Joachim von Ribbentrop, the son of a German Army officer, was born in Wesel, Germany, on 30th April, 1893. Educated at a boarding school at Switzerland he also spent time in France and England as a child.
In 1911 he began working as clerk with a German importing form based in London before moving to Canada where he worked as a timekeeper on the reconstruction of the Quebec Bridge and the Canadian Pacific Railroad. This was followed by employment as a journalist in New York City and Boston.
On the outbreak of the First World War Ribbentrop returned to Germany where he joined the German Army. While serving with the 125th Hussar Regiment he won the Iron Cross. After being seriously wounded in 1917 Ribbentrop joined the War Ministry and was a member of the German delegation that attended the Paris Peace Conference.
After leaving the German Army Ribbentrop worked as a salesman for the French firm of Pommerey in the Rhineland. He later became a partner in a Berlin sales agency. Ribbentrop feared the growth of communism. "In the winter of 1930 to 1931 it became clear that neither the bourgeois parties nor the Churches were able to save Germany from communism, and that the only chance to avert this fate lay in National Socialism. I stood close to the German People's Party and was alarmed when I observed the disintegration of the bourgeois parties." In May 1932 Ribbentrop joined the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP). Joachim von Ribbentrop quickly moved up the hierarchy and in 1933 became Hitler's foreign affairs adviser. The following year he established the Ribbentrop Bureau an organization that eventually had a staff of 300 people.
Adolf Hitler appointed Ribbentrop as the ambassador to London in August, 1936. His main objective was to persuade the British government not to get involved in Germany territorial disputes and to work together against the the communist government in the Soviet Union.
When Ribbentrop presented his credentials to George VI on 5th February, 1937, the British were outraged when he gave the Hitler salute. He also upset the British government by posting Schutz Staffeinel (SS) guards outside the German Embassy and by flying swastika flags on official cars.
On 4th February, 1938, Ribbentrop replaced Constantin von Neurath as Germany's foreign minister. Traudl Junge met him during this period: "Ribbentrop was a very odd man. The impression he made on me was of someone absent-minded and slightly dreamy, and if I hadn't known that he was Foreign Minister I'd have said he was a cranky eccentric leading a strange life of his own."
He worked closely with Adolf Hitler in his negotiations with the British and French governments and in August 1939 arranged the signing of the Nazi-Soviet Pact. As he later pointed out: "To seek a settlement with Russia was my very own idea which I urged on Hitler because I sought to create a counter-weight to the West and because I wanted to ensure Russian neutrality in the event of a German-Polish conflict. After a short ceremonial welcome the four of us sat down at a table: Stalin, Molotov, Count Schulenburg and myself. Others present were our interpreter, Hilger, a great expert on Russian affairs, and a young fair-haired Russian interpreter, Pavlov, who seemed to enjoy Stalin's special trust. Stalin spoke - briefly, precisely, without many words; but what he said was clear and unambiguous and showed that he, too, wished to reach a settlement and understanding with Germany. Stalin used the significant phrase that although we had 'poured buckets of filth' over each other for years there was no reason why we should not make up our quarrel."
As Raymond Gram Swing later recalled: "The British were busy all through early 1939 trying to negotiate an agreement with the Soviet Union. Even up to the stunning surprise of the Von Ribbentrop-Molotov pact, a success in the British negotiations was awaited. The Poles were against it; they wanted no truck with Moscow. But I thought the British-Soviet negotiations would succeed in spite of the Poles, and said so. Now that this is all in the past, one sees that Stalin signed the pact with Hitler for two reasons, one being to partition a hostile Poland and annex a part of it, the other being to buy time to prepare for an attack Hitler might launch against the Soviet Union."
Nikita Khrushchev argued: "I believe the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact of 1939 was historically inevitable, given the circumstances of the time, and that in the final analysis it was profitable for the Soviet Union. It was like a gambit in chess: if we hadn't made that move, the war would have started earlier, much to our disadvantage. It was very hard for us - as Communists, as anti-fascists - to accept the idea of joining forces with Germany. It was difficult enough for us to accept the paradox ourselves. For their part, the Germans too were using the treaty as a maneuver to win time. Their idea was to divide and conquer the nations which had united against Germany in World War I and which might united against Germany again. Hitler wanted to deal with his adversaries one at a time. He was convinced that Germany had been defeated in World war I because he tried to fight on two fronts at once. The treaty he signed with us was his way of trying to limit the coming war to one front."
In 1940 Hitler once again began to consider invading the Soviet Union and he sent Ribbentrop to negotiate a new treaty with Japan. On 25th September, 1940, Ribbentrop sent a telegram to Vyacheslav Molotov, the Soviet foreign minister, informing him that Germany, Italy and Japan were about to sign a military alliance. Ribbentrop pointed out that the alliance was to be directed towards the United States and not the Soviet Union.
Molotov already knew about the proposed German-Japanese Pact. Richard Sorge, a German journalist working in Tokyo, was a Soviet spy and had already told Molotov that Adolf Hitler was involved in negotiations with Japan. In Sorge's view, the pact was directed against the Soviet Union but it was not until December, 1940, that he was able to send Molotov full details of Operation Barbarossa.
Rippentrop became a background figure during the Second World War but was arrested and charged with war crimes in June, 1945. He argued: "For years Hitler tried to counteract the danger from the East by concluding an alliance with Britain. The Naval Agreement by 1935 and the waiving of claims to Alsace-Lorraine were, among other things, an earnest of the intentions of German foreign policy; they showed that Germany was ready to make sacrifices. But Britain could not be won over. She regarded Germany's growing strength, not as a reasonable correction of Versailles and as a safeguard against the East, but only as a threat to the 'balance of power'. I worked for an understanding between Germany, France and Britain for twenty years of my life, and later wrestled with Britain to achieve an alliance. Up to the last hour I made efforts to avoid the war. But Britain, fully resolved to prevent the further growth of Germany's strength, concluded her alliance with Poland. This made a peaceful German-Polish settlement impossible."