The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)
Nuremberg, war crimes, crimes against humanity

The Trial of German Major War Criminals

Sitting at Nuremberg, Germany
12th March to 22nd March, 1946

Eighty-Second Day: Friday, 15th March, 1946
(Part 1 of 7)

[Page 118]



Q. What reasons were decisive for the invasion of Holland and Belgium?

A. This question must first be examined from the purely military and strategic point of view. It had been considered whether the neutrality of both countries would be absolutely guaranteed.

THE PRESIDENT: There is some difficulty with the equipment. The Tribunal will adjourn.


Q. Would you please continue.

A. I repeat. At first, we had to determine whether the neutrality of Holland and Belgium would, under all circumstances, be assured in case of a conflict and a fight in the West. In the beginning, it seemed as if it would. Then information came that not only between Belgium and France, but also between Holland and England, negotiations had taken place. There was an incident at Venlo, where a Dutch officer of the General Staff had been caught on German territory, and I believe another one was shot by the frontier post during this occurrence, which gave a new insight into the possibility that this neutrality could not be maintained under conditions of more severe pressure from the enemy side.

Now if neutrality was not assured under all circumstances, there arose a tremendous danger for the battle, in that the right flank was menaced and exposed. The purely military officers who were only concerned with the strategic point of view, when being asked for their opinion, had to give it from a purely military angle - that is, to point out that, of course, by occupying both countries - the purely military and strategic situation would be different than it would be if this were not done, and such an occupation were undertaken by the enemy.

An additional element which made it necessary to doubt the absolute neutrality of these countries was the fact that nearly all flights from Great Britain into Germany which took place at that time went over Dutch or Belgian territory. Reliable information reached us that the Belgian Army, which at the beginning of the war had been reinforced on its South-western frontier, was being regrouped and drawn up along the German border with all its fighting forces.

Further information indicated that an exchange of views between the French and Belgian General Staff had taken place, and that under pressure from the French General Staff Belgium had promised to participate with full force in the construction of the fortification line of the Maas against Germany.

Other information indicated that the Chief of the French General Staff, Gamelin, as well as Admiral Darlan and the Chief of the Air Force, Vuillemin, insisted on the occupation of Belgium under all circumstances for the security of France, and that considerable negotiations were taking place on this subject between the French and British Governments. The information at the time was highly reliable. How correct and absolutely clear it was became evident

[Page 119]

later when, after marching into France, we found the secret documents of the French General Staff and also minutes of conferences which had taken place between the French and British Governments in the so-called Supreme Military Council.

It was the opinion of the Fuehrer that the inability of these countries to maintain their neutrality in the face of increased Franco-British pressure would in consequence expose the Ruhr area, which was particularly vital to us, to extreme danger. How justified this opinion was can also be seen from reports in which the British Chief of Government suggested and had also fully explained to the experts in the War Council how best the Ruhr Valley could be attacked by low-flying British aircraft, which would approach over Belgium and then, at the last moment, in a short flight from Belgium, could attack the Ruhr Valley and destroy the most important industries there.

If that was not carried out at first, it was due to the concern of the French Prime Minister that he, on his part, was worried about French industry and wanted to leave it to the other side to make the first attacks against industrial areas. England insisted, however, at all times that she be able to carry out this attack on the Ruhr Valley via Belgium.

If one takes into consideration how short the flying distance is from the Belgian border to the most important industries of the Ruhr Valley, only a few minutes, then one has to recognise the entire danger which would arise if the neutrality of Belgium were not respected by our enemies; then, on the other hand, if it were respected, an attack by the British Air Force on the Ruhr Valley would have necessitated a relatively long flight over the German Bucht from the North which, at that time, would have easily made it possible for us to avoid and to repel such an attack.

However, if this came over Belgium it was almost impossible.

Therefore, in this serious struggle it was necessary, in the first place, to think of our own interests in the fight and in our existence and not to leave the advantage to the enemy. But at the moment when one was sincerely convinced of the danger threatening our people and particularly our Armed Forces, to prevent this, in advance, and to assure ourselves of those advantages which the adversary had expected for himself.

Q. For what reason were officers interned in France, even after the war was over?

A. First I would like to correct an expression in regard to this question. In France the war as such was by no means terminated. An armistice had been concluded. This armistice was a very generous one. Even the preamble of this armistice expressed a tendency of coming conciliation, contrary to that armistice which had been signed in 1918 on the same spot.

