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Germany

Historians to Probe Ministry's Nazi Past

Sixty years after the collapse of the Nazi regime, the German foreign ministry plans to look into its controversial postwar history, including allegations that it employed Nazi war criminals.

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Joschka Fischer is calling for historians to investigate the ministry

Historians have long quipped that you could find more former Nazi party members in the newly-established German diplomatic service after World War II than you could in its predecessor during Hitler's Third Reich. And indeed it appears that the German foreign office readily employed former Nazi officials who were looking for work immediately after the war.

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 on Monday. "Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer is currently thinking of establishing an independent panel of historians who would carry out this task."

Fischer has come under fire from senior members of his ministry for refusing to allow full obituaries of former Nazi party members to be published in the ministry's in-house newsletter. He took the decision after it became known that posthumous tributes had been paid to Franz Nüsslein, a convicted war criminal.

Safe in Franco's Spain

The scandal was uncovered by Marga Henseler, a member of the ministry's staff who has since retired. "I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw the obituary," she said. "I immediately wrote a letter to Joschka Fischer urging him not to tolerate this."

Deutsche Wehrmacht in Prag Archivbild 1939

German soldiers in occupied Prague, March 1939

Franz 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.

Henseler recalled that Nüsslein joined the foreign service shortly thereafter. "In the ministry rumors were quickly making the rounds that he did time in Prague," she said. "So everybody knew about his past. There were some protests internally, after which Nüsslein was quickly moved to the mission in Barcelona in Spain, where dictator Franco ruled at the time and where nothing could happen to him anymore."

Purging the remnants

Außenministerium - Auswärtiges Amt

The Foreign Ministry in Berlin

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.

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