In 1946 when the Baron was finally sentenced to fifteen years imprisonment for Nazi war crimes at Nuremberg, he was then 73 years old. Afterwards, he was then swiftly taken with the other convicted Nazis, to be driven to Spandau Prison in Berlin, to serve his time. Once there in that dark confine, he would be simply known as prisoner number three. He with the other six men was then ordered to put on former prison concentration camp victim’s clothing (these would be expected to be serviced for the remainder of their sentence.) Ah, how the mighty fall!
Baron Konstantin Von Neurath was born in another so-called golden age of diplomacy-of chivalry-refinement and tolerance-well on the surface at least.
For the purpose of this commentary I shall now simply refer to him as “the baron” if you don’t mind (Incidentally some 40 years ago I actually made the acquaintance of a genuine German/Austrian baron. It’s true. He then lived in a one-room flat near to me and had come down financially in the world, as they say. He would have been about 70 years old and was still teaching German at the local college. Always charming and polite to meet but perhaps a little eccentric, sporting a long cloak with a silver-headed walking stick, with his family crest embossed on it; you could see him a mile away. I recall we would have long discussions mainly about his extraordinary life. He remembered the Germany of the 1930s of the Nazis and his visits to Russia, not sure what he was doing there and he also had a large 78rpm record collection and through him, I was introduced to the music of Richard Strauss. He seemed to move in those diplomatic circles so long ago with such ease and who knows he may have been acquainted with the subject of this article the Baron.
(I like to think he did).
Both the baron and another envoy Franz Von Papen were both sliced from the same expensive cloth. Both enjoyed the good life and both always argued for a diplomatic solution to any problem. Both men abhorred violence and naturally believed they could cage the Nazi party and of course Adolph Hitler. Sadly both men got it horribly wrong much to their own cost.
Later in 1946 at their respective trials both men’s appointed lawyers would try to portray them as simply “Good Germans.” Well yes, there were many but good Nazis?!? Um very improbable I think.
As regards the baron it has to be remembered that his Fuhrer willingly presented this man with more personal honours that many of the early Nazi party members. Hitler must have held the old boy in much esteem because, when on his 65th birthday and forty years service to the German Foreign Ministry, Hitler presented him with a large striking oil painting of the Emperor Constantine’s tomb. Wow!
The baron was born in 1873 and from that privileged class of young men three options were offered to them for future employment, these being: the church, the military, or the diplomatic service. The young baron chose the last.
And by the turn of the 20th century, until the First World War exploded, he had seen service in Berlin, London and Turkey. But the idyll of the diplomatic ministry that he inhabited would be shattered by the guns of August when in 1914 War was declared. (There would be no diplomatic quick fix to this war it seems!) The baron enlisted in the army and later would be seriously wounded. He would later be awarded the coveted Iron cross.
By the sinister German’s mid-thirties the baron, a moustached and distinguished looking gentleman, with the dual-scarred cheek and multi-linguist, would be a crucial political player along with fellow crony Franz Von Papen in easing the path for Hitler to become the new Chancellor.
The baron may have considered himself a rock in the middle of the Nazi brook but it was much too late for him and Germany now. Sadly the die had been cast, for Hitler had another satanic agenda in his uniform pocket and nobody could or would prevent him from carrying out his agenda of aggression. For the baron and others of his class, it was jump on the Nazi bus or get off!
What he did seem to assist his fuehrer in committing was in the League of Nations and finding an exit for Germany. The Nazis decision to reoccupy the Rhineland also seems to have been done with willing support from the baron.
The baron had been politically independent but with the arrival of the Nazi party on the German landscape in 1933, his allegiance to Hitler offered him the opportunity to join the Nazi party which he did in 1937. There may well have been some financial sweeteners that enticed him in this matter as well.
On his diplomatic missions, they would him see as Ambassador to Italy (and he was very disdainful of Mussolini’s fascist party but not Benito it seems.)