When, at that time, Marshal Petain asked for an armistice, the first answer he received was also that capitulation would have to be an unconditional one. Later, however, we gave him to understand that quite a number of wishes concerning the fleet, certain parts of the unoccupied territory, the respecting of colonies - that these wishes would be further considered. The situation was such that Germany, at that moment, could have insisted on an absolutely unconditional surrender, since no French forces of any consequence, nor any help that might have come from England, were available in order to avoid a complete military catastrophe in France.

No line, no French formation, could have avoided the penetration by German troops all the way to the Mediterranean. No reserves were available in England. All the replacements were in the expeditionary force which had been beaten in the Belgian and Northern French area and finally at Dunkirk.

In this armistice those conditions were respected which had been mentioned as wishes. The Fuehrer also, apart from that, had touched on a certain generous solution in regard to the question of captured officers. When, contrary to a

[Page 120]

far-reaching satisfaction which we had hoped for, and which we really got at the beginning, the Resistance movement within France began to develop gradually by means of propaganda from across the Channel, and the establishment there of a new centre of resistance under General de Gaulle, then it was perfectly understandable, from my point of view, that French officers would offer their services as patriots. But at the same time it was just as natural for Germany, recognising this danger and in trying to master it, again to take as prisoners of war those elements who would be the leaders and experts in such military resistance movements - that is to say, all those officers who were still moving freely in France. That was a necessary basic condition in order to avoid the danger of a war at our back and of a renewed flaring up in France. I believe that it is quite unique that, while war was still raging on all fronts, one permitted the officers of a country with whom one has only an armistice to move around freely at a time while war is at its height. As far as I know, that happened for the first time in the history of warfare.

Q. Can you give us specific facts to explain why the struggle in France, which was apparently carried out in a mutually honourable manner in 1940, later took on such considerable dimensions?

A. One must consider the two phases of the war with France completely separately. The first phase was the great military dispute, that is to say, the attack of the German Forces against the French Army. This struggle was executed quickly. One cannot say that it was a chivalrous fight throughout because from that period we know of several acts, on the part of the French, against our prisoners, which were recorded in the White Book and later presented to the International Red Cross in Geneva. But all in all, it kept within the usual bounds of a military fight, with the excesses that always occur here and there in such a struggle.

After that had been terminated, appeasement and quiet set in for the time being. Only later, when the struggle continued and expanded, especially when the fight against Russia was added, and as I said before, when on the opposite side a new French centre of leadership had been created, then in the countries of the West which had been quiet until then, and where no serious incidents had taken place, a definite intensification of the Resistance movement became evident. Attacks on German officers and soldiers; hand grenades and bombs were thrown into restaurants where German officers or soldiers were present. Bombs were even thrown in places where there were women, members of the Women's Auxiliary Signal Service and Red Cross nurses. Cars were attacked, communications cut, trains blown up, and this in increasing measure.

A war behind the front during a period of land warfare represented difficulty enough, but when aerial warfare was added, entirely new possibilities and methods were developed. Night after night a large number of planes came and dropped a tremendous quantity of explosives and arms, instructions, etc., for this Resistance movement, in order to strengthen and enlarge it. The German Counter- Intelligence was quite successful, by means of aerial deception and code keys thrown down by enemy planes, in getting into their hands a large part of these materials; but a sufficient amount was left which fell into the hands of the Resistance movement. The atrocities which had been committed in this connection were also of large extent. As to this, documents can be submitted. Of course -

MR. JUSTICE JACKSON: If the Tribunal please, I am very reluctant to interrupt this examination, but I should like to ask if the Tribunal will avail itself of the Charter provision to require from counsel a statement as to how this is relevant to the charges which we are engaged in trying.

It raises a rather large and important question, and that question is this, as I see it: It raises a question which involves a great deal of time, if time is an important element in this proceeding.

[Page 121]

For the purposes of this statement, I may admit that there were actions taken by Partisan groups within occupied territories which were very annoying and very objectionable and very injurious to the would-be conqueror. If it is sought to introduce testimony as to - what Partisans did toward the German occupying forces, on the theory of reprisal, then I respectfully submit that counsel is proceeding in reverse order, that is to say, if the defence says, "Yes, we did commit certain atrocities; we did violate International Law," then it may be that the motive - I shall argue that it is not is relevant under The Hague Convention, but then at least we might have that question presented.

