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German diplomats during the Third Reich were far more deeply involved in the Holocaust than previously acknowledged. That's according to a new government sponsored study released in Berlin. The report also shows how West German diplomats after the war worked to whitewash history and create a myth of resistance and opposition to Nazi rule.

From Berlin, NPR's Eric Westervelt reports.

ERIC WESTERVELT: The report is a devastating indictment of a foreign office that long portrayed itself as relatively clean of Nazi war crimes and tried to portray any wrongdoing as the result of a few bad actors. Professor Peter Hayes of Northwestern University is one of four historians who wrote the report. He hopes the nearly 900-page document helps destroy one of the last myths of the Third Reich.

Historians over the last two decades have chronicled the deep complicity of the major institutions of German society, including big business and universities, in the crimes of the Nazi regime.

Professor PETER HAYES (Historian, Northwestern University): This is really the last bastion of the notion that high-ranking people in the society could somehow keep themselves separate from what the Third Reich set out to do.

WESTERVELT: The study, commissioned by the government five years ago, shows that German diplomats were not only fully aware of the genocidal policy throughout the war, they were also actively involved in atrocities, including all aspects of deportation, persecution and genocide of Jews. Or as current foreign minister Guido Westerwelle put it today, the ministry took part with bureaucratic coolness in the systematic annihilation of European Jews.

Historians looked in 32 different archives worldwide and interviewed eyewitnesses. One of many pieces of damning evidence includes a meeting in late 1944 of the heads of sections of the foreign ministry. At that gathering, the diplomats talked openly about the extent of the mass murder to date and efforts they were going to make to increase the carnage, even when it was clear Germany was losing the war.

Hayes points to other evidence - a travel reimbursement report from German diplomat Franz Rademacher, the head of the ministry's Jewish affairs section, after a trip to German-occupied Serbia.

Prof. HAYES: He wrote that the purpose of his visit was the liquidation of the Jews in Belgrade - right there on the form he submitted to the finance office within the ministry.

WESTERVELT: Historians have previously uncovered evidence of the office's Holocaust complicity. After all, Nazi foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop was hanged for war crimes after the Nuremberg trials. But this study also shows how after the war, the ministry worked hard to try to whitewash its role in mass murder and rewrite history.

The report shows the American occupation authorities also at times glossed over Nazi crimes, especially for intelligence assets as Cold War�realpolitik�won out over justice. That said, the report says it was after the Allies let the Germans take the lead in de-Nazification and then relaxed control of West German institutions after 1951, that the ministry let former Nazis enter the foreign service in droves. Some of those stained diplomats then helped other Nazis gloss over their reputations.

Professor Hayes.

Prof. HAYES: Once we turned de-Nazification over to the Germans at the end of 1946, then very largely this process became one of mutual exculpation. People wanted to believe their own arguments about how they had been seduced by the Nazis into following this regime and so on. Thus, they believed their own alibis.

Today at the unveiling, Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said the extent of ministry collusion during the Nazi era shames us. And he vowed to make the report's finding part of the training for all future diplomats. He also praised the few staffers who actively opposed the Nazis, including a dozen who were executed for their resistance.

Eric Westervelt, NPR News, Berlin.

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