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Konstantin Freiherr von Neurath

Konstantin von Neurath
Konstantin von Neurath.

Konstantin Freiherr von Neurath (February 2, 1873 - August 14, 1956) was a German diplomat, Foreign Minister of Germany (1932-1938) and Reichsprotektor (Governor) of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia (1939-1941. He remained titular Protector until 1943).

Early life

He was born in Württemberg, the son of minor Swabian nobility. He studied law in Tübingen and in Berlin. After graduating in 1892 he joined a local law firm in his home town. He joined the civil service in 1901 and worked for the Foreign Office in Berlin. In 1903 he was assigned to the embassy in London as Vice-Consul and from 1909 he was Legationsrat (legation counsel) at the embassy. In 1914 he was sent to the embassy in Constantinople.

On May 30, 1901 he married Marie Auguste Moser von Filseck (1875-1960) in Stuttgart, a son Konstantin was born in 1902 followed by a daughter Winifred in 1904.

During WW I he served as an officer with an infantry regiment until 1916 when he was badly wounded. In December 1914 he was awarded the Iron Cross. He returned to the diplomatic service in Turkey. Towards the end of the war he headed the Württemberg government.

Political Life

In 1919, von Neurath returned to diplomacy, being assigned to the embassy in Copenhagen as Minister to Denmark. From 1921 until 1930 he was the ambassador to Rome; he was not overly impressed with Italian fascism. He was considered for a post in the new cabinet by Paul von Hindenburg in 1929. In 1930 he returned to head the embassy in London.

Von Neurath was recalled to Germany in 1932 and became Minister of Foreign Affairs under Franz von Papen in June. He continued to hold that position under Kurt von Schleicher and then under Adolf Hitler. He was involved in the German withdrawal from the League of Nations in 1933, the negotiations of the Anglo-German Naval Accord (1935) and the re-occupation of the Rhineland. Von Neurath joined the NSDAP in 1937 and in September of that year he was awarded a honorary rank of Obergruppenführer in the SS.

On February 4, 1938, von Neurath resigned as minister; he felt his office was marginalised and was not in favor of Hitler's aggressive war plans, which were detailed in the Hossbach Memorandum (1937). He was succeeded by Joachim von Ribbentrop, but he remained in government as a minister without portfolio.

In March 1939, von Neurath was appointed Protector (Reichsprotektor) of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia (Reichsprotektorat Böhmen und Mähren). He instituted German laws controlling the press and abolished political parties and trade unions, ordered a harsh crack-down on protesting students in October and November 1939, but he was regarded as insufficiently rigorous in controlling Czech resistance. In September 1941 he was relieved of his day-to-day powers and replaced by Reinhard Heydrich. Von Neurath attempted to resign in 1941 but his resignation was not accepted until August 1943.

Trial and imprisonment

He was tried at Nuremberg in 1946, where he was defended by Otto von Ludinghausen. The Allies accused him of "conspiracy to commit crimes against peace; planning, initiating and waging wars of aggression; war-crimes and crimes against humanity". He was found guilty by the Allied powers on all four counts and was sentenced to fifteen years imprisonment. He was held as a war criminal until 1953, when he was released due to ill health, having suffered a heart attack. He died in Enzweihingen.

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