Monday, December 30, 2019
My Father Joachim von Ribbentrop
This year (2019) was the final year in the life of Rudolf von Ribbentrop, son of the Third Reich´s foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop - the German half of the most common name for the Hitler-Stalin Pact (Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact) that in August 1939 stunned the world. Speaking about 2019, one of the final meetings of President Vladimir Putin this year was largely about this pact.
President Putin has lately talked a great deal about the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. There have been reactions to this, not least from the first victim of the pact, Poland. In other words, this first English language edition of Rudolf von Ribbentrop´s book about his father has been released with rather good timing. Most of its 476 pages are indeed about Joachim von Ribbentrop and several passages about him, as well as quotes from him and others, are of great interest. But aside from the direct quotes My Father Joachim von Ribbentrop is a mixed bag. The idea to let the book also be about the author´s own past is understandable. Rudolf von Ribbentrop not only witnessed the rise of the Third Reich from a rather unique position, he joined the SS Infantry Regiment "Deutschland" and took part in the invasion of France 1940. Afterwards he led a platoon of what later became "Nord", in Finland; was assigned to the Leibstandarte "Adolf Hitler"; participated as a tank commander in the Third Battle of Kharkov/Kharkiv and was shot by a sniper while rescuing wounded.
After recovering, the young von Ribbentrop became a Panzer company commander and led his company during the recapture of Kharkov/Kharkiv, after which he received the Knight’s Cross. He was transferred to the SS Division "Hitlerjugend" and was again wounded when a Spitfire attacked his car. Ribbentrop was awarded the German Cross in Gold during the defense of Normandy in 1944. He also took part in the Battle of the Bulge and met Hitler in his bunker in February 1945. All this he describes himself and his words are often fascinating to read. The problem is how these personal experiences are spread out over the book, and that there are passages that indicated to me that the author´s age introduced errors of memory into the text - he was 87 when he finished writing the original (German) manuscript.
Rudolf von Ribbentrop´s take on the origin and conduct of the Second World War is thought-provoking but at times simply not convincing. He did realize that he had served a murderous dictator but he nevertheless believed that Hitler had above all been tricked into attacking Poland - indirectly tricked by conspiring German generals. Where is Alfred Naujocks, Gleiwitz and other German-orchestrated incidents along the Polish-German border? Was I just too tired or did the author attempt to explain away the Lebensraum motive? The pages about his father´s enthusiasm for the pact with Stalin are more interesting, and also credible. My Father Joachim von Ribbentrop does contribute to the picture of Hitler´s foreign minister, but one should read it bearing in mind who wrote it, when he wrote it and only after having read other books about the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact.