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

The Trial of German Major War Criminals

Sitting at Nuremberg, Germany
23rd March to 3rd April, 1946

Ninety-First Day: Tuesday, 26th March, 1946
(Part 6 of 7)

[Page 78]

ADOLF VON STEENGRACHT, a witness, took the stand and testified as follows:


Q. Will you state your name, please?

A. Adolf von Steengracht.

Q. Will you repeat this oath after me:

I swear by God the Almighty and Omniscient that I will speak the pure truth, and will withhold and add nothing.

(The witness repeated the oath.)

THE PRESIDENT: You may sit down if you wish.



Q. What was your last position in the Foreign Office?

A. From May, 1943, I was State Secretary of the Foreign Office.

[Page 79]

Q. What were your activities?

A. In order to present my activities in a comprehensible way, I must make the following prefatory remarks:

From the beginning of the war, the Foreign Minister had his office in the neighbourhood of Hitler's Headquarters; that is to say, in most instances several hundred kilometres distant from Berlin.

Here he carried on his business with a limited circle of people. The Foreign Office in Berlin had tasks of a routine and administrative nature. But above all, his duty also was the execution of the regular business with foreign diplomats.

Within the sphere of this field of activity, I bear the responsibility, as Secretary of State, from May, 1943. The formation of foreign political opinions, decisions and instructions, in contrast, originated in the headquarters, mostly without any subsequent participation, sometimes also without any subsequent concurrence, on the part of the Foreign Office.

Q. Who determined the basic lines of the foreign policy?

A. The foreign policy, not only in its basic lines, but also usually down to the most minute details, was determined by Hitler himself. Ribbentrop frequently stated that the Fuehrer needed no Foreign Minister, he simply wanted a foreign political secretary. Ribbentrop, in my opinion, would also have been agreeable to this because then, at least, he might have eliminated a part of the direct destructive influences on Hitler's foreign policy. Perhaps he would then have also had influence on Hitler's speeches, which Hitler was accustomed to prepare without Ribbentrop, even in the foreign political field.

Q. Were there other offices or personalities, in addition to the Foreign Office, that concerned themselves with foreign, policy?

A. Yes, there was practically no office in the Party or its organisations that after 1933 had no foreign political ambitions. Every one of these offices had a sort of foreign bureau with which it took up connections with foreign countries and in this way sought for itself its own foreign political channels.

I should judge the number of these to be approximately thirty. For example, the Hitler Jugend, the S.A., the German Labour Front, the S.S., Rosenberg's office, the Propaganda Ministry, the office of Prince Waldeck, Ribbentrop's office, the Nordic Society; further the V.G.A., the German Academy, the Reich transportation office (Reichsbahn) and others. Together with these offices must be included also the immediate entourage of Hitler and personalities like Himmler, Goebbels and Bormann, who had an influence in the formation of foreign policy. Goering, too, as I see it, had perhaps a certain influence, but only until 1938, at any rate, in matters of foreign politics; scarcely later than that.

Q. Did Ribbentrop make efforts to prevent such influences or to exclude them?

A. From my own observation, I can only give the following judgement: Almost every one of those persons who had never before been in foreign countries and who in peace time, as an occasional traveller for the Third Reich, and after the occupation of a foreign country, had eaten a good breakfast in the capital of this or that foreign country, considered himself an unrivalled expert on the country. They all had a predilection for bringing their enlightenment and discernments to Hitler. Unfortunately the further they were from actual conditions, the more they stood at variance with political requirements and necessities, and, unfortunately above all, the more so-called strength they showed and the more they stood in contradiction to the elementary feelings of humanity, the more they pleased Hitler. For Hitler regarded such statements and representations as sound judgement, and they had sometimes an irreparable effect and formed in Hitler's mind, together with his so-called intuition, the start of some fundamental idea. To the possible objection that it should have been easy for an expert to criticise such an opinion or view, I should like to point out the following: As

[Page 80]

long as the later German Ambassador in Paris was still a teacher of painting, Hitler read his reports with interest; but when he became the official representative of the Reich, his reports were mostly thrown unread into the waste-paper basket. Himmler's reports, the designing observations of Goebbels, and Bormann's influence played, on the other hand, a decisive role, as did reports from agents which could not be checked and which carried more weight than the opinions of experts on the countries.

