Wolfgang Gust

Magical Square

Johannes Lepsius, Germany and Armenia

Translated by Vera Draack


"The most reliable historical basis for written history in future" and, at the same time, a "salvation of Germany's honour which comes off well".1 This is what the German theologian, missionary, politician and historian Johannes Lepsius called his work, "Germany and Armenia 1914-1918. A Collection of Diplomatic Documents"2, in which he had compiled the files from the German Foreign Office on the empire's Oriental policy, particularly with regard to Armenians and Armenia. It was the only publication of documents from the German Foreign Office during the period of the First World War and, until today, it has remained an important source of information for that period.

It was a rare undertaking. For the first time, a government opened its official archives on one of the most terrible events of the 20th century, the Armenian genocide in the Ottoman Empire from 1915 until 1918, only a few months after the end of the war. No Western nation could contribute more towards the enlightenment of a crime against humanity than the empire which was allied with Turkey, for the German military was represented in the top positions of all the military organisations in Turkey, German diplomats had close contact, in part, to those responsible and the best access to the places of horror. Unlike the Austrians, who were also allies, and the neutral Americans, the German diplomats were able to report to their superiors by means of encoded telegrams. If non-Turkish documents were able to give information on the extent of and the background to the genocide, then these would be first and foremost German.

Vicar Johannes Lepsius was without doubt the German who knew the most about the Armenians for he had been supporting their cause vehemently since the massacres of the Armenians by Sultan Abdul Hamid at the end of the 19th century. Had it not been for Lepsius, the German public would have learned only little of the atrocities, which the Armenians had to suffer, first in the friendly and later even allied Ottoman Empire. Until the present, his works on the tragedies of the Armenians are considered to be the most important in the German language field.

In Germany, it was mainly Lepsius who made the Hamidian massacres known to the public through his book, ”Armenien und Europa” ("Armenia and Europe"), published in September 1896. A French and an English version of his work followed quickly. Lepsius became even more famous through his “Bericht über die Lage des Armenischen Volkes in der Türkei” ("Report on the Situation of the Armenian People in Turkey"), a large number (20000 copies) of which he distributed to the Protestant vicarages in 1916, i.e. in the middle of the war and in an empire which was hermetically sealed by a rigorous press censorship against receiving information. In this report and based on his own research in Sofia and especially Constantinople, as Istanbul was still called officially at that time, Lepsius described the ”Todesgang des Armenischen Volkes” ("Death Walk of the Armenian People") – this was the title under which the book was published after the end of the war – the Armenian genocide carried out by the Ottoman Empire in 1915.

It is probably due to the high regard held for Johannes Lepsius personally that the authenticity of the 444 documents published in "Germany and Armenia" were doubted by no one for a long time. It was only after the Second World War, when the files of the German Foreign Office were made available to researchers of the world wars that some of the few scholars in the field of genocide discovered that the files published by Lepsius were not complete. Until now, only the eminent genocide researcher, Vahakn N. Dadrian, has attempted to reconstruct the events, but the contents of the Lepsius Archive were not yet available to him.3

A systematic comparison of the documents published by Lepsius with the originals from the German Foreign Office4 revealed that there were a great number of abridgements or even forgeries, and that there was a certain method to the omissions in particular: important references to the policy of the German Reich with regard to the genocide, a German joint responsibility as well as an involvement of, for example, German officers in repressions against the Armenians had been held back systematically. In addition, the names of important Turkish people involved in the genocide were generally omitted.

Until today, no one has examined the background for these changes and manipulations. From a purely formal point of view they must be attributed to Lepsius, for in the preface he specifically accepted the full responsibility for the contents of his book. And Lepsius often pointed out that he was completely independent from the German Foreign Office and that he had had complete freedom in his selection of the documents. But was that really in accordance with the facts?

The correspondence with Lepsius to be found in the German Foreign Office on the publication of the documents in "Germany and Armenia" is exceptionally scant. From this, it is not clear that changes were made and who was responsible for them. More on the background can be found in the microfiche edition of the Lepsius estate, published in 1999 by Hermann Goltz, Professor of Theology, which he administers.5 But no correspondence is to be found there, either, which gives direct information on the actual manipulations.

Thus, the reconstruction of the manipulations is only possible by means of a puzzle. There are, in fact, enough pieces to put together the events of that time relatively reliably. And the result is amazing: it was not Lepsius who manipulated the documents, but the German Foreign Office. Even more amazing: Lepsius noticed – almost – nothing. For the man who constantly emphasised the academic nature of his historic research disregarded the main rules of a source edition when the documents were published.

