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-sixth Day: Thursday, January 17th, 1946
(Part 9 of 10)


[Page 374]

The major National Socialist culprits had their orders carried out in the divers Nazi organisations, which we ask you to declare criminal in order that each of their members may be then apprehended and punished.

The Reich Cabinet, the Leadership Corps of the Nazi Party, the General Staff, and the High Command of the German Armed Forces represent only a small number of persons whose guilt and punishment must ultimately result from the evidence, since they participated personally and directly in the decisions, or ensured their execution through some eminent person in the political or military hierarchy, and without being able to ignore their. criminal nature.

The leaders of the Nazi Party are unquestionably in the forefront of those who participated in the criminal enterprise, and around the defendants Keitel and Jodl the military High Command directed the Army to execution of hostages, to pillage, to wanton destruction and to massacres.

But perhaps it will seem to you that the punishment of hundreds of thousands of men who belonged to the S.S., to the S.D., to the Gestapo and to the S.A. will give rise to some objection. I should like to try, should this be the case, to do away with that objection by showing you the dreadful responsibilities of these men. Without the existence of these organisations, without the spirit which animated them, one could not understand how so many atrocities could have been perpetrated. The systematic War Crimes could not have been carried out by Nazi Germany without these organisations, without the men who composed them. It is they who not only executed but willed this body of crimes on behalf of Germany.

It may have seemed impossible to you that the monstrous barbarity of the National Socialist doctrine could have been imposed upon the German people, the heir, as are our people, of the highest values of civilisation. The education by the Nazi Party of the young men who formed the S.S., the S.D., and the Gestapo explains the hold that Nazism exercised over all Germany. They incarnated National Socialism, and permitted it to accomplish, thanks to the guilty passiveness of the whole German population, a part of its purpose. This youth, those who carried out the tenets of the regime, were trained in a veritable doctrine of unmorality, which results from the ideology that inspired the regime. The myth of the race removed from war in the eyes of these disciples of Nazism its criminal character.

If it is proved that a superior race is to annihilate races and peoples that are considered inferior and decadent, incapable of living a life as it should be lived, before what means of extermination will they recoil? These are the ethics of immorality, the result of the most authentic Nietzscheism, which considers that the destruction of all conventional ethics is the supreme duty of man. The crime against race is punished without pity. The crime on behalf of race is exalted without limit. The regime truly creates a logic of crime which obeys its own laws, which has no connection whatsoever with what we consider ethical. With such a point of view, all horrors could have been justified and authorised. So many acts which appear incomprehensible to us, so greatly

[Page 375]

do they clash with our customary notions, were explained, were formulated in advance in the name of the racial community.

Add that these atrocities and these cruelties were perpetrated within the rigid framework created by the esprit de corps, by the soldierly solidarity which bound individuals and ensured the legitimacy of the crime an unlimited field of action. The individuals who committed them would not only be covered by the regime itself, but spurred on by the discipline and the "camaraderie" of these corps, imbued with Nazi criminality.

The Nazi Youth was invited to go through an extraordinary adventure. Having unlimited power at its disposal thanks to the Party and its massive grip, it was first of all called upon to implement the grandiose dreams of National Socialist Pan-Germanism.

The Party exercised a rigid selection of its youth, and neglected no incentive. It solicited from its youth the desire to distinguish itself, to accomplish exploits beyond the common order and beyond nature. The young Nazis in the Gestapo and the S.S. knew that their acts, no matter how cruel or how inhumane they might be, would always be judged legitimate by the regime, in the name of the racial community, of its needs and of its triumphs. The Nazi Party, thanks to the young men of the S.S., of the S.D., and of the Gestapo, had thus become capable of accomplishing in the field of criminality what no other person or nation could have committed.

The members of these organisations became voluntarily the authors of these innumerable crimes of all kinds, often executed with disconcerting cynicism and with artful sadism in the concentration camps of Germany as well as in the various occupied countries, and especially in those of Western Europe.

The crimes are monstrous. The crimes and the responsibility for them have definitely been established. There is no possible doubt.

But nevertheless, throughout these tranquil sessions of this trial, extraordinary in the history of the world, in view of the exceptional nature of the justice which your High Tribunal is called upon to render before the United Nations and the German people and before all mankind, a few objections may arise in our minds.

It is our duty to discuss this exhaustively, even if it is still only in our subconscious, for soon a pseudo-patriotic propaganda may take hold of Germany, and even may echo in some of our countries.

