Otto Abetz

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Otto Abetz

Otto Abetz (born March 26, 1903 in Schwetzingen ; † May 5, 1958 near Langenfeld ) was a German art teacher and diplomat . During World War II he was from August 1940 to 1944 Ambassador of Germany in occupied France .

He was arrested in 1945, sentenced to 20 years of forced labor in July 1949, and released in April 1954. He worked for the Rheinisch-Westfälische Zeitung and was killed in a car accident in May 1958.


Studies and contacts in France

Otto Abetz was the younger brother of the forest scientist Karl Abetz . First he studied at the Technical University of Karlsruhe . Also in Karlsruhe, he then became an art teacher and biology teacher at a girls' school. In doing so, he was also involved in promoting Franco-German understanding after the First World War . Abetz was part of the Bündische Jugend insofar as he founded the Sohlberg meeting of young people from German and French youth associations, who met for the first time in 1930 in a hostel on the Sohlberg in the Black Forest. From these meetings a permanent group developed, the Sohlbergkreis , whose magazine Abetz co-edited as president. Abetz was very popular with his French guests. They had the feeling that Abetz was seriously committed to the German-French understanding that had fallen into disrepair after the First World War. In his youth Abetz had been close to the socialists and pacifists.

Since 1930 Abetz was close to the NSDAP , which sought revenge in foreign policy for France's victory in World War I and the revision of the Versailles Treaty . France was seen, among other things, as the cause of the high German reparations payments, the cession of Poznan and West Prussia to Poland, the loss of Danzig , international isolation and Germany's loss of world power. Abetz later maintained contacts with French legal circles, including French fascists. They sympathized with the National Socialists, strove for a dictatorship, fought against democratic ideals, wanted to suppress social democracy and communism and shared the anti-Semitism of the National Socialists. They tended to underestimate the importance of German revanchism and the anti-French attitude of the National Socialists. Abetz therefore maintained contacts with associations of former combatants in France and with French intellectuals, mainly from the right-wing camp. He was friends with the editor of Notre Temps , Jean Luchaire , and married his secretary Suzanne de Bruycker, a French woman.

Employee of the Ribbentrop office, 1934–1940

In 1934 he became a France consultant for Reich Youth Leader Baldur von Schirach ; In January 1935 he joined the Department Ribbentrop of Joachim von Ribbentrop one. Abetz had supported the NSDAP since 1931 (because of the ban on membership he could not join it until 1937 - membership number 7,011,453) and was a personal confidante of Ribbentrop. Ribbentrop needed an experienced French expert and convinced National Socialists to pursue a new foreign policy of the NSDAP in France in competition with that of the Foreign Office. After the prohibition of the German-French company founded by Otto Grautoff in 1934, Abetz founded a new German-French company on behalf of Hitler in autumn 1935 and became its managing director. In the same year he joined the SS .

The French have been very suspicious of Germany since the National Socialists came to power. They feared the desire for revenge on the part of the German conservatives and, above all, the National Socialists. During numerous stays in France, Abetz and his like-minded colleagues from the Franco-German Society such as Friedrich Grimm gave many lectures in which they promoted National Socialist Germany and its new peaceful policy towards France. Germany does not want revenge for Versailles, but only strives for peaceful changes in Europe in coordination with its neighbors. Abetz succeeded in gaining approval for this view from the French front-line combatants' associations and their leaders Jean Goy and Henri Pichot . The conservative journalist, Fernand de Brinon , close to the French fascists around Action Directe , supported Abetz's efforts to convey a positive image of Nazi Germany to France. He acted as a largely uncritical interpreter of Hitler's policy of appeasement. With him and other sympathizers of Nazi Germany, Abetz founded the Comité France-Allemagne in 1935 . The aim of this ostensible rapprochement policy by Abetz and the German government was to split the French nation in its will to resist Germany and thus create a favorable starting position for the planned war with France.

When, after the Munich Agreement and the forcible elimination of the Czechoslovak state in 1939, it became increasingly difficult to credibly promote Germany's alleged peace policy towards France, the tide turned for Abetz. He was expelled from France on June 30, 1939.

Immediately after the end of the French campaign , Abetz returned to Paris with the first German troops on June 15, 1940 and took on the duties of a German envoy at the German embassy . In fact, he was a kind of governor of the German Empire in defeated France. France was two-thirds occupied by Germany. In the remaining part, Petain had founded the État français . Abetz shared power with the military commander of the Wehrmacht. The military commander had to coordinate with Abetz on all political issues.