Then a posting in 1930-32 to London as the German Ambassador. His contacts with the English Monarchy and other exalted circles would later assist in his release from Spandau twenty tears later (much of this being initiated by his formidable wife.) Hitler once remarked to her about her husband that: “You know this man’s like a father to me. I can’t let him go.” However soon after this remark, he did just that very thing Joachim Von Ribbentrop was appointed to that plum diplomatic post in London to succeed him. (I rather suspect the baron was not at all pleased about this news.)
In 1937 a more serious development happened in what is called the Hossbach memorandum. The baron along with others including Grand Admiral Raeder was briefed by Hitler for a forthcoming war of aggression- and all the terrible savagery to human lives that would bring with it.
Also on the agenda was Germany’s need for more living space, this could be accomplished by moving eventually towards the East. This would result in later forced repatriation of genocide and of forced eugenics. (The Hossbach document today still remains controversial but it has all the features that Hitler would initiate anything in his total quest for total European domination and then perhaps the world?) Seems the baron was so shocked by what he heard at the three-hour presentation that he suffered several heart attacks. (He would have many more health scares in Spandau prison but always quickly recovered.)
Now it must be remembered that the Nazi party, under its guru Alfred Rosenberg, believed in a very different attitude towards those, not of Aryan stock. In other words total annihilation by the extermination units in the war, the proposed exodus eastwards during the war was the destination and survival of the Aryan race or so believed Hitler and the Nazi elite. Why he would argue had not the talent and intellect of Chamberlain and Charles Darwin (was he mentally sick?) proposed such basic facts in the ascent of man, which only the select “master race” would and should rule by divine authority, whatever that is. The weak must be used for slave labour and then when finished be discarded. The false gods of Nietzsche (incidentally this gentleman who was infected with syphilis also proposed that the god Dionysus replace Jesus Christ for future worship!) and Charles Darwin are but willing tools of the coming Antichrist. In the meantime, the myths of Rosenberg and his occult worship would bring ruination to Germany by 1945 and a personal for death for him by the rope.
For the baron, it was a fateful day for him and his family when he accepted Hitler’s offer to become “Protector of Bohemia and Moravia” in 1939 (this is now Czechoslovakia.) Of this promotion he would remember that: “I had terrible misgivings about taking the job!” I expect the poor people of that country he was to be the protector of (what a laugh!!) would also have deep misgivings about him and who would replace the baron after his recall to Berlin, it was no less than Himmler’s second in command Heydrich!
(I suspect that if Britain had been invaded in 1940 in what was then named “Operation Sealion” the first Nazi dispatched from Berlin to crush any urban opposition would have been Heydrich and remember he wasn’t christened the butcher of Prague for nothing!)
Now I understand that the ecology of the forests of Czechoslovakia are some of the most striking in Europe and this would allow the baron to indulge in his favourite blood sport, stag hunting. However, it should also be remembered that Heydrich was sharpening his own hunting skills-tragically his prey was of the human kind, such as Jews and partisans and others caught in the Gestapo net. Certainly, much innocent blood flowed in Czechoslovakia under these guys didn’t it!
Part of the problem for the terrible tenure of the baron in Moravia, and this was a damning piece of evidence that was brought against him in Nuremberg, was in the ordered arrests and execution of nine students, with over a thousand more being dispatched to concentration camps. Much of this of course under the SS supervision, then also in residence in Prague as well.
If the baron ever protested it was feeble indeed, instead he would amuse him in the Moravian forests and of course look the other way whilst atrocities were being carried out issued and most signed by his own hand no less
Interestingly Col. Andrus wrote about the barons cruel rule in Moravia and it’s worth reading: “I went to a medieval castle in which he [the baron] had restored the dungeons and the ancient torture instruments for present-day use. Light and ventilation were limited….chains were used to spread-eagle people against the wall.” Heavy stuff by any account to read but it shows what the man was willing to do for the Nazi cause.
