Joachim von Ribbentrop

Joachim von Ribbentrop : Nazi Germany

Joachim von Ribbentrop, the son of a German Army officer, was born in Wesel, Germany, on 30th April, 1893. Educated at a boarding school at Switzerland he also spent time in France and England as a child.

In 1911 he began working as clerk with a German importing form based in London before moving to Canada where he worked as a timekeeper on the reconstruction of the Quebec Bridge and the Canadian Pacific Railroad. This was followed by employment as a journalist in New York City and Boston.

On the outbreak of the First World War Ribbentrop returned to Germany where he joined the German Army. While serving with the 125th Hussar Regiment he won the Iron Cross. After being seriously wounded in 1917 Ribbentrop joined the War Ministry and was a member of the German delegation that attended the Paris Peace Conference.

After leaving the German Army Ribbentrop worked as a salesman for the French firm of Pommerey in the Rhineland. He later became a partner in a Berlin sales agency. In May 1932 Ribbentrop joined the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP). He quickly moved up the hierarchy and in 1933 became Hitler's foreign affairs adviser. The following year he established the Ribbentrop Bureau an organization that eventually had a staff of 300 people.

Adolf Hitler appointed Ribbentrop as the ambassador to London in August, 1936. His main objective was to persuade the British government not to get involved in Germany territorial disputes and to work together against the the communist government in the Soviet Union.

When Ribbentrop presented his credentials to George VI on 5th February, 1937, the British were outraged when he gave the Hitler salute. He also upset the British government by posting Schutz Staffeinel (SS) guards outside the German Embassy and by flying swastika flags on official cars.

On 4th February, 1938, Ribbentrop replaced Constantin von Neurath as Germany's foreign minister. He worked closely with Adolf Hitler in his negotiations with the British and French governments and in August 1939 arranged the signing of the Nazi-Soviet Pact. As Raymond Gram Swing later recalled: "The British were busy all through early 1939 trying to negotiate an agreement with the Soviet Union. Even up to the stunning surprise of the Von Ribbentrop-Molotov pact, a success in the British negotiations was awaited. The Poles were against it; they wanted no truck with Moscow. But I thought the British-Soviet negotiations would succeed in spite of the Poles, and said so. Now that this is all in the past, one sees that Stalin signed the pact with Hitler for two reasons, one being to partition a hostile Poland and annex a part of it, the other being to buy time to prepare for an attack Hitler might launch against the Soviet Union."

In 1940 Hitler once again began to consider invading the Soviet Union and he sent Ribbentrop to negotiate a new treaty with Japan. On 25th September, 1940, Ribbentrop sent a telegram to Vyacheslav Molotov, the Soviet foreign minister, informing him that Germany, Italy and Japan were about to sign a military alliance. Ribbentrop pointed out that the alliance was to be directed towards the United States and not the Soviet Union.

Molotov already knew about the proposed German-Japanese Pact. Richard Sorge, a German journalist working in Tokyo, was a Soviet spy and had already told Molotov that Adolf Hitler was involved in negotiations with Japan. In Sorge's view, the pact was directed against the Soviet Union but it was not until December, 1940, that he was able to send Molotov full details of Operation Barbarossa.

Rippentrop became a background figure during the Second World War but was arrested and charged with war crimes in June, 1945. Joachim von Ribbentrop denied knowledge of German concentration camps and racial extermination policies, but was found guilty at the Nuremberg War Crimes Trial and was executed on 16th October, 1946.

© , September 1997 - April 2014

Primary Sources

(1) Joachim von Ribbentrop joined the German Army in 1914.

Four weeks after my enlistment the first draft moved to the front regiment, but I was not considered worthy of inclusion, I thought the war would be over by the time I had got through my training, but in fact I fought with this regiment until early in 1918, first on the eastern and then on the western front, except when I was wounded and once when I was seriously ill. The last time I was wounded, in the summer of 1917, I received the Iron Cross 1st Class; now my eldest son has received the same decoration, which has thus been won by four generations of our family.

(2) Joachim von Ribbentrop joined the War Ministry after being wounded in the First World War and attended some of the Peace Conference before the Versailles Treaty was signed in 1919.

None of us imagined in the spring of 1919 that all the efforts of the so-called Peace Commission, which was preparing the German side of the Peace Conference and to which I was attached, would be entirely vain. When the treaty arrived in Berlin I read it in one night and then threw it away, fully convinced that no German Government could possibly sign such a document. Count von Brockdorff-Rantzau, the Foreign Minister, resigned, but all the same the treaty was signed.

(3) Joachim von Ribbentrop, Memoirs (1953)

In the winter of 1930 to 1931 it became clear that neither the bourgeois parties nor the Churches were able to save Germany from communism, and that the only chance to avert this fate lay in National Socialism. I stood close to the German People's Party and was alarmed when I observed the disintegration of the bourgeois parties.

