Sunday 16 June 2019

Obituary: Rudolf von Ribbentrop

Highly decorated SS officer, son of Hitler's trusted foreign minister

VON RIBBENTROP: Went from school into the Waffen-SS
VON RIBBENTROP: Went from school into the Waffen-SS

Rudolf von Ribbentrop, who has died aged 98, was the son of Hitler's foreign minister, Joachim von Ribbentrop, and became a highly decorated soldier in the Waffen-SS.

When Joachim was appointed German ambassador to London in 1936, Sir Robert Vansittart of the UK's Foreign Office, tried to get the gawky, bespectacled 15-year-old into Eton. He believed "Eton would show Rudolf 'how English boys live, and he will be able to teach the Hitler Youth'." The school rejected him, however.

Instead, Rudolf spent a year at Westminster School, where a contemporary, Brian Urquhart, later under-secretary-general of the United Nations, described him as "doltish, surly and arrogant", recalling he "arrived each morning in one of two plum-coloured Mercedes-Benz limousines. On arrival, both chauffeurs would spring out, give the Nazi salute and shout 'Heil Hitler!'"

In his memoirs Rudolf claimed he had been sent to Westminster so he could inform his father about the true feelings of the British upper echelons towards Hitler and how the British were preparing their officer class for war.

One day "a sympathetic young teacher, wearing a captain's uniform", invited him to join the school's officer training corps: "Father was as surprised as I was. In Germany, until the war broke out, there had been no pre-military training of young people. In my view, a great mistake. We could have saved a great deal of bloodshed."

Von Ribbentrop senior gave his permission, provided his son was allowed to wear a German uniform. The school politely declined.

Another schoolmate was Peter Ustinov, whose anti-Nazi father had given up his job as press attache at the German embassy and subsequently worked for MI5. The actor described young Rudi as "a pleasant lad who, no doubt under his father's instructions, wore a red diamond-shaped badge with a swastika as its crowning glory in his lapel".

Yet it was said to have been Ustinov who leaked the boy's presence at his school to The Times. Rudolf was withdrawn for his own safety and sent to a boarding school in Germany.

He was born Rudolf Ribbentrop on May 11, 1921, in Wiesbaden, the oldest of five children of Joachim Ribbentrop and his wife, Anneliese, daughter of a wealthy Wiesbaden wine-producer.

When World War II broke out in September 1939, Rudolf volunteered for the SS Infantry and served in Czechoslovakia, during the invasion of France and in the Finnish campaign against the USSR.

In 1942, he was assigned to the panzers of the Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler, and in early 1943 was a tank commander in the Third Battle of Kharkov, the last major engagement the Germans won on the Eastern Front.

Von Ribbentrop was shot through the lung at Kharkov. Later, he was transferred to the SS 12th Panzer Division, where he was awarded the German Cross in Gold for, commanding another tank platoon in Normandy. He also led a tank platoon in the Battle of the Bulge. Altogether he was wounded five times and in 1944 was awarded the Nazi Wound Badge in Gold.

Von Ribbentrop ended up a British prisoner in Hamburg, where conditions, he recalled, were worse than those he had endured at Westminster.

On October 16, 1946, his father became the first of those sentenced to death at Nuremberg by hanging after being found guilty of war crimes. In his memoir, Rudolf dismissed the trials as "so structured as to make unequivocally sure that the process taken was directed to capital punishment".

After the war Rudolf's mother Anneliese tried to get her son a job in the family wine business. Other family members felt the Ribbentrop name would be bad for business and Anneliese took a successful court action that the company should accept him as a full partner and director.

No such qualms affected Rudolf-August Oetker, who had also served in the SS and afterwards ran his family's baking company, Dr Oetker.

In 1958 Rudolf von Ribbentrop was appointed to the Oetker family's private bank, Bankhaus Lampe, in Bielefeld. He became a director of the bank. In 1960, Rudolf von Ribbentrop married Baroness Ilse-Marie von Munchhausen, who died in 2010. Rudolf von Ribbentrop died on May 20, 2019.

Sunday Independent

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