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Heinrich Otto Abetz
Nazi Germany Ambassador to France

In office
President Adolf Hitler
Chancellor Adolf Hitler
Personal details
Born 26 March 1903 (1903-03-26)
Schwetzingen, Baden, German Empire
Died 5 May 1958(1958-05-05) (aged 55)
Düsseldorf, North Rhine-Westphalia, West Germany
Political party National Socialist German Workers' Party (NSDAP)
Profession Diplomat

Heinrich Otto Abetz (26 March 1903 – 5 May 1958) was the German ambassador to Vichy France during World War II.

Early years

Abetz was born in Schwetzingen on 26 March 1903.[1] He was the son of an estate manager, who died when Otto was only 13.[2] Abetz matriculated in Karlsruhe, where he became an art teacher at a girls' school.[3] He would eventually join the Hitler Youth where he became a close friend of Joachim von Ribbentrop.[4] He was also one of the founders of the Reichsbanner, which worked to reconcile National Socialists and Communists, and was associated with groups such as the Black Front.[5] The latter associations were committed to pan Europeanism and a free federal continent.

Franco-German relations

Abetz cultivated a legacy of strengthening Franco-German relations. Interested in French culture at an early age, in his twenties he started a Franco-German cultural group for youths, along with Jean Luchaire, known as the Sohlberg Congress.[6] The group brought together a hundred German and French youth of all profession, social classes, political leanings, and religious affiliation.[6] The group held their first conference in the Black Forest, and were frequently convened around ski slopes, campfires, and in hostels.[6] The group maintained relations with the media through Luchaire's connection to the Notre Temps, and Abetz started the Sohlberg Circle (Sohlbergkreis). In 1934 the Sohlberg Circle was reborn as the Franco-German Committee (Comité France-Allemagne), which included Pierre Drieu la Rochelle and Jacques Benoist-Mechin.

An ardent Francophile, Abetz married Luchaire's French secretary, Susanne de Bruyker, in 1932.[7] At that time his politics were leftist, and he was known as a pacifist who bridged differences with fascists.[8]

Nazi period

Abetz did not join the Nazi Party until 1937, the year he applied for the German Foreign Service. From 1938, he was representing Germany in Paris. There, he joined masonic lodge Goethe in 1939.[9]

Abetz attended the Munich Conference in 1938. He was deported from France in June 1939 following allegations he had bribed two French newspaper editors to write pro-German articles; his expulsion created a scandal in France when it emerged that the wife of the French Foreign Minister Georges Bonnet was a close friend of the two editors, which led to much lurid speculation in the French press that Bonnet had received bribes from Abetz, though no firm evidence has ever emerged to support the rumors.[10] He was present in Adolf Hitler's entourage at the fall of Warsaw, and served as a translator for the German Führer.[11] He returned to France in June 1940 following the German occupation and was assigned by Joachim von Ribbentrop to the embassy in Paris.[11] Following Hitler's June 30 directive, Abetz was assigned by Ribbentrop the project of "safeguarding" all objects of art, public, private, and especially Jewish-owned. Abetz embarked on the job with enthusiasm and announced to the Wehrmacht that the embassy had been "charged with the seizure of French works of art... and with the listing and seizure of works owned by Jews."[12] On 17 September 1940 Hitler allowed Einsatzstab Rosenberg[8] into the game too and soon pushed Abetz out of the confiscation business. The Pétain government protested Abetz's undertakings in late October, but nothing could stop the German agencies. By the end of October so much material had accumulated at the Louvre that it was decided more space was needed.

Vichy France

In November 1940 Abetz was appointed to the German Embassy in Paris, in occupied France, at the age of 37 - a post he held until July 1944. He was also head of the French fifth columnists through Ribbentrop's special unit within the Foreign Service.[13] Abetz was never accredited as Ambassador to France as there was never a peace treaty between Germany and France, but he acted with the full powers of an ambassador. He advised the German military administration in Paris and was responsible for dealings with Vichy France. In May 1941, he negotiated the Paris Protocols to expand German access to French military facilities. Otto Abetz was one of the few German functionaries who admired and respected von Ribbentrop. His primary objective was to secure complete collaboration from the French, through negotiations with Laval and Admiral Darlan. Abetz's function eventually evolved into becoming the catalyst for society, the arts, industry, education, and above all, propaganda. He assembled a team of journalists and academics. In addition to running the German embassy in Paris, Abetz seized the Château de Chantilly in the countryside. he often entertained guests in both these places, living and working like a self-styled autocrat. One of the guests, the French fascist Louis-Ferdinand Céline, referred to him as "King Otto I", and France as "the Kingdom of Otto".[14]

