The Story of the German Ambassador
Adventures in Research
The Story of the German Ambassador
Leopold von Hoesch was a career diplomat whose most notable posts were at Paris, from 1924-1932, and London, from 1932-1936. For a time he was, in his dealings with the two Allied powers, the key representative for interwar Germany. But he belonged to the old guard, and when Hitler gained control of Germany, Hoesch was pushed out of his post. The transcriptions below, found in the British Newspaper Archive, tell stages in the process, that culminated with Hoesch’s death, on April 10, 1936, attributed to heart failure.
Joachim von Ribbentrop began his international career as a champagne merchant. Joining Adolph Hitler’s party, he became an ardent Nazi, an encouraging confidant of Hitler, trusted with assignments of state, given the post of Ambassador to London in 1936; prior to this becoming official, he had been acting already as the Nazi government’s chief diplomat. From his post in London (1936-1938), he returned to Berlin, becoming foreign minister (1938-1945). He negotiated the famous non-aggression pact with Stalin, which the parlor Communists of the era took as a great betrayal (on the part of the Soviet Union).
He was convicted and sentenced to death by hanging at Nuremberg.
GERMAN ZEPPELIN CREWS
Memorial Service at Potters Bar
The German ambassador (Dr. L. von Hoesch), accompanied by members of his staff, including Colonel von Geyer, the military attaché who wore a uniform and carried a sword, attended the annual memorial service in Potters Bar Churchyard, Middlesex, yesterday afternoon, to the crew of the German airship brought down at Cuffley and Potters Bar in the autumn of 1916.
Over 1000 people, most of them German, attended the service. They gave the Nazi salute when the ambassador placed a wreath from the German community in England on the common grave of the two crews.
A German male voice choir sang anthems, and addresses in German were given by the pastors of two German churches in London.
The vicar of Potters Bar (the Rev. A. Robinson) did not take part. Last year, he refused because of the effect of the Hitler regime on the religious life of Germany. This year he was not invited.
Belfast Telegraph March 18, 1935
German embassy changes?
Diplomatic quarters here are not surprised by rumours that Baron von Hoesch the German Ambassador, has asked to be relieved of his post. He could hardly have acted otherwise after being left out of the Simon-Hitler conversations [Sir John Simon, British Foreign Secretary, preceding Anthony Eden], for which he had prepared the ground at the London end.
Herr von Hoesch was a discovery of the late Dr. Stresemann, who appointed him ambassador in Paris, over the heads of many of his seniors. He played a prominent part in the brief period of Franco-German rapprochement following the Locarno Treaty. Accordingly he has been too closely identified with pre-Hitler foreign policy to be altogether acceptable to the Nazi expansionists, and their feelings have been reflected in his relations with Berlin for at least a year past.
Two candidates are mentioned for the London post should it fall vacant. One is Herr von Ribbentrop, already well known in England as Hitler’s personal representative on questions of disarmament; the other is Dr. Dieckhoff, head of the Anglo-American department of the Berlin Foreign Office. He was for some time counsellor at the London embassy, and is accounted extremely able.
Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer, April 1, 1935
New German ambassador?
I understand that Herr Hoesch, the present German ambassador here, may be succeeded soon by another diplomat who is slightly closer to the Chancellor and Herr Ribbentrop. He is Herr Christian Ulrich von Hassell, a 53-year-old ex-Service man who has been in the German Diplomatic Service for 26 years. He is tall and good-looking, speaks several languages and is the son-in-law of the late Admiral Tirpitz, so beloved of our cartoonists during the war.
Herr von Hassell has had Danish and Spanish experience, at Copenhagen and Barcelona respectively, and may be expected to take especial care of the German commercial interests. At present he is German ambassador at Rome. He was seriously wounded on the Marne, and was not expected to survive.
Herr von Hoesch is not as well-known as several other Ambassadors to the man-in-the-street here, who remembers chiefly the statement, made when he first came here, that he possessed more than 600 suits of clothes.
Lancashire Evening Post, June 29, 1935
German Ambassador in Paris Ill
Question of substitute
There is considerable speculation in diplomatic circles in Paris today as to who will represent Germany as Ambassador to France during the absence of Herr Roland Koester.
Herr Koester is suffering from septicemia, and is shortly leaving Paris for three months’ leave of absence. He informed M. Laval, the French premier, of this when he called upon him last evening.
So far nothing official has been said as to the arrangements for German representation during Herr Koester’s absence. A likely candidate for the post, as suggested in some quarters, is Herr von Ribbentrop, the German dictator’s Ambassador-at-Large.
