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WW II: Behind Closed Doors

Stalin, the Nazis and the West

Joachim von Ribbentrop

Joachim von Ribbentrop

The son of an army officer, Joachim Ribbentrop spent his childhood not only in Germany, where he was born, but also in England, France, and Switzerland, before moving to Canada in 1910. As World War I broke out in 1914, Ribbentrop returned to his native country and volunteered for military service; he earned an Iron Cross for his time in combat. After the war, Ribbentrop remained in Germany and became a wine salesman. He became wealthy through his 1920 marriage to the daughter of a wine producer and, in 1925, he paid a relative whose name contained the noble prefix “von”to adopt him, which allowed Ribbentrop to use the prestigious word in his own name.

In 1932, von Ribbentrop met Adolf Hitler and joined the Nazi Party. When Hitler became Germany’s chancellor the next year, he asked von Ribbentrop to be an adviser on foreign policy. Although a sales career was not the conventional background for a man who would rise to a prominent position in the Third Reich , von Ribbentrop’s fluency in both English and French proved to be a valuable asset in foreign service. In 1934, von Ribbentrop became the plenipotentiary for matters of disarmament . He embarked on a special mission to London the following year, where he successfully negotiated the Anglo-German Naval Treaty, in which Great Britain agreed to a limited German naval rearmament. Von Ribbentrop became Germany’s ambassador to Great Britain in 1936; he remained in this position until February 1938, when he returned home to become his country’s foreign minister.

As World War II approached, von Ribbentrop conducted negotiations that led to a number of significant treaties, including the Anti-Comintern Pact with Japan; the Pact of Steel, creating a military alliance with Italy; the German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact (or Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact ) with the USSR; and the Tripartite Pact , an economic and military agreement with Italy and Japan. In particular, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was a great achievement for Ribbentrop; it relieved the threat of Soviet military power on Germany’s eastern front and made feasible Hitler’s 1939 invasion of Poland.

After Germany capitulated on May 8, 1945, von Ribbentrop was captured by Allied soldiers in Hamburg on June 14. He was imprisoned and faced trial for war crimes before the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg. Convicted on all four counts against him, he was hanged on October 16, 1946.