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-Fourth Day: Monday, 18th March, 1946
(Part 6 of 9)

[MR. JUSTICE JACKSON continues his cross examination of HERMANN WILHELM GORING]

[Page 192]

Q. At what time did you know that the war, as regards achieving the objectives that you had in mind, was a lost war?

A. It is extremely difficult to say. At any rate, according to my conviction, relatively late - I mean, it was only towards the end that I became convinced that the war was lost. Up till then I had always thought and hoped that it would come to a stalemate.

Q. Well, in November, 1941, the offensive in Russia broke down?

A. That is not at all correct. We had reverses because of weather conditions, or rather, the goal which we had set was not reached. The push of 1942 proved well enough that there was no question of a military collapse. Some corps, which had pushed forward, were merely thrown back, and some were withdrawn. The totally unexpected early frost that set in was the cause of this.

Q. You say, "relatively late." The expression you used does not tell me anything, because I do not know what you regard as relatively late. Will you fix in terms, either of events or time, when it was that the conviction came to you that the war was lost?

A. When, after 12th January, 1945, the Russian offensive pushed forward to the Oder and at the same time the Ardennes offensive had not smashed through, it was then that I was forced to realise that defeat would probably set in slowly. Up till that time I had always hoped that, on the one side, the position at the Vistula toward the East and, on the other side, the position at the West Wall towards the West, could be held until the flow of the new mass-produced weapons brought about a slackening of the Anglo-American air war.

Q. Now, will you fix that by date; you told us when it was by events.

[Page 193]

A. I just said January, 1945, middle or end of January, 1945. After that there was no more hope.

Q. Do you want it understood that, as a military man, you did not realise until January, 1945, that Germany could not be successful in the war?

A. As I have already said, we must draw a sharp distinction between two possibilities. First, the successful conclusion of a war, and second, a war which ends by neither side being the victor. As regards a successful outcome, the moment when it was realised that that was no longer possible was much earlier, whereas the realisation of the fact that defeat would set in did not come until the time I have just mentioned.

Q. For some period before that, you knew that a successful termination of the war could only be accomplished if you could come to some kind of terms with the enemy; was that not true?

A. Of course, a successful termination of a war can only be considered successful if I either conquer the enemy or, through negotiations with the enemy, come to a conclusion which guarantees no success. That is what I call a successful termination. I call it a draw when I come to terms with the enemy. This does not bring me the success which victory would have brought but, on the other hand, it precludes defeat. This is a conclusion without victors or vanquished.

Q. But you knew that it was Hitler's policy never to negotiate and you knew that, as long as he was the head of the Government, the enemy would not negotiate with Germany, did you not?

A. I knew that enemy propaganda emphasised that under no circumstances would there be negotiations with Hitler. That Hitler did not want to negotiate under any circumstances, that I knew also, but not in this connection. Hitler would have wanted to negotiate if there had been some prospect of results; but he was absolutely opposed to hopeless and futile negotiations. Because of the declaration of the enemy in the West after the landing in Africa, as far as I remember, that under no circumstances would they negotiate with Germany but would force on her unconditional surrender, Germany's resistance was stiffened to the utmost and measures had to be taken accordingly. If I have no chance of concluding a war through negotiations, then it is useless to negotiate, and I must strain every nerve to bring about a change by a call to arms.

Q. By the time of January, 1945, you also knew that you were unable to defend the German cities against the air attacks of the Allies, did you not?

A. Concerning the defence of German cities against Allied air attacks, I should like to describe the possibility of doing this as follows: of itself ...

Q. Can you answer my question? Time may not mean quite as much to you as it does to the rest of us. Can you not answer "Yes" or "No"? Did you then know, at the same time that you knew that the war was lost, that the German cities could not successfully be defended against air attack by the enemy? Can you not tell us "Yes" or "No"?

A. I can say that I knew that, at that time, it was not possible.

Q. And after that time it was well known to you that the air attacks which were continued against England could not turn the tide of war, and were designed solely to effect a prolongation of what you then knew was a hopeless conflict?

A. I believe you are mistaken. After January, 1945, there were no more attacks on England, except perhaps a few single planes, because at that time I needed all of my petrol for the fighter planes for the defence. If I had had bombers and oil at my disposal, then, of course, I should have continued such attacks up to the last minute, as retaliation for the attacks which were being carried out on German cities, whatever our chances might have been.