"Who can say: 'I have a clean conscience, I am without fault'? To use different weights and measures is abhorred by God." This text from the Holy Scriptures has already been mentioned here and there; it will serve to-morrow as a theme of propaganda, but above all, it is profoundly written in our souls. Rising in the name of our martyred people as accusers of Nazi Germany, we have never for a moment suppressed it as an unwonted appeal.

Yes, no nation is without reproach in its history, just as no individual is faultless in his life. Yes, every war in itself brings forth iniquitous evils and entails almost necessarily individual and collective crimes, because it easily unleashes in man the evil passions which always slumber there.

But we can examine our conscience fearlessly in the face of the Nazi culprits; we find no common measure between them and ourselves.

If this criminality had been accidental, if Germany had been forced into war, if crimes had been committed only in the excitement of combat, we might question ourselves in the light of the Scriptures. But the war was prepared and deliberated upon long in advance, and up to the very last day it would have been easy to avoid it without sacrificing any of the legitimate interests of the German people. And the atrocities were perpetrated during the war, not under the influence of a mad passion or of a warlike anger or of an avenging resentment, but as a result of cold calculation, of perfectly conscious methods, of a pre-existing doctrine.

[Page 376]

The truly diabolical enterprise of Hitler, and of his companions, was to assemble, in a body of dogmas formed around the concept of race, all the instincts of barbarism, repressed by centuries of civilisation, but always present in men's innermost nature, all the negations of the traditional values of humanity, without which nations, as well as individuals, question their conscience in the troubled hours of their development and of their life; to construct and to propagate a doctrine which organises, regulates and aspires to command crime.

The diabolical enterprise of Hitler, and of his companions, was also to appeal to the forces of evil in order to establish his domination over the German people, and subsequently the domination of Germany over Europe and perhaps over the world. It planned to incorporate organised criminality into a system of government, into a system of international relations and into a system of warfare, by unleashing within a whole nation the most savage passions.

Nationalism and serving their people and their country will perhaps be their explanation; far from constituting an excuse, if any excuse were possible in view of the enormity of their crime, these explanations would make them still more serious. They have profaned the sacred idea of the Fatherland by linking it to a willed return to barbarism.

In its name they obtained, half by force, half by persuasion, the adherence of a whole country, formerly among the greatest in the order of spiritual values, and have sunk it to the lowest level. The moral confusion, the economic difficulties, the obsession with the defeat of 1918, and with the loss of might and the Pan-Germanic tradition, are the basis of the empire of Hitler and of his companions over a people thrown off its balance; to abandon oneself to force, to renounce moral concern, to satisfy a love of collectivity, to revel in lack of restraint, are the natural temptations strongly implanted in the German, which the Nazi leaders exploited with cynicism. The intoxication of success and the madness of greatness completed the picture, and put practically all Germans, some without doubt unconsciously, in the service of the National Socialist doctrine, by associating them with the diabolical enterprise of their Fuehrer and his companions.

Opposing this enterprise arose men of various countries and different classes, all of them animated by the common bond of their human lot. France and Great Britain entered the war only to remain faithful to their given word. The peoples of the occupied countries, tortured in body and soul, never renounced their liberty, nor their cultural values, and it was a magnificent epic of clandestine opposition and of resistance which, through a splendid heroism, testifies to the spontaneous refusal of the populations to accept the Nazi myths. Millions and millions of men of the Soviet Union fell to defend, not only the soil and independence of their country, but also their humanitarian universalism. The millions of British and American soldiers who landed on our unhappy continent carried in their hearts the ideal of freeing from Nazi oppression both the occupied countries and the peoples who, willingly or by force, had become the satellites of the Axis and the German people itself.

They were all of them together, whether in uniform or not, fighters for the great hope which throughout the centuries has been nourished by the suffering of the peoples, the great hope for a better future for mankind.

Sometimes this great hope expresses itself with difficulty, or loses its way, or deceives itself, or knows the dread return to barbarism, but it persists always and finally constitutes the powerful lever which brings about the progress of humanity despite everything. These aspirations always reborn, these concerns constantly awakened, this anguish unceasingly present, this perpetual combat against evil, form in a definitive manner the sublime grandeur of man. National Socialism only yesterday imperilled all of this.

After that gigantic struggle where two ideologists, two conceptions of life were at grips, in the name of the people whom we represent here, and in the name

[Page 377]

of the great human hope for which they have so greatly suffered, so greatly fought, we can without fear and with a clean conscience rise as accusers of the leaders of Nazi Germany.