The Embassy was theoretically responsible for all political questions in occupied France, which included SD operations, and for advising the German police and military. Abetz advised the military, the Gestapo and the SD, who nevertheless did not heed his advice. As the official representative of the German Government with the honorary rank of SS-Standartenführer (Colonel), he sought to seize the initiative as much as possible. In 1940 he created the German Institute, to be headed by Karl Epting, which was intended to improve French-German relations by offering a taste of German culture to the French people. Thirty thousand people signed up for the Institute's German language courses, but far more popular were the concerts which featured Germany's best musicians, including Herbert von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra.[15] Following the occupation of all of Vichy France on 11 November 1942, von Ribbentrop's influence was minimal as all of France was run by German military authorities, in conjunction with military police. An NSDAP Reichskommissariat of Belgien-Nordfrankreich held sway in several northern departments. Abetz was helpless to aid von Ribbentrop in Paris. Von Ribbentrop recalled him in November following the occupation of Vichy France. Abetz knew that he was in disfavour, although he did not understand why. He saw neither Hitler nor von Ribbentrop for a full year. He was consulted only once, on the formation of the French volunteer Waffen-SS unit Charlemagne. In his memoirs, Abetz assumed that he was considered "too francophile" and that his constant warnings about the loss of the French fleet and the loss of the French North Africa colonies were a thorn in the side of von Ribbentrop, particularly now that they had turned out to be correct. The scuttling of the French fleet in Toulon on 27 November had ensured that the French would not join the Axis.

He left France in September 1944 as the German armies withdrew. This despite claiming to Swedish ambassador Raoul Nordling on the seventh of the previous month that the Germans had neither killed political prisoners nor were making any plans to leave Paris.[16]

Career events

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Decorations & Awards[1]
Date given Decoration/Award
194? War Merit Cross, First Class (without swords)
194? War Merit Cross, Second Class (without swords)
193? Prague Castle Bar for Sudetenland Medal
193? Sudetenland Medal (Sudetenland invasion)
193? Sudetenland Medal (Czechoslovakia invasion)
1936 German Olympic Games Decoration, First Class
1942-01-30 Ehrendegen des Reichsführers-SS
"Honour Sword of the Reichsführer-SS"
194? Totenkopfring der SS
SS Honour Ring (unofficially "Death's head ring")
19?? SS-Zivilabzeichen Nr. 138 594
"SS Civil Badge No. 138 594"
19?? Julleuchter der SS
"Yule Candle Holder of the SS"
19?? Order of Mauritius, 1st Class (Italy)
19?? Grand Cross of the Order of Isabella the Catholic (Spain)
19?? Order of the Sacred Treasure, First Class (Japan)

See article: Orders, decorations, and medals of Nazi Germany

Date given Service & Rank Translation/Equivalent
31 July 1934 HJ-Unterbannführer "Junior Banner Leader"
1 August 1935 SS-Mann "Man" ≈ Private
1 August 1935 SS-Oberscharführer "Senior Squad Leader"
Senior Sergeant
13 September 1936 SS-Untersturmführer "Junior Storm Leader"
Second Lieutenant
20 April 1938 SS-Obersturmführer "Senior Storm Leader"
First Lieutenant
21 December 1938 SS-Hauptsturmführer "Head Storm Leader"
30 January 1939 SS-Sturmbannführer "Storm Unit Leader"
20 April 1939 SS-Obersturmbannführer "Senior Storm Unit Leader"
Lieutenant Colonel
6 April 1940 Diplomatic - Gesandter
(as title of office, not as a rank)
5 August 1940 Diplomatic - Botschafter Ambassador
9 November 1940 SS-Standartenführer "Banner Leader"
30 January 1941 SS-Oberführer "Senior Leader"
Senior Colonel
30 January 1941 HJ-Gebietsführer
(effective from 4 August 1940)
"Area Leader"
30 January 1942 SS-Brigadeführer "Brigade Leader"
Brigadier General

See articles: Ranks and insignia of the Hitler Youth/Schutzstaffel (SS)

