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-Fourth Day: Friday, 29th March, 1946
(Part 5 of 7)

[DR. HORN continues his direct examination of JOACHIM VON RIBBENTROP]

[Page 175]

Q. What did the European situation look like to you at the time of the occupation of the remaining parts of Czechoslovakia?

A. I might say that after the proclamation at Prague I had a lengthy discussion with the Fuehrer. I pointed out to him that this occupation, of course, would have considerable repercussions in the British-French camp. In this connection I should like to point out that in England those circles which had turned against Germany had grown larger, and were led by important persons. In this connection I should like to come back to or mention briefly one incident which took place while I was still Ambassador in London, when Mr. Winston Churchill paid me a visit at the Embassy. Mr. Winston Churchill was not in the government at that time, and I believe he was not leader of the opposition - but he was one of the most outstanding personalities in England. I was especially interested in arranging a meeting between him and Adolf Hitler, and therefore had asked him to come to see me at the embassy. We had a conversation which lasted many hours and the details of which I recall exactly. I believe it would go too far to relate all the details of this conversation. But whereas important men like Lord Vansittart in 1936 ...

THE PRESIDENT: Documents with reference to Mr. Winston Churchill at this time when he was not a member of the government have already been ruled by the Tribunal to be irrelevant and what he said and such a conversation as this, appears to the Tribunal to be absolutely irrelevant and the Tribunal will not hear it.

A. (continued). I have already said that I called the Fuehrer's attention to the British reaction. Adolf Hitler explained to me the necessity of the occupation of Bohemia and Moravia, especially on historic and strategic grounds. I remember that in this connection he quoted especially the former French Minister of Aviation, Pierre Cot, who had called Bohemia and Moravia, i.e. Czechoslovakia, the aeroplane

[Page 176]

carrier against Germany. I believe it was Reich Marshal Goering who mentioned that at that time we received intelligence reports of Russian pilots or Russian missions being on Czech aerodromes. Hitler said, and I remember these words distinctly, that he could not tolerate an inimical Czech thorn in the German flesh. One could get along well enough with the Czechs, but it was necessary for Germany to have in her hands the protection of these countries. He mentioned Soviet Russia, allied with Czechoslovakia, as a factor of inestimable power. When I mentioned England and her reaction he said that England was in no position to take over the protection of the Germans in Czechoslovakia. Furthermore, the structure of the Czechoslovakian State had disintegrated and Slovakia had become independent. Therefore he thought it was necessary in the interest of future German- English relations that the countries of Bohemia and Moravia should come into a close contact with the Reich. A protectorate seemed to him to be the right answer to this problem. Adolf Hitler also said this question was utterly unimportant to England, but absolutely vital for Germany. This becomes evident if one glances at the map - and he used these words. Besides, he said, he was unable to see how this solution could disturb the co-operation between Germany and England which was being striven for. Hitler pointed out that England - by chance I still remember the figure - had about 600 dominions, protectorates and colonies and therefore should understand that such problems have to be solved.

I told Adolf Hitler about the difficulties which might confront Mr. Chamberlain personally because of this action on the part of Germany, that England might consider this an increase of Germany's power; but the Fuehrer explained the whole question with the reasons I have mentioned before.

The English reaction at first, in the person of Mr. Chamberlain in the House of Commons, was rather a positive one. He said it was not a violation of the Munich Agreement and the British Government was not bound by any obligation. The Czechoslovakian State had disintegrated and the guarantee which England had said she would give had not come into effect, or rather the obligations of the guarantee did not apply under the circumstances.

I might say that all of us were glad that this attitude was taken in England. I believe it was two or three days later when Mr. Chamberlain in Birmingham ...

THE PRESIDENT (interposing): Dr. Horn, what have we got to do with the reactions in England unless they took the form of a note? I do not see what it has to do with it. What we want to know is the part that the defendant Ribbentrop played in the breach of the Munich Agreement.

DR. HORN: The defendant von Ribbentrop is accused of having participated in a conspiracy when he was Foreign Minister, and it is charged that his foreign policy contributed to the bringing about of aggressive war. If the defendant von Ribbentrop wishes and is allowed to defend himself against these charges then he must be permitted to describe the circumstances as he saw them and the motives behind his actions. I am putting only such questions to the defendant in this case as have reference to his forming certain opinions.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I did not think you asked him any question about it. He was just ...