Q. Was the Foreign Office responsible for relations with all foreign countries?

A. I should like to remark further here that I have not yet answered the second part of your question, namely, regarding the elimination of these influences.

With Hitler's methods of work, these so-called counter- influences simply could not be excluded. Against this organised disorganisation Ribbentrop waged an unmitigating, bitter war, and that against almost all German offices. I should like to state further that at least sixty per cent. of his time was devoted to these things alone.

Q. Was the Foreign Office responsible for the relations with all foreign countries?

A. In peace, yes.

Q. Did the position of the Foreign Office change with the outbreak of war?

A. Yes. In point of fact, the Foreign Office lost its responsibility toward the country concerned at that moment when the first German bayonet crossed the border.

The exclusive right to maintain direct relations with foreign governments was eliminated in all occupied territories, in most instances even the right to have a representative of the Foreign Office, whose post was for observation only, was refused. This is particularly true for the Eastern territories and for Norway.

Where Ribbentrop made the effort to maintain, in spite of the occupation, the independence of a country in a certain respect, as, for example, in Norway, this policy was termed weak, traitorous, stupid, and those responsible had to stop this work at once, on Hitler's orders, and disappeared from the Foreign Office.

In general, the changed position of the Foreign Office during the war is best characterised by Hitler's statement: "The Foreign Office shall, so far as possible, disappear from the picture until the end of the war." Hitler wanted to limit the Foreign Office to 20 to 40 people, and it was even partially forbidden to form or to maintain any connection with the Foreign Office.

The Foreign Office, as such, and its officials were detested by Hitler. He considered them objective jurists, defeatists and cosmopolitans, to whom a matter can be given only if it is not to be carried out.

Q. Was there any foreign policy, in a traditional sense, in Germany?

A. No; at least, I never noticed anything of it, for Hitler had in effect made the statement: "Diplomacy is treason. Treaties are childish; they are to be used only as long as they seem useful to the respective partners." That was Hitler's opinion of all diplomats in the world.

Q. Did the Foreign Office have any influence in the Eastern territories and the territories that were under civilian administration?

A. I have already touched on this question. I have already said that in the territories in which there was a military government or a civilian administration, a representative of the Foreign Office - if he was tolerated at all - was tolerated only as an observation post, and at any rate had no functions; that was the rule.

I think it would be going too far on my part if I went through the condition in every country. The situations varied.

Q. Do you consider Ribbentrop a typical National Socialist or not?

A. Ribbentrop was, in his whole attitude, no typical exponent of National Socialism. He knew extraordinarily little of the dogma and doctrines of National

[Page 81]

Socialism. He felt himself only personally bound to Hitler, whom he followed with soldierly obedience, and he seemed to be hypnotised by Hitler to a large extent. However, I cannot characterise him as a typical exponent of National Socialism.

Q. Was Hitler a man who was accessible to suggestions and objections?

A. In the first years after 1933 he is said still to have been; but he shut himself off more and more, during the course of years, from expert objections and suggestions. From the time that I became Secretary of State, I saw him only twice on official occasions. I can thus speak only on the success or lack of success of our work. In the course of my activities, covering almost two years, I can now recall almost no case in which he agreed to one of our suggestions. On the contrary, it was always to be feared that through some objection of a personal nature he would be led to take forceful action in an opposite direction. The basic trait of his character was probably lack of confidence, and this bore unprecedented fruit. Thus, experts and decent people who tried to influence Hitler to their way of thinking were engaged, in my opinion, in an altogether vain task. On the other hand, irresponsible people who incited him to take violent measures or to voice his suspicions, unfortunately found him extremely accessible. These men were then termed "strong," whereas the behaviour of anyone who was even half- way towards normal was called "weak" or "defeatist"; through a sensible opinion voiced only once, the influence of that man could be forever destroyed.

