Joachim von Ribbentrop was Adolf Hitler’s Minister for Foreign Affairs from 1938 on. Von Ribbentrop was considered a war criminal at the Nuremberg Trials and sentenced to death.
Joachim von Ribbentrop was born in Wesel on April 30th 1893. He had a comfortable upbringing and a good education. Von Ribbentrop spent some time in Canada before World War One but returned to Germany when war was declared and served both on the Eastern Front and in Turkey. Von Ribbentrop was awarded the Iron Cross (First Class) for his work in World War One but his critics later claimed that it was Von Ribbentrop himself who partitioned the military for the award. After World War One had ended Von Ribbentrop worked as a wine salesman. He lived a life that can best be described as comfortable lower class in terms of his accommodation and lifestyle etc. This all changed when Von Ribbentrop married the daughter of a wealthy champagne producer.
On May 1st 1932 Von Ribbentrop joined the National German Workers Party. He was also appointed a colonel in the SS. Many others in the Nazi Party saw Von Ribbentrop as an ambitious upstart and nicknamed him ‘Ribbensnob’. However, Hitler was impressed by him – possibly because he allowed Hitler to use his palatial home in early 1933 to formulate his first cabinet. Von Ribbentrop was also totally subservient to Hitler. He found out before-hand what Hitler wanted foreign policy wise before approaching him with a suitable solution which he knew Hitler would approve of. To Von Ribbentrop, foreign policy meant anything that Hitler wanted. His approach made him enemies. Joseph Goebbels said of him:
“Von Ribbentrop bought his name, he married his money and he swindled his way into office.”
However, Von Ribbentrop was not in Hitler’s first cabinet. The position of foreign minister was given to Constantin Freiherr von Neurath who had no party affiliation. To get round this Hitler set the Ribbentrop Bureau with Von Ribbentrop as its chief. In 1934, Hitler appointed Von Ribbentrop as the man who would lead a tour of all foreign capitals to assess what each European state thought about potential German rearmament. The Foreign Ministry was simply by-passed.
Von Ribbentrop negotiated the Anglo-German Naval Agreement on June 18th 1935. On August 11th 1936 he was appointed German Ambassador to Great Britain. His primary task while in this post was to pave the way for knowing what the UK would do when Hitler started his aggressive foreign policy. Hitler wanted to know what the UK would do when he invaded Poland and it was Von Ribbentrop’s task to find this out. However, Von Ribbentrop did not do well at court. British officials found him awkward and stand-offish. He also committed a major diplomatic mistake by greeting the King of Britain with a Nazi salute in 1937. The media did not take kindly to such a gesture and reported it accordingly. Von Ribbentrop turned against Great Britain as a result and became decidedly an Anglophobe.
On February 4th 1938 he was made Reich Minister for Foreign Affairs by Hitler. In the complicated years of 1938 and 1939 Von Ribbentrop gave Hitler misleading information about the stand the UK was likely to take. He told Hitler that Britain would respond in a lethargic way if he threatened Poland and that they would accept German aggression in Eastern Europe without question as the war was ‘over there’.
On August 23rd 1939 Von Ribbentrop signed on behalf of Germany the non-aggression pact with the USSR. He would have known that the treaty contained a clause that allowed for the German and Soviet invasion and then subsequent carving up of Poland. Therefore he had to be guilty of conspiracy to commit war.
Von Ribbentrop remained Minister for Foreign Affairs throughout World War Two. However, during the war, Hitler had more and more contact with his senior military officers and bypassed his politicians. Von Ribbentrop’s influence dwindled as a result.
Von Ribbentrop was arrested by Allied forces on June 14th 1945. He was put on trial at Nuremberg. He was charged on four counts:
1. Conspiracy to commit crimes alleged in other counts.
2. Crimes again peace.
3. War Crimes
4. Crimes against humanity.
He pleaded his innocence in court but in vain. He was found guilty on all four charges and sentenced to death. He probably did himself no good when he said:
“Even with all I know, if in this cell Hitler should come to me and say “do this” I would still do it.
Joachim von Ribbentrop was executed on October 16th 1946.