Q. What about robot attacks? Were there any robot attacks after January, 1945?

[Page 194]

A. Thank God, we still had one weapon that we could use. I have just said that, as long as the fight was on, we had to hit back; and, as a soldier, I can only regret that we did not have enough of these V-1 and V-2 bombs, for an easing of the attacks on German cities could be brought about only if we could inflict equally heavy losses on the enemy.

Q. And there was no way to prevent the war going on as long as Hitler was the head of the German Government, was there?

A. As long as Hitler was the Fuehrer of the German people, he alone decided whether the war was to go on. As long as my enemy threatens me and demands absolutely unconditional surrender, I fight to my last breath, because there is nothing left for me except perhaps a chance that in some way fate may change, even though it seems hopeless.

Q. Well, the people of Germany who thought it was time that the slaughter stopped had no means to stop it except revolution or assassination of Hitler, had they?

A. A revolution always changes a situation, if it succeeds. That is a foregone conclusion. The murder of Hitler at this time, say January, 1945, would have brought about my succession. If the enemy had given me the same answer, that is, unconditional surrender, and had held out those terrible conditions which had been intimated, I would have continued fighting whatever the circumstances.

Q. There was an attack on Hitler's life on 20th July, 1944?

A. Unfortunately, yes.

Q. And there came a time in 1945 when Hitler made a will in Berlin whereby he turned over the presidency of the Reich to your co-defendant, Admiral Donitz. You know about that?

A. That is correct. I read of this will here.

Q. And in making his will and turning over the government of Germany to Admiral Donitz, I call your attention to this statement: "Goering and Himmler, quite apart from their disloyalty to my person, have done immeasurable harm to the country and the whole nation by secret negotiations with the enemy which they conducted without my knowledge and against my wishes, and by illegally attempting to seize power in the State for themselves."

And by that will he expelled you and Himmler from the Party and from all offices of the State.

A. I can only answer for myself. What Himmler did, I do not know.

I neither betrayed the Fuehrer nor did I at that time negotiate with a single foreign soldier. This will, or this final act of the Fuehrer is based on an extremely regrettable mistake, and one which grieves me deeply - that the Fuehrer could believe in his last hours that I could ever be disloyal to him. It was all due to an error in the transmission of a radio report and perhaps to a misrepresentation which Bormann gave the Fuehrer. I myself never though for a minute of taking over power illegally, or of acting against the Fuehrer in any way.

Q. In any event you were arrested and expected to be shot?

A. That is correct.

Q. Now, in tracing the rise to power of the Party, you have omitted some such things as, for example, the Reichstag fire of 27th February, 1933. There was a great purge following that fire, was there not, in which many people were arrested and many people were killed?

A. I do not know of a single case where a man was killed because of the Reichstag fire, except that of the incendiary, van der Lubbe, who was sentenced by the court. The other two defendants in this trial were acquitted. Herr Thaelmann was not, as you recently erroneously believed, accused; it was the Communist representative, Torgler. He was acquitted, as was also the Bulgarian Dimitroff. Relatively few arrests were made in connection with the Reichstag fire. The arrests which you attribute to the Reichstag fire were

[Page 195]

the arrests of Communist functionaries. These arrests, as I have repeatedly stated and wish to emphasise once more, had nothing to do with this fire. The fire merely precipitated their arrest and upset our carefully planned action, thus allowing several of the functionaries to escape.

Q. In other words, you had lists of Communists already prepared at the time of the Reichstag fire, of persons who should be arrested, did you not?

A. We had always drawn up beforehand fairly complete lists of Communist functionaries who were to be arrested. That had nothing to do with the fire in the German Reichstag.

Q. They were immediately put into execution - the arrests, I mean - after the Reichstag fire?

A. Contrary to my intention of postponing this action for a few days and letting it take place according to plan, thereby perfecting the arrangements, the Fuehrer ordered that same night that the arrests should follow immediately. This had the disadvantage, as I said, of precipitating matters.

Q. You and the Fuehrer met at the fire, did you not?

A. That is right.

Q. And then and there you decided to arrest all the Communists that you had listed?

A. I repeat again that the decision for their arrests had been reached some days before this; it simply meant that on this night they were immediately arrested. I would rather have waited a few days, according to plan; then some of the important men would not have escaped.