The Foreign Office had done everything possible on its part to cover over the traces of the manipulations. A brief, handwritten note by Walter Roessler, the former Imperial consul in Aleppo who returned to Berlin, can be found in their files. On 26 May 1919, he had ordered, "The enclosed material for the publication of the book on Germany and Armenia, published by Dr. Johannes Lepsius, is to be saved." In addition, Roessler had ordered that one year later this material was to be presented once again to the secret Legation Councillor Goeppert to enable him to decide "whether it is to be destroyed. It includes a great number of coded telegrams".6

As befits a proper public office, the material was presented once again a year later. The public official given this task (Goeppert had meanwhile been made Ambassador in Helsingfors, the Swedish name for Helsinki at that time) contacted Lepsius and noted, "According to a statement by Dr. Lepsius, the enclosed material is no longer required." He then gave the following instructions, "1. The Central Office is to check the material once again to ensure that no originals are included. 2. Any originals found are to be put with the files. 3. The rest is to be destroyed by fire." Walter Boelsing, the public official at the Secret Records Office, reported shortly thereafter that the instructions had been carried out, "According to the instructions dated 18 June 1920, this material has been burned."

The documents from the only semi-official document publication of the German Foreign Office on the First World War were burned only a year after the documents were published: a very unusual event in a public office which is used to treating important documents very carefully.

In order to shed light upon the background of the manipulations, the background of Johannes Lepsius' political life during the First World War must first be explained briefly.

Immediately after his report on the situation of the Armenian people in Turkey was published, Lepsius went into exile in Holland. The semi-official version is that he fled to the neutral Netherlands in order to escape pursuit by the German police. Hermann Goltz, the executor of Lepsius' estate, wrote, "Friends warned him that he was to be taken into preventive detention. In the summer of 1916, he cleared off to Holland before his papers could be taken away from him … and had his family follow him there later on. Despite urgent admonitions from German government offices, he was soon once again in contact with many Armenians and pro-Armenian organisations from his exile in Holland, where officially he was staying due to his deteriorating health. In Holland and Scandinavia he inspired many pro-Armenian campaigns".7 Goltz also repeats this version in the latest publication on Lepsius. After the last copies of Lepsius' work on Armenia had been confiscated, Goltz writes that "shortly before his passport was to be taken from him, Lepsius escaped to the Netherlands and continued to fight from there against the complete annihilation of the Armenian people.”8 This is the common version of Lepsius', the friend of the Armenians, stay in Holland.

There is another, less well-known version. And an unknown one. Uwe Feigl, the ecclesiastical historian, writes about the less well-known one in his thesis, which was also published as a book, that Lepsius also worked for the German government in Holland. Feigl, "On behalf of the Foreign Office he analysed the Dutch and British press for signals that they were ready for peace."9

But even that was only half of the truth. During his entire life, Lepsius kept it a secret what he had mainly been working for in Holland. It was only in the final article in his own magazine, "Der Orient", that he spoke about this. In order to understand this confession it is important to know that on 25 June 1917, when he was already living in Holland, Lepsius resigned from the ”Deutsche Orient-Mission” (German Mission for the Orient), an organisation which he himself had founded in the 19th century, because of disagreements with the committee. As he wrote in a letter to his cousin, Paul Wigand, Lepsius was most angry about the fact that his opponent, Superintendent Walter Roedenbeck, had "attempted to describe him as a traitor who deserted".10

In his "Orient" article11, Lepsius writes, "Soon after I resigned from my old mission, a circle of political friends offered that I should stay in Holland and report regularly on the Dutch and British press. It becomes clear that I was serving patriotic interests from the fact that, during my three-year stay in Holland, I sent press reports daily to 'the military office of the Foreign Office' which were sent to Berlin through the embassy courier in Den Haag. In view of this fact it is somewhat amusing if I was accused at the same time by Superintendent R. of being a traitor to my country, when he attempted to sabotage my work."

It is surprising that this relatively exact reference to his collaboration with a military office of the Foreign Office was disregarded by the Lepsius researchers. Only one person jumped at these disclosures immediately upon release of the article: the Armenian, Armenag S. Baronigian, with whom Lepsius feuded violently at the end of his life. "During his stay in Holland during the war," Baronigian wrote, "Dr. Lepsius took up service with the German government and did secret service work in the literal sense of the word by abusing the right to hospitality of the neutral country of Holland in order to report daily to the German navy and the armed forces' administration on enemy armies and fleets, and by sending these reports to Berlin through the German ambassador."12

Lepsius himself did not live to experience this verbal attack; he had died meanwhile. The family was so incensed at Baronigian's supposed misrepresentation that it immediately thought of going to court and wanted to receive a reference from the Foreign Office to clear Johannes Lepsius. Many years later, in 1933, Bernhard Lepsius, his brother and successor, still spoke of "denouncing accusations of spying against an intermediate agent of the Foreign Office".13 Two years previously, Richard Schaefer, Johannes Lepsius' long-term secretary, had opposed the demand for legal proceedings. In his letter to Lepsius' widow, Alice, he wrote a sibyllic sentence which the addressee, or those reading the letter with her, did not understand, which is why she underlined it and placed a question mark next to it, "You should give the impression of being completely uninformed about the Dutch missions."14

