Note on the sources
in Israelpolitik

Note on the sources

This book is based on an archival strategy that places the origins of German–Israeli relations in the aftermath of the Holocaust within the global geostrategic context of the 1950s and 1960s, characterised by the intensifying Cold War in Europe and Arab–Israeli conflict in the Middle East. The most important sources for this book are documentary records from former East and West German archives. In order to analyse the Cold War politics of Bonn’s Israelpolitik, I have consulted Federal Archive files stored in Koblenz (Bundesarchiv Koblenz, BAK) pertaining to the Chancellery, the relevant Ministries and the Office of the Federal President. The fact that during my visits to Germany, I was also allowed to peruse various reports of the West German intelligence services (BND), some of which are still largely classified, made the archival research in loco all the more worthwhile. I have also consulted Chancellery files at the Chancellor Adenauer Foundation in Rhöndorf (Stiftung Bundeskanzler Adenauer Haus, StBKAH), the place of Adenauer’s private residence where, upon his retirement as Chancellor in 1963, he brought the documents he deemed most relevant for his memoirs. I have relied upon materials from the BAK, the Chancellors’ parliamentary group (CDU/CSU) and the Foreign Ministry, among others, to analyse Erhard’s and Kiesinger’s Israelpolitik and to assess similarities and differences between their and Adenauer’s approach to such a complex policy area.

Files of the West German Foreign Ministry (Politisches Archiv des Auswärtigen Amtes, PA AA) as well as the published collection of documents on Bonn’s foreign policy (Akten zur Auswärtigen Politik der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, AAPD) have proved crucial, despite the fact that many years covered in this work are not yet included in the AAPD series.1 Because legitimacy and recognition, which are among Bonn’s key foreign policy goals, rely both on material power as well as public perception, I have specifically sought to include materials from the press and international information departments of the West German Foreign Ministry (Auswärtiges Amt, AA) that would shed light on West Germany’s public diplomacy strategies and tactics (Öffentlichkeitsarbeit).2 However, I have also gathered materials from other more obvious Foreign Office desks, such as the Minister’s bureau and desks that cover the political and economic exchanges between Bonn and the Middle East. Party files located at the CDU party archive in Sankt Augustin (Archiv für Christlich-Demokratische Politik, ACDP), the CSU party archive in Munich (Archiv für Christlich-Soziale Politik, ACSP, Hanns-Seidel-Stiftung) and the SPD archive in Bonn (Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, FES) have supplemented evidence available in the respective parties’ collections of their published documents.

My analysis of East Germany’s Israelpolitik relies upon the files of Politbüro meetings, of Walter Ulbricht’s and Otto Grotewohl’s offices, and of various departments of the Central Committee of the East German ruling party (SED), especially the International Relations Department. While few in number for the period under scrutiny, files of the sword and shield of the SED, namely the East German Ministry for State Security (Stasi) and its foreign intelligence services (Hauptverwaltung Aufklärung), show just how captivating the West German–Israeli relationship was from an East German perspective. To understand the SED party line and its evolution on crucial issues pertaining to East Berlin’s Israelpolitik, I have often relied upon the SED’s official press organ, Neues Deutschland. The historiography has often emphasised that despite its status, Neues Deutschland did not reach – let alone manage to indoctrinate – the East German population.3 Yet, as the main means of communication of the ruling party, Neues Deutschland has provided an invaluable source for understanding the version of reality that the party aimed to mediate to its audience. Indeed, as Robert Wistrich emphasised, ‘Neues Deutschland is official and [it] matters’.4

East German Foreign Ministry (Ministerium für Auswärtige Angelegenheiten, MfAA) documents as well as files of the Ministry for Inter-German and International Trade (Ministerium für Außenhandel und Innerdeutschen Handel, MAI) and the agitprop organs linked to the Politbüro were all crucial to deepening my understanding of the tension existing among various East German offices and personalities regarding the most efficient way to wage the German–German Cold War, and how to adapt East Berlin’s Israelpolitik to this end. Because the GDR had such difficulties in establishing diplomatic ties with third countries – though it found it possible to expand its economic ties with most countries of the Middle East – some of the MAI personnel stationed abroad assumed the political analysis and consultancy tasks otherwise delegated to diplomatic personnel.5 Thus, files of MAI personnel in East Berlin as well as in Arab countries have enriched the analysis of East German formulation and implementation of Israelpolitik and of East Berlin’s Cold War.

