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Baron Ernst von Weizsäcker


In office
1938 – 1943
Succeeded by Gustav Adolf Steengracht von Moyland

In office
1943 – 1945
Preceded by Diego von Bergen
Succeeded by Wolfgang Jaenicke (1954)

Nationality German

Ernst Freiherr[1] von Weizsäcker (May 25, 1882 – August 4, 1951) was a German diplomat and politician. He served as Secretary of State at the Foreign Office from 1938 to 1943, and as German Ambassador to the Holy See from 1943 to 1945. He was a member of the prominent Weizsäcker family, and the father of German President Richard von Weizsäcker and physicist and philosopher Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker.

Contents

Early life and active naval career

Weizsäcker was born in Stuttgart to Karl Hugo von Weizsäcker, who would become Minister President (Prime Minister) of the Kingdom of Württemberg and raised to personal nobility in 1897, and Paula von Meibom. In 1911 he married Marianne von Graevenitz, who belonged to the old nobility. In 1916 he became a Freiherr (Baron), as his father and his family were raised to the inheritable nobility, less than two years before the fall of the German monarchy.

In 1900, Weizsäcker joined the Kaiserliche Marine (Imperial German Navy) to become an officer, serving mainly in Berlin. In 1916, he served as Flag Lieutenant to Admiral Reinhard Scheer aboard the German flagship Friedrich der Grosse during the battle of Jutland. In 1917, during the latter portion of World War I he earned the Iron Cross (both classes) and was promoted to Korvettenkapitän (equivalent to U.K and U.S. naval officer grades of Lieutenant Commander) the following year. He was a member of the Admiral Staff led by Admiral Reinhard Scheer from August 1918. From June 1919 to April 1920, he served as naval attaché to the Hague.

Diplomatic career

Weizsäcker joined the German Foreign Service in 1920. He was appointed as Consul to Basel in 1921, as Councillor in Copenhagen in 1924 and was stationed in Geneva from 1927. He became head of the department for disarmament in 1928, and was appointed as Envoy to Oslo in 1931 and to Berne in 1933. He became Director of the Policy Department at the Foreign Office in 1937 and the following year he was appointed as Secretary of State.

He was encouraged by his superior to join the ruling NSDAP party, which he did in 1938, and he was also awarded an honorary rank in the SS. According to his later account, he took up the position as Secretary of State because he wanted to prevent war in Europe.

He was promoted to SS-Brigadeführer on January 30, 1942.

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Ambassador to the Vatican

After the German defeat in the Battle of Stalingrad in 1943 and the changing German war fortunes, and following his own request, Weizsäcker resigned as Secretary of State and was appointed German Ambassador to the Holy See from 1943 to 1945.

When received by Vatican State Secretary Luigi Cardinal Maglione on January 6, 1944, Weizsäcker stated, "If Germany as a bulwark against communism should fall, all of Europe will become communist." To this, the cardinal replied, "What a misfortune, that Germany with its antireligious policies has stirred up such concerns."[2] Similar representations were repeated by Weizsäcker to Monsignore Giovanni Battista Montini (the later Pope Paul VI).

Weizsäcker's record at the Vatican was mixed. While in Berlin, he had refused to accept a Papal note protesting the treatment of occupied Poland.[3] During the German occupation of Rome, Weizsäcker did little to stop the deportation of Jews. However, he did help individuals to avoid persecution, and he helped to free Rome from all German military bases in an effort to discourage Allied bombing of the city.[4] He also advised the Foreign Office that drafting Jews for labor camps inside Italy might be less likely to draw a papal protest than deporting them.[5] According to Richard Evans, Weizsäcker shared the opinion of Ulrich von Hassell that the Final Solution was a "devilish campaign."[6]

"His messages and documents to Berlin were nothing but lies," said his coworker Albrecht von Kessel later.[7] In those messages to Berlin, Weizsäcker purposely painted Pope Pius XII as mild, diplomatic, indecisive, and pro-German, in order to help the Pope and to avoid anti-German sentiment in Italy.[8] Like the commanding Waffen SS General Karl Wolff, Weizsäcker was clearly opposed to Hitler’s plan to occupy the Vatican, during which, Weizsäcker feared, the Pope could have been shot, "fleeing while avoiding arrest"[9]

However, some Vatican documents show the ambassador to have been threatening. The State Secretariat papers include a conversation in February 1944 with Rev. Otto Faller on the Vatican refugee program, in which Weizsäcker attacked the Papal newspaper Osservatore Romano for its protests against the German searches of the Church and Convent of St. Paul and accused Catholic institutions of hoarding hams and other food items at the expense of the population. Weizsäcker also questioned the right of the Vatican to provide asylum to thousand of refugees within the Vatican City in Rome. Weizsäcker threatened military reprisals against parishes, Vatican institutions, and monasteries, and he announced a complete military surveillance not of the Vatican itself but also of the many off-limit churches, Roman Catholic institutions, and other off-limit buildings that housed Jewish, socialist, and foreign and domestic anti-fascist refugees. This remarkable threat from a German ambassador indicates that Weizsäcker was not without power during the German occupation of Rome.[10]