I have before me a black and white photo of the baron with other Nazi dignitaries. In it he is wearing an honorary SS uniform and I must say he looks very comfortable in it; and in my opinion he was easily seduced by the pomp of the Wagnerian rallies (the orchestrated pageantry of the Nazis), yet within a few short years he would be in the criminal dock wearing a crumbled grey suit arguing for his life. Then after sentence, his clothes would be replaced in prison by rags from the camps. Was this perhaps too harsh a treatment on the so-called “Spandau Seven” I think we will let you the reader decide for yourself?
For the remainder of the war, the baron enjoyed the life of a privileged aristocrat, residing on his rural country estate savouring the good life and also as a bonus a cheque from his fuehrer for 250.000 RM. (It arrived in the post for him on his seventieth birthday.) (We did mention that Hitler had a soft spot for the old boy didn’t we.) But much more serious was that it was later discovered that forced labour squads (maybe Jewish) from a nearby concentration camp were marched in (daily) to work and toil the fields on his vast property. But again it has to be remembered that all life is cheap in any totalitarian state, none more so than the Germany of Hitler or the Russia of Stalin. It should never to be forgotten that: “God is angry with the wicked every day” (Psalm 7:1).
God has a divine destination for Israel and the Jewish race. The Nazis by trying to thwart it brought His almighty wrath upon themselves and Germany.
The Lord will never be mocked!
By 1945 the bells were toiling for the Third Reich. It was now all over. Nuremberg quickly summoned the baron to give an account of himself in serving Hitler in the Third Reich.
It was soon noticed at the trial that he cut a fatigued figure in a crumpled suit-maybe this was due to the prostate operation he had endured some months before, but of guilt on his part on what had happened in those terrible past thirteen years, there was none, only weak excuses of following orders, however distasteful they may have been to him to follow out.
Surprisingly his defence counsel allowed him to call on a fellow prisoner in the dock Franz Von Papen for a character reference! Later a prison doctor evaluated him with an IQ of 125.
Also on duty was pastor Gerecke the Lutheran prison Chaplin, he would daily minister spiritually to the accused men and the baron who most willingly accepted his offer. (In fact when it was learned the Chaplin was going home after two years overseas service to the army, all of them signed a letter to his wife asking him to stay with them. What an amazing thing to do.) Now we have mentioned in past articles on the Nuremberg trials that this American pastor believed seven of the convicted Nazis were saved and accepted Christ as their Saviour. (From my research I am not sure that the baron was one of those fortunate men.)
We should also remember that Christ came to save sinners; the dying thief was one example and we all fit into that category, but maybe the baron didn’t think of himself in this capacity.
At the conclusion of the trial, the baron was sentenced to 15 years. Now it was only Spandau Prison that awaited him and this would be his residence for the next eight years. His new identity would be simply prisoner number three.
I have often wondered what the so-called “Spandau Seven” discussed in those long years incarcerated together. Did they perhaps squabble over past slights, fight old naval battles Donitz and Reader (that is) or simply just play scrabble. Who knows. They would have many long lonely nights to examine their consciences and perhaps pray for required forgiveness.
And the French chaplain to the prison remarked that the baron always claimed he was guilty of nothing. Perhaps this is the self-deception that believes the lie.
Albert Speer seems to have been the closest to the baron in those prison years recalling that: “I never knew him to be anything but a gentleman.”
This being one old Nazis memories of another.
On the baron’s final day of release in 1954, he recalled: “I was glad but devastated at the thought of being without him [Speer]”.
On his release to his waiting daughter he asked, “What will become of my garden without me” and then it was swiftly home to his country estate, where church bells were jubilantly ringing and the villagers welcomed him with flowers and fruit (it was good to have the Baron home at last it seems.)
Two years later he died and was interred in the family plot. The spoken eulogy was delivered by Franz Von Papen. However, to some members of the then West German Government and newspaper obituary writers, the baron was a martyr they claimed but to what I ask and to whom.
“As it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment.”
Spandau: Jack Fishman
Tales from Spandau: Norman Goda
Albert Speer: Gitta Sereny
The Infamous of Nuremberg: Co Andrus
1 March 2011
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