But unless this evidence is offered on the theory that reprisals would be justified, it has no place, I submit, in the case. If it is offered on the basis of establishing a theory of reprisal, our first inquiry is, what is it that reprisals were for? In other words, the doctrine of reprisal can only be invoked when you first admit that you committed certain definite acts in violation of International Law. Then your question is whether you were justified. I submit that it might shorten and certainly would clarify this proceeding if counsel will definitely state as to what acts on the part of the German occupying force he is directing this testimony, as I suppose, to excuse it, and that, unless there is some theory of reprisal pointed out with sufficient definiteness, so that we may identify the violations on Germany's part for which she is seeking excuse by way of reprisal, this testimony is not helpful in deciding the ultimate question.

The question here is not whether the occupying countries resisted. Of course they resisted. The question is whether acts of the character we have shown can be excused by way of reprisal and, if so, there must be an admission of those acts, and the doctrine of reprisal must be set forth, it seems to me, much more specifically.

THE PRESIDENT: Yes, Dr. Stahmer.

DR. STAHMER: I have not been able to get all of the statement, because the translation did not quite keep up with it, but I believe that for the following reasons what we have discussed up to now is relevant:

The defendants are accused of the fact that hostages were taken in large numbers and shot and it is maintained that this was not justified; at any rate, the motives which led to the taking of hostages have not, up to now, been discussed, at least not sufficiently. To clarify this question, which is so important for the decisions in this trial, it is in my opinion absolutely necessary to make it clear that these decrees concerning the arrest and the treatment of hostages were called for by the attitude of the Resistance movements. Therefore, in my opinion it could be said with justification that the actions of the Resistance movement were the cause for the measures which had to be taken later by the German military authorities, much to their regret.

MR. JUSTICE JACKSON: May I say one word in answer to Dr. Stahmer's offer, if it be an offer?

The suggestion of Dr. Stahmer that the motives here are to be tried seems to me to lead us very far afield. If he is invoking the International Law doctrine of reprisal, then he has to meet the conditions of that doctrine. Article 2 of the Geneva Convention of 27th July, 1929, provides specifically that measures of reprisal against prisoners of war are prohibited. He therefore must relate it to some one other than prisoners of war. Under the doctrine of reprisal, as we understand it, any act which is claimed to be justified as a reprisal must be related to a specific and continuing violation of International Law on the other side. That is, it is not every casual and incidental violation which justifies wholesale reprisals. If it were, then International Law would have no foundation, for a breach on one side, however unimportant, would completely absolve the other from any rules of warfare.

Secondly, anything which is claimed to be justified as a reprisal must follow within a reasonable time and it must be related reasonably to the offence which

[Page 122]

it is sought to prevent. That is, you cannot by way of reprisal engage in wholesale slaughters because of a single murder. Next, it must be shown as to the reprisals that a protest was made, as a basis for invoking reprisals. You cannot engage in reprisals without notice. The reprisal must be notified and there must be notification by a responsible party of the Government.

And next, and most important, a deliberate course of violation of International Law cannot be shielded as a reprisal. Specific acts must be reprisals for specific acts under the conditions I have pointed out. You cannot vindicate a reign of terror under the doctrine of reprisals; and so I respectfully submit that the offer of Dr. Stahmer to inquire into the motive of Goering individually or of all defendants collectively or of Germany does not meet any legal test. It might be pointed out to the Tribunal by way of mitigation of sentence after conviction, but is not a proper consideration on the question of guilt or innocence of the charges which we have brought to the Bar.

THE PRESIDENT: Mr. Justice Jackson, I understood you to agree that this sort of evidence might be relevant in mitigation of sentence?

MR. JUSTICE JACKSON: I think if your Honours find the defendants guilty, then it comes to the question of sentence, as in our practice. You might find almost anything that a defendant saw fit to urge relevant to the sentence, but I do not take it that Dr. Stahmer is now dealing with the question of matters relevant to that subject. If it is, I should consent that any plea for leniency be heard, of course. It is offered, as I understand it, on the question of guilt.

THE PRESIDENT: That may be so, but the Tribunal may consider it more convenient to hear the evidence now. The Charter, as far as I see, has not provided for any evidence to be given after conviction, if a defendant is convicted. Therefore any evidence which would have to be given in mitigation should be given now.

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