Schaefer was actually one of the very few who knew exactly what the "Dutch missions" consisted of. In 1920, Lepsius himself explained them precisely in a private letter to his old companion, Adolf Deissmann, who more or less took the place of Roedenbeck, who had meanwhile passed away. Lepsius wanted to reacquire his old Mission for the Orient and, thus, had to explain his former reasons for withdrawing from the Mission for the Orient. "At that time I was not in a position," he wrote to Deissmann, "because I had tied myself down with a promise to give information about the kind of patriotric work I was doing that kept me in Holland. During the three years in which I lived in Holland with my family I set up and ran a news service for political friends on the Dutch and British press (which was available there despite the British export ban), sending reports almost daily through the courier from the German embassy, for the news was meant for the military office of the Foreign Office, i.e. for Major General von Haeften (who was a colonel at that time), Ludendorff's deputy in the Foreign Office. I was unable to bring this fact to bear in my defence against Sup. Roedenbeck's suspicions, nor do I wish to make public use of this in future.”15

Hans von Haeften was Ludendorff's man for psychological warfare. It was his job to prepare the ultimate victory in the West using intellectual weapons, because it was dawning on the leaders that there might not be sufficient material resources for a military victory. Fritz Fischer, the historian for the First World War, quotes from Haeften's target planning, "to beat England in the field and, at the same time, to let this victory lead to the breakdown of the British war machine and also to have a favourable effect at home".16 According to Fischer, von Haeften "was not interested in peace for its own sake, but only in peace under German conditions". In this concept it was Lepsius' task to weaken the governing party, especially in England, by strengthening the opposition, as Lepsius believed he had access to them.

For a long time, Johannes Lepsius had been torn between two affiliations: with the Armenians and with the Germans. One was for the Christian-Armenian people, the other mainly for the German Emperor, whom Lepsius considered to be a great pacifist and whom he admired. Whenever possible, Lepsius attempted to reconcile the two. However, during the war a conflict broke out: the Turks, who had allied themselves with Germany particularly at the urging of the Emperor, had massacred the Armenians, and Germans had at least permitted this to happen, if they had not, indeed, even prompted the deportations, as the Entente politicians maintained.

The more the military and political situation developed to the detriment of the Imperial Reich, the more the question of Germany's responsibility for the outbreak of war in general and a German joint responsibility for the Armenian genocide in particular came to the fore for Lepsius. For the accusations mainly circulated in the French and British newspapers were well known to this friend of the Armenians, who was extremely well informed through his contacts and the press.

It remained hidden from not only just a part of his family that Johannes Lepsius was working for the news service of this Ludendorff confidante, for the good of the Imperial Reich and for a victorious peace for Germany. For a long time, top officials in the Foreign Office at that time were obviously not aware of the secret service work carried out by this friend of the Armenians. At the end of October 1916, the Commander of the Admiral's Staff of the Navy, Henning von Holtzendorff, complained to the Reichskanzler that Lepsius was being politically active in Holland, quoting the Reichskanzler as his reference, whose party had won more power, because it had become Hindenburg's party. Lepsius was spreading the word that Germany had suggested "reaching an agreement with England at Turkey's expense".17 The head of the Foreign Office, Gottfried von Jagow, replied that Lepsius' agitations were ”strongly disapproved of by the Reichskanzler and the Foreign Office”. And in his reply, Jagow called Lepsius' supposed idea to reach an understanding with England at Turkey's expense "grotesque". Jagow even advised Friedrich von Rosen, the Ambassador in Den Haag, to induce the Dutch government to "deport [Lepsius] to Germany".18

There was one person, however, who had obviously known for a longer period of time about Johannes Lepsius' true role: Wilhelm Heinrich Solf, who later became the Foreign Secretary. Lepsius had already met with him during the war. For Solf, the expert on the Orient and India, Lepsius was an extremely important interlocutor because of his contacts with the Armenians who were oriented towards the West. When the long-term head of the Imperial Colonial Office became Secretary of State in the Foreign Office in October 1918 and headed the negotiations for an armistice, he became the key figure for Lepsius in the Foreign Office.

Nine days after the armistice, on 20 November 1918, Lepsius wrote a letter to Solf in which he offered his services as the "delegate for questions concerning the Orient, in particular for Armenia" for the peace negotiations in Paris. "I believe I am not exaggerating when I say that I am almost the only German who still holds the complete trust of the Armenian people and its leaders, both the Turkish as well as the Caucasian ones." "This application is to be taken into serious consideration," Solf wrote on the letter, "Lepsius is well regarded abroad!"19