Hermann Wentker in particular has noted the crucial, and what he sees as excessive, importance that the East German establishment attributed to the uses of propaganda for foreign policy purposes.6 It is perhaps because of a general consideration of the GDR propaganda campaigns as failures that the literature has thus far largely overlooked the peculiar, creative ways in which East German state and party organs attempted to convince peoples around the globe of the vileness of the FRG. East German declarations on Bonn’s and East Berlin’s Israelpolitik were considered a crucial way to advance the GDR’s quest for international recognition, in the Middle East and beyond. Thus, I treat East German propaganda – and, while maintaining a crucial distinction between the two, also the West German Öffentlichkeitsarbeit – not merely as an ‘adjunct to policy’ but as an ‘integral part of strategy’.7 By engaging with the topic of GDR propaganda for global audiences while paying specific attention to the Middle East, this book also points to a severe imbalance in the existing literature. Indeed, while the domestic aspect of East German propaganda via radio, print media, television and film is very well researched, little is available on the adaptation of East Berlin’s propaganda for global Cold War purposes.8

Some of the most vicious Israelpolitik-related initiatives in the GDR saw East German Jewish citizens being repeatedly asked to come forward in support of the governmental anti-Zionist, anti-Israeli stance.9 Files of the chief propagandist of the SED, Albert Norden, his collaborators within the Agitation Commission of the Politbüro, as well as files from the Centrum Judaicum Archiv (CJA), have allowed me to get a first-hand account of the difficult dynamics at play between SED organs and East German Jewish citizens. West German sources, too, have provided useful insight into East German activities and the GDR’s Israelpolitik – for example, the reports of the West German intelligence services (BND) or of the AA desk dealing with Öffentlichkeitsarbeit (PA AA).10 Thus, I have decided to include them in my analysis of the GDR’s moves in the international domain – while keeping in mind that West Germany’s observation of East Germany might possibly tell us more about Bonn than East Berlin, and vice versa.

Accessing the personal papers of a number of personalities involved in the formulation and implementation of foreign policy in either German state has proven invaluable for differentiating between the various versions of Israelpolitik supported by different actors, or by the same actors over a period of time. Published and unpublished memoirs, letters and travel diaries provided insight into the perspectives of key personalities involved in the making, or evaluating, of the early West and East German Israelpolitik. My use of these sources took into account that recollection-driven narratives – especially, though not exclusively, those of policy-makers and members of the intelligence service – need to be treated with caution. Consciously or not, these authors often tend to present a certain version of the past in order to reinforce specific narratives.

As the analysis of sources from both sides of the Iron Curtain and of the Arab–Israeli conflict makes abundantly clear, neither East nor West Germany formulated their Israelpolitik in a void. Evidence from the United States and the former Soviet Union showed that both superpowers played an important – if ambivalent – role in the shaping of the foreign policies of their respective German junior ally, and each German state attempted to pursue their own interests in the region while navigating the complex relationship with the respective superpower. The combination of sources from the US National Archives and relevant presidential libraries, as well as private papers held at the Library of Congress and Georgetown University, and Soviet documents from the Russian State Archive of Recent History (RGANI) held at the Lamont Library of Harvard University make this abundantly clear. Archival documents from other partner countries – Britain in the Western, and Czechoslovakia in the Eastern Bloc – further illustrate each Germany’s decision-making process and its contradictions. Sources from British and Czech archives show that a certain degree of competition vis-à-vis their partner countries, and not just against their German nemesis, characterised each Germany’s Middle East policy.

The evidence showed that during the Cold War, competition existed not only between the blocs, but also within them – and that the Middle East conflict was a crucial stage on which this multi-faceted competition unfolded. Press clippings from Arab newspapers, Arab League documents, as well as speeches and memoirs, corroborated the findings from the former Eastern and Western bloc, showing the importance of the German–German competition from the perspective of the Arab states. In turn, these states also competed with each other for prestige in the region, while attempting – not always managing – to project an image of unity and cohesion, especially when dealing with the Palestinian question. While this book focuses on German Israelpolitik formulations, Israeli and Arab sources complemented my research in German, American, British and Czech archives. Sources from the Israeli National Archives, minutes from Knesset debates, and the memoirs and private papers of key personalities such as David Ben-Gurion and Menachem Begin, show just how fraught and difficult the question of what relations the state of Israel should have with either German state was, for both the Israeli political establishment and the Israeli public.