Weizsäcker continued to present the Vatican with anti-communist slogans, and either threatened a separate Russian-German peace[11] and requested from Monsignore Domenico Tardini to mount at once a Papal peace initiative to stop the war in the West so Germany could finish Communism in the East[12] (Tardini saw in this a transparent effort to obtain a military solution).[13] Like several other German officials, Weizsäcker attempted to negotiate the survival of some segment of the government and to avoid the "unconditional surrender" of Germany, but his efforts to bring up the topic of "a German transition government, and the likelihood of his being a member of it," failed.[14]

Postwar events

Ernst von Weizsäcker (right) with son Richard at post war trial

After the end of the war, Weizsäcker initially remained in the Vatican City with his wife, as a guest of the Pope and a member of the diplomatic corps. He did not return to Germany until 1946.

Weizsäcker was arrested on July 25, 1947, in Nuremberg in connection with the Ministries Trial, also known as the Wilhelmstrasse Trial, after the location of the German Foreign Office in Berlin. These American military tribunal started before and finished during the Berlin blockade confrontation with the Soviets and proceeded without participation of the USSR; they were also much milder in conduct and outcome than the first series of war crimes trials in 1946. No European judges were involved in the trial, which was very controversial because Weizsäcker was considered by many to be closely associated with the anti-Nazi resistance and as a moderate force at the Foreign Office during the war; Winston Churchill called his trial a "deadly error."[15].

Weizsäcker was charged with active cooperation with the deportation of French Jews to Auschwitz, as a crime against humanity. Weizsäcker, with the assistance of his son Richard, who appeared as his assistant defence counsel (Richard was a law student during the trial), claimed that he had no knowledge of the purpose for which Auschwitz had been designed and believed that Jewish prisoners would face less danger if deported to the east.

In 1949, the Americans sentenced him to 7 years in prison (one of the three judges voted to acquit him), but the same year, the sentence was reduced to five years, and the following year, he was given an amnesty which obliterated any legal remembrance of the sentence, and he was freed. He subsequently published his memoirs, in which he portrayed himself as a supporter of the resistance.

He died of a stroke in 1951.

Notes

  1. ^ Regarding personal names: Freiherr is a title, translated as Baron, not a first or middle name. The female forms are Freifrau and Freiin.
  2. ^ Pierre Blet, Pius XII and the Second World War, Paulist Press, 1997, p.256.
  3. ^ Pierre Blet, Pius XII and the Second World War, Paulist Press, 1997, p.89-90
  4. ^ Pierre Blet, Pius XII and the Second World War, Paulist Press, 1997, p.219-224
  5. ^ Evans, op. cit., p. 475.
  6. ^ Evans, op. cit., p. 630.
  7. ^ Albrecht von Kessel, Der Papst und die Juden, in Summa Injuria oder durfte der Papst schweigen Frankfurt 1963, p.168
  8. ^ Albrecht von Kessel, Der Papst und die Juden, in Summa Injuria oder durfte der Papst schweigen Frankfurt 1963, p.168
  9. ^ Albrecht von Kessel, Der Papst und die Juden, in Summa Injuria oder durfte der Papst schweigen Frankfurt 1963, p.168
  10. ^ 50. Le P. Otto Faller a la Secretairerie d'Etat, Actes et Documents du Daint Siege Relativs a la Seconde guerre Mondiale, Vol.11 152, 153
  11. ^ Pierre Blet, Pius XII and the Second World War, Paulist Press, 1997, p.256.
  12. ^ 505 Notes de Mgr.Tardini, Actes et Documents du Daint Siege Relativs a la Seconde guerre Mondiale, Vol.11 505
  13. ^ Pierre Blet, Pius XII and the Second World War, Paulist Press, 1997, p. 269
  14. ^ Pierre Blet, Pius XII and the Second World War, Paulist Press, 1997, p. 257
  15. ^ http://www.nybooks.com/articles/3034

Further reading

  • Chadwick, Owen. 1977. "Weizsäcker, the Vatican and the Jews of Rome". Journal of Ecclesiastical History, 28(2): 378.
  • Hill, Leonidas. 1967. "The Vatican Embassy of Ernst von Weizsäcker, 1943-1945". The Journal of Modern History. 39(2): 138-159.
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Diego von Bergen
German Ambassador to the Holy See
1943-1945
Succeeded by
Wolfgang Jaenicke (1954)

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