DR. HORN: It is not coming through quite audibly.

THE PRESIDENT: What I said was, I did not think you asked him any questions as to the reactions in England.

THE INTERPRETER: The circuits seem to be disturbed in some way. I think he is getting more than one language.

THE PRESIDENT: The Tribunal had better adjourn, I think.

(A recess was taken.)

THE PRESIDENT: Dr. Horn, what I was attempting to say to you when the system broke down was that it seems to the Tribunal that the defendant ought to be able to keep his evidence within stricter limits and not to go into so much detail,

[Page 177]

and that, with regard to the reactions - the political reactions - in England, they are not relevant in themselves, and that the bearing which they may have upon the case is really remote.


Q. What persuaded Hitler to commission you, in October of 1938, to enter into negotiations with Poland?

A. There had always been the minority problem in Poland, which had caused great difficulties. Despite the agreement of 1934, this situation had not changed. In the year 1938 the "de-Germanisation" measures against German minorities were continued by Poland. Hitler wished to reach some clear settlement with Poland, as well as with other countries. Consequently he told me, I believe during October, 1938, to discuss with the Polish ambassador, a final clarification of the problems existing between Germany and Poland.

Q. Besides the minority problem, what other problems were involved?

A. There were two questions: one, the minority problem, was the most burning one; the second problem was the question of Danzig and the Corridor, that is to say, of a connection with East Prussia.

Q. What was Hitler's and your attitude toward the Danzig and Corridor questions?

[JOACHIM VON RIBBENTROP] A. It is clear that these two questions were the problems that had caused the greatest difficulties since Versailles. Hitler had to solve these problems sooner or later one way or another. I shared this point of view. Danzig was exposed to continual pressure by the Poles; they wanted to Polonise Danzig more and more, and by October of 1938 from 800,000 to 1,000,000 Germans, I believe, had been expelled from the Corridor or had returned to Germany.

Q. How did the Polish Ambassador take your suggestions in October, 1938?

A. The Polish ambassador was reticent at first. He did not commit himself, nor could he do so. Also, I approached him with the problem in such a way that he could discuss it at ease with his government, and I did not request, so to speak, a definitive answer from him. He said that naturally he saw certain difficulties with reference to Danzig, and also an alliance with East Prussia was a question which required much consideration. He was very reticent, and the discussion ended with his promise to communicate my statements, made on behalf of the German Government, to his government, and to give me an answer in the near future.

Q. How did your second discussion with Ambassador Lipski on the 17th of November, 1938, end?

A. On the 17th of November, 1938, Lipski came to see me and declared that the problem involved considerable difficulties and that the Danzig question in particular was very difficult in view of Poland's entire attitude.

Q. Did you then, on Hitler's order, transmit the request to Lipski to take up direct negotiations with Foreign Minister Beck?

A. I invited Foreign Minister Beck to Berlin.

Q. When did Foreign Minister Beck come to Berlin?

A. Unfortunately, Beck did not come to Berlin; he went to London.

Q. You misunderstood my question. When did Foreign Minister Beck come to Berchtesgaden?

A. Hitler had said that he wanted to speak with M. Beck personally about this problem. Thereupon M. Beck came - I do not know the date exactly ...

Q. (interrupting): It was the beginning of January, on 5th January.

A. (continuing) . . . to Berchtesgaden and had a long talk with Adolf Hitler.

Q. What was the result of this talk?

A. I was present at that conversation. The result was that Hitler informed Beck once more in detail of his desire for good German-Polish relations. He said that a completely new solution would have to be found in regard to Danzig, and that an alliance with East Prussia should not give rise to insurmountable difficulties. During this conversation M. Beck was rather receptive. He told the Fuehrer

[Page 178]

that naturally the question of Danzig was difficult because of the mouth of the Vistula, but he would think the problem over in all its details. He did not at all refuse to discuss this problem, but rather he pointed out the difficulties which, due to the Polish attitude, obstructed a solution.

Q. Is it true that Beck was - as a matter of principle - willing to negotiate and therefore invited you, at the end of January, to make a visit to Warsaw?