Such a replacement would undoubtedly be welcome in certain quarters, for Herr von Ribbentrop would thus be on the spot to participate in any negotiations relative to a Franco-German rapprochement.
Dundee Evening Telegraph December 17, 1935
The probable successor as German ambassador in Paris to Herr Koester, who died here yesterday, is taken by the French press to be Herr von Ribbentrop, Hitler’s ambassador-at-large.
Coventry Evening Telegraph, January 1, 1936
(Excerpt, “They Will Speak for Hitler”)
The fact that he [Hoesch] kept his post after Hitler came to power surprised all but himself.
Times without number there has been talk of a coming change at Carlton House Terrace, of the coming of a hundred-percent Nazi who would take von Hoesch’s place.
Von Hoesch remains with his 100 suits and his 100 pairs of shoes, genuinely liking Britain and the British.
He was distressed to read that the herring industry was hard hit, so orders were given that every member of the Embassy staff should eat one British herring a day.
A day or two after the order went out, von Hoesch opened his morning conference with his officials with, “Have you had your herring today, Herr ——?” Every man at the conference was asked. Each man truthfully answered, “Yes.”
Orders are obeyed at Carlton House Terrace, however genial their nature.
Daily Herald, March 19, 1936
Long conversation with Mr. Baldwin
DOWNING STREET CALL
The nature of the 90 minute talk between Herr von Ribbentrop, Hitler’s Ambassador-at-Large, and Mr. Baldwin at 10 Downing Street yesterday, is being kept a closely guarded secret (says Reuter). The German envoy breakfasted with the Prime Minister.
On Herr Ribbentrop’s side all that has been made public is that the talk was of a private and cordial character between the two statesmen, who got to know each other when Herr von Ribbentrop was over here to negotiate the Anglo-German Naval Treaty.
It is officially denied that Mr. Baldwin gave Herr von Ribbentrop any message for Herr Hitler. There is no doubt, however, that Mr. Baldwin reinforced the appeal made by Mr. Eden to Herr von Ribbentrop on Wednesday night that the German counterproposals should contain suggestions for “bridging the gap”, between Germany and France in the immediate interim period, rather than an elaboration of Herr Hitler’s proposals in the March 7 memorandum, which can only be discussed when the gap has been bridged.
There is as yet no clear indication how this can be done. On the one side, France is still unwilling to negotiate on the basis of a fait accompli without some concession calculated to inspire confidence in Germany’s future respect for treaties. On the other side, Germany not only refuses the scheme for an international force to be stationed temporarily in the Rhineland, but is most unlikely to give any pledge not to fortify the Rhineland zone without some similar pledge from France.
It is now probable that Herr von Ribbentrop will not return to Germany until tomorrow. Last night, he was studying the text of Mr. Eden’s speech in the House of Commons.
The Scotsman, March 27, 1936
Our London Letter
From our own correspondents
The death of Dr. von Hoesch is the second unexpected loss sustained by the German Foreign Office among its ambassadors within a few months. Early in the new year the German Ambassador in Paris died suddenly. The London vacancy, however, presents a delicate problem for both the Wilhelmstrasse and our Foreign Office, for hitherto this British government has been successful in its wish that the official representative of Germany in England should be a diplomat of the old school rather than a political appointment of the Nazi Government.
Several efforts have been made to take the conduct of the German embassy out of the hands of Dr. von Hoesch, by sending unofficial Nazis to act as his mentors, but they have all found themselves cold-shouldered in official quarters, which have insisted on correct diplomatic procedure.
It will now be seen whether this point of view can be maintained in the new appointment, and perhaps the measure of Hitler’s desire to keep on friendly terms with Great Britain will be the extent to which he accedes to our wishes in this matter.
Nottingham Journal, April 11, 1936
Ambassador’s Sudden Death
Herr von Hoesch Dies After Bath
King Telephones Message of Sympathy
Collapse at London Embassy
HERR LEOPOLD VON HOESCH, THE GERMAN AMBASSADOR TO BRITAIN, DIED SUDDENLY YESTERDAY, AT THE GERMAN EMBASSY, LONDON. HE WAS 55.
HE WAS DRESSING IN AN APARTMENT SHORTLY AFTER 10 A.M., HAVING HAD A BATH, WHEN HE COLLAPSED AND DIED WITHIN A FEW MINUTES.
Death was due to a heart seizure.
The tragedy was stated by one official of the Embassy to be “so unexpected as to completely stun us all, as Herr von Hoesch was thought to be in excellent health.”
King Edward, when informed of Herr von Hoesch’s death, personally conveyed his condolences to Prince Bismarck, Counsellor of the Embassy, by telephone, from Windsor.
