbentrop worked in close co-operation with the SS for what turned out to be his last significant foreign policy move, Operation Panzerfaust, the coup that deposed Admiral Miklós Horthy, the Regent of Hungary on 15 October 1944. Horthy was deposed because he attempted to seek a separate peace with the Allies, and replaced with Ferenc Szálasi, who resumed in co-operation with the SS and the Auswärtige Amt the deportations of Hungarian Jews that Horthy had halted in July 1944.

On 20 April 1945, Ribbentrop attended Hitler's 56th birthday party in Berlin. This was one of the last times he saw Hitler. On 23 April 1945, Ribbentrop attempted to have a meeting with Hitler, only to be told to go away as Hitler had more important things to do than talk to him. This was his last meeting with Hitler.

On 14 June 1945, Ribbentrop was arrested by Sergeant Jacques Goffinet, a French citizen who had joined the Belgian SAS and was working with British forces near Hamburg. Found with him was a rambling letter addressed to the British Prime Minister "Vincent Churchill" criticizing British foreign policy for anti-German bias and blaming the British for the Soviet occupation of the eastern half of Germany and thus for the advance of "Bolshevism" into central Europe. The fact that Ribbentrop even in 1945 did not record that Churchill's first name was "Winston" reflected either his general ignorance about the world outside of Germany, or else a distracted state of mind at the time of writing the letter.

Trial and execution

The body of Joachim von Ribbentrop after his execution.
Ribbentrop was a defendant at the Nuremberg Trialsmarker, charged with crimes against peace, deliberately planning a war of aggression, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Prosecutors presented evidence that Ribbentrop was actively involved in the planning of German aggression and the deportation of Jews to death camps, as well as his advocacy of the killing of American and British airmen shot down over Germany.

The Allies' International Military Tribunal found him guilty of all charges brought against him. Even in prison, Ribbentrop remained subservient to Hitler, stating "Even with all I know, if in this cell Hitler should come to me and say 'Do this!', I would still do it."

During the trial, Ribbentrop rather unsuccessfully attempted to deny his role in the war. For example, during his cross-examination, the prosecution brought up claims that he (along with Hitler and Göring) threatened the Czecho-Slovak President Emil Hácha in March 1939, with a "threat of aggressive action". The questioning resulted in the following exchange between the British Prosecutor Sir David Maxwell-Fyfe and Ribbentrop:

:MAXWELL-FYFE: What further pressure could you put on the head of a country beyond threatening him that your Army would march in, in overwhelming strength, and your air force would bomb his capital?

:RIBBENTROP: War, for instance.

While not recorded in the trial transcript, Hermann Göring was said to have remarked, after hearing these words, that Ribbentrop deserved to hang, if only for his stupidity.

During the trial, Gustave Gilbert, an American Army psychologist, was allowed to examine the Nazi leaders who were tried at Nuremberg for war crimes. Among other tests, a German version of the Wechsler-Bellevue IQ test was administered. Joachim von Ribbentrop scored 129, the 10th highest among the Nazi leaders tested.

At one point during the trial proceedings, U.S. Army interpreter for the prosecution Richard Sonnenfeldt asked Baron Ernst von Weizsacker, Ribbentrop's second in command, how Hitler could have made him a high official. Weizsacker responded "Hitler never noticed Ribbentrop's babbling because Hitler always did all the talking."

Since Göring had committed suicide a few hours prior to the time of execution, Ribbentrop was the first politician to be hanged on the morning of 16 October 1946. After being escorted up the 13 steps to the waiting noose, Ribbentrop was asked if he had any final words. He calmly said: "God protect Germany. God have mercy on my soul. My final wish is that Germany should recover her unity and that, for the sake of peace, there should be understanding between East and West." As the hood was placed over his head, Ribbentrop added: "I wish peace to the world." After a slight pause the executioner pulled the lever, releasing the trap door Ribbentrop stood upon. He was declared dead 17 minutes later.

In 1953 Ribbentrop's memoirs, Zwischen London und Moskau (Between London and Moscow), were published.

Portrayal in popular culture

Joachim von Ribbentrop has been portrayed by the following actors in film, television and theater productions;

Ribbentrop is also a key figure in the historical novel "Famous Last Words" by Timothy Findley (Penguin Books 1982, ISBN 0-14-006268-8) and Harry Turtledove's alternate history series Worldwar.

See also


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  2. Bloch, Ribbentrop, pages 3–4.
  3. Bloch, Ribbentrop, page 6.
  4. Bloch, Ribbentrop, page 7.
  5. Lawson, Robert, "Ribbentrop in Canada 1910 to 1914: A Note", International History Review XXIX, Issue #4 December 2007, pages 821–832.
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  7. Current Biography 1941, pp. 707-709
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  9. Bloch, Ribbentrop, page 9.
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  14. Current Biography 1941, p. 708.
  15. Bloch, Ribbentrop, page 26.
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  18. Craig 1953, p. 420-421.
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  29. Bloch, Ribbentrop, page 55.
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