A. One cannot put it quite that way. After the meeting at Berchtesgaden with the Fuehrer, I had another lengthy conversation with Beck in Munich. During this conversation Beck explained to me again that the problem was very difficult, but that he would do everything he could; he would speak to his governmental colleagues, and one would have to find a solution of some kind. On this occasion we agreed that I would pay him a return visit in Warsaw. During this visit we also spoke about the minority question, about Danzig and the Corridor. But the matter did not progress; M. Beck rather enlarged on the difficulties. I told him that it was simply impossible to leave this problem the way it was between Germany and Poland. I pointed out the great difficulties encountered by the German minorities and the undignified situation - as I should like to put it - confronting Germans who wanted to travel to East Prussia. Beck promised to help in the minority question, and also to examine the other questions further. Then, on the following day, I spoke briefly with Marshal Smigly-Rydz, but this conversation did not lead to anything.

Q. At that time did you ask Beck to pay another visit to Berlin, and did this visit take place? Or did Beck decide on a different course?

A. What happened was that I invited Beck to Berlin, because his first visit was not an official one. Unfortunately, however, Beck did not come to Berlin, but, as I have already said, he went to London.

Q. What was the effect of his visit to London on the subsequent negotiations?

A. The effect of this London visit was a complete surprise to us. Ambassador Lipski, I believe it was on the 21st of March, yes, it was, suddenly handed us a memorandum.

Q. Let me interrupt you. On the 21st of March you had a conversation with Lipski regarding the division of Czechoslovakia and the problems arising from the establishment of the Protectorate?

A. That may be true, in that case I meant the 26th.

Q. Yes.

A. That is right; on the 21st I had a talk with Lipski, that is true, and in this talk Lipski expressed certain misgivings concerning Slovakia and the protection afforded by Germany. He expressed the wish that between Hungary and Poland -two countries which had always had close relations with each other - a direct, common boundary might be established, and asked whether or not this would be possible. He also inquired indirectly whether the protection afforded to Slovakia was directed in any way against Poland. I assured M. Beck that neither Hitler nor anybody else had been motivated by the slightest intention of acting against Poland when the protection was promised. It was merely a measure to point out to Hungary that the territorial questions were now settled. However, I believe I told M. Lipski to look forward to such a link being established via the Carpatho-Ukraine.

Q. Is it true that consultations were initiated between Poland and the British Government, the French Government and the Russian Government about the 20th of March?

A. Yes, that is right. These consultations, as far as I recall, go back to a suggestion made by Lord Simon. A common declaration was to be made with regard to Poland. But Poland did not regard this as satisfactory, and made it clear in London that this solution was out of the question for Poland.

Q. Is it true that Poland worked toward a concrete alliance with England and France?

[Page 179]

A. There can be no doubt, and it is a historical fact, that Poland strove for an alliance with England.Q. When did the German Government find out that Poland had been promised support by England and France?A. That became known - I cannot tell you the date precisely, but it was, at any rate, during the latter part of March. Anyway, I know, and we all were convinced of what, I believe, is an established fact to- day - that these relations taken up during the latter part of March between Warsaw and London determined the answer which was, to our surprise, communicated to us by memorandum, on the 26th of March I believe.

Q. Is it correct that this memorandum stated that a further pursuit of German aims regarding a change in the Danzig and Corridor questions would mean war as far as Poland was concerned?

A. Yes, that is correct. That was a great surprise to us. I know that I read the memorandum, and for a moment I simply could not believe that such an answer had been given, when one considers that for months we had tried to find a solution, which - and I wish to emphasise this - only Adolf Hitler, at that time, with his great authority over the German people could bring about and be responsible for.

I do not want to get lost in details, but I do want to say that the Danzig and Corridor problem, since 1919, had been considered by statesmen of great authority the problem with which somehow the revision of Versailles would have to start. I should like to remind you of the statement by Marshal Foch and other statements by Winston Churchill, who also elaborated on this subject, as well as by Clemenceau and others. All these statesmen were undoubtedly of the opinion that a territorial revision of this Corridor would really have to be undertaken. But Hitler, for his part, wanted to make it an over all settlement and reach an understanding with Poland on the basis of his putting up with the Corridor and taking only Danzig back into the Reich, whereby Poland was to be afforded a very generous solution in the economic field. That, in other words, was the basis of the proposals which I had been working on for four to five months on Hitler's order. All the greater was our surprise when, suddenly, the other side declared that a further pursuit of these plans and solutions, which we regarded as very generous, would mean war. I informed Hitler of this, and I remember very well that Hitler received it very calmly.

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