Konstantin von Neurath

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Konstantin von Neurath : biography

2 February 1873 – 14 August 1956

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".Weinberg, Gerhard The Foreign Policy of Hitler’s Germany Diplomatic Revolution in Europe 1933–36, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970, page 36. 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. In 1937, Neurath became a member of the Nazi Party. He was awarded the Golden Party Badge and was given the honorary rank of a Gruppenführer in the SS–equivalent in Wehrmacht rank to a major general.

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 favour 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. He was also named as president of the "Secret Cabinet Council," a purported super-cabinet to advise Hitler on foreign affairs. However, this body only existed on paper.

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.William Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (Touchstone Edition) (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1990) 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, Neurath’s rule overall was fairly mild by Nazi standards. However, in September 1941, Hitler decided that Neurath’s rule was too lenient, and stripped him of his day-to-day powers. Reinhard Heydrich was named as his deputy, but in truth held the real power. Heydrich was assassinated in 1942 and succeeded by Kurt Daluege. Neurath officially remained as Reichsprotektor through this time. He tried 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–equivalent to a four-star general.

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