Ambassador to occupied France, 1940–1944

In August 1940 Abetz was appointed ambassador of the German Reich to the Pétain government. Formally, he was only the agent of the Foreign Office in France, as the state of war with France was still ongoing. Abetz was the youngest ever German ambassador at the age of 37. Abetz's official seat was in Paris ( Palais Beauharnais , Rue de Lille) and not in Vichy , the seat of the French collaboration government . Abetz maintained a branch of the embassy there. Pétain and almost all representatives of the French government were not allowed to come to Paris; Abetz visited him occasionally in Vichy.

As ambassador, Abetz was in control of all political issues in occupied and unoccupied France. Abetz was an advisor to the German military, but also to the German police on political issues. He played a key role in the deportation of French Jews to Auschwitz . Abetz urged Eichmann's commissioner for France, Dannecker, for the 400,000 yellow Jewish stars to be distributed in good time and arranged for anti-Jewish measures to be coordinated with the SS.

From a letter from Heydrich to State Secretary Luther it becomes clear that Abetz caused the Reich Security Main Office to act and not the other way around. According to Heydrich on September 20, 1940, he had "no concerns about the implementation of the measures against Jews planned by Ambassador Abetz in occupied France [...]." In their basic work, Conze et al. Appreciate Abetz's role in the pan-European extermination of Jews as very important one; u. a. refer to the fact that Hitler met Abetz and Ribbentrop on September 16, immediately before the final decision on the “ Final Solution ”, which they date to September 17, 1941. You see the content of Abetz's remarks in a memorandum by the Parisian "Judenreferenten" Carltheo Zeitschel , which he gave Abetz with on the way to Berlin.

Abetz had been involved in the National Socialist art theft in occupied France since his arrival in 1940 . Abetz's people from the Künsberg Sonderkommando stole art on a large scale. The embassy and a rented outbuilding were full of stolen works of art. Abetz's attempt to steal 1,500 works of art that the French had relocated from the Louvre to Chambord Castle was prevented at the last minute by an objection from the Wehrmacht leadership in Berlin, which feared that such robbery actions would strengthen the French resistance against the occupying power. On the other hand, actions of robbery against Jewish property initiated by Abetz (e.g. in the Palais Rothschild in Paris) met with no opposition from the military. A short time later, Abetz had to cede most of the captured pictures to the newly created task force Reichsleiter Rosenberg , who had the support of Hermann Göring . Nevertheless, many stolen pictures hung in the Palais Beauharnais; Some pictures from the art theft in France had also reached Ribbentrop's offices in the Foreign Office.

During the four years in which he held the post of ambassador, Abetz tried to win over French people and to convince them of National Socialism . In his anti-Semitic actions, such as For example, he saw the proposal to forcibly expropriate stateless Jews and deport them to the unoccupied part of France and further to the extermination camps in the east , as a way of breaking what remained of resistance and the influence of the church and army within the Vichy regime. In a telegram sent to Undersecretary Luther on July 2, 1942, Abetz advocated “the deportation of 40,000 Jews from France [to] Auschwitz” and suggested that “all measures taken against the Jews” should “be carried out in a form that complies with the in Anti-Semitic feelings that have grown recently are constantly increasing ”. This can be achieved “psychologically in the broad mass of the French people” by first registering “foreign Jews”. The acceptance that "the French Jew [...] must in any case also disappear in the course of the liberation of the European countries from Judaism" can best be won in this way. Abetz was able to persuade many of his French friends from the years before the war to collaborate and gave them influential posts. His friend Luchaire became the temporary interior minister of the Vichy regime.

Abetz was one of the most energetic initiators of the collaboration on the German side and advocated active French participation in the war against Great Britain. Here he found a prominent partner in State Secretary Jacques Benoist-Méchin , who was entrusted with the coordination of Franco-German cooperation in the Vichy government, and tried to develop it further in the military field. The high point of his career was the meeting he organized between Hitler and Pétain in Montoire-sur-le-Loir on October 24, 1940, after the failure of which he temporarily fell out of favor.

