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The Life and Times of Joachim von Ribbentrop

by John Weitz

Pub Date: Aug. 18th, 1992
ISBN: 0-395-62152-6
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

What can a celebrated fashion designer tell you about the history of Germany's Third Reich? You'd be surprised. Weitz (Friends in High Places, 1982, etc.) grew up in Berlin's haut monde, fled the Nazis with his family in 1938, and returned as an OSS spy five years later. He hasn't forgotten much, and succeeds in putting a personal spin on his account of Hitler's foreign minister. Ribbentrop (1893-1946) was a go-getter from the start, a bright boy of modest means and boundless ambition who ended up with the Nazis largely because they made him the best offer. The son of an army officer, he started a wine-exporting business as a young man and joined the army in 1914. After the war, he threw himself into the social whirl of Berlin, cultivating the friendship of the high and mighty. One of his biggest catches was Franz von Papen, who became chancellor under the von Hindenburg government. In 1932, von Papen asked Ribbentrop to meet with Hitler to convince him to form a coalition government. Hitler refused—but converted Ribbentrop to National Socialism in the process. Among the Nazis, Ribbentrop was an anomaly—most of the Nazi leadership was of proletarian or lower-middle-class stock—and he was constantly at pains to demonstrate his loyalty. This led to many diplomatic fiascos (such as that when Ribbentrop, after presenting his credentials to the king of England, gave a Nazi salute) and ultimately cost him his life at Nuremberg. Weitz succeeds brilliantly in describing the atmosphere of the period and the social background of the events that defined the age. His portrayal of the Nazi hierarchy is remarkable in that he sees most of its members as spineless toadies without any ideology of their own—and Ribbentrop as an exemplar of the type. The Faustian elements of opportunism have rarely been so well defined. A splendid and horrifying romp through the culverts of modern history. (Sixteen pages of b&w photographs—not seen.)