Although he was not given the position as an advisor at the peace negotiations, Lepsius and Solf quickly reached an agreement regarding another project. In autumn, Lepsius had already stated himself that he had approached Solf "requesting him to let me examine the files in order to counter the outrageous libelling not only being spread in the entire press of both enemy and neutral countries, but also being honestly believed, as if the German government had ordered the Turkish government to annihilate the Armenian people and, with the assistance of German consuls, high and highest officers, had organised and carried this out with German thoroughness. This libelling was being believed, because it had been spread by the Turkish side to exonerate its own government. When I came back to Berlin in November, Dr. Solf let me examine the files and spoke of his intention to publish a White Paper on the Armenian question. Already on the next day he informed me that he would refrain from publishing a White Paper if I myself would take over the task of clarifying Germany's position in the Armenian question based on the material in the files. I accepted the offer."20

The White Paper mentioned had already been ordered by Undersecretary of State Arthur Zimmermann at the end of 1915 with the guideline that the Germans were to be cleared of any joint responsibility. The young diplomat in Constantinople and later ambassador in Paris and London, Leopold Gustav Alexander von Hoesch, then wrote an extensive statement of defence, which was never published. Far more valuable than any pamphlet, which would have been dismissed by the Entente anyway as being simply propaganda, was the chance of winning over a man like Lepsius with his international reputation as publisher of a documentation which would use documentary evidence to verify that Germany was not jointly responsible.

The Legation Councillor Otto Goeppert noted on 14 December 1918 that Lepsius had received the order "to publish the material in the files on the German government's position on the Armenian question". He wanted to publish some of the documents "in a preface to his document on the persecution of the Armenians". This should be "followed by a composition of documents without any accompanying text".21

The Foreign Office had a definite, politically defined objective for this documentation: it was to favourably influence Germany's starting situation in the upcoming peace negotiations in Paris, which finally ended in the Treaty of Versailles. It was also clear to Lepsius that his work must first and foremost serve political promotion. In June 1919, Lepsius' secretary, Richard Schaefer, wrote with regard to the employment of the printed volumes22, "The larger part is meant to be circulated for propaganda purposes." For the Foreign Office, the "question of Germany's responsibility", as Goeppert called it23, and more specifically its repudiation by means of the documents to be published by Lepsius, was to be the main purpose of the publication of "Germany and Armenia". Lepsius was of the same opinion. He later wrote that he had followed the principle of "bearing in mind only the purpose of exonerating Germany from Turkish and international libelling when making the selection".24

While Goeppert and the Foreign Office were solely interested in hushing up a possible German joint responsibility or a share of the blame, Lepsius pursued as his further goal – perhaps even his main goal – bringing the reality of the Armenian genocide to the fore by wanting to publish the reports of German diplomats and eyewitnesses which were, in part, very precise. This led to continuous arguing between the Foreign Office and Lepsius with regard to the selection of texts.

"If I had not made ruthless use of Solf's permission," Lepsius complained about Goeppert in a letter to political friends, "not even half of the important documents would have come to light. The Privy Legation Councillor in question, with whom I remained on good standing for decency's sake, continuously attempted to take the pick of my bunch, because he still wanted to be well in with the Turks, to go easy on the main culprits and also to comb the Turkish louses out of the Ambassador's wig."25 In the words of Goeppert, Lepsius had "carried out our defence without any consideration for the Turks"26 in "Germany and Armenia". Lepsius himself described his task in the letter as follows, "It was like dancing at four weddings: exonerating Germany, incriminating Turkey, the Foreign Office's need for reserve and winning the Armenians's trust."27

It was unavoidable that he uncovered Turkey's guilt in doing so for, according to Lepsius, "it was, of course, not possible to completely refute Germany's joint responsibility for the notorious mass murders of men, women and children while, at the same time, covering up the events themselves with a veil of love".28 Lepsius considered the result of his work to be relatively positive. "Lively Metternich and the upright consuls, who did not content themselves with using the registration apparatus for the massacres," he wrote, "but rather allowed human sounds to come through as well, save the matter as far as possible with regard to humanity's conscience. Even our armed forces come to some honour." Lepsius did, however, have to admit, "All things considered, the result is still atrocious."29

Indeed, in "Germany and Armenia", Lepsius painted an atrocious, but still very exact picture only of the actual genocide of 1915/16, because his own research made him extremely well informed on this. And he was assisted by Walter Roessler, the former consul in Aleppo who was also very interested in bringing the historical truth to light, which he had documented again and again during his stay in Turkey without receiving any response from his superiors in Berlin. But in "Germany and Armenia" the Caucasus also plays a part, if only less important. Lepsius was hardly informed of the events there, particularly those of the final year of war. Thus, it was easy for the Foreign Office to lead him astray using selected document passages and texts in which Germany now looked after the Armenians for reasons of humanity, even at the risk of clashing with its Turkish allies. In reality, the Reich implemented a tough economic and military policy in the Caucasus. The main target was accessing the raw materials in the region, especially oil in Baku, as well as opening up a corridor for the army through Persia into the heart of the British world empire: India. And the leaders of the Reich were prepared to accept skirmishes with the Turks to reach this target. Goeppert & Co. often tinkered with the files with a supposed sympathy for the hunted Armenians purely for secondary reasons which Lepsius, the Armenians' friend, obviously considered as being real and gratefully included. Although he often spoke of the conflict between representations of the 1915/16 genocide in his private letters, no word is to be found on the distortion of the truth on the Caucasus.