He also advocated Franco-German cultural exchange (as understood by the National Socialists) and wanted to achieve a suitable place for France in the new Europe shaped by Hitler. Hitler, who saw France only as a subjugated nation, trusted neither the French collaborators nor Abetz and was suspicious of his French policy. Abetz made sure that the writer Pierre Drieu la Rochelle, who was friendly to the National Socialists, became the editor of the previously banned Nouvelle Revue Française . He was friends with the writer and journalist Robert Brasillach , representative of the collaboration and frequent guest of the German Embassy in Paris. The German Embassy under Abetz made great efforts to support the planning and implementation of exhibitions during the occupation. As a rule, these were carried out under cover, externally under French responsibility. Abetz and the Foreign Office made significant contributions to the planning and implementation of the retrospective by the sculptor Arno Breker in the Musée de l'Orangerie , which opened with the participation of French government representatives on May 15, 1942 and attracted tens of thousands of visitors. German cultural policy was an interplay of permits and, above all, prohibitions. It banned all newspapers and books that campaigned for the democratic French nation or democratic ideals or were anti-German, propagated racial equality or were social democratic or communist. Publications in which Jews and Freemasons were involved in any way were considered prohibited in any case. To this end, the embassy under Otto Abetz published a list of forbidden books, known in France as the Otto List . A lot of staff was needed to manage French culture in the German sense. A large department of cultural policy worked first for the military commander in chief and in the embassy, ​​then from September 1940 in the newly founded German Institute at 7 rue St. Dominique, which was under the direction of Karl Epting Abetz. In January 1942 he was promoted to SS brigade leader.

After the occupation of the unoccupied zone in November 1942 ( Anton company ), Abetz was ordered back to Germany for a year, his deputy Rudolf Schleier represented him in Paris. The reason was a power struggle in the Foreign Ministry. A new state secretary and a competitor from the radical circles of the NSDAP disliked Abetz's independent and powerful position. In Germany he had to defend himself against accusations that his policy was not effective enough and was basically directed against Germany because he was too friendly to France. At the end of November 1943 the problem in Abetz's favor was over and Abetz was reinstated as ambassador in Paris.

Escape and sentencing 1944/1945

When the Allies were preparing to conquer all of France after the invasion on June 6, 1944, and Paris and Vichy approached, Abetz fled with Pétain to Sigmaringen . After his “dismissal”, Abetz retired to his villa in Baden-Baden, furnished with stolen art. After the French occupation, he went into hiding in a clinic in the Black Forest. On October 25, 1945 he was arrested in Todtmoos and came before the Paris military tribunal , where he was defended by the Parisian star attorney René Floriot . Because of his complicity in the deportation of Jews and the forced recruitment of foreign workers , he was sentenced to 20 years of forced labor in July 1949.

The Tübingen returnees plaque with the names of the convicted war criminals Otto Abetz and Eugen Steimle

For a long time he was also, although convicted of war crimes and not just a prisoner of war, on a plaque for prisoners of war who returned late in the city of Tübingen , as was the convicted war criminal Eugen Steimle . In August 2003, the memorial plaque for the prisoners of war at the Tübingen Holzmarkt, which had been hanging there since 1951, was completely removed.

Post War and Death

Abetz was released in April 1954. Then he joined the editorial team of the newly founded Rheinisch-Westfälische Zeitung in Essen.

He died on May 5, 1958 in his car near Langenfeld on the A3 motorway between Cologne and the Ruhr area, after his car had come off the road at high speed. His wife was also killed in the accident. The steering of the car had failed and the cause of the accident could not be fully explained. The car had recently been given to him by a French.

See also


  • The open problem: A look back at two decades of German policy towards France . Inlet Ernst Achenbach . Greven, Cologne 1951
  • Histoire d'une politique franco-allemande. Mémoires d'un ambassadeur. Stock, Paris 1952
  • Pétain et les allemands. Memorandum on the rapports franco-allemands. Gaucher, Paris 1948