When in those days my foreign friends asked me about National Socialism, I always told them: "Give Bruning a chance and Hitler will not come. Without this chance the choice lies between him and communism." The Weimar Republic was not given a chance, but Hitler eventually emerged as the victor over communism. There can be no doubt that this was no easy victory.

In August, 1932, friends of mine in the National Socialist camp asked me to call on Hitler and to act as intermediary between him and von Papen, whom I knew. On my arrival in Berchtesgaden I found Hitler full of resentment towards Herr von Papen and the entire Cabinet in Berlin.

Adolf Hitler informed me of the ideas about a coalition; he was prepared to work with other political forces, but insisted on the post of Reich Chancellor. At this very first meeting Adolf Hitler impressed me very strongly, and I was convinced that only he and his party could save Germany from communism.

(4) Raymond Gram Swing, Good Evening (1964)

The British were busy all through early 1939 trying to negotiate an agreement with the Soviet Union. Even up to the stunning surprise of the Von Ribbentrop-Molotov pact, a success in the British negotiations was awaited. The Poles were against it; they wanted no truck with Moscow. But I thought the British-Soviet negotiations would succeed in spite of the Poles, and said so.

Now that this is all in the past, one sees that Stalin signed the pact with Hitler for two reasons, one being to partition a hostile Poland and annex a part of it, the other being to buy time to prepare for an attack Hitler might launch against the Soviet Union. This makes the perfidy of the Von Ribbentrop-Molotov pact no less venal, but perhaps a little less stupid than at first appeared. It would have served mankind far better for Stalin to have joined in deterring Hitler, instead of giving him the green light to make war. But when it comes to attributing blame for Hitler's war, France and Britain bear part of it for selling out Czechoslovakia at Munich.

(5) Sigrid Schultz, Chicago Tribune (13th July, 1939)

Communism, Soviet Russia and Dictator Stalin were called the arch enemies of civilization when Hitler was advancing toward supreme power. Hatred of communism and the faith of the bourgeois that he would save from communism helped him become master of Germany.

Today England is being proclaimed as World Enemy No.1. She is accused of usurping the rights of small nations, of opposing Germany's "right to be the first power in the world."

Hatred of England is simmering or blazing in Japan, India, Arabia, Africa, Ireland, Russia, and England's ally, France. It is being fanned systematically by Nazi agents throughout the world.

Hitler, it is said, hopes to use this hatred to establish Germany as the most powerful nation in the world, the same as he used the German citizen's hatred of communism to establish his rule in Germany.

Friendship with Soviet Russia, or at least an understanding with her, can prove a powerful weapon in Germany's campaign "to force England to her knees," diplomatic sources declare.

The Germans figure that the English are so terrified of the possible formation of a Soviet-German bloc that Neville Chamberlain and Lord Halifax will again go to Germany and offer all the concessions the Germans want. If the British fail to respond to the threat, the Germans argue that they can still get enough raw materials and money out of Russia to make the deal worth while.

(6) in August 1939, Joachim von Ribbentrop arranged the signing of the Nazi-Soviet Pact.

To seek a settlement with Russia was my very own idea which I urged on Hitler because I sought to create a counter-weight to the West and because I wanted to ensure Russian neutrality in the event of a German-Polish conflict.

After a short ceremonial welcome the four of us sat down at a table: Stalin, Molotov, Count Schulenburg and myself. Others present were our interpreter, Hilger, a great expert on Russian affairs, and a young fair-haired Russian interpreter, Pavlov, who seemed to enjoy Stalin's special trust.

Stalin spoke - briefly, precisely, without many words; but what he said was clear and unambiguous and showed that he, too, wished to reach a settlement and understanding with Germany. Stalin used the significant phrase that although we had 'poured buckets of filth' over each other for years there was no reason why we should not make up our quarrel.

(7) Nikita Khrushchev was the secretary of the Moscow Regional Committee in 1939. Khrushchev who was with Stalin when the Nazi-Soviet Pact was signed, wrote about these events in his autobiography, Khrushchev Remembers (1971)

I believe the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact of 1939 was historically inevitable, given the circumstances of the time, and that in the final analysis it was profitable for the Soviet Union. It was like a gambit in chess: if we hadn't made that move, the war would have started earlier, much to our disadvantage. It was very hard for us - as Communists, as anti-fascists - to accept the idea of joining forces with Germany. It was difficult enough for us to accept the paradox ourselves.

For their part, the Germans too were using the treaty as a maneuver to win time. Their idea was to divide and conquer the nations which had united against Germany in World War I and which might united against Germany again. Hitler wanted to deal with his adversaries one at a time. He was convinced that Germany had been defeated in World war I because he tried to fight on two fronts at once. The treaty he signed with us was his way of trying to limit the coming war to one front.

(8) Joachim von Ribbentrop, statement made during the Nuremberg War Crimes Trial about the outbreak of the Second World War.