The Foreign Office could possibly have reckoned on Lepsius' being prepared for patriotic reasons to cleanse Germany in those places where its hands were dirty by deleting or weakening incriminating passages (and Lepsius was, in fact, prepared to do so up to a certain extent, as was to be seen in future), but Goeppert and Solf obviously were not sure if Lepsius would really play along. Thus, the Foreign Office decided to take another, safer route. It did not give Lepsius the originals, but placed only copies at his disposal. And these copies had previously been doctored.

One piece of evidence that Lepsius worked only with copies is to be found in the handwritten order to burn the documents. On 21 June 1920, the Central Office, which had been requested to give a statement, wrote with regard to the request for an examination whether there were any originals to be found among the material, "There were no originals found among the material. The copies will be burned shortly."30 Thus, the documents kept by the Foreign Office were only copies.

As Lepsius was still in Holland at the time of writing "Germany and Armenia", it was natural that the Foreign Office would send him transcripts only. And it was also natural that Lepsius would not make it clear in his work, "Germany and Armenia" that these transcripts were copies. For that would have made a poor impression if Germany's documentation on one of the most important events of the First World War had been publicly declared to be a documentation of transcripts. Furthermore, there is no doubt that Lepsius knew very well that these were transcripts, for the originals are different from transcripts in a great number of criteria. What is incomprehensible is that Lepsius obviously made absolutely no attempt whatsoever to compare the copies with the originals, although he could easily have done so during his visits to the Foreign Office in Berlin.

What such a document from the series of burned files might have looked like could be made clear by document 1915-10-05-DE-011, contained in this Internet edition. The original document is to be found in the files at the Embassy in Constantinople (Volume 97) and is a fair copy by Johann Heinrich Hermann Mordtmann, the Consul General assigned to report on the Armenian matters. Mordtmann finishes off the telegram as usual with "u.S.E.", an abbreviation for "unter Seiner Exzellenz" ["under His Excellency"]. Thus, the official sender was the Ambassador in office, Hans Baron von Wangenheim. But it was not the critically ill Wangenheim (who died three weeks later) who signed the document to go out, but rather von Neurath, the Councillor to the Embassy who also took over the day-to-day running after Wangenheim's death. Someone who sent out documents and worked correctly would have noted Wangenheim as the sender.

But in the Lepsius documentation, Neurath is named as the sender of this document. And Neurath is also the sender of a transcript from the Foreign Office, which is to be found in file R14088, obviously in place of the original which was not filed there. In this document, which is explicitly marked "transcript", several paragraphs from Mordtmann's document have already been deleted which are also missing in Lepsius' version. But there is a final sentence in this transcript, which is also missing in "Germany and Armenia". This final sentence has been separated from the rest of the text by a stepmark.

Marks were very often made by clerks at the Foreign Office in Berlin. If documents from ambassadors, ministers or consuls were to be passed on for information purposes to German diplomatic missions, the clerk or sometimes even the Foreign Secretary himself would mark those passages which he wished to make known. Without exception, these marks consist of square brackets and they are almost always to be found in the originals. In the case of document 1915-10-05-DE-011: had a document accidently been filed that was actually meant for one of the diligent ladies who made the transcripts for Lepsius?

Although the copies for "Germany and Armenia" were burned by the Foreign Office, not all of the copies were destroyed. For Lepsius had put aside the transcripts of all or many of the originals which he would have liked to publish, but was not allowed to. And even after the completion of the documentation, Goeppert, at Lepsius' request ("It is very important to me that my material be as complete as possible. Further discussions require my being completely informed."31) had provided the renowned editor with further documents "for your information" on condition "that you make no use of these with regard to third parties without previously having reached an agreement with me on the matter".32 Today, these documents are to be found in the Lepsius Archive, in total one entire file folder. Without exception, they have all been marked as transcripts or are clearly recognisable as transcripts. An analysis of these files makes further deductions possible on how the changes came to be made.

There were, firstly, harmless manipulations. Lepsius did not always take the wording of the originals seriously. If he believed that the author had not expressed himself precisely enough, he would correct the wording, generally, however, without changing the meaning. Changes of the kind are often to be found in "Germany and Armenia"; they can also be found in the form of handwritten corrections in the files that were kept.

What falsifies the contents of the public files on the genocide are especially exemptions which describe the deeds of German citizens against the Armenians; furthermore, politically explosive opinions of German diplomats or official representatives, whether they were of a racial nature or simply proof of Germany's claim to world power. Deletions of this kind are to be found not only in the documents published in "Germany and Armenia", but also in the transcripts in the Lepsius Archive. Thus, they had already been carried out by the Foreign Office.

