London Places: The Carlton Conspiracy Part 5

Carlton House Terrace, in the heart of London, has had a major impact on the city’s environment and on world history. Soul City Wanderer invites you to read more of its fascinating story in the final instalment of a five-part article running this week.


When the German ambassador Ribbentrop moved into the existing embassy at No.9 Carlton House Terrace in 1936, he felt that it was not grand enough. So, it was extended to take in No.8 next door, and ordered to undergo a complete Nazi makeover.

Ribbentrop brought over a German designer called Martin Luther to refurbish the Carlton House Terrace interiors. Soon the doorways, floors, walls, ceilings, staircases and furniture were covered with swastikas and other Nazi insignia.

While this work was going on, and as an example of the extent of British appeasement, Neville Chamberlain (no less), provided his Belgravia residence for Ribbentrop to live in.

As an embassy, Carlton House Terrace had the most perfect strategic position. It sat literally at the heart of British power, halfway between Downing Street and Buckingham Palace. Taking advantage of the location, Ribbentrop began to employ the interior designer as his local spy. Luther proved to be a sharp operator, and Ribbentrop was so impressed, he offered him a position as his London gopher and henchman.

In February 1938, Ribbentrop returned to Berlin where he was appointed Foreign Minister of Nazi Germany. He took Luther with him as his personal aide. Ribbentrop was replaced at Carlton House Terrace by Herbert von Dirksen (see The Carlton Conspiracy Part 4).

In 1941, Ribbentrop made a ‘request’ to the countries which came under the sphere of the Third Reich to allow their Jewish citizens to be deported to newly built ‘work camps’. Luther was given the task of negotiating the agreements with the various governments. By now, Luther held considerable power as Ribbentrop’s aide, enough to personally order the massacre of 8,000 Serbian Jews.

In 1942, the pair attended the infamous Wannsee Conference at which the ‘Final Solution’ was discussed. Ribbentrop was given the responsibility for the mass deportation of Jews from German-conquered territories to the deathcamps. Luther’s role was to draw up the lists of numbers and work out the logistical calculations.

In 1943, Luther became over-ambitious. Resentful that Ribbentrop was still treating him as his personal gopher, he connived to replace his boss as foreign minister. However, the ever-calculating Himmler feared the power-hungry Luther more than Ribbentrop, whose influence with Hitler was declining. He ordered an inquiry into the plot, the result of which was that Luther was sent to a concentration camp.

In 1945, with Germany in defeat, Ribbentrop went into hiding in Hamburg but was recognised and arrested. On his person was a letter addressed to Winston Churchill essentially blaming Britain for the war.

A year later, at the Nuremberg trials, von Ribbentrop was convicted for crimes against humanity including cover-ups, murders, atrocities, and his role in the war and the Holocaust. And here was a final irony: the evidence was based on the chief exhibit: the logistical calculations of the Wannsee conference that Ribbentrop had ordered Luther to record. It had been discovered by American war crime investigators, and was the only official documentation of the Holocaust to have survived.

Ribbentrop remained loyal to his beloved Führer to the end. His defence became the stock Nazi excuse: ‘I was only obeying orders.’ On October 16th 1946, he was the first German politician to be executed as the result of the Nuremberg Trials. His body was cremated and the ashes were scattered in the river Isar in Munich.

His son, Rudolf, who attended Westminster School, died in 2019. Martin Luther was rescued by the Russians in 1945 but died soon afterwards. Herbert von Dirksen survived the war, and in 1947 was cleared by a denazification court. He died in 1955.


During World War II, the German Embassy on Carlton House Terrace was requisitioned as enemy property. Ironically, it was then severely damaged by German bombing. In added irony, the other end of Carlton House Terrace became General De Gaulle’s headquarters for the Free French.

After the war, most of the furniture and items of décor were considered ‘too Germanic’ to re-used in other diplomatic buildings. The silver was referred to a silversmith to re-engrave swastikas as British crowns.

Has anything survived from the fascist era? Well, the doorknobs are said to be of German design, and the marble on the current main staircase is said to have been a gift from Mussolini. In addition, some swastika floor designs are reputedly still hidden under one of the carpets and in the mosaics on the verandas.

In the 1950s, the British government considered acquiring the site for a new Foreign Office headquarters, but the redevelopment was deemed unacceptable.

Numbers 6 and 7 were added to the lease, and the whole block from numbers 6 to 9 has been the home of the Royal Society since 1967.

In 1951, the Federal Republic of Germany leased a new building in Belgrave Square where they opened a consulate. In 1978, an extension was added in Chesham Place. In 1990, after German reunification, the East German consulate building at 34 Belgrave Square was added to what would become the new German embassy. It still operates there today.


Sources

Blakeway, Denys. The Last Dance. John Murray, 2010
Clow, Don. ‘From Macadam to Asphalt’ (part 1). Accessed online May 2018: glias.org.uk/journals/8-a.html
Lukacs, John. Five Days in London – May 1940. Yale, 1999.
Shepley, Nick. Hitler, Ribbentrop and Britain. Andrews UK, 2013.



Published by Soul City Wanderer

Soul City Wanderer is the alias of London journalist and author Frank Molloy, a writer on the city’s history and culture. Born south of the river, he has an MA in London history (Birkbeck) and lectures at various institutions including the Museum of London and the National Portrait Gallery. He is also a fully-qualified Blue Badge Guide (MITG), Westminster Guide and City of London Guide.

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