Behind the Headlines Achenbach: a Former Nazi in the Spotlight of Controversy
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Behind the Headlines Achenbach: a Former Nazi in the Spotlight of Controversy

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Nazi hunter Beate Klarsfeld hoped to bring convicted Nazi war criminal Kurt Lischka to justice. Instead, she may have succeeded in helping drum out a former Nazi of another sort. The paradox grew out of the highly publicized trial in Cologne in which a court found Mrs. Klarsfeld guilt, ironically, of attempting to abduct Lischka, a 64-year-old grain dealer, to France, where a life sentence for war crimes awaits him.

As the trial ended, a note of protest against Jewish “vengeance” came from a prominent West German legislator. This was Ernst Achenbach, 65, who served as a Nazi diplomat in the Third Reich’s Paris Embassy during World War II and who, so far, has avoided any prosecution for war crimes. Achenbach appeared on French television in an attempt to calm the surge of public indignation against unpunished Nazis that Mrs. Klarsfeld, a West German housewife married to a French Jew, had managed to arouse during her trial.

“Let us be done with the past once and for all,” said Achenbach from his private study and speaking in a flawless French he learned while in occupied Paris. “Otherwise, we will never be rid of the viscious circle of vengeance.”

Achenbach’s words took on special meaning in light of the fact that he, as a ranking parliamentarian on the Foreign Affairs Commission, has been instrumental in holding up ratification of the three-year-old Franco-German pact providing the legal machinery for retrying war criminals like Lischka in West Germany. The treaty would affect an estimated 250 former Nazis who served in France. In place of the treaty, Achenbach has proposed total amnesty to all Nazi war criminals. This time Achenbach appeared to have gone too far. No sooner did he make his statement than a storm broke over his head.

First, Achenbach’s party, the Free Democrats (which counts President Walter Scheel among its members) called for his resignation from the parliament. They further demanded he be withdrawn from the Foreign Affairs Commission. Then the European Parliament, where Achenbach is a sub-commissioner, called for his expulsion because of his “embarrassing” political policies.


To add to this, the weekly French news magazine “L’Express” published a major expose of Achenbach’s wartime activities at the Paris Embassy where he headed the “political section.” According to the magazine the political section handled the execution of reprisals and the liquidation of the “Jewish question.” The magazine offered some explanation of why Achenbach was all for forgetting the past. Included in the expose were photocopies of two documents signed by Achenbach strongly indicating that he worked in close liaison with the gestapo in France to virtually supervising its operation.

One is a letter to Heinz Rothke, gestapo chief of the anti-Jewish section in France, authorizing the round-up of Jews. It also expresses Achenbach’s wish to be kept up-to-date on the “status of the deportation of ‘stateless’ Jews.” The letter is marked “secret.”

The other document is a telegram from Achenbach to the Foreign Ministry in Berlin in which he explains that 2000 Jews are to be deported as reprisal for the murder of two Nazi army officers. “L’Express” said that other records prove that the day after this telegram was sent. 2000 Jews between the ages of 16 and 65 were arrested by order of Lischka and deported to Maidanek. They were sent to the gas chambers on arrival.

In the article, “L’Express” sarcastically calls Achenbach “the Nazi with nothing to worry about.” referring to the fact that, unlike gestapo chiefs like Lischka, Achenbach’s indirect role in the execution of Hitlerian policies has probably saved him from prosecution.

But recent events have turned the tables and Achenbach is now definitely a man “with something to worry about.” His Nazi past and his pro-Nazi policies seem to be catching up with him to take their political toll. His political career has been dangerously threatened and some think even permanently crippled. As for the Franco-German treaty Achenbach was trying to block, its ratification is predicted for the end of the year.

However, for French Jews and Jews throughout Europe one nagging question remains: once the treaty is ratified, who in West Germany will come forth to implement it? What judges will seek to bring to justice the former Nazis affected by the treaty in a West Germany which in 1972 alone saw 83 war criminals acquitted out of 101 tried, and in 1973,14 acquitted out of 22?

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