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-Third Day: Thursday, 28th March, 1946
(Part 3 of 7)

[DR. HORN continues his direct examination of Ambassador Paul Schmidt]

[Page 136]

Q. Since when have you been employed in this capacity in the Foreign Office, and for whom did you work?

A. I have been working in the Foreign Office as interpreter since 1923, and in this capacity I interpreted for all foreign ministers, from von Stressmann to Ribbentrop, as well as for a number of German Reich Chancellors, such as Hermann Muller, Marx, Bruning, Hitler and other members and delegates who represented Germany at international conferences. In other words, I participated as interpreter in all international conferences since 1923 at which Germany was represented.

Q. Did you have the opportunity to act as interpreter during the discussion between Ribbentrop and Sir Nevile Henderson?

A. No, I did not have that opportunity as the discussion was conducted in German.

Q. Was Ambassador Henderson able to speak German fluently?

A. Ambassador Henderson's knowledge of German was fairly good, but not perfect, hence it could happen that in moments of excitement he did not quite understand certain points, as proved by an incident which occurred during the conference just mentioned, and it was not always easy for him to express himself in German, but when speaking to Germans he usually preferred to conduct these discussions in German.

Q. In the course of the conference, von Ribbentrop read out to Henderson a memorandum containing the German proposals for a settlement of the questions pending between Germany and Poland? Now I am asking you, witness, did Henderson ask you during that discussion to translate to him the contents of the memorandum Ribbentrop had read out?

A. No, he did not do that.

Q. Did you get the impression from his attitude that Sir Nevile Henderson had not fully understood the contents of the memorandum?

A. That is, of course, very hard to say. You cannot tell what goes on inside a person's mind, but I doubt whether he understood the document in all its details.

Q. Did Ribbentrop, when he read out the document to Sir Nevile Henderson, give him any explanations?

A. Yes, whilst reading out the document the Foreign Minister now and then commented to Henderson about some points which might not have been quite clear.

Q. Did Sir Nevile Henderson himself ask for such explanations?

A. No, Henderson just sat and listened to the document being read out and the comments which were made.

Q. What atmosphere prevailed during that conference?

A. The atmosphere during that conference was, I think I can say, somewhat charged with electricity. Both participants were extremely nervous. Henderson was very uneasy and never before and perhaps only once afterwards have I seen the Foreign Minister so tense as he was during that conference. An incident which occurred during the first part of the discussion can perhaps serve to illustrate the atmosphere. It was when the Foreign Minister in summing up all the points Germany had against Poland and her Government concluded with the words:

"So you see, Sir Nevile Henderson, the situation is damned serious."
When Sir Nevile Henderson heard those words "damned serious" he started up, half raised himself, and pointing a warning finger at the Foreign Minister said:
"You have just said 'damned.' That is not the language of a statesman in so serious a situation."

[Page 137]

THE PRESIDENT: To what charge in the Indictment is this relevant?

DR. HORN: To the point in the Indictment that on 30th August, 1939, von Ribbentrop read out the memorandum, the momentous memorandum, so quickly that Ambassador Sir Nevile Henderson was not able to grasp its contents, transmit it to his government, and have it forwarded to the Polish Government in order to continue negotiations between Germany and Poland. England at that time had offered her good services as intermediary between both governments. Germany on the basis ...

THE PRESIDENT: Which passage of the Indictment are you referring to? You may be right, I do not know. I only want to know which passage in the Indictment you are referring to.

DR. HORN: I am referring to the preparation, that is, to the failure to prevent aggressive war for which Ribbentrop is indicted as a co-conspirator.

THE PRESIDENT: That is on Page 9, is it not? There is nothing about the way in which this document was handed over to Sir Nevile Henderson. Presumably you have got the indictment. Where is it in the Indictment?

DR. HORN: It has been presented by the prosecution and it has also been presented in the House of Commons where Chamberlain insisted that Ribbentrop had read it out so rapidly that to grasp the contents and transmit them through diplomatic channels, which England had expressly offered to do, was impossible. Thus the defendant von Ribbentrop is directly indicted for having prevented this last chance of further negotiations with Poland. The statement of the witness will prove that the defendant von Ribbentrop cannot be charged with this.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, Dr. Horn, you made the point that it was read in that way. There is no charge about it in the Indictment at all. It may be that the prosecution referred to it in the course of the history. You have made the point surely it is not necessary to go on at length about it.

DR. HORN: In that case may I proceed?


