Abstract

This article examines continuities in the personnel of the German foreign office by focusing on the case of Dr Gustav Adolf Sonnenhol, a German diplomat before and after 1945. A member of the Nazi Party and the SS, Sonnenhol served as German vice-consul in North Africa and headed the department Inland II B of the Auswärtiges Amt (in charge of liaison with the SD). Exonerated by denazification, he continued his career in government, first in the ministry of the Marshall Plan, then once again in the foreign service. By 1968 he had become the West German ambassador to South Africa. The article analyses how Sonnenhol represented West Germany at the Cape at a time when international protests against the policy of apartheid forced West Germany to modify its policy toward South Africa in the late 1960s. While the process of social liberalization and generational change was in full swing in West Germany, the country embarked on a process of confrontation with Germany's colonial past and racism toward black Africa. Changing attitudes toward (South) Africa resulted in social and political conflict. Sonnenhol, like many Germans of his generation, remained trapped in colonial stereotypes, exacerbating the generational tensions within the foreign ministry. Ultimately, the foreign ministry of Willy Brandt could not free itself of an old guard of Nazi diplomats. As chancellor, Brandt was also unwilling to take a strong stand against the apartheid regime, which had powerful supporters in West Germany.

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