IT IS UNDERSTOOD THAT THE AMBASSADOR HAD FOR SOME TIME SUFFERED FROM A CARDIAC RHEUMATIC CONDITION. NO INQUEST WILL BE NECESSARY.
The ambassador’s private secretary, Herr von Fries, who was at the Embassy, at once telephoned Prince Bismarck, Counsellor to the Embassy, and other members of the staff, who rushed to Carlton House Terrace.
The news was flashed to Berlin, and afterwards a fuller report was sent to the German capital.
Many of the Embassy staff were out of London yesterday but all those who were still in the metropolis were communicated with and hurried to the building to deal with the mass of messages which began to pour in from all quarters.
One of the secretaries of the German Embassy told a reporter, “It is expected that a member of the German Diplomatic Service will travel to London during the next few days, but at present everything is in the air largely owing to the fact that the Easter holidays are observed in Germany even more strictly than in England.
“No official messages are expected from Germany today.”
At Croydon on Thursday
The news was flashed to Berlin and to the various permanent officials, the majority of whom were out of London for the holiday weekend. Herr von Hoesch, who has been in London since 1932, was at Croydon Aerodrome on Thursday, bidding farewell to Hitler’s Ambassador Extraordinary, Herr von Ribbentrop.
Prior to coming to London, Dr. von Hoesch, who is a bachelor, was German Ambassador in Paris. He was appointed German Ambassador there in 1923 at the special request of M. Poincaré.
At the outbreak of war, he was Secretary of the German Embassy in London.
Recent Work Taxed His Strength
Dr. von Hoesch’s diplomatic skill was largely responsible for the negotiations leading to the conclusion of the Locarno Treaty, the Kellogg Pact, and the Franco-German Trade Agreement.
He was also identified with the discussions that led up to the evacuation of the Rhineland.
The visit by Herr von Ribbentrop and the German delegation to London for the Locarno and League of Nations meetings had involved him in a great amount of additional work and taxed his strength.
A few days ago he attended a meeting at the All People’s Association, when he presented a gift of German books, from Dr. Eckener, the Zeppelin designer.
Speaking with deep emotion, Dr. von Hoesch pleaded for an Anglo-German friendship.
He emphasized the anxiety of his countrymen for a friendship with England.
In all diplomatic gatherings Dr. von Hoesch’s lithe figure was familiar. He was always like a Prussian Guards officer in his dignified bearing, and he acquired as a result of his faultless tailoring the reputation of being the man with the most suits in London.
Herr von Hoesch was reputed to possess more than 100 suits. These were kept in two rooms at the Embassy and in 1933 it was stated it required two days to unpack these suits.
He had a pair of shoes to tone with each suit, and Dr. von Hoesch had a remarkable assortment of hats, levee wear [official garments for appearances at court], riding clothes and morning suits.
He entertained lavishly at the German Embassy, and was the friend of many British statesmen.
Tributes to the dead ambassador were paid by many leading British statesmen yesterday, when they were informed of his death.
Western Daily Press, April 11, 1936
Now, if the story were a movie or miniseries, the pregnant question would ask to be addressed. Was there an intrigue behind the deaths of the two diplomats?
First, we’ll look at some traditional types of pressure being weighed on Hoesch in his final days.
He had played a material role, as the stories above cite, in negotiating the Locarno Pact. After the Rhineland excursion of March 1936, new negotiations were engaged, but now Hitler’s particular friend, Ribbentrop, was given the lead role, Hoesch being sidelined. In his last days, he dealt with small disputes, a formal complaint against an article written by Winston Churchill, condemning Nazi Germany; the expelling of a Nazi journalist, Dr. H. W. Thost, from England; and a football match in Tottenham—whether the German team would be allowed to enter England. (It was.)
When it was not to his political advantage (though to his inclination), Hoesch was positioned as ambassador for Britain, rather than to Britain.
He was made aware, as the newspapers reported, that his government wished to replace him.
In short, important work that belonged to the position he held and to his career history, was taken away from Hoesch. Work he was given was on the level of bickering disputes; his achievements at these easily cast as failures. He was made to know that a more attractive and favored candidate for his place was, not waiting in the wings, but strategically positioned in the wings.
As to conspiracy theories, it appears only the embassy staff handled the body; and that they were gathered and informed before anyone from the outside was. There are unattributed and contradictory statements as to his health. And of course, the job of ambassador holding a post Hitler would have liked held by Ribbentrop looks especially hazardous in the year 1936.
The Story of the German Ambassador
(2019, Stephanie Foster)