How to look for records of... German Foreign Ministry and Italian documents 1867-1945 captured by the British
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1. Why use this guide?
This research guide provides information on copies of documents captured by the Western Allied forces from enemy powers at the end of the Second World War. The majority of these documents are written in German and were created by the German Foreign Ministry, covering the period 1867-1945. A small number are Italian in origin.
2. Essential information
The National Archives only holds copies of the captured documents. The original German records were returned to the Federal Republic of Germany in sections in 1950, 1956 and 1958. Documents captured by the Soviets were also returned to Germany. The originals are now available at the German Foreign Ministry Archives in Berlin and the German Federal Archives (collection ‘Deutsches Reich’). The original Italian records were returned to Italy in 1947.
Researchers are advised to consult the Documents on German Foreign Policy 1918-1945 series (see Further reading below) before visiting The National Archives. Compiled from the German records themselves, this series, published by the British government, aimed to place in the public domain the most significant documents of the German Foreign Ministry relating to the build up to and execution of the Second World War.
3. Historical background
3.1 The captured documents
The German Foreign Ministry (Auswärtiges Amt) was created on the formation of Germany in 1871. Until 1919 it doubled as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for Prussia. Between the First and Second World Wars, it underwent a number of reorganisations. These are described in GFM 1/14 and GFM 32-34, (see further reading below).
As a result of Allied action, between 1943 and 1945 the German Foreign Ministry decided to move the bulk of its Political Archive to safer rural areas. Only current working files remained in Berlin. As the military situation deteriorated, some records were microfilmed and/or deliberately destroyed, while others fell into the hands of the Soviets. Most records from Germany’s diplomatic missions in Europe survived the war, but only relatively few from its diplomatic missions overseas.
In spring 1945, specially created Anglo-American expert teams were sent to Germany to search for political and economic archives, particularly those which shed light on the origins of the war, and Germany’s operations and war aims. The experts assembled several tons of German Foreign Ministry documents discovered in the Harz Mountains and Thuringia, together with documents from other places of deposit at Marburg Castle. These established a unified collection of the captured material. In summer 1948 the collection was send to Britain, where it was housed at Whaddon Hall in Buckinghamshire.
3.2 Microfilming projects
The records were appraised for microfilming by the German War Documents Project (GWDP) set up by the British and United States governments in 1946 and later joined by the French (these records are now held in GFM 1 and GFM 33-35, see below). Until 1952 only official representatives of these governments had access to the records.
After 1952 universities and scholars were permitted to sponsor microfilming programmes, but mainly only of pre 1920 records (these records are in GFM 6-25, see below).
Only those records judged worthy of historical interest were filmed (around 60% of the total held at Whaddon Hall). Some files were filmed more than once, some only in part, others not at all. For further information, see GFM in Discovery, our catalogue.
A number of Italian documents on foreign and internal affairs covering Benito Mussolini’s time in power were also filmed after falling into Allied hands at the end of the Second World War.
4. Accessing the copies in The National Archives: 1867-1945
4.1 Getting started
The copies held in The National Archives are described below, and you should refer also to our catalogue for further information on each record series. The records cover 1867-1945, that is the North German Federation (Norddeutscher Bund) and the German Reich, with the exception of GFM 36 (Italian records).
4.2 Searching the records
- Use the table below and our catalogue to establish which record series is likely to contain the material in which you are most interested
- Search the records using Discovery, our catalogue. Enter your keyword (if possible in English or German, for example ‘France’ or ‘Frankreich’) and the relevant record series code (such as GFM 33) into the search box. You can refine the search further by date
- As noted above, both English and German key words should be used for searching (for example ‘France’ and ‘Frankreich’, ‘Rhineland’ and ‘Rheinland’). The catalogue entries for GFM 1, GFM 33-35 are largely in English, whilst those for GFM 6-25 are in German. The extent and quality of cataloguing varies
- Researchers are advised to use the paper copies in GFM 33 rather than the duplicate films in GFM 34. GFM 33 is catalogued, GFM 34 is not, and paper is generally easier to view than microfilm
- If it is necessary to convert a GFM 33 reference into a GFM 34 reference, paper conversion charts are available at The National Archives in Kew, placed at the start of the paper catalogue volume for GFM 33.