Q. Then you had the impression that both these statesmen were extremely agitated?

A. Yes, I did have that impression.

Q. To what causes do you attribute this agitation?

A. To the tension which prevailed during the negotiations; to the numerous conferences which had taken place almost without interruption during the preceding days and which had made considerable demands upon the nervous system of all participants.

Q. Is it correct that von Ribbentrop, as Sir Nevile Henderson maintains in his book, said in the worst possible language that he would never ask the Polish Ambassador to call on him?

A. That I cannot remember. The Foreign Minister merely said that he could receive the Polish Ambassador for negotiations or discussions only if he came to him with the necessary authority.

Q. Ambassador Lipski did not have that authority?

A. He answered a question respecting this, which was put to him by the Foreign Minister with an emphatic "No." He had no authority.

Q. Thereupon, Ribbentrop declared to Sir Nevile Henderson that he could not receive the ambassador, is that right?

A. No. I have just spoken about a conference which the Foreign Minister had with the Polish Ambassador in the course of which the latter was asked whether he had authority. To this he replied "no," whereupon the Foreign Minister said that in this case there could naturally be no question of any discussion.

Q. Then von Ribbentrop did not submit the, memorandum which we mentioned previously to Sir Nevile Henderson. Had you the impression that Ribbentrop did not submit the text of the ultimatum to Ambassador Sir Nevile Henderson because he did not wish to, or because he was not allowed to do so?

[Page 138]

A. It is difficult for me to give a clear-cut answer to this question, as I was not present at the preliminary discussions which Hitler surely had with the Foreign Minister regarding that point, before the conference with the British Ambassador. I, therefore, have to rely on the impressions I got during the conference with the British Ambassador, and from these I can draw my conclusions as to the instructions Hitler may have given the Foreign Minister for this conference. In this connection I can say the following:

When Henderson requested that the document containing the German proposals be submitted to him, the Foreign Minister said:

" No, I cannot give you the document."
These are the words he used. This, of course, was a somewhat unusual procedure because, normally, Henderson had the right to expect that a document which had already been read out would be submitted to him. I myself was rather surprised at the Foreign Minister's answer and looked up because I thought I had mis-understood. I looked at the Foreign Minister and heard him say for the second time:
"I cannot give you the document."
But I saw that this matter caused him some discomfort and that he must have been aware of the rather difficult position in which he had placed himself by this answer, because an uneasy smile played on his lips when he said these words, "I cannot give you the document," in a quiet voice to Sir Nevile Henderson.

Then I looked at Henderson as I, of course, expected him to ask me to translate the document, but this request was not forthcoming. I looked at Henderson rather invitingly, since I wanted to translate the document, knowing that a quick and complete transmission of its contents was extremely important to the British Government. If I had been asked to translate I would have done so quite slowly, almost at dictation speed, in order to enable the British Ambassador in this round-about way to take down not merely the broad outline of the German proposal, but all its details and transmit them to his government. But Henderson did not react even to my unspoken invitation, and so the discussion soon came to an end and events took their course.

Q. Did you, on the morning of September 3rd, 1939, receive the British ultimatum to the German Government?

A. Yes, that is correct.

Q. To whom did you submit this ultimatum?

A. On the morning of the 3rd, at about 2 or 3 a.m. the British Embassy telephoned the Reich Chancellery, where I was still present with the Foreign Minister, in order to be available for possible conferences, and gave the information that the British Ambassador had received instructions from his government, according to which, at exactly nine o'clock, he had to make an important announcement on behalf of the British Government to the Foreign Minister. He therefore asked to be received by Ribbentrop at that time. He was given the reply that Ribbentrop himself would not be available but that a member of the Foreign Office, namely I, would be authorised to receive the British Government's announcement from the British Ambassador on his behalf. Thus it happened that, at nine o'clock in the morning, I received the British Ambassador in Ribbentrop's office. When I asked him to be seated Henderson refused and whilst still standing he read to me the well known ultimatum of the British Government, to the German Government, according to which, unless certain conditions were fulfilled by Germany, the British Government would consider themselves at war with Germany at eleven o'clock that morning.

After we had exchanged a few words of farewell, I took the document to the Reich Chancellery.

Q. To whom did you submit this document there?

A. In the Reich Chancellery I gave it to Hitler. That is to say, I found Hitler

[Page 139]

in his office in conference with the Foreign Minister and I translated the document into German for him. When I had completed my translation, there was at first silence.

