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Joachim von Elbe
Berlin, Frankfurt, Bonn


I am one of the founding fathers of the American Embassy. I left Germany for the United States in 1934 after growing increasingly uncomfortable under Nazi rule. When I was a civil servant in Potsdam, the information required by Nazi Aryan laws revealed that my grandmother had been the niece of Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy. Although she was baptized Christian, her family name was undeniably of Jewish origin, and I was released from my government job. After graduating from Yale law school, I became an American citizen in 1941 and was drafted one year later into the U.S. Army. Upon my discharge in 1946, I returned to Germany to work for the legal division of Office of Military Government of the United States. Trained in both German and American law, I was determined to help restore German legal order. Ironically, one of my first assignments was to repeal Nazi provisions from German laws. These laws were the very reason I had left Germany.

I believe John McCloy's greatest contribution to German and European history was his strong and early support for the return of German sovereignty. His recollections of Versailles and the 1920s, as well as his own German connections, were probably factors. Mrs. McCloy's and Mrs. Adenauer's grandfathers were brothers. Mrs. Adenauer's grandfather emigrated to America with his brothers, but later returned to Cologne. A brother who stayed in America was Mrs. McCloy's grandfather. While the McCloys were here, the connection was kept pretty quiet, as it would not have been helpful for either McCloy or Adenauer if there had been any perception of favoritism.

Until the Embassy was built in 1951, many of our staff came by car from Frankfurt to attend the weekly High Commission meetings on the Petersberg. One of the most historic moments there was in November of 1949, when the "Petersberg Protocol" was signed between the three Allies and Adenauer. This was the first time since the war that Germany had been treated as an equal partner. It halted the dismantling of steel and other industries, putting Germany not only on the road to sovereignty, but also economic recovery. Three years later in 1952, the "Bonn Conventions" to end occupation were signed, but didn't go into effect until 1955, due to French failure to ratify the related treaty on the European Defense Community (EDC). British Prime Minister Eden eventually dislodged this by proposing to make the Federal Republic a member of NATO, and then stripping the Bonn agreement of EDC references. At the Paris ceremony in 1954 to mark the signature of the revised treaty, I had the honor of presenting the papers to Secretary Dulles for his signature. One year later, ratification was finally complete and Germany was sovereign. On May 5,1955, I was present in the Embassy conference room when the Occupation Statute was lifted and the Bonn Conventions (commonly called the Bonn-Paris Conventions) entered into force. That room, not the Petersberg, is the site of the last meeting of the Allied High Commission and birth of the Federal Republic. On that day, not only did Germany regain her sovereignty, but also became a member of NATO. There, the High Commission became the American Embassy and High Commissioner Conant became our first Ambassador. All present felt touched by the mantle of history. May 5, 1955, was the high point of my career.

I am truly honored to have contributed to this endeavor in the service of the United States. As Secretary of State Byrnes said in Stuttgart in 1946, it was the wish of the American people to help Germany regain an honorable place among free and peaceloving nations. The people's wishes and the leaders' vision have been fulfilled.

Dr. Joachim von Elbe worked on the legal staff of the Military Government, High Commission and Embassy of the United States from 19461969. This text was taken from interviews conducted by Ambassador Kornblum and Embassy staff.

From: A Vision Fulfilled. 50 Jahre Amerikaner am Rhein. United States Embassy Bonn, 1949 - 1999. Edited by Christine Elder and Elizabeth G. Sammis. Published by United States Embassy Bonn. © Department of State, 1999.

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Updated: August 2001