Labor Day procession in front of the Gestapo headquarters for Württemberg and the DAI, 1. Mai 1933 © Stadtarchiv Stuttgart
Labor Day procession in front of the Gestapo headquarters for Württemberg and the DAI, 1. Mai 1933 © Stadtarchiv Stuttgart

The Deutsches Ausland-Institut (German Foreign Institute), 1933–1945

It may be surprising today, but in the 1960s the then Secretary-General of the Institute, Michael Rehs, declared of the predecessor organization: 'The German Foreign Institute was never brought into line' with Nationalist Socialist government policy. In defiance of all the facts, the conviction prevailed after 1945 that the DAI did nothing wrong under the 'Third Reich'. It was not until 1964, when relevant documents found their way from the United States into West German archives, that the picture of a politically neutral institute began to unravel and was then was finally swept away by Ernst Ritter's dissertation in 1976.

By Katja Gesche

The Nazi 'seizure of power' represented a dramatic turning-point for the German Foreign Institute (DAI). Not only did it lead to a change of leadership, but it also set the DAI into a competitive battle with new institutions such as the Foreign Organization of the NSDAP, in which it maintained itself remarkably well after a short phase of orientation. If previously the Institute had primarily organised exhibitions and advised prospective emigrants, after 1933 it shifted its activities to cultivating direct contact with Germans living abroad. The official goal, as described in the brochure 'New Tasks of the German Foreign Institute' issued in 1934, was the 'education of ethnic Germans living abroad in the spirit of a unified German world-view, into, as it were, soldiers of the Third Reich'.

These pithy words preceded the forcible coordination: on 7 May 1933 the SA occupied the Haus des Deutschtums (The House of German Culture), the headquarters of the DAI, and hoisted the swastika flag. The incumbent Secretary General, Fritz Wertheimer, was prevented from entering the building and sent on 'leave' because he was a Jew. In 1938 he immigrated to Brazil. The founder and chairman of the DAI, Theodor Wanner, was also pushed out of office. The department chiefs, however, remained unmolested.

Co-opting and rise of the DAI

A commission consisting of local representatives from politics, scholarship and science was appointed to find successors for these longstanding leaders. Soon the ambitious new mayor of Stuttgart, Karl Strölin, was fixed for the position of chairman, later president. The position of institute director was more difficult to fill. The choice fell on Richard Csaki, a former teacher and editor, who came from an old Transylvanian family. As a leader, however, he kept a low profile, giving the department heads plenty of leeway, and relinquished his office to the staunch Nazi Hermann Rüdinger in 1941.

Poster of the Stuttgart Fremdenverkehrsverein (tourism association), 1934 / 1938 © bpk – Kunstbibliothek der Staatlichen Museen zu Berlin / Dietmar Katz
Poster of the Stuttgart Fremden-
verkehrsverein (tourism association),
1934 / 1938 © bpk – Kunstbibliothek
der Staatlichen Museen zu Berlin /
Dietmar Katz

The DAI not only continued its work, now with a new direction, under the Nazis, but also significantly expanded during this time. In 1933 it had a staff of 55; at the outbreak of the war the number was 157. Its budget also increased between 1933 and 1942 from 300,000 to 1.4 million Reichsmarks and remained stable at a high level until 1944. Its sponsors from the public sector – the Home Office, the Foreign Office, the State of Württemberg and the City of Stuttgart – were joined in 1935 by the Ministry of Propaganda.

The Institute's expansion shows the importance of the DAI to the new rulers – for example, as a supplier of propaganda material for 'Germanness abroad'. The DAI also laboured to supply state, party and military organisations with foreign press articles – so successfully that in 1934 the Foreign Affairs Bureau of the Nazi Party felt itself inundated by them. In addition, as during the Weimar Republic, the DAI held specialised lectures that were addressed primarily to the military.

The DAI's war effort

After the outbreak of the Second World War, the DAI increased its activity further. On 31 August 1939 the Institute already began a 'Special Information Service' for Wehrmacht positions. DAI publications and exhibitions in the occupied eastern territories served to legitimize German territorial claims, making use of theories that described the East as so-called German national or cultural soil. If before 1933 the DAI still defined 'Germanness' in terms of culture, it now increasingly adapted itself to the racist vocabulary of the Nazi. It also even willingly assisted the Gestapo (lodged in a neighboring building) by supplying it with information about people planning official visits abroad.

DAI logo, 1933 –1945 © ifa-Archiv, Fellbach
DAI logo, 1933 –1945
© ifa-Archiv, Fellbach

DAI staff themselves frequently travelled in the East until mid-1942. There, they not only wrote reports on people of German descent but also documented war-related events in neutral or allied countries. In the West, particularly the United States, the DAI started initiatives designed to bind people of German descent living there more closely to the German Reich and so hamper America’s entry into the war.

The DAI also exercised direct influence on the events of the war, for its archives possessed maps that showed the distribution of population groups in Eastern Europe and thus furnished essential information for resettlements and deportations in the occupied territories. With respect to the relocations, not least in consequence of the Hitler-Stalin Pact, the DAI was deeply involved in their preparation and evaluation, working closely together with the SS.

Noteworthy in this connection is a failed sabotage attempt in the United States in 1942. The DAI staff member Walter Kappe, who had already joined the Nazi Party in 1923, trained several spies and provided them with plans for sabotaging aluminum production in the America. One of the spies, however, betrayed the group to the local authorities immediately after arriving in the country. The further course of the war in favour of the Allies increasingly restricted the work of the DAI until it was then ended in 1943, when the Institute was put under the control of the Office for Ethnic Germans and remained in abeyance until its re-founding under its present name in 1951.

Katja Gesche took her doctorate in political science in 2004 with a dissertation on culture as an instrument in the foreign policy of totalitarian states, using the example of the German Foreign Institute. She now works as a freelance journalist and writer based in the Hessian Odenwald.


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Cornerstone ceremony fot the 'Haus des Deutschtums', headquartes of the DAI. Welcome adress by Theodor G. Wanner, 28. May 1924 © Bundesarchiv Koblenz

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