Where old Nazis started new careers

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Where old Nazis started new careers


A commission worked up the history of the Ministry of Agriculture. The report shows how influential ex-NSDAP members have been for a long time. An ex-SS man rose to state secretary under Helmut Kohl.



© Arno Burgi / picture alliance / dpa



Agriculture and National Socialism, associations are awakened. In the Nazi ideology, “blood and soil”, “living space in the east” played a central role. Nevertheless, there have been so far only a partial reappraisal the role of the Ministry of Agriculture in National Socialism and the National Socialists in the Ministry of Agriculture.

The Federal Minister of Agriculture at that time gave four years ago Christian Schmidt (CSU) commissioned a more extensive report. Now the Historical Commission has submitted its report and Schmidt’s successor Julia Klöckner to hand over. “This workup closes a gap,” said Klöckner.

The report shows: In the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, more NSDAP members were in leading positions in the Federal Republic than in other ministries.

Over the years, there have been more instead of fewer. Even SS men made careers. One rose under Helmut Kohl to the State Secretary.

Agricultural policy over a century

The commission, led by the long-time director of the Munich Institute for Contemporary History (IfZ), Horst Möller, has submitted an almost 800-page report, divided into six parts, each of which deals with a phase of the story:

The title alone shows what it is and what it is not: “Agricultural policy in the 20th century. The Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture and its predecessors.” One wanted to write an institutional history, said Möller during the presentation this week.

Conversely, this also means: not just a reappraisal of Nazi history as it existed in other ministries. Even if it is in the center. And even if that prompted him to commission the study, as Schmidt said.

The chapter in question by Friedrich Kießling from the University of Eichstätt shows a ministry in which the restart after the Second World War was somewhat successful. The first minister, Wilhelm Niklas from the CSU, was one of the few senior civil servants who left government service during the Nazi regime – even if, as Kießling noted, that was not the reason for his appointment.

Highest quota of NSDAP members

Many important officials from the early years came from administration of the United Economic Area of ​​the Occupation and were clean. But the picture changed in the following decades.

There was a kind of second NS wave – the proportion of officials with a Nazi past grew and grew and grew.

The authors differentiate between formal stress (NSDAP membership on paper) and material stress (real conviction or active role). The sheer number of party members does not say everything – and is nevertheless illuminating.

“Already at the end of 1950 the quota of the former party members among the employees from the head of unit had jumped upwards to 61 percent”, writes Kießling. Three years later it was more than 70 percent, 78 percent a year later, and in 1959 at least 80 percent of 97 important officials were NSDAP members.

According to the report, this is the highest value recorded so far in a ministry.

After that, the number gradually decreased, but many former NSDAP members and even SS men worked in the ministry until shortly before the Wall came down. Some even made great careers, as the report shows.

Promotion from outside despite criticism

The first secretary of state Theodor Sonnemann For example, he still referred to the results of the Nuremberg war crimes trials in his memoirs as “shameful judgments”.

His successor, Rudolf Hüttebräuker, was a liaison officer with the head of the gang fighting associations “in the center of the German war of annihilation”, “which was waged as a war of robbery and exploitation in the western Soviet Union, not least by means of agricultural looting,” writes Kießling.

The customs expert Herrmann Martinstetter, most recently Obersturmführer of the SS, rose from 1951 until he was finally responsible for personnel issues from 1963 – although other institutions had repeatedly objected.

Even Heinrich Lübke, previously himself Federal Minister of Agriculture, since the Federal President already intervened, was satisfied that Martinstetter would not be responsible for any reparation issue, also because he valued the former SS man “because of his honesty and professionalism”, Kießling quotes one Note.

Made even longer Walther Florian Career, whose case went public at the time, also because the Central Council of Jews protested in vain against his appointment as State Secretary. According to the report, Florian went to the SS in 1938 and the Waffen-SS in 1940. He did not state either in his personnel questionnaire in 1952, but at the latest from 1961 the ministry had known about it.

But neither the SS past nor incorrect information on the questionnaire prevented him from advancing: he became department head in 1976, state secretary in 1984, retired in 1987 and was also awarded the Federal Cross of Merit.

Priority of expertise

If there were any concerns about hiring or promotions in the house, it was almost never from the ministry itself, but often from other institutions, often from the interior ministry, the report says. The Ministry of Agriculture had acted very lax even compared to the by no means strict Interior Ministry.

There were two reasons for this personnel policy, argues the head of the commission, Möller.

Firstly, the attitude had spread in the population in the fifties that people should now have a new chance.

Second, the expert status was particularly valid in the ministry. “A customs law expert is sighted for customs law issues, a grain expert for grain issues,” writes Kießling. Even Nazi opponents would have seen it that way.

From the start, the ministry was not dominated by lawyers, but by agricultural experts, even if they had been active under National Socialism. You could call the culture apolitical: Expertise struck virtue, detailed knowledge was more important than a white vest.

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