As Mr. Justice Jackson said so eloquently at the opening of this trial: "Civilisation would not survive if these crimes were to be committed again," and he added: "The true plaintiff in this Court is civilisation."

Civilisation requires from you, after this unleashing of barbarism, a verdict which will also be a sort of supreme warning at the hour when humanity appears still, at times, to enter the path of the organisation of peace only with apprehension and hesitation.

If it is our wish that on the morrow of the cataclysm of war the sufferings of martyred countries, the sacrifices of victorious nations, and also the expiation of guilty people will engender a better humanity, justice must strike those guilty of the enterprise of barbarism from which we have just escaped. The reign of justice is the most exact expression of the great human hope. Your decision can make a decisive stage in its difficult pursuit.

Undoubtedly, even to-day, this justice and this punishment have become possible only because, as a first condition, free peoples emerged victorious from the conflict. This is actually the link between the force of the victors and the guilt of the vanquished leaders who appear before your High Tribunal.

But this link signifies nothing else but the revelation of the wisdom of nations that justice, in order to impose itself effectively and constantly upon individuals and upon nations, must have force at its disposal. The common will to put force in the service of justice inspires our nations and commands our whole civilisation.

This resolution is brilliantly confirmed to-day in a judicial case where the facts are examined scrupulously in all their aspects, the penal nature of the offence rigorously established, the competency of the Tribunal incontestable, the rights of the defence intact, and total publicity ensured.

Your verdict, pronounced under these conditions, can serve as a foundation for the moral uplift of the German people, a first stage in its integration into the community of free countries. Without your verdict, history might incur the risk of repeating itself, crime would become epic, and the National Socialist enterprise a last Wagnerian tragedy; and new Pan-Germanists would soon say to the Germans: "Hitler and his companions were wrong because they finally failed, but we must begin again some day on other foundations the extraordinary adventure of Germanism."

After your verdict, if only we know how to enlighten this people and watch over their first steps on the road to liberty, National Socialism will be inscribed permanently in their history as the crime of crimes which could lead it only to material and moral perdition, as the doctrine which they should for ever avoid with horror and scorn, in order to remain faithful, or rather become once more faithful, to the great norms of common civilisation.

The eminent international jurist and noble European, Politis, in his posthumous book entitled "International Ethics," reminds us that, like all ethical rules, those which should rule international relations will never be definitely established unless all peoples succeed in convincing themselves that there is definitely a greater profit to be gained by observing them than by transgressing them. That is why your judgement can contribute to the enlightenment of the German people and of all peoples.

Your decision must be inscribed as a decisive act in the history of International Law in order to prepare the establishment of a true international society excluding recourse to war and enlisting force permanently in the service of the justice of nations; it will be one of the foundations of this peaceful order to which nations aspire on the morrow of this frightful torment. The need for

[Page 378]

justice of the martyred peoples will be satisfied, and their sufferings will not have been useless to the progress of mankind.

TM PRESIDENT: M. de Menthon, would you prefer to continue the case on behalf of France this afternoon, or would you prefer to adjourn?

M. DE MENTHON: We are at the disposal of the Court.

THE PRESIDENT: Well then, if that is so, I think we had better go on until 5 o'clock.

M. DE MENTHON: It might be preferable to adjourn, because M. Faure's brief which is going to be presented will last at least an hour. Perhaps it is better to adjourn until to- morrow morning. However, we will remain at the disposal of the Court.

THE PRESIDENT: When you said that the proof which will now be presented would take an hour, do you mean by that that it is an introductory statement or is it a part of the main case which you are presenting?

M. DE MENTHON: Your Honour, it is part of the general case.

THE PRESIDENT: Would it not be possible, then, to go on until 5 o'clock?

M. DE MENTHON: Yes, quite so.

THE PRESIDENT: We would prefer to go on until 5 o'clock.

M. DE MENTHON: All right, agreed.

[ Previous | Index | Next ]

Home ·  Site Map ·  What's New? ·  Search Nizkor

© The Nizkor Project, 1991-2012

This site is intended for educational purposes to teach about the Holocaust and to combat hatred. Any statements or excerpts found on this site are for educational purposes only.

As part of these educational purposes, Nizkor may include on this website materials, such as excerpts from the writings of racists and antisemites. Far from approving these writings, Nizkor condemns them and provides them so that its readers can learn the nature and extent of hate and antisemitic discourse. Nizkor urges the readers of these pages to condemn racist and hate speech in all of its forms and manifestations.