Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




In the late forties, military tribunals held at Nuremberg tried several surviving key German diplomats, including Constantin von Neurath, Joachim von Ribbentrop, Ernst von Weizsaecker, and Ernst Woermann, for their part in the so-called Nazi conspiracy to wage wars of aggression. All of the diplomats on trial claimed that the German Foreign Office was innocent since it had no influence on the formulation of foreign policy: Hitler had acted as his own Foreign Minister. This thesis investigates to what extent these individuals and other diplomats influenced the making of foreign policy during the Third Reich, as well as examines the Foreign Office's role in formulating policy from 1871 to 1945 in order to determine if there exists any continuity in its activities. The author uses the unpublished Nuremberg trial papers in the University of North Dakota's Chester Fritz Library as well as numerous published diplomatic documents and memoirs. The study shows that there is a strong case for the continuity argument that the Foreign Office had little, if any, influence in policy making under Bismarck, Wilhelm II, and Hitler. All three men practiced, to varying degrees, their desire to be their own Foreign Minister. The Foreign Office existed to carry out foreign affairs, not formulate policy. Only during the Weimar era, especially under Stresemann, did the Foreign Office exert a strong influence in policy making. With the emergence of Hitler, the diplomats returned to their established pattern of serving a strong German leader. Thus, when the diplomats on trial at Nuremberg stated that Hitler was his own Foreign Minister and the Foreign Office had no influence on his decisions, they were arguing a viewpoint that holds true for much of the time during 1871 to 1945.