Herbert von Dirksen

Herbert von Dirksen

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Herbert von Dirksen was a German diplomat who is best remembered as the last German Ambassador to Britain before World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...



Dirksen was born to a recently ennobled family. In 1905, he graduated with a Referendar (junior barrister) legal degree and in 1907, he went on a tour around the world. After working as assistant judge, in 1910 Dirksen went on a four month trip to Rhodesia
Rhodesia , officially the Republic of Rhodesia from 1970, was an unrecognised state located in southern Africa that existed between 1965 and 1979 following its Unilateral Declaration of Independence from the United Kingdom on 11 November 1965...

, South Africa
South Africa
The Republic of South Africa is a country in southern Africa. Located at the southern tip of Africa, it is divided into nine provinces, with of coastline on the Atlantic and Indian oceans...

 and German East Africa
German East Africa
German East Africa was a German colony in East Africa, which included what are now :Burundi, :Rwanda and Tanganyika . Its area was , nearly three times the size of Germany today....

. During World War One
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

, Dirksen served in the German Army as a lieutenant and won the Iron Cross
Iron Cross
The Iron Cross is a cross symbol typically in black with a white or silver outline that originated after 1219 when the Kingdom of Jerusalem granted the Teutonic Order the right to combine the Teutonic Black Cross placed above a silver Cross of Jerusalem....

, Second Class. After the war, he joined the German Foreign Office.

Between 1923-25, Dirksen served as German Consul
Consul was the highest elected office of the Roman Republic and an appointive office under the Empire. The title was also used in other city states and also revived in modern states, notably in the First French Republic...

 in the Free City of Danzig
Free City of Danzig
The Free City of Danzig was a semi-autonomous city-state that existed between 1920 and 1939, consisting of the Baltic Sea port of Danzig and surrounding areas....

. In 1928, in a major promotion, Dirksen became the Ministerial Director of the East Division of the Foreign Office. Later, that same year, the Foreign Minister Gustav Stresemann
Gustav Stresemann
was a German politician and statesman who served as Chancellor and Foreign Minister during the Weimar Republic. He was co-laureate of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1926.Stresemann's politics defy easy categorization...

 appointed him the German Ambassador to the Soviet Union
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

. In early 1933, Dirksen was highly concerned that the anti-Communist rhetoric of the Nazis might damage the good state of German-Soviet relations. In response, Prince Bernard von Bülow, the State Secretary of the Auswärtiges Amt
Foreign Office (Germany)
The Foreign Office is the foreign ministry of Germany, a federal agency responsible for both the country's foreign politics and its relationship with the European Union. From 1871 to 1919, it was led by a Foreign Secretary, and since 1919, it has been led by the Foreign Minister of Germany...

sought to reassure Dirksen that:"The National Socialists faced with responsibility are naturally different people and follow a policy other than that which they have previously proclaimed. That's always been so and is the same with all parties". Despite Bülow's assessment, German-Soviet relations started to decline, which left Dirksen very worried.

In May 1933, Dirksen had a meeting with Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler was an Austrian-born German politician and the leader of the National Socialist German Workers Party , commonly referred to as the Nazi Party). He was Chancellor of Germany from 1933 to 1945, and head of state from 1934 to 1945...

 in which he advised the Führer that he was allowing relations with the Soviet Union to deteriorate to an unacceptable extent. Much to Dirksen's disappointment, Hitler informed him that he wished for an anti-Soviet understanding with Poland
Poland , officially the Republic of Poland , is a country in Central Europe bordered by Germany to the west; the Czech Republic and Slovakia to the south; Ukraine, Belarus and Lithuania to the east; and the Baltic Sea and Kaliningrad Oblast, a Russian exclave, to the north...

, which Dirksen protested implied recognition of the German-Polish border. In August 1933, Dirksen was warned by the Soviet Premier Vyacheslav Molotov
Vyacheslav Molotov
Vyacheslav Mikhailovich Molotov was a Soviet politician and diplomat, an Old Bolshevik and a leading figure in the Soviet government from the 1920s, when he rose to power as a protégé of Joseph Stalin, to 1957, when he was dismissed from the Presidium of the Central Committee by Nikita Khrushchev...

 that the state of German-Soviet relations would depend on how friendly the Reich chose to be towards the Soviet Union.

In October 1933, he became the German Ambassador to Japan
Japan is an island nation in East Asia. Located in the Pacific Ocean, it lies to the east of the Sea of Japan, China, North Korea, South Korea and Russia, stretching from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the East China Sea and Taiwan in the south...

. Shortly after his arrival in Tokyo, Dirksen became involved with the efforts of a shady German businessman, drug-dealer, Nazi Party member and friend of Hermann Göring
Hermann Göring
Hermann Wilhelm Göring, was a German politician, military leader, and a leading member of the Nazi Party. He was a veteran of World War I as an ace fighter pilot, and a recipient of the coveted Pour le Mérite, also known as "The Blue Max"...

 named Ferdinand Heye to become Special Trade Commissioner in Manchukuo
Manchukuo or Manshū-koku was a puppet state in Manchuria and eastern Inner Mongolia, governed under a form of constitutional monarchy. The region was the historical homeland of the Manchus, who founded the Qing Empire in China...

. Dirksen's backing for Heye's schemes for a monopoly of Manchurian soybean
The soybean or soya bean is a species of legume native to East Asia, widely grown for its edible bean which has numerous uses...

s plus his advocacy of German recognition of Manchukuo brought him into conflict with his superior, the Foreign Minister Baron Konstantin von Neurath
Konstantin von Neurath
Konstantin Freiherr von Neurath was a German diplomat remembered mostly for having served as Foreign minister of Germany between 1932 and 1938...

, who preferred better relations with China
Chinese civilization may refer to:* China for more general discussion of the country.* Chinese culture* Greater China, the transnational community of ethnic Chinese.* History of China* Sinosphere, the area historically affected by Chinese culture...

 than with Japan
Japan is an island nation in East Asia. Located in the Pacific Ocean, it lies to the east of the Sea of Japan, China, North Korea, South Korea and Russia, stretching from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the East China Sea and Taiwan in the south...

. In early 1934, Dirksen himself came into conflict with Heye over the latter's attempts to secure not just a soybean monopoly, but all German business in Manchuria. In addition, Heye, acting on his own, informed the Japanese that German recognition of Manchukuo would soon be coming, a claim that strained German relations with both the Chinese (who were offended at the idea of German recognition for Manchukuo) and the Japanese (who were offended when German recognition did not come). The dispute was finally settled in February 1935 when Heye was finally disallowed by Hitler.

In 1938-39, he was German Ambassador at the Court of St. James's
Court of St. James's
The Court of St James's is the royal court of the United Kingdom. It previously had the same function in the Kingdom of England and in the Kingdom of Great Britain .-Overview:...

. Dirksen's relations with his superior, Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop
Joachim von Ribbentrop
Ulrich Friedrich Wilhelm Joachim von Ribbentrop was Foreign Minister of Germany from 1938 until 1945. He was later hanged for war crimes after the Nuremberg Trials.-Early life:...

 were very poor. Dirksen despised Ribbentrop as "an unwholesome, half-comical figure". In December 1938, the British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain
Neville Chamberlain
Arthur Neville Chamberlain FRS was a British Conservative politician who served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from May 1937 to May 1940. Chamberlain is best known for his appeasement foreign policy, and in particular for his signing of the Munich Agreement in 1938, conceding the...

 gave a speech at a formal dinner of the correspondents of the German News Agency in London with Dirksen present. When Chamberlain spoke of the "futility of ambition, if ambition leads to the desire for domination", Dirksen, who interpreted that remark as an implied criticism of Hitler, led all of the assembled German journalists in walking out in protest. In 1939, Dirksen reported to Berlin that Britain would not honor the Anglo-Polish military alliance, and would back down if Germany invaded that nation. In August 1939 Dirksen reported that Chamberlain knew “the social structure of Britain, even the conception of the British Empire, would not survive the chaos of even a victorious war”, and so would abandon her commitments to Poland. Dirksen’s main motive for reporting that Britain would do nothing in the event of German aggression against Poland was his very strongly held anti-Polish feelings. Dirksen strongly disliked Poland, and did not wish for any information that might dissuade Hitler from launching Fall Weiss from reaching him. Dirksen's messages had the effect of convincing Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler was an Austrian-born German politician and the leader of the National Socialist German Workers Party , commonly referred to as the Nazi Party). He was Chancellor of Germany from 1933 to 1945, and head of state from 1934 to 1945...

that any German attack on Poland would result only in a localized German-Polish war, not a world war. When Germany invaded Poland on 1 September 1939, this was followed by a British declaration of war on Germany on 3 September, an effect of which was the ruin of Dirksen's diplomatic career, and he never held a major post again.