For the purpose of this work, oral history interviews served only as a complement to the wealth of published and unpublished written source material on the topic. Nevertheless, the interviews I conducted were all crucial in order to shed light on various aspects of the formulation and implementation of East and West German Israelpolitik, as well as on the foreign policy of the Israel, the FRG and GDR more generally. Conversations with former East German diplomats, such as Otto Pfeiffer, or their relatives, such as Manja Finnberg, have allowed me to gather a fuller sense of East German policy making and the reverberations of the personal experiences of East German representatives of East Berlin’s struggle against Bonn’s claim of sole representation of the German nation (Alleinvertretungsanspruch). Personal meetings with two of the three secretaries who worked in the Chancellery during Adenauer’s era, Johanna Müller (née Seither) and Hannelore Siegel, have allowed me to gather a unique perspective on the work of ‘Germany’s Old Man’ (Der Alte Herr). Their insights are particularly valuable because they also provided me with first-hand accounts of the workings of the first FRG embassies in two key locations, including Moscow, where Müller was stationed from the moment the embassy opened until 1961, when she landed her position at the Chancellery, and Tel Aviv, which Siegel joined from the day it opened. The conversation with Israel’s first Ambassador to the Federal Republic, Asher Ben-Natan, has allowed me to gather further insight into the Ambassador’s experiences in West Germany, as well as his earlier involvement in the Israeli arms procurement efforts and in forging links with Bonn’s defence establishment during the late 1950s and early 1960s. This has allowed me to triangulate some of the claims made by the two then defence ministers in their memoirs, Shimon Peres and Franz Josef Strauss, on a theme that, to date, is still one of the most contentious issues in German-Israeli relations. Understanding, mapping and acknowledging the complexity of the German–Israeli reconciliation process and of the various actors involved in it, while avoiding the grand, often facile, narrative often employed to describe it in public discourse, has been the guiding principle in the conduct of the research for this book.


1 I am referring to the gap between 1953 and 1963 in the AAPD volumes.
2 I. Clark, Legitimacy in International Society (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005).
3 See, for example, M. Allinson, Politics and Popular Opinion in East Germany, 1945–1968 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2000), p. 71.
4 R.S. Wistrich, ‘Neues Deutschland and Israel. A Diary of East German Reactions’ in Robert S. Wistrich (ed.), The Left Against Zion: Communism, Israel and the Middle East (London: Vallentine-Mitchell, 1979), p. 114.
5 Wentker, Außenpolitik.
6 Ibid., p. 195.
7 G. Rawnsley, ‘Introduction’ in G. Rawnsley (ed.), Cold War Propaganda in the 1950s (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1999), p. 5.
8 On propaganda via radio see the essays collected in K. Arnold and C. Classen (eds), Zwischen Pop und Propaganda: Radio in der DDR (Berlin: Links, 2004); on propaganda via newspapers see, e.g., the contributions available in A. Fiedler and M. Meyen (eds), Fiktionen für das Volk: DDR-Zeitungen als PR-Instrument. Fallstudien zu den Zentralorganen Neues Deutschland, Junge Welt, Neue Zeit und Der Morgen (Berlin: LIT, 2011); on propaganda via television see for example the volume by H. Heinze (ed.), Zwischen Service und Propaganda: Zur Geschichte und Ästhetik von Magazinsendung im Fernsehen der DDR, 1952–1991 (Berlin: VISTAS, 1998); on propaganda through the medium of cinema see, e.g., M. Lange, Das politisierte Kino: ideologische Selbstinszenierung im “Dritten Reich” und der DDR (Marburg: Tactum Verlag, 2013).
9 See Wolffsohn, Die Deutschland Akte, for example p. 87; P. Maser, ‘Juden in der DDR’ in Eppelmann, et al., Bilanz, p. 218.
10 Although on a later time period, see H. Wentker, ‘Die DDR in den Augen des BND (1985–1990)’, Vierteljahrshefte für Zeitgeschichte 56:2 (2008), pp. 323–58. See also P. Maddrell, ‘Im Fadenkreuz der Stasi: Westliche Spionage in der DDR: Die Akten der Hauptabteilung IX’, Vierteljahrshefte für Zeitgeschichte 61:2 (2015), pp. 141–71, and T. Wegener Friis, K. Mackrakis and H. Müller-Embergs (eds), East German Foreign Intelligence: Myth, Reality and Controversy (Abingdon: Routledge, 2010).


German–Israeli relations, 1949–69


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