The report by the German consul, Wilhelm Litten, is an example of this. On his journey from Baghdad to Aleppo he made diary-like notes and placed these at the disposal of his colleague in Aleppo, Consul Walter Roessler. Lepsius obviously would have liked to include this report in "Germany and Armenia", but he was prevented from doing so by Goeppert. "Publish in the Orient," Lepsius wrote in thick pen on the manuscript, and he actually did publish the report in his paper and also as a leaflet.

This Litten report published by Lepsius – free of any conditions made by the Foreign Office – also contains various kinds of deletions. On the one hand, almost half of Litten's summary was deleted by the Foreign Office, something Lepsius very obviously didn't notice. This included Litten's remark on "an Armenian population" which "was to be settled on the banks of the Euphrates, from the source as far as Schatt el Arab", or his regret that the German teachers at the schools in Turkey set up for the Armenians "did not plant the seeds of the German spirit in their pupils, but rather, on the contrary, they were influenced by the Armenian pupils and drawn into the web of Armenian propaganda". The Foreign Office also deleted the reason for Litten's complaint that the Armenians should be employed in building roads, rather than letting them starve ("In Persia, our countrymen are risking their necks and desperately waiting with empty cartridge belts for the ammunition which is stuck somewhere between Constantinople and Baghdad on an overcrowded military road because of the deplorable conditions of the Turkish military roads.").

But it is just this latter deletion for which there is a strange counterpart in a deletion which Lepsius himself had ordered to be done. In the detailed report from 2 February which speaks of 20 ox carts "loaded with sacks and household goods. On top women and children", he deleted the additional remark, "Wouldn't the transport of ammunition be a better use for the wagons?" The criteria of the Foreign Office and those of Johannes Lepsius with regard to the manipulation of the documents were, at least in this case, identical.

Lepsius is also responsible for other deletions, as is evident from extensive handwritten notes, which he made while writing the preface. Thus, he specifically noted the town of Fundadyak in which the Armenian population had been riddled with bullets, very probably with German assistance. This town is no longer mentioned in Document 193,33 published by Lepsius in "Germany and Armenia". It is not clear from the notes whether Lepsius carried out these deletions after having conferred with the Foreign Office or not. He did, however, note down the name "Goeppert" several times, possibly as a reminder for telephone calls.

When studying the copies, especially those which were never published by Lepsius, and comparing them with the originals it becomes clear: almost all of the deletions were carried out by the Foreign Office; only a few were made by Lepsius himself.

This also explains why Brigitte Lepsius, Lepsius' daughter and her father's secretary at that time, stated to Dadrian in 1978 that she had not been instructed by anyone to change the manuscripts or to omit any passages.34 Sixty years later, she had obviously forgotten the few omissions which her father had had carried out.

But the Foreign Office did not only made deletions; it also covered over traces of responsibility. In a private letter,35 Lepsius wondered about the fact that the Reichskanzler had only made one reference to the Armenian genocide, and that at the intervention of German church circles (Lepsius, "At a statement provoked by me in reply to the petition made by representatives of the Protestant Church"). But the clear instruction not to show any consideration for the Armenians ("Our only goal is to keep Turkey on our side until the end of the war, no matter whether Armenians die thereby or not." 36) came from the chancellor himself, and this is missing in "Germany and Armenia". It was in answer to a request by the German Ambassador Wolff-Metternich to publicly denounce the genocide. Lepsius had published the report (Doc. 209), although in an extremely shortened version, but not the remarks made in agreement by the Undersecretary of State Zimmermann and the Head of the Foreign Office, Jagow, nor the chancellor's harsh refusal.

The wording of this refusal is to be found among the copies of the Foreign Office in the Lepsius Archive37, which, however, have a false sender. Under Bethmann Hollweg's literal testimony (and only an account of this was given) the author was given in abbreviated form as "U.St. (Z.)", i.e. Undersecretary of State Arthur Zimmermann. Possibly the Foreign Office wished to prevent the situation whereby Lepsius became aware of the forgery and then be able to excuse itself with this mistake. But Lepsius obviously did not react to this key sentence on Germany's Armenian policy, which would also have been exceptional even if it had "only" been from Zimmermann. Lepsius, too, was obviously fully determined to hush up Germany's role.