Q. Was Hitler alone in the room?

A. No, as I said before, he was in his office with the Foreign Minister. And when I had completed my translation, both gentlemen were absolutely silent for about a minute. I could clearly see that this development did not please them at all. For a while Hitler sat in his chair deep in thought and stared somewhat worriedly into space. Then he broke the silence with a rather abrupt question to the Foreign Minister, saying "What are we going to do now?" Thereupon they began to discuss the next diplomatic steps to be taken. Whether this or that ambassador should be called, etc. I, of course, left the room, since I had nothing more to do. When I entered the ante-room, I found assembled there, or rather I had already seen on my way in, some members of the cabinet and higher officials. To their questioning looks - they knew I had seen the British Ambassador - I had only said that there would be no second Munich. When I came out again, I saw by their anxious faces that my remark had been correctly interpreted. When I then told them that I had just handed a British ultimatum to Hitler, a heavy silence fell on the room. The faces suddenly grew rather serious. I still remember that Goering, for instance, who was standing in front of me, turned round and said, "If we lose this war, then God help us." Goebbels was standing in a corner by himself and had a very serious, not to say depressed, expression. This depressing atmosphere prevailed over all those present, and it naturally lives in my memory as being something most remarkable, for the first day of the war, in the ante-room of the Chancellery.

Q. So you did not have the impression, then, that these men expected a declaration of war?

A. No, I did not have that impression.

Q. Witness, were you in a position to observe how Ribbentrop reacted to the news of Japan's attack on Pearl Harbour?

A. I had no direct opportunity, but in the Foreign Office it was generally known that the news of Pearl Harbour took the Foreign Minister, as indeed the whole Foreign Office, completely by surprise. This impression was confirmed by what a member of the Press department told me. The Press department had a listening station, and the officer on duty had instructions to inform the Foreign Minister personally of important news at once. When the first news of Pearl Harbour was received by the listening station of the Press department, the officer on duty considered it of sufficient importance to report it to his chief, that is to say, the head of the Press department, who in turn was to pass it on to the Foreign Minister. He was, however, so I was told, rather harshly rebuffed by the Foreign Minister who said it must be an invention of the Press or a hoax, and he did not wish our Press department to disturb him with such stories. After that, a second and third message about Pearl Harbour was received. I think a Reuter report had also been received by the listening station, and the head of the Press department then again plucked up courage and, in spite of the order not to disturb the Foreign Minister, he once more gave him this news.

THE PRESIDENT: This evidence seems to be utterly uninteresting and irrelevant to the Tribunal.

DR. HORN: Von Ribbentrop is accused also of having prepared aggressive war against the United States of America.

THE PRESIDENT: What you were telling was the reactions of the Press. What have we got to do with the reactions of the Press?

DR. HORN: The witness described Ribbentrop's reaction to the attack on Pearl Harbour, Ribbentrop did not know that the Japanese were about to attack Pearl Harbour or America at all. Neither was there such an agreement between Japan and Germany. It is therefore not correct that Ribbentrop prepared an aggressive war against the U.S.A.

[Page 140]

THE PRESIDENT: You were talking about the Press. I am not saying that you ought not to ask the witness whether the Foreign Minister knew nothing about the attack upon Pearl Harbour. That was not what I said. What I said was that the Tribunal was not interested and thought it was irrelevant for you to go into the reactions of the Press.


Q. Witness, you were present in England at the negotiations regarding the Naval Agreement. Can you tell us how those negotiations proceeded and whether Ribbentrop was sincere and what his aims were in this connection?

A. These negotiations, at which I was also present as interpreter, went perfectly smoothly after some difficulties had been overcome. The aims which the Foreign Minister -

SIR DAVID MAXWELL FYFE: My Lord, as I understand it, this is the Naval Agreement of 1935. In my recollection - I am just trying to check it - that was one of the matters which we discussed on the application for witnesses and the Tribunal ruled against going into the negotiations, antecedent to the conclusion of that treaty. It came up on application for witnesses. One or two witnesses were asked for, who were going to give the negotiations and, I think, to deal with this exact point which Dr. Horn put in his last question, namely, the state of mind of the defendant Ribbentrop. I found one or two - there is Lord Monsell, for example, who was on the list of witnesses - who were denied by the Tribunal, and a number of German ones were denied on the same point. My Lord, it is in the Tribunal's statement of 26th February, and you will see on Page 2, I think, certainly the witness Monsell, who happens to be the one most familiar to myself, but I am sure there were other witnesses, too. I know that we discussed this point quite fully on the application for witnesses.

THE PRESIDENT: Who were the others, Sir David?

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