The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

The Trial of German Major War Criminals

Sitting at Nuremberg, Germany
7th January to 19th January, 1946

Thirty-Third Day: Monday, January 14th, 1946
(Part 4 of 5)


[Page 237]

The next extract, dated 18th January, 1940, adds to some extent and, if I may read it:
"The High Command of the Armed Forces has issued the following Directive dated 17th January, cancelling the previous order concerning intensified measures of warfare against merchantmen.

The Navy will authorise, with immediate effect, the sinking without warning by U-boats of all ships in those waters near the enemy coasts in which the use of mines is possible."

My Lord, that is an extension of the area.
"U-boats must adapt their behaviour and employment of weapons to the pretence, which is to be maintained in these cases, that the hits were caused by mines. Ships of the United States, Italy, Japan and Russia are exempted from these attacks."
Well, then there is a note emphasising the point about maintaining the pretence of mine hits, and the last extract is, I think, purely cumulative.

The next document, C- 118, I put in as Exhibit GB 195. This is an extract from the B.D.U. War Diary, that is to say, the defendant's War Diary. It is dated 18th July, 1941, and it consists of a further extension of that order by the cutting down of the protected categories.

[Page 238]

"Supplementary to the order forbidding, for the time being, attacks on U.S. warships and merchant vessels in the operational area of the North Atlantic, the Fuehrer has ordered the following:

(1) Attacks on U.S. merchant vessels sailing in British or U.S. convoys, or independently, is authorised in the original operational area which corresponds in its dimensions to the U.S. blockade zone, and which does not include the sea-route U.S. to Iceland."

As the members of the Tribunal will have seen from these orders, at one date the ships of a particular neutral under certain conditions could be sunk while those of another could not. It would be easy to put before the Tribunal a mass of orders and instances to show that the attitude to be adopted toward ships of particular neutrals changed at various times. The point is that the defendant conducted the U-boat war against neutrals with complete cynicism and opportunism. It all depended on the political relationship of Germany toward a particular country at a particular time, whether her ships were sunk or not.

My Lord, I turn to the next document in the document book, D- 642, which I put in as Exhibit GB 196. My Lord, this is a series of orders; the first I should say of a series of orders leading up to the issue of an order which enjoined the U-boat commanders not merely to abstain from rescuing crews, which is the purpose of this order, not merely to give them no assistance, but deliberately to annihilate them.

My Lord, in the course of my proof of this matter, I shall call two witnesses. The first witness will give the Court an account of a speech made by the defendant at the time that he issued the order, describing the policy, or his policy toward the rescue of Allied troops - that it must be stopped at all costs.

The second witness is the officer who actually briefed crews on the order.

My Lord, this document is an extract from the standing orders of the U-boat Command, an extract from Standing Order No. 154, and it is signed by the defendant.

"Paragraph (e). Do not pick up survivors or take them with you. Do not worry about the merchant ship's boats. Weather conditions and distance from land play no part. Have a care only for your own ship and strive only to attain your next success as soon as possible. We must be harsh in this war. The enemy began the war in order to destroy us, so nothing else matters."
THE PRESIDENT: What is the date of that?

COLONEL PHILLIMORE: My Lord, that order, the copy we have, is not dated, but a later order, No. 173, which was issued concurrently with an operational order, is dated the 2nd May, 1940. The Tribunal may take it, it is earlier than the 2nd May, 1940. My Lord, that is a secret order.

THE PRESIDENT: Earlier than May, 1940?

COLONEL PHILLIMORE: Earlier than May, 1940.

It was, however, in 1942, when the United States entered the war with its enormous ship-building capacity, that the change thus brought about necessitated a further adjustment in the methods adopted by the U-boats and the defendant; and the defendant was guilty of an order, which intended not merely the sinking of merchant ships, not merely the abstention from rescue of the crews, but their deliberate extermination.

My Lord, the next document in the document book shows the course of events. It is D-423, and I put it in as Exhibit GB 197. It is a record of a conversation between Hitler and the Japanese Ambassador Oshima, in the presence of the defendant Ribbentrop, on the 3rd January, 1942.

