Attempts to avoid embarrassing tributes to diplomats who served under the Nazis have led to the removal of one long-time diplomat critical of the foreign minister's handling of the matter.
Fischer is being drawn further into the "Obit-gate" row
German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer last month introduced a rule reducing obituaries of deceased diplomats in a foreign ministry magazine to only the barest information in order to avoid mentioning the Nazi pasts of some of those in his charge.
The move angered many staffers including Frank Elbe, the ambassador to Switzerland, who wrote a letter published in Bild newspaper in March complaining that the issue was managed "poorly."
Elbe, an experineced diplomat who had served as ambassador to Switzerland since July 2003 and had previously served in Poland, Japan and India, found out on Thursday that such comments would not be tolerated by hsi boss. Elbe was recalled from Switzerland and removed from his post.
The issue against which Elbe rebelled arose after it became known that a 2003 posthumous tribute had been paid to Franz Nüsslein, a convicted war criminal.
Nüsslein was a former Nazi prosecutor in German-occupied Czechoslovakia where he was involved in numerous death sentences handed down to the enemies of Nazi Germany. After the war, a court in Prague sentenced him to 20 years in prison for war crimes, but he was released after serving only seven years.
Retired ministry employee Marga Henseler recalled that Nüsslein joined the foreign service shortly thereafter and after internal protests, he was shipped off to Franco's Spain. It was Henseler who complained to Fischer after seeing his obituary, urging him "not to tolerate this."
A long overdue investigation
Issue long ignored
Historians have long said that two-thirds of German diplomats were former Nazis. Efforts are now underway to open up the ministry's recent past to public scrutiny, according to Klaus Scharioth, undersecretary in the foreign ministry.
"We need to look into the history of the foreign office under the Nazis in a systematic manner," he said recently. "Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer is currently thinking of establishing an independent panel of historians who would carry out this task."
Determined to battle on
Earlier this year, Joschka Fischer also refused to pay full tribute to Franz Krapf, a former SS and Nazi party member who later became Germany's ambassador to NATO. Fischer's actions provoked a revolt by some 70 diplomats who publicly accused the foreign minister of applying double standards in a reference to his own past as a leftist militant.
Although weakened by a different scandal over lax visa regulations, Fischer appears determined to battle on in this dispute, which historians say should have reached the public domain long ago. Ministry sources say Fischer is now planning an internal reshuffle of posts in what appears to be an effort to finally purge the foreign ministry of the last remnants of Nazism.
"There is a problem in the ministry in confronting our own understanding of history that we must deal with," he told Tageszeitung, a Berlin newspaper.