In a recent ebook I wrote on Hitler’s foreign policy throughout the 1930s, time and again the theme of his trust in Ribbentrop (utterly misplaced) came up. In the figure of Joachim Von Ribbentrop, Hitler’s foreign affairs advisor then plenipotentiary, and finally, in 1938, foreign minister, we can see some insights into the character and temperament of the Fuhrer himself.
Hitler, on accession to office in 1933 was deeply suspicious of his own foreign policy advisors, suspecting them (wrongly) of lacking nationalist or Nazi ardour. On the contrary, the prevailing attitudes within the German Foreign Ministry were militaristic, anti-Semitic, and aggressively nationalistic, far from the indecisive, faint hearted pen pushers that Hitler imagined them to be. What many of them were, however, were members of Germany’s social elites, Junkers from wealthy Prussian families, who Hitler felt both inferior to, and yet whom he in turn looked down on as people lacking the right determination and Nazi dynamism to bring about the revolutions both foreign and domestic that he hoped for. The intellectually high brow members of the diplomatic corps were only cautious in that they had to play their hand in Europe very carefully, due to the small size in 1933 of Germany’s army.
A man like Ribbentrop fulfilled all of Hitler’s wishes. Ribbentrop, Hitler was fond of announcing, was the only man that the Fuhrer could rely on to tell him the truth of what was going on in the world.
The reality could not have been more different. Ribbentrop told Hitler what he wanted to hear, he was adept in interpreting Hitler’s wishes and whims and then presenting him with a flattering yet misleading view of the world that conformed to these desires. When Ribbentrop went to Britain to conclude a deal on behalf of the Fuhrer with the British, the Anglo German Naval Agreement, he bulldozed his way through the negotiations, offending and angering the British. Hitler was less interested in a naval agreement with Britain than a full treaty, the former intended to be but a prelude to the latter. Ribbentrop failed to gain the full treaty, in no small part due to his blustering aggressive approach, but he reported back to the Fuhrer that he was close to closing the deal. In Ribbentrop’s view, Britain was controlled by 200 elite families, and if they could be persuaded, then Britain would join with Hitler. The reality was radically different, Britain was controlled by parliamentarians and a civil service elite, neither of which had any desire to ally with Hitler. Instead of telling the truth about the world to his Fuhrer, Ribbentrop kept Hitler very much in the dark.