Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum

The German Diplomatic Files

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The German Diplomatic Files represent an important collection of documents concerning the governmental dealings between the United States and Germany over the course of Franklin D. Roosevelt's tenure in office, from 1933 to 1945. The time frame is significant, for on January 30, 1933, just two short months before FDR was inaugurated as the 32nd President of the United States, Adolf Hitler assumed the chancellorship in Germany. The year 1933, then, marks the beginning of the Nazi period in German history, an era characterized by domestic oppression, anti-Semitism and terror, coupled with the increasingly vociferous demand on the part of Hitler's government for the alteration or removal of the restrictions placed on Germany under the terms of the peace treaty that ended World War One -- the Treaty of Versailles. For the next six years, the Nazis insistence on the revision of the Treaty of Versailles would result in a steady increase in international tensions that was regarded with increasing alarm in Washington. Ultimately, all efforts to settle German grievances by peaceful means, such as British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain's controversial policy of "appeasement" failed, and on September 1, 1939, the Nazi's initiated World War Two by launching a massive attack on Poland. It would take another two years, however, before the United States would find itself in a formal state of war with Germany. In the interim, U.S.-German relations grew steadily worse as the Roosevelt Administration offered growing material and naval support to the British war effort and U.S. suspicions about Nazi subversive activities in the Western Hemisphere increased.

Relations with Germany also suffered as a consequence of Nazi behavior at home. On November 16, 1938, for example, U.S. Secretary of State Cordell Hull recalled the U.S. Ambassador to Germany, Hugh R. Wilson, in protest over "Kristallnacht" -- the Nazi pogrom against the Jews. The Germans responded in kind, and from this date forward, until the German declaration of war on the United States on December 11, 1941, matters at the U.S. Embassy in Berlin and the German Embassy in Washington were handled by the two nation's respective Charge d'Affairs.

The documents in these files are drawn from the Diplomatic Series in the President's Secretary's Files. They reveal much about German-American relations and the U.S. response to the dramatic events that were unfolding in Germany and Europe in the years leading to World War Two. They also contain information about the war in Europe between 1939 and 1941; intelligence reports on Hitler and other Nazi leaders; information about Nazi activities in South and Central America; as well as material on U.S.-German trade. There are no records for the years 1942-43, when there was very little if any contact between the two governments, but the files resume again in 1944 in anticipation of an Allied victory. The 1944-45 files contain a good deal of information about U.S. proposals for the treatment of Germany after the war, including the controversial Morgenthau Plan and other significant postwar material.

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