Konstantin von Neurath


Konstantin von Neurath
Konstantin von Neurath
Reichsprotektor von Neurath, 1939
Reich Minister of Foreign Affairs
 Weimar Republic
 Nazi Germany
In office
1 June 1932 – 4 February 1938
President Paul von Hindenburg (1932-1934)
Adolf Hitler (1934-1938)
Chancellor Franz von Papen (1932)
Kurt von Schleicher (1932-1933)
Adolf Hitler (1933-1938)
Preceded by Heinrich Brüning
Succeeded by Joachim von Ribbentrop
Protector of Bohemia and Moravia
In office
21 March 1939 – 24 August 1943
Appointed by Adolf Hitler
Preceded by New post
Succeeded by Reinhard Heydrich (de facto from 29 September 1941)
Wilhelm Frick (de iure)
Personal details
Born 2 February 1873(1873-02-02)
Kleinglattbach
German Empire
Died 14 August 1956(1956-08-14) (aged 83)
Enzweihingen
West Germany
Political party Independent (1932-1937)
Nazi (1937-1945)

Konstantin Freiherr[1] von Neurath (2 February 1873 – 14 August 1956) was a German diplomat remembered mostly for having served as Foreign minister of Germany between 1932 and 1938. Holding this post in the early years of Adolf Hitler's regime, Neurath was regarded as playing a key role in the foreign policy pursuits of the Nazi dictator in undermining the Treaty of Versailles and territorial expansion in the prelude to World War II, although he was often averse tactically if not necessarily ideologically. This aversion would result in Hitler replacing Neurath with the more compliant and fervent Nazi Joachim von Ribbentrop.

Neurath served as "Reichsprotektor of Bohemia and Moravia" between 1939 and 1943, but after being sidelined for SS-Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich his authority became nominal. He was tried as war criminal in Nuremberg and sentenced to fifteen years imprisonment for his compliance and actions in the Nazi regime.

Contents

Early life

Neurath was born at the manor of Kleinglattbach (since 1972 part of Vaihingen an der Enz) in Württemberg, the scion of a Swabian dynasty of Freiherren. His grandfather Constantin Franz von Neurath had served as Foreign Minister under King Charles I of Württemberg (reigned 1864-1891); his father Konstantin Sebastian von Neurath (d. 1912) had been a Free Conservative member of the German Reichstag parliament and Chamberlain of King William II of Württemberg.

Konstantin von Neurath during his military service, 1893

He studied law in Tübingen and in Berlin. After graduating in 1897 he initially joined a local law firm in his home town. In 1901 he entered into civil service and worked for the Foreign Office in Berlin. In 1903 he was assigned to the German embassy in London, at first as Vice-Consul and from 1909 as Legationsrat (legation counsel). Following the visit of the Prince of Wales to the Kingdom Württemberg in 1904, as Lord Chamberlain to King William II, he was created an Honorary Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order.[2] Neurath's career was decisively advanced by Secretary of State Alfred von Kiderlen-Waechter. In 1914 he was sent to the embassy in Constantinople.

On 30 May 1901 Neurath married Marie Auguste Moser von Filseck (1875–1960) in Stuttgart. His son Konstantin was born in 1902, followed by his daughter Winifred in 1904.

During World War I he served as an officer with an infantry regiment until 1916 when he was badly wounded. In December 1914 he was awarded the Iron Cross. He returned to the German diplomatic service in the Ottoman Empire (1914–1916), where he witnessed the Armenian Genocide. In 1917 he temporarily quit the diplomatic service to succeed his uncle Julius von Soden as head of the royal Württemberg government.

Political career

von Neurath in 1920

In 1919 Neurath with approval by President Friedrich Ebert returned to diplomacy, joining the embassy in Copenhagen as Minister to Denmark. From 1921 until 1930 he was the ambassador to Rome; he was not overly impressed with Italian Fascism. After the death of Gustav Stresemann in 1929, he was already considered for the post of Foreign Minister in the cabinet of Chancellor Hermann Müller by President Paul von Hindenburg, but his appointment failed due to the objections raised by the governing parties. In 1930 he returned to head the embassy in London.