Q. What conclusions did Hitler draw from contradictory viewpoints in respect to the contradicting persons?

A. I cannot answer that question in general terms. I have already adumbrated it in my previous answers. First of all the reaction depended very much, in my opinion, on the mood of the dictator at the time. It was also a matter of importance as to who contradicted and how much strength or weakness he had already shown or seemed to have shown. But what the atmosphere was can perhaps be demonstrated by the following case shortly after the death of President Roosevelt, as told by Ribbentrop's liaison officer with Hitler, a man named Hebel. He said: "Today I almost met my doom. Goebbels came from the Fuehrer, and reported on Germany's prospects, as far as they were affected by Roosevelt's death, as seen by the Fuehrer, and he drew up a very hopeful picture of the future. I, Hebel, was of the opinion that such a view was not justified and remarked as much, cautiously to Goebbels. Goebbels fell into a rage, called me a man who demoralised everyone, who trampled on the happy moods and hopes of every decent person. I was forced," Hebel reports, "to make a special trip to see Goebbels and to ask him to keep the matter to himself. For if he had informed the Fuehrer of my attitude, Hitler would have merely pressed a button, and called Rattenhuber, the Chief of his Security Service, and had me taken away and shot."

Q. How do you explain the fact that so many people remained in Hitler's circle, although they could not agree with him on basic matters?

A. It is true that many people remained in their positions although at heart they disapproved of Hitler's methods of government and, indeed, were inimical to those methods. There are various reasons for this.

First, it must be said that the N.S.D.A.P. had come into power according to the rules of parliamentary procedure as being the strongest party in the Reichstag. The officials employed had no reason at all to retire from service on account of the change of government. In consequence of the change to a dictator government and the completely different concept of the State which the change of government involved, the individual suddenly found that he was no longer allowed to have any opinion of his own concerning this government. The notorious reign of terror began. Everywhere, in the Ministries and Chancelleries, in private dwellings and in restaurants there were spies who, out of fanaticism or for pay, were willing to report everything they heard. Nevertheless, many would deliberately have risked the gravest consequences if their withdrawal could have helped. But it became obvious that such persons merely sacrificed themselves and their families unavail-

[Page 82]

ingly, because cases of the kind were withheld from publicity and therefore had no effect. Worst of all was the fact that the appointment vacated was filled by an especially radical man. Many people realised this; and remained at their posts in order to prevent the development that I have just described. The great number of acts of cruelty committed or ordered by Hitler or Himmler, led many foreigners to the conclusion that the German people in its entirety shares the responsibility for these crimes, or has, at least, had knowledge of them. This is not the case. The majority of people even in high government positions did not learn details of these matters - or the extent to which they were carried on - until the war was over. Perhaps the key to this is found in the speech which Himmler delivered in Posen on 3rd October, 1943, to his Gruppenfuehrers and which I learned of for the first time here. This speech directed that his special assignments, that means, the actions against the Jews and the concentration camps, were to be kept just as secret as the events of 30th June, 1934 had been - of which the German people had only just learned the authentic story.

Guilt for all these occurrences rests only on a relatively small group, to be appraised at a few thousand people. It is these who carried out this unparalleled terror against the German people. But those who thought differently are chiefly to be thanked for the fact that, for example, the Geneva Convention was not renounced, that tens or even hundreds of thousands of English or American airmen and prisoners were not shot. Unfortunate prisoners and those seriously wounded were returned during the war to their families in their home countries; Greece in its dire need received food, guarantees were kept as far as possible in Belgium and France, and militarily senseless destruction ordered in foreign countries and in the home country could be in part prevented or at least lessened; indeed the principles of human justice, in some places at least, remained alive. These circles were encouraged in their attitude by the fact that no foreign power had used the conditions in Germany as a reason for breaking off diplomatic relations, but that almost all, until the outbreak of war, negotiated with National Socialism, concluded treaties and even had their diplomatic representatives at the National Socialist Party days at Nuremberg. It was particularly noted that National Socialist Germany, outwardly at any rate, received much more consideration, understanding and respect, from foreign countries than had the Weimar Republic despite all its fidelity to treaties or points of law. Then the war came, and with it a special official duty for civil servants, officers and every individual German. Should, and if so when and how, could these people who still felt themselves to be the servants of their nation, leave their posts under these circumstances? Would they, above all by taking such a step, be useful to their country and to humanity? Would they have frightened Hitler or even been a cautioning factor for him?

[ 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.