Joachim von Ribbentrop was born in 1893, the son of a much respected German army officer. Brought up with his father’s Bismarchian politics but little family closeness, von Ribbentrop eventually left home, living for a short time in England before traveling to Canada and starting a modest import-export business. He returned to Germany in 1914 at the outbreak of World War I. After the war, with a loan from a Jewish banker, he began a new wine business. In 1919 he met his wife, Annelies, daughter of a wealthy German champagne family. A difficult young woman, she also was not highly regarded by her family. While the marriage did afford the young von Ribbentrops the means to a wealthy existence, it did not provide them the status in the upper echelons of Berlin society which they both craved.
When von Ribbentrop was sent by the German chancellor to negotiate a coalition between the current unstable government and Hitler’s National Socialist Party, he failed completely in his task. Instead he emerged, at the end of their very first meeting, totally mesmerized by Adolf Hitler. From the moment he and his wife cast their lot with Hitler, they never deviated from the course that brought them international prominence but little respect. From ill-conceived and executed exercises in foreign diplomacy to commitment of the German foreign ministry to support of the Final Solution when he realized that Hitler no longer needed him for diplomacy, von Ribbentrop remained blindly faithful until the day he was hanged, the first of Hitler’s inner circle to be executed.
John Weitz’s meticulously researched biography helps the reader come to a better understanding of how a seemingly normal upper-class couple with seemingly normal aspirations could become so totally enmeshed in such a heinous cause. Scholars and casual readers alike will gain insight into the volatile mix of hooligans, misfits, professional soldiers, career diplomats, and ordinary people who helped Hitler’s diabolical vision for Germany succeed beyond the world’s wildest imaginings.