"The Fuehrer, using a map, explains to the Japanese Ambassador the present position of marine warfare in the Atlantic, emphasising that what

[Page 238]

he considers his most important task is to get the U- boat warfare going in full swing. The U-boats are being reorganised. Firstly, he had recalled all U-boats operating in the Atlantic. As mentioned before, they would now be posted outside United States ports. Later, they would be off Freetown and the larger boats even as far down as Capetown."
And then, after further details:
"After having given further explanations on the map, the Fuehrer pointed out, that, however many ships the United States built, one of their main problems would be the lack of personnel. For that reason, even merchant ships would be sunk without warning with the intention of killing as many of the crew as possible. Once it gets around that most of the seamen are lost in the sinkings, the Americans would soon have difficulties in enlisting new people. The training of sea-going personnel takes a very long time. We are fighting for our existence and our attitude cannot be ruled by any humane feelings. For this reason he must give the order that, in case foreign seamen could not be taken prisoner, which is not always possible on the sea, U-boats were to surface after torpedoing and shoot up the lifeboats.

Ambassador Oshima heartily agreed with the Fuehrer's comments, and said that the Japanese, too, were forced to follow these methods."

My Lord, the next document, D-446, I put in as Exhibit GB 198. I do not propose to read it. It is an extract from B.D.U. War Diary of 16th September, 1942, and it is part of the story in the sense that it was on the following day that the order I complain of was issued, and the defence will, no doubt, wish to rely on it. It records an attack on a U-boat which was rescuing survivors, chiefly the Italian survivors of the Allied liner Laconia when it was attacked b~ an Allied aircraft.

My Lord, the next document, D-630, I put in as Exhibit GB 199. It contains four documents. The first is a top secret order, sent to all commanding officers of U-boats from the defendant's headquarters, dated 17th September, 1942.

"1. No attempt of any kind must be made at rescuing members of ships sunk, and this includes picking up persons in the water and putting them in lifeboats, righting capsized lifeboats and handing over food and water. Rescue runs counter to the rudimentary demands of warfare for the destruction of enemy ships and crews.

2. Orders for bringing in captains and chief engineers still apply.

3. Rescue the shipwrecked only if their statements will be of importance to your boat.

4. Be harsh, having in mind that the enemy takes no regard of women and children in his bombing attacks on German cities."

Now, my Lord, that is of course a very carefully worded order. Its intentions are made very clear by the next document on that same page, which is an extract from the defendant's War Diary; and I should say here, as appears from the copy handed into the Court, that the War Diary is personally signed by the defendant Donitz. It is the War Diary entry for 17th September, 1942.
"The attention of all commanding officers is again drawn" - and I would draw the Tribunal's attention to the word "again" - "to the fact that all efforts to rescue members of the crews of ships which have been sunk, contradict the most primitive demands for the conduct of warfare by annihilating enemy ships and their crews. Orders concerning the bringing in of the captains and chief engineers still stand."
The last two documents on that page consist of a telegram from the commander of the U-boat Schacht to the defendant's headquarters and the reply. Schacht had been taking part in the rescue of survivors from the Laconia. The telegram from Schacht dated the 18th September, 1942, reads:

[Page 240]

"163 Italians handed over to Annamite. Navigating officer of Laconia and another English officer on board." - And then it goes on setting out the position of English and Polish survivors in boats.
The reply sent on the 20th: "Action as in wireless telegram message of 17th September was wrong. Boat was detailed to rescue Italian allies and not for the rescue of English and Poles."

It is a small point, but, of course, "detailed" means before the bombing incident had ever occurred.

And then as for the next document, D-663, that was issued later and may not yet have been inserted in the Tribunal's document book; D-663 I put in as Exhibit GB 200.

My Lord, this is an extract from an operation order, "Operation Order Atlantic No. 56," dated 7th October, 1943, and the copy put in is part of sailing orders to a U-boat. As I shall prove through the second witness, although the date of this order is 7th October, 1943, in fact it is only a reproduction of an order issued very much earlier, in the autumn of 1942.

