362.1163 Watch Tower/31

The Consul General at Berlin (Messersmith) to the Acting Secretary of State

No. 1461


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Consul Geist called again on Ministerialdirigent Fischer in the Prussian Ministry of the Interior and explained that the measures taken by [Page 411]the German authorities are utterly defeating the demands which they have made on the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society. A demand was made that the property be released under conditions which would make it possible for this society to afford a reasonable protection to its property and financial interests. Consul Geist pointed out that it appears reasonable that every facility should be granted an American firm to save its property from ruin, and it should be given facilities to avoid unusual and extensive losses; that the purpose of the German Government is wholly served, if their operations do not continue, as the Consulate General has not gone into any discussion of the reasons for which the activities of this society have been forbidden. Consul Geist protested against levying rent for the property belonging to an American firm and pointed out that this was an extraordinary procedure, and a violation of property rights. A protest was made against the position of the German Government in requiring that the property of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society remain in the Government’s possession as a guarantee that no propaganda will be made by this society abroad against the German Government. This is tantamount to confiscation, and if such confiscation is made without due process of law in the courts, it certainly renders insecure the existence of all American property in Germany. Consul Geist demanded that the property be freely and wholly turned over to the owners to make such disposition as they saw fit, so long as they violated no injunction placed on them regarding their activities. Consul Geist also pointed out that the Consulate General believed that the German authorities were sincere in this action and desired nothing more than to assure themselves that the alleged subversive activities of this society be stopped, and that the German Government had no ulterior intention of obtaining this society’s property. Dr. Fischer stated that this assumption was true, and that the purpose back of this action was not to seize the property.

It may be pointed out in this respect that the representatives of the society have the impression that there is no real basic evidence against the Magdeburg organization. There is no doubt that some of the tracts do not coincide with National Socialist ideas, but it is not believed that these are either genuinely subversive or revolutionary, as we understand the terms “subversive” or “revolutionary”.

It would be easy enough for the police to see that no printing was done in the establishment, or other activities carried on, to which they could take objection. The Consulate General is of the opinion that the procedure in the confiscation of this property has been an extraordinary action wholly unjustified by the facts. The Consulate General has requested a statement from the Prussian Ministry of the Interior stating precisely the conditions upon which the property will be released, and as soon as [Page 412]this letter is received, the Consulate General will communicate further with the Department. In the meantime it would be appreciated if the Department would study the facts in connection with this case as they have heretofore been reported, and advise the Consulate General whether or not, under the Treaty,60 the property of an American firm, for certain alleged political reasons, can in this way be seized and confiscated.

Respectfully yours,

George S. Messersmith
  1. Treaty of Friendship, Commerce and Consular Rights, between the United States and Germany, signed at Washington, December 8, 1923; Foreign Relations, 1923, vol. ii, p. 29.