Seventy-seven years ago, in early October 1943, the Nazi regime attempted to deport Denmark’s Jewish community as part of the “final solution,” the genocide of Europe’s Jews. The heinous plan failed. The majority of the Jewish population were able to flee over the Sound to Sweden and to escape death. The story of the “human wall,” which Danes formed around their Jewish compatriots at that time, does credit to them and Denmark to this very day. Diplomatic Passport Georg Duckwitz
One principal opponent of the Gestapo and SS in September/October 1943 was a German: Georg Ferdinand Duckwitz, the maritime attaché at the German Legation in Copenhagen. Duckwitz informed Danish contacts of the planned deportation in good time, and as a result, measures were taken, which ultimately led to the rescue of so many people. Duckwitz was repeatedly honored for his actions and, in 1971, was awarded the title of “Righteous Among the Nations” by Yad Vashem memorial.
Duckwitz was a courageous man at a time when so many others lacked courage or conscience. His actions in Copenhagen bear convincing witness to his courage. Any act of assistance to Jews in the areas under German control was an act of resistance against a system based on the notion of the inferiority of Jews and the denial of their rights. Rescuing Jews was not only an act of humanity; it was also an act of subversion. As a man who early on had not been hostile to the system, Duckwitz had to come a long way before engaging in “humanitarian subversion.” Duckwitz, after all, belonged to a particular generation. He was a man of his time. The story of his life – with its leaps, deviations as well as contradictions, and inexplicability – is a German biography of the 20th century. Diplomatic Passport Georg Duckwitz
Commemorating him, a member of the Foreign Service since 1939, is part and parcel of the Foreign Office’s efforts to come to grips with its own past. It is true that the Federal Foreign Office shunned examining this period of its history for many years and chose instead to cultivate an image of itself which stressed the notion of how German diplomats had kept a distance from the Nazi regime and had indeed stayed coolly remote. In contrast, historical research since the 1970s has increasingly produced evidence that distance and “inner resistance,” which – it has been shown – individual officials did demonstrate, certainly did not prevail in the Foreign Office as a whole. As an organization, it by no means remained on the sidelines, and it certainly did not oppose the regime. Instead, as the Nazi’s grip on power became ever more robust, it became a more or less reliable tool of the dictatorship. At best, it can be argued that in this, the Foreign Office was just like other state institutions, although that of course hardly exonerates it. Above all, according to the report drawn up by an independent commission of historians established in 2005, there can be no doubt that German diplomats actively participated in the Shoa. The commission’s report started a debate that is still ongoing. However, it undoubtedly marks a new phase in the efforts of the Foreign Office to come to terms with the crimes of National Socialism. Diplomatic Passport Georg Duckwitz
It is part of the tradition of the Foreign Office to commemorate those who stood up against the prevailing zeitgeist and particularly against the crimes of the Nazis, colleagues whose moral compass not only continued to function but indeed guided their actions. For many years, the opponents of the regime associated with the attempted coup of 20 July 1944 have been the focus of attention. It is only in recent times that the Foreign Office has paid more considerable attention to other members of the Foreign Service who resisted the regime – people who, irrespective of their function, we’re guided by values and convictions, who refused to bow to a totalitarian regime. They included Fritz Kolbe, who risked his life to pass on large volumes of classified information to the United States, including reports on the deportation of Jews from Hungary.
Much remains to be done in this respect. This is true, for example of Gerhart Feine, a German diplomat who helped save many people from deportation in Budapest in 1944, cooperating with his Swiss colleague Carl Lutz. Feine had been largely forgotten until the commission of historians paid tribute to him in their report in 2010. We should also remember diplomats such as Michael Jovy, who entered the Foreign Service in the 1950s and who, alongside Duckwitz, is the only German diplomat honored in Yad Vashem to date.
I have never seen any documents issued or signed by Duckwitz. Still, when I researched a similar topic, I learned that the political archive of the German Federal Office holds his diplomatic passport. I asked the archive if I could have pictures of his diplomatic passport, and my wish was granted.
His diplomatic passport was issued on September 3, 1943, in Berlin in his function as shipping surveyor at the German embassy in Copenhagen showing plenty of border stamps and visas from Denmark and Switzerland.
The Political Archive of the German Foreign Office is the ‘memory’ of the foreign service. It has preserved the files on German foreign policy since 1867, as well as the international treaties signed by the Federal Republic of Germany and its predecessors in title. The records are preserved, processed, and made available to academics. I visited the archive twice in 2011, and it’s a fantastic source, also on passport history. Thanks again to the archive team for the support in the past and by sending me the pictures of this Duckwitz’s diplomatic passport. Also, for the permission to republish on my website.
Diplomatic Passport Georg Duckwitz