Post-war years

He was captured by Allied authorities in the Schwarzwald in October 1945. He was quoted in the France Soir following the announcement of his arrest stating that Adolf Hitler was not dead, which is found in the FBI files pertaining to Hitler's apparent escape to Argentina.[17] In July 1949 a French court sentenced Abetz to twenty years' imprisonment for war crimes, particularly his role in arranging the deportation of French Jews to the death camps. He was released on 17 April 1954 from Loos prison. He died on 5 May 1958 in an auto accident near Langenfeld on the Cologne-Ruhr autobahn.[18] There was speculation that the accident might have been arranged as revenge for Abetz' wartime activities, but this has never been proven.


A grand nephew Eric Abetz is a member of the Australian Senate for the Liberal Party of Australia and grand nephew Peter Abetz is a member of the Western Australian Legislative Assembly for the Liberal Party.[19]


  1. The encyclopedia of the Third Reich, Volume 1. Christian Zentner, Friedemann Bedürftig, Amy Hackett. Gale / Cengage Learning, 1991. ISBN 0-02-897500-6, ISBN 978-0-02-897500-9. p. 1
  2. Current biography yearbook, Volume 2. H.W. Wilson Company, 1969. p. 4
  3. "Gellhorn: A Twentieth-Century Life", Caroline Moorehead. Macmillan, 2004. ISBN 0-8050-7696-4, ISBN 978-0-8050-7696-7. p. 63
  4. "Gellhorn: A Twentieth-Century Life", Caroline Moorehead. Macmillan, 2004. ISBN 0-8050-7696-4, ISBN 978-0-8050-7696-7. p. 64
  5. "Avant-garde fascism: the mobilization of myth, art, and culture in France, 1909-1939", Mark Antliff. Duke University Press, 2007. ISBN 0-8223-4015-1, ISBN 978-0-8223-4015-7. p. 169
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 "A history of Franco-German relations in Europe: from "hereditary enemies" to partners", Carine Germond, Henning Türk. Macmillan, 2008. ISBN 0-230-60452-8, ISBN 978-0-230-60452-0. p. 106, 107
  7. Time, Volume 54, Issues 1-13. Briton Hadden, Henry Robinson Luce. Time Inc., 1949. p. 20
  8. 8.0 8.1 "Verdict on Vichy: power and prejudice in the Vichy France regime", Michael Curtis. Arcade Publishing, 2003. ISBN 1-55970-689-9, ISBN 978-1-55970-689-6. p. 181, 182
  9. Jean-André Faucher, Histoire de la Grande Loge de France, Albatros ed, 1981
  10. Adamthwaite, Anthony France and the Coming of the Second World War, London: Frank Cass, 1977 pages 332
  11. 11.0 11.1 "After the fall: German policy in occupied France, 1940-1944", Thomas Johnston Laub. Oxford University Press US, 2010. ISBN 0-19-953932-4, ISBN 978-0-19-953932-1. p. 52-54
  12. Lynn H. Nicholas, The Rape of Europa, Vintage Books, 1995, p.120
  13. The Central European observer, Volume 23. Orbis Pub. Co., 1946. p. 8
  14. Spotts, Frederic (2008). The shameful peace: how French artists and intellectuals survived the Nazi occupation, p. 36. Yale University Press.
  15. Philippe Burrin, France Under the Germans (NY:New Press, 1996) 296-303
  16. Bradley, Omar N. (1951). A soldier's Story. New York: Henry Holt and Company. pp. 387. ISBN 978-0-8371-7924-7. 
  17. "Adolf Hitler • Adolf Hitler Part 01 of 04", Federal Bureau of Investigation. Accessed April 16, 2011
  18. "Bad Faith: A Forgotten History of Family, Fatherland and Vichy France", Carmen Callil. Random House Digital, Inc., 2007. ISBN 0-307-27925-1, ISBN 978-0-307-27925-5. p. 559


  1. ^ a b Miller, Michael D.; Schulz, Andreas (2004). The SS-Brigadeführer 1933–1945. (CD-ROM book) – Review by Marcus Wendel, Axis History Factbook

Further reading

  • Christian Zenter, Friedemann Bedurftig, ed (1991). Encyclopedia of the Third Reich. USA: Macmillan. ISBN 0-02-897502-2. 

See also

  • List of Nazi war criminals

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