Q. And the next morning the decree was presented to President von Hindenburg, suspending the provisions of the Constitution which we have discussed here, was it not?

A. I believe so, yes.

Q. Who was Karl Ernst?

A. Karl Ernst - whether his first name was Karl I do not know - was the S.A. leader of Berlin.

Q. And who was Helldorf?

A. Count Helldorf was the subsequent S.A. leader of Berlin.

Q. And Heines?

A. Heines was the S.A. leader of Silesia at this time.

Q. Now, it is known to you, is it not, that Ernst made a statement confessing that these three burned the Reichstag and that you and Goebbels planned and furnished the incendiary materials, consisting of liquid phosphorus and petroleum, which were deposited by you in a subterranean passage for them to get, which passage led from your house to the Reichstag building? You knew of such a statement, did you not?

A. I do not know of any statement by the S.A. leader Ernst. But I do know of some fairy tale published shortly after in the foreign Press by Roehm's chauffeur. This was after 1934.

Q. But there was such a passage from the Reichstag building to your house, was there not?

A. On one side of the street is the Reichstag building, and opposite is the palace of the Reichstag President. The two are connected by a passage along which run the wagons carrying the coke for the central heating.

Q. And, in any event, shortly after this, Ernst was killed without a trial and without a chance to tell his story, was he not?

A. That is not correct. The Reichstag fire took place in February, 1933. Ernst was shot on 30th June, 1934, because with Roehm he had planned to overthrow the Government and had plotted against the Fuehrer. He therefore had a year and a quarter in which he could have made statements regarding the Reichstag fire, if he had wished to do so.

[Page 196]

Q. Well, he had begun to make statements, had he not, and you were generally being accused of burning the Reichstag building? You knew that did you not? That was the ...

A. That accusation that I had set fire to the Reichstag came from a certain foreign Press. That could not bother me because it was not consistent with the facts. I had no reason or motive for setting fire to the Reichstag. From the artistic point of view I did not at all regret that the assembly chamber was burned; I hoped to build a better one. But I did regret very much that I was forced to find a new meeting-place for the Reichstag and, not being able to find one, I had to give up my Kroll Opera House, that is, the second State Opera House, for that purpose. The opera seemed to me much more important than the Reichstag.

Q. Have you ever boasted of burning the Reichstag building, even by way of joking?

A. No. I made a joke, if that is the one you are referring to, when I said that, after this, I would be competing with Nero and that probably people would soon be saying that, dressed in a red toga and holding a lyre in my hand, I looked on at the fire and played while the Reichstag was burning. That was the joke. But the fact was that I almost perished in the flames, which would have been very unfortunate for the German people, but very fortunate for their enemies.

Q. You never stated then, that you burned the Reichstag?

A. No. I know that Herr Rauschning said in the book which he wrote, and which has often been referred to here, that I had discussed this with him. I saw Herr Rauschning only twice in my life and only for a short time on each occasion. If I had set fire to the Reichstag, I would presumably have let that be known only to my closest circle of confidants, if at all. I would not have told it to a man whom I did not know and whose appearance I could not describe at all to-day. That is an absolute distortion of the truth.

Q. Do you remember the luncheon of Hitler's birthday in 1942 at the Kasino, the officers' mess, at the Headquarters of the Fuehrer in East Prussia?

A. No.

Q. You do not remember that? I will ask that you be shown the affidavit of General Franz Halder, and I call your attention to his statements which may refresh your recollection. I read it:

"On the occasion of a luncheon on the Fuehrer's birthday in 1942, the people around the Fuehrer turned the conversation to the Reichstag building and its artistic value. I heard with my own ears how Goering broke into the conversation and shouted 'The only one who really knows the Reichstag is I, for I set fire to it.' And saying this he slapped his thigh."
A. This conversation did not take place and I request that I be confronted with Herr Halder. First of all I want to emphasise that what is written here is utter nonsense. It says, "The only one who really knows the Reichstag is I." The Reichstag was known to every representative in the Reichstag. The fire took place only in the general assembly room, and many hundreds or thousands of people knew this room as well as I did. A statement of this type is utter nonsense. How Herr Halder came to make that statement I do not know. Apparently that bad memory, which also let him down in military matters, is the only explanation.

Q. You know who Halder is?

A. Only too well.

[ 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.