Lepsius did not boast of having thoroughly studied the documents from the Foreign Office himself. Only once does he speak of having looked through 30 volumes of documents (the documents come from more than 40 volumes). But it was an entirely different matter for the second large publication of documents which Lepsius began immediately after "Germany and Armenia": according to the government's will, this work, later entitled, ”Große Politik der europäischen Kabinette” (The Great Policy of the European Cabinets) which included documents from the Foreign Office from the period 1878 until 1914 was to be published by men "whose professional knowledge and independence is recognised so indubitably by both neutral and enemy countries that there will be no appearance whatsoever of a tendentious piece of work", as written by Freytag, Solf's adviser, to Lepsius who, as one of the three publishers, had been offered the areas of the Balkans, the Orient and Russia.38

There was hardly a letter to his friends in which Lepsius did not speak of his great work effort for this publication. After a first brief review of the documents published no interferences similar to those in the documentation of "Germany and Armenia" are to be found (with the exception of Lepsius' bad habit of smoothing out awkward sentences), the political objective was the same. In his chapter on the Orient policy of the Great Powers, Lepsius wrote that "for the first time, documents [have been] compiled which prove the perfidy of the British and Russian policies and the correctness of the German one".39 For the main purpose of this documentation was also to cleanse Germany of the principle proclaimed in the Treaty of Versailles that it was to carry the blame for the outbreak of the First World War; thus, it was mainly for purposes of propaganda. Lepsius wrote to friends that Richard Delbrueck, the head of the department at the Foreign Office, which gave the order, said to him, "The historical truth is a matter of indifference to me."40

A successful propaganda function of both historical works can best be measured by the acceptance from those offices, which transpose this propaganda into policy: the press. While the German press praised Lepsius' work, "Germany and Armenia", in unison – but what good was the German press, inexperienced in reporting critically and simple-minded, especially after years of being gagged – the message hoped for did not reach the foreign and especially the English-speaking press. "The success of the book, 'Germany and Armenia'," Goeppert wrote to Lepsius, ”has, unfortunately, been a disappointment to us. All of the Nordic press reviews I have received are unfavourable and the ’Times’ uses the book … practically as proof of Germany's responsibility and as a means of malicious agitation."41

The result: the English and French translations of "Germany and Armenia" which had already been carried out were sent to the Foreign Office's storeroom, where they may perhaps even today be slumbering away; officially they cannot be found. Lepsius cynically dismissed the criticism of the British, which he knew well through years of reading, "The 'Times' is just as mendacious as ever."42

On the other hand, at least one echo of the Great Policy will have hurt him greatly. His first article on the results of Bismarck's policies had been received with great interest by his Swiss acquaintances. The "Basler Nachrichten" printed it in full length. When Lepsius sent his second article on further Bismarck findings to the leading Swiss newspaper, he received a handwritten, rather unexpected answer from the editor-in-charge, Albert Oeri, the brother-in-law of his long-term employee, Andreas Vischer, "Unfortunately, we cannot publish the enclosed article. The former article, which we did publish, already contained more propaganda than factual information. We cannot possibly flood our paper with Bismarck propaganda."43

The manipulations in the documentation, "Germany and Armenia", throw a shadow on Johannes Lepsius, but only a small shadow on a great man. They throw a larger one on the men in Berlin's Wilhelmstrasse, the seat of the Foreign Office. But the politicians in foreign affairs can, if necessary, state in their defence that, first and foremost, they shaped German policy, and that meant: to avert damage from Germany, even if this was only possible by using manipulations. That was – and is – certainly not an unusual practice.

The documents on the Armenian genocide, including the manipulations, throw a long shadow, a very long shadow on a German academic world which was not in a position to find out the truth about one of the greatest crimes of the 20th century. What English-speaking journalists in particular, but also Scandinavian ones, noticed immediately with regard to the documents published by Lepsius – Germany's involvement in a massive crime – was incomprehensibly kept hidden from the eyes of the German academics in the period between the wars, but also during the period after the Second World War, most especially the historians. Or they did not want to see the truth, because they consciously assisted in supporting the special, historical, German path, which was to turn out to be a fatal track. The documents published in this Internet publication are proof of the often embarrassing and sometimes difficult to bear German Imperial way of thinking and of racialism. The Germans' cultural arrogance often did not let them realise that the Armenians were further along the road to a Western civilisation than they themselves were – a blindness from which Lepsius himself also suffered.

For Johannes Lepsius, too, swam with this current. His attitude, especially towards the Treaty of Versailles, was that of a German nationalist who was not prepared to accept or even to objectively analyse an agreement which may one day even in German history be regarded as a just peace, given the circumstances at that time. His painful experiences in his dealings with the minority of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, whom he admired, did not make him aware of the fate of minorities in the German Reich. Without further ado, when the national spring tide became visible in Germany, Lepsius ensured that "his" Armenians were declared Arians based on a formal expert’ report by his friend, Paul Rohrbach.

But Johannes Lepsius was one of the very few in Germany who gave his vehement support to a persecuted minority. The Protestant Church in Germany – severely scolded for that by Lepsius – was not prepared to do so, nor was the Catholic Church, both of whom took up highly egotistical positions. It took a lot of courage to verify the Armenian genocide in the period immediately after the war using German documents and a great deal of strength to carry this through.