4.3 Content and arrangement of the record series
For information on the contents and origin of each collection, see GFM in our catalogue. The records are largely in the microfilm format and with a very few exceptions (such as the Stresemann papers in GFM 9) only cover the period up to 1920.
|Record series||Content and arrangement|
|GFM 1||A mixture of finding aids and repertoria, mostly created by the GWDP researchers and microfilmers|
|GFM 6 GFM 25||Special collections chosen by particular individuals, institutions or governments for filming. For example, GFM 8 was a selection copied by the South African government, and includes primarily files which related to Africa.They cover a wide range of areas of special interest.Note that GFM 6-25 does contain copies of records not found in GFM 33-36|
|GFM 33||Paper copies of the microfilmed records 1867-1945, also includes some records from the Ministry of Armaments and War Production, Reich Chancellery, Naval Archives, and from the Prussian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the North German Federation. Arranged in microfilm serial number order|
|GFM 34||Duplicates of GFM 33 and GFM 36 and records of: the Japanese Embassy, Rome (use the advanced search option in our catalogue and search within GFM 34 using Japanese AND embassy), Austrian topographical material (GFM 34/1037-1039, GFM 34/1109-1114, GFM 34/1126-1134), German agencies in Italy (GFM 34/3270, GFM 34/3314)|
|GFM 35||Microfilms of the following:The ‘Whaddon Special Films’ – copies of documents used in the Documents on German foreign policy volumes. This duplicates material in GFM 33, GFM 34 and other GFM series (GFM 35/1-233, with background notes in GFM 35/365). Records of the German consulates in Tsingtao, Chefoo, Hankow and Yokohama (GFM 35/240-300). Records of Japanese and Manchurian diplomatic and commercial representatives in other Axis states (GFM 34/300-317). The ‘Von Loesch collection’ (also known as the ‘Buro RAM files’ or the ‘Film Find’), correspondence between and meeting minutes involving Hitler and Ribbentrop between 1938 and 1943 (GFM 35/319-358). These records are not catalogued, but indexes to them are in GFM 35/318 and GFM 1/29)Prussian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Setting up of overseas colonies and naval stations 1860 to 1884 (GFM 35/359-363)Biographical data on German diplomats (GFM 35/364)|
|GFM 36||Paper copies of the following:Italian documents on foreign and internal affairs c1920-1945 (‘the Italian Collection’) including Mussolini’s private papers, and other private and official papers from leading Italian ministers and ministries. There are corresponding microfilms in GFM 34|
4.4 Additional material
The following records in The National Archives also relate to these documents:
- Records of the Foreign Office committee (later a Cabinet committee) that administered the collection of enemy records and the GWDP: CAB 146
- Records of the British Embassy in Washington relating to these documents can be found in FO 115/4239-4244 for 1946, in FO 115/4308-4309 for 1947 and in FO 115/4360 for 1948
- Records of the Allied Commission for Austria (British Element) Headquarters and Regional Files (ACA series) relating to these records can be found in FO 1020/2796
Occasionally pieces within GFM 33, GFM 34 and GFM 35 are marked ‘wanting’, which in most cases indicates that the files were removed from the original Foreign Office collection and might now be found at The Imperial War Museum (email email@example.com).
Record series GFM 26 to GFM 29 and GFM 31, GFM 32 used to comprise material from the German Naval Archives on microfilm. This material is no longer held by The National Archives. In 1966 it was transferred to the Ministry of Defence and can be viewed by appointment at the Naval Historical Branch:
Naval Historical Branch (Naval Staff)
No 24 Store (pp 20)
HM Naval Base Portsmouth
Telephone: 023 92 724327 or 725300
5. Published finding aids
There are also finding aids which may be of use for searching these records. These cover almost all of the records in the series above with the exception of GFM 1, GFM 35 and those records that are not duplicates in GFM 34:
- Catalogue of Files and Microfilms of the German Foreign Ministry Archives 1867-1920 (Oxford 1959)
- Catalogue of Files and Microfilms of the German Foreign Ministry Archives, 1920-1945 (4 volumes: Hoover Institution 1962 to 1972)
Each volume is indexed. Each also includes a list of serial numbers in numerical order at the back, with short descriptions of files; this list should not, however, be used to search for files.
The information given includes: the files, their basic subject matter (in German), whether the files were filmed (in total or in part), and the serial prefixes and serial/frame numbers of the films.
The prefixes and serial/frame numbers are not the same as the references in our catalogue. If necessary, you can convert them into National Archives references:
- Use GFM in our catalogue to convert the serial prefix from the finding aid into The National Archives’ records series (for example, SA relates to GFM 6)
- Once the record series is known, browse the paper catalogue to the right serial/frame number
Please note that in our catalogue only one serial number is generally given, even where a file was filmed more than once. The only way to establish whether a further copy exists is to look through all the relevant National Archives series lists covering files of the same date.
6. Other archives
A set of copies of the captured German Foreign Ministry documents is also held by the United States National Archives and Records Administration. Furthermore, a number of academic institutions in the UK and USA which were involved in reviewing and filming these records still hold copies of those portions that they microfilmed.
7. Further reading
Documents on German Foreign Policy 1918-1945 (HMSO, 1949-1983)
Robert Wolfe ed, Captured German and Related Documents: a National Archives Conference (Ohio University Press, 1974)