For years Hitler tried to counteract the danger from the East by concluding an alliance with Britain. The Naval Agreement by 1935 and the waiving of claims to Alsace-Lorraine were, among other things, an earnest of the intentions of German foreign policy; they showed that Germany was ready to make sacrifices. But Britain could not be won over. She regarded Germany's growing strength, not as a reasonable correction of Versailles and as a safeguard against the East, but only as a threat to the 'balance of power'.

I worked for an understanding between Germany, France and Britain for twenty years of my life, and later wrestled with Britain to achieve an alliance. Up to the last hour I made efforts to avoid the war. But Britain, fully resolved to prevent the further growth of Germany's strength, concluded her alliance with Poland. This made a peaceful German-Polish settlement impossible.

(9) Joachim von Ribbentrop sent a telegram to Vyacheslav Molotov about the proposed German-Japanese Pact on 25th September, 1940.

This alliance is directed exclusively against American warmongers. To be sure that is, as usual, not expressly stated in the treaty, but can be unmistakably inferred from its terms. Its exclusive purpose is to bring the elements pressing for America's entry into the war to their senses by conclusively demonstrating to them if they enter the present struggle they will automatically have to deal with the three great powers as adversaries.

(10) Joachim von Ribbentrop, letter to Staatssekretaer Weizsaecker (29th April, 1941)

I can summarize my opinion on a German-Russian conflict in one sentence: if every burned out Russian city was worth as much to us as a sunk English battleship, then I would be in favour of a German-Russian war in this summer; I think though that we can win over Russia only militarily but that we should lose economically. One can find it enticing to give the Communist system its death blow and perhaps say too that it lies in the logic of things to let the European-Asiatic continent now march forth against Anglo-Saxondom and its allies. But only one thing is decisive: whether this undertaking would hasten the fall of England.

That we will advance militarily up to Moscow and beyond victoriously, I believe is unquestionable. But I thoroughly doubt that we could make use of what was won against the well known passive resistance of the Slavs.

A German attack on Russia would only give a lift to English morale. It would be evaluated there as German doubt of the success of our war against England. We would in this fashion not only admit that the war would still last a long time, but we could in this way actually lengthen instead of shorten it.

(11) Joachim von Ribbentrop, statement made during the Nuremberg War Crimes Trial about the persecution of the Jews.

When once I heard from a diplomatic report that ill-treatment of Jews in a concentration camp in Poland was discussed vehemently in diplomatic circles abroad, I took the report at once to the Fuehrer urging immediate change, if it were true. The Fuehrer kept the report to look into the matter but gave me clearly to understand that this was a question of the interior authorities.

(12) Joachim von Ribbentrop, notes made during the Nuremberg War Crimes Trial.

The Court refers to the killing of a French general by the way of reprisal for the killing of a German general in similar circumstances. The Court knew very well that I had made representations against this plan with Hitler, that the legal department of the Foreign Office had been called in on my behalf, and had always advocated the observance of the Geneva Convention in all circumstances.

The allegation that I played an important part in the 'final solution' (a term which I heard mentioned here in Nuremberg for the first time) of the Jewish problem is also a free invention. The opposite is true. Several witnesses have made detailed statements on these matters.

I have always advocated the observance of the Geneva Convention, I was instrumental in the unshackling of British prisoners of war, I prevented the branding of Russian prisoners, and I intervened decisively against the plan to shoot 10,000 enemy prisoner-of-war, mainly airmen, after the air raid on Dresden.

(13) Edward Heath, The Course of My Life (1988)

I looked towards the dock. In two rows often they sat: Goring, reduced to wearing a plain, ill-fitting grey uniform - no medals now - alert and attentive, vigorously nodding his head in agreement or shaking it in denial; Hess, with his pale pinched face; von Ribbentrop, always busy writing notes; Keitel and Jodi, the soldiers, staring silently and sullenly ahead; Schacht, the businessman, whose relationship with the Nazis had been more turbulent, and who had distaste etched into his face at having to sit in public with such unpleasant people; von Papen and von Neurath, politicians both but still the diplomats, polished and immaculate. These all stood out. But how unimpressive were Seyss-Inquart, who had betrayed Austria and ruled occupied Holland; Rosenberg and Fritsche, the propagandists; and von Schirach, formerly a fanatical and dangerous young zealot, but now a visibly broken man. For a time, the whole free world had quaked before these men. Ultimately, however, they had brought not glory, but ruin and misery, to their own land and its people. We had lived in their shadow for a decade, but now history was free to deliver a final verdict upon them.

When the court adjourned for a quarter of an hour, I saw the Nazi leaders arguing heatedly among themselves about the evidence they had heard: evidence which had been gathered from every corner of Europe, from the Chancelleries and concentration camps, from the occupied countries and from Germany itself, of how the Nazis plunged the world into war, led Germany to its undoing and brought themselves, at last, into the dock in that Court House in Nuremberg.