Neurath was recalled to Germany in 1932 and became Minister of Foreign Affairs in the "Cabinet of Barons" under Chancellor Franz von Papen in June. He continued to hold that position under Chancellor Kurt von Schleicher and then under Adolf Hitler from the Machtergreifung on 30 January 1933. During the early days of Hitler's rule, Neurath lent an aura of respectability to Hitler's expansionist foreign policy.

In May 1933, the American chargé d'affaires reported that "Baron von Neurath has shown such a remarkable capacity for submitting to what in normal times could only be considered as affronts and indignities on the part of the Nazis, that it is still quite a possibility that the latter should be content to have him remain as a figurehead for some time yet".[3] He was involved in the German withdrawal from the League of Nations in 1933, the negotiations of the Anglo-German Naval Accord (1935) and the remilitarization of the Rhineland. Not before 1937 Neurath became a member of the Nazi Party by the awarding of the Golden Party Badge combined with the honorary rank of a Gruppenführer in the SS.

Nevertheless on 4 February 1938, Neurath was sacked as Foreign Minister in the course of the Blomberg–Fritsch Affair. He felt his office was marginalised and was not in favor of Hitler's aggressive war plans, which were detailed in the Hossbach Memorandum of 5 November 1937. He was succeeded by Joachim von Ribbentrop, but remained in government as a minister without portfolio.

In March 1939, Neurath was appointed Reichsprotektor of occupied Bohemia and Moravia, serving as Hitler's personal representative in the protectorate. Hitler chose Neurath in part to pacify the international outrage over the German occupation of Czechoslovakia.[4] Soon after his arrival at Prague Castle, Neurath instituted harsh press censorship and banned political parties and trade unions. He ordered a harsh crackdown on protesting students in October and November 1939 (1200 student protesters went to concentration camps and nine were executed). He also supervised the persecution of Jews according to the Nuremberg Laws. Draconian as these measures were, Hitler felt his rule was too lenient, and in September 1941 he was relieved of his day-to-day powers and replaced by Reinhard Heydrich and Kurt Daluege. Neurath already attempted to resign in 1941 but his resignation was not accepted until August 1943, when he was succeeded by the former Minister of the Interior Wilhelm Frick. In June of that year he had been raised to the rank of an SS-Obergruppenführer.

Late in the war, Neurath had contacts with the German resistance.[4]

Neurath as defendant in Nuremberg, 1946

Trial and imprisonment

Neurath was tried at the Nuremberg Trials in 1946, where he was defended by Otto von Lüdinghausen. The Allies accused him of "conspiracy to commit crimes against peace; planning, initiating and waging wars of aggression; war crimes and crimes against humanity". Konstantin von Neurath's chief defence strategy was predicated on the fact that his successor and fellow defendant Joachim von Ribbentrop was more culpable for the atrocities committed in the Nazi state. The International Military Tribunal acknowledged the fact that von Neurath's crimes against humanity were mostly conducted during his short tenure as actual Protector of Bohemia and Moravia, especially in quelling Czech resistance and the summary execution of several university students. The tribunal came to the consensus that Neurath, though a willing and active participant in war crimes, held no such prominent position during the height of the Third Reich's tyranny and was therefore only a minor adherent to the atrocities committed. He was found guilty by the Allied powers on all four counts and was sentenced to fifteen years imprisonment.

Neurath was held as a war criminal in Spandau Prison until November 1954, when he was released in the wake of the Paris Conference, officially due to his ill health, having suffered a heart attack. He retired to his family's estates in Enzweihingen, where he died two years later, aged 83.

See also

Endnotes

  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. ^ London Gazette: no. 27675. p. 2999. 1904-05-10. Retrieved 2010-06-29.
  3. ^ Weinberg, Gerhard The Foreign Policy of Hitler's Germany Diplomatic Revolution in Europe 1933-36, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970, page 36.
  4. ^ a b William Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (Touchstone Edition) (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1990)

References

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Heinrich Brüning
Foreign Minister of Germany
1932 – 1938
Succeeded by
Joachim von Ribbentrop
Government offices
Preceded by
Johannes Blaskowitz
(as Wehrmacht commander-in-chief)
Protector of Bohemia and Moravia
1939 – 1941 (factually)
or 1943 (nominally)
Succeeded by
Reinhard Heydrich
Succeeded by
Wilhelm Frick
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Friedrich Sthamer
German Ambassador to the Court of St. James
1930–1932
Succeeded by
Leopold von Hoesch



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