  • Otto Abetz: D'une prison . Collection: Archives d'histoire contemporaine. Amiot-Dumont, Paris (1949) 1950 (French)
  • Eckart Conze , Norbert Frei , Peter Hayes and Moshe Zimmermann : The Office and the Past. German diplomats in the Third Reich and in the Federal Republic . Karl Blessing, Munich 2010, ISBN 978-3-89667-430-2 .
  • The fascist occupation policy in France 1940-1944. Selection and introduction: Ludwig Nestler. VEB Dt. Verlag der Wissenschaften, Berlin 1990, ISBN 3326002971 .
  • Hans-Jürgen Döscher : rope teams. The Foreign Office's suppressed past . Propylaea, Berlin 2005. ISBN 3-549-07267-8 .
  • Eberhard Jäckel : France in Hitler's Europe . 1966
  • Barbara Lambauer: Otto Abetz et les Français ou l'envers de la collaboration . Foreword by Jean-Pierre Azéma. Fayard, Paris 2001, ISBN 2213610231 (French)
  • Martin Mauthner: Otto Abetz and His Paris Acolytes - French Writers Who Flirted with Fascism, 1930–1945. Sussex Academic Press, 2016, ISBN 978-1-84519-784-1 .
  • Ahlrich Meyer : perpetrator under interrogation. The “Final Solution of the Jewish Question” in France 1940–1944 . Scientific Book Society , Darmstadt 2005. ISBN 3-534-17564-6 .
  • Patrick Neuhaus: The Arno Breker exhibition in the Orangery Paris 1942. Foreign cultural policy, art and collaboration in occupied France. Neuhaus Verlag, Berlin 2018, ISBN 978-3-937294-08-7 .
  • Roland Ray: Approaching France in the Service of Hitler? Otto Abetz and the German policy on France 1930–1942 . Oldenbourg, Munich 2000, ISBN 3-486-56495-1 .

Web links

Commons : Otto Abetz  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Ernst Klee: Das Personenlexikon zum Third Reich , Frankfurt am Main 2007, p. 9.
  2. ^ "Cahiers Franco-Allemands. German-French monthly magazines “Turmberg-Verlag Karlsruhe. Nominal Ed. Fritz Bran , booklet occupied from 1934 to 1940. Contributor a. a. Hans Friedrich Blunck and Bernard Fay .
  3. ^ Roland Ray: Approaching France in the service of Hitler? Otto Abetz and the German policy on France 1930-1942. Munich 2000, ISBN 3-486-56495-1 . P. 23 ff.
  4. ^ Roland Ray: Approaching France in the service of Hitler? Otto Abetz and the German policy on France 1930-1942. Munich 2000, ISBN 3-486-56495-1 . P. 40.
  5. ^ Ernst Klee : The dictionary of persons on the Third Reich. Who was what before and after 1945 . Updated edition edition. Fischer-Taschenbuch-Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 2005, ISBN 3-596-16048-0 .
  6. ^ Roland Ray: Approaching France in the service of Hitler? Otto Abetz and the German policy on France 1930-1942. Munich 2000, ISBN 3-486-56495-1 . P. 116f.
  7. ^ Roland Ray: Approaching France in the service of Hitler? Otto Abetz and the German policy on France 1930-1942 . Munich 2000, p. 264.
  8. Eckart Conze, Norbert Frei, Peter Hayes and Moshe Zimmermann: The office and the past. German diplomats in the Third Reich and in the Federal Republic . Munich 2010, pp. 190 and 228.
  9. Eckart Conze , Norbert Frei , Peter Hayes and Moshe Zimmermann : The office and the past. German diplomats in the Third Reich and in the Federal Republic . Munich 2010, p. 192.
  10. Conze et al.: Our book hit a nerve. in Süddeutsche Zeitung December 15, 2010, p. 13. - Quotations from the document in Lemma Zeitschel
  11. Domaine National de Chambord (French)
  12. ^ Hans-Jürgen Döscher: rope teams. The Foreign Office's suppressed past . Berlin 2005, p. 39 f.
  13. ^ Patrick Neuhaus: The Arno Breker exhibition in the Paris Orangery in 1942. Foreign cultural policy, art and collaboration in occupied France. Neuhaus Verlag, Berlin 2018, ISBN 978-3-937294-08-7 .
  14. Le Monde hors-série: 1940, la débâcle et l'espoir, May / June 2010
  15. Commemoration of the fallen and missing; Dealing with the "homecoming sign" ( Memento from May 22, 2014 in the Internet Archive ) (PDF; 48 kB) Memento from May 22, 2014, original no longer available
  16. Der Spiegel, No. 43, October 13, 1954
  17. Lothar Baier: Barbara Lambauer: "Otto Abetz et les Français ou l'envers de la collaboration" Germany Funk, 8 April 2002 accessed October 13, 2015.
  18. With a trial report by Jean Bernard-Derosme; Abetz about his imprisonment; in the appendix: four witness statements pro-Abetz and the pleading of his lawyer René Floriot.
  19. Abetz: approx. 40 mentions, some of them several pages