"Rescue ships: A so-called rescue ship is generally attached to every convoy, a special ship of up to 3,000 gross registered tons, which is intended for the picking up of survivors after U-boat attacks. These ships are, for the most part, equipped with a ship-borne aircraft and large motorboats, are strongly armed with depth charge throwers, and are very manoeuvrable, so that they are often called 'U-boat traps' by the commander."
And then, the last sentence: "In view of the desired destruction of ship's crews, their sinking is of great value."

If I might just sum up those documents, it would appear from the War Diary entry of 17th September, that orders on the lines discussed between Hitler and Oshima were, in fact, issued, but we have not captured them. It may be that they were issued orally and that the defendant awaited a suitable opportunity before confirming them. The incident of the bombing of the U-boats detailed to rescue the Italian survivors from the Laconia afforded the opportunity, and the order to all commanders was issued. Its intent is very clear when you consider it in the light of the War Diary entry. The wording is, of course, extremely careful, but to any officer of experience its intention was obvious, and he would know that deliberate action to annihilate survivors would be approved under that order.

You will be told that this order, although perhaps unfortunately phrased, was merely intended to stop a commander from jeopardising his ship by attempting a rescue, which had become increasingly dangerous, as a result of the extended coverage of the ocean by Allied aircraft; and that the notorious action of the U-boat Commander Eck in sinking the Greek steamer Peleus and then machine-gunning the crew on their rafts in the water, was an exception; and that, although it may be true that a copy of the order was on board, this action was taken solely, as he himself swore, on his own initiative.

I would make the point to the Tribunal that if the intention of this order was to stop the rescue attempts in the interests of the preservation of the U-boat, first of all it would have been done by calling attention to Standing Order 154.

Second, this very fact would have been prominently stated in the order. Drastic orders of this nature are not drafted by experienced staff officers without the greatest care and an eye to their possible capture by the enemy.

Third, if it was necessary to avoid the risks attendant on standing by or surfacing, not only would this have been stated but there would have been no question of taking any prisoners at all, except possibly in circumstances where virtually no risk in surfacing was to be apprehended.

Fourth, the final sentence of the first paragraph would have read very differently.

[Page 241]

Fifth, if, in fact, and the prosecution do not for one moment accept it, the defendant did not mean to enjoin murder, his order was so worded that he cannot escape the responsibility which attaches to such a document.

My Lord, I would call my first witness, Peter Heisig.

PETER JOSEF HEISIG took the stand.


Q. What is your name?

A. My name is Peter Josef Heisig.

THE PRESIDENT: say this: "I swear by God the Almighty and Omniscient that I will speak the pure truth and will withhold nothing and add nothing."

(The witness repeated the oath in German.)


Q. Peter Josef Heisig, are you an Oberleutnant zur See in Germany?

A. I am an Oberleutnant zur See in the German Navy.

Q. Were you captured on the 27th December, 1944, and now held as a prisoner of war?

A. Yes.

Q. Did you swear an affidavit on 27th November, 1945?

A. Yes.

Q. And is that your signature? (A document, D-566 was submitted to the witness.)

COLONEL PHILLIMORE: My Lord, that is the Document D-566.

A. That is the document I signed.

COLONEL PHILLIMORE: I put that in as Exhibit GB 201.

Q. Will you take your mind back to the autumn of 1942? What rank did you hold at that time?

A. I was a midshipman at the Second U-boat Training Division.

Q. Were you attending a course there?

A. I took part at the training course for U-boat officers of the watch.

Q. Do you remember the last day of the course?

A. On the last day of the course, Grand Admiral Donitz, who was then Commander-in-Chief of the U-boats, reviewed the Second Training Division.

Q. And what happened at the end of this tour?

A. At the end of his visit - not at the end of his visit, but rather during his visit, Gross Admiral Donitz made a speech to the officers of the Second U-boat Division.

Q. Can you fix the date of his visit?

A. I remember the approximate date; it must have been at the end of September or the beginning of October, 1942.

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