To place the sole blame for the errors in the source edition of "Germany and Armenia" with the publisher, Johannes Lepsius, would be the worst possible starting-point for an analysis of Germany's past in the Ottoman Empire. For the Armenians, Lepsius was and is an icon, and he was and is one rightly so – an icon with colour defects, certainly, but nevertheless an icon of high value.

1)“Deutschland, Armenien und die Türkei 1895-1915. Dokumente und Zeitschriften aus dem Dr. Johannes-Lepsius-Archiv an der Martin-Luther-Universität Halle Wittenberg; zusammengetellt von Hermann Goltz und Axel Meissner” ("Germany, Armenia and Turkey 1895-1915. Documents and Magazines from the Dr. Johannes-Lepsius-Archive in the Martin-Luther-University in Halle Wittenberg; compiled by Hermann Goltz and Axel Meissner "). K. G. Saur, Munich 1999 (hereafter quoted as LAH), 7243 (1).

2) “Deutschland und Armenien 1914-1918. Sammlung diplomatischer Aktenstücke” . Herausgegeben von Dr. Johannes Lepsius ("Germany and Armenia 1914-1918. A Collection of Diplomatic Documents." Published by Dr. Johannes Lepsius), Tempel Publishing House, Berlin 1919. Reprinted by Donat & Temmen Publishing House, Bremen 1986.

3) Vahakn N. Dadrian: The History of the Armenian Genocide: Ethnic Conflict from the Balkans to Anatolia to the Caucasus; Berghan Books, New York (USA), Oxford (UK) 1995; pp. 278-279.

4) Published in this internet-edition under "manipulations".

5) See footnote 1.

6) Political Archive of the German Foreign Office (hereafter quoted as "PA-AA”), record volume R14106.

7) Hermann Goltz: Pfarrer D. Dr. Johannes Lepsius (1858-1926) – Helfer und Anwalt des armenischen Volkes; Akten des Internationalen Dr. Johannes-Lepsius-Symposiums 1986 an der Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg (Vicar D. Dr. Johannes Lepsius (1858-1926) – Assistant of and Lawyer for the Armenian People; Documents from the International Dr. Johannes-Lepsius-Symposium 1986 at the Martin-Luther-University in Halle-Wittenberg); pg. 41.

8) Deutschland, Armenien und die Türkei 1895 – 1925. Dokumente und Zeitschriften aus dem Dr. Johannes-Lepsius-Archiv an der Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg; teil 1. Katalog. Zusammengestellt und bearbeitet von Hermann Goltz und Axel Meissner (Germany, Armenia and Turkey 1895 – 1925. Documents and Magazines from the Dr. Johannes-Lepsius-Archive in the Martin-Luther-University in Halle-Wittenberg; Part 1. Catalogue. Compiled and processed by Hermann Goltz and Axel Meissner), pg. XIV. K. G. Saur, Munich 1998.

9) Uwe Feigl: Das evangelische Deutschland und Armenien. Die Armenierhilfe deutscher evangelischer Christen seit dem Ende des 19. Jahrhunderts im Kontext der deutsch-türkischen Beziehungen (Protestant Germany and Armenia. The Armenian Aid by German Protestant Christians since the End of the 19th Century in the Context of German-Turkish Relations); pg. 221. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen, 1989.

10) LAH 15820 (2).

11) Volume 1925, number 8, page 105; LAH 032

12) LAH 15635.

13) LAH 15643.

14) LAH 15639.

15) LAH 15100 (4).

16) Fritz Fischer, “Griff nach der Weltmacht. Die Kriegszielpolitik des kaiserlichen Deutschland 1914/8 (Grasping for World Power. The War Aim Policy of Imperial Germany 1914/8); Droste-Verlag, Düsseldorf 1967; Nachdruck (1984) der Sondersausgabe in Droste Taschenbücher Geschichte (reprint of the special edition in Droste Pocket Edition History), pg. 538 f.

17) PA-AA R14094, A 28987.

18) PA-AA R14096 A 34247.

19) PA-AA/ R14105, A 50121.

20) LAH 13533.

21) PA-AA/R14105.

22) Bundesarchiv (National Archive) Berlin-Lichterfelde (hereafter quoted as “B.Arch”), R901/71562, page 29.

23) LAH 14335 (1).

24) LAH 14213 (6).

25) LAH 7243 (2).

26) LAH 14335 (1).

27) LAH 7243 (3).

28) LAH 13533 (3).

29) LAH 7243 (3).

30) PA-AA/R14106.

31) LAH 14334 (2).

32) LAH 14341 (2).

33) Doc. 1915-11-08-DE-001 of this edition.

34) Dadrian, l.c., pg. 298, footnote 93.

35) LAH 7243 (1).

36) Doc. 1915-12-07-DE-001.

37) LAH 13824.

38) LAH 14387 (3).

39) LAH 14213 (11).

40) LAH 14503 (3).

41) LAH 14341.

42) B.Arch. R901/71562, page 62.

43) LAH 13522.


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