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-Sixth Day: Monday, 1st April, 1946
(Part 4 of 12)

[SIR DAVID MAXWELL FYFE continues his cross examination of JOACHIM VON RIBBENTROP]

[Page 222]

Q. I do not want to put words in your mouth. Do you mean by the last answer, that it was better that political and military pressure should be put on Schuschnigg so long as the problem was solved? Is that your view?

A. I did not understand that question. May I ask you to repeat it?

Q. My question was: Is it your view that it was better that political and military pressure should be put on Herr von Schuschnigg if by that means the problem was solved?

A. If by that means a worse complication, that is to say a war, was actually avoided, I consider that was the better way.

Q. Just tell me, why did you and your friends keep Schuschnigg in prison for seven years?

A. I do not know; I believe that Schuschnigg - I do not know the details - must at that time have done something which was against the State or the interests of the State. But if you say "prison," I only know from my own recollection that the Fuehrer said and emphasised several times that Schuschnigg should be treated particularly well and decently and that he was not in a prison, but in a house, and also, I believe his wife was with him. I cannot, however, say more on the subject from my own experience and from my own observation.

Q. I will substitute for the word "prison," "Buchenwald" and "Dachau." He was at both Buchenwald and Dachau. Do you think he was enjoying himself there?

A. It was only here that I heard that Schuschnigg was in a concentration camp; I did not know before.

Q. For a change - just try to answer my question. Why did you and your friends keep Schuschnigg in prison for seven years?

A. I cannot say anything on that point. I can only say and repeat, that, according to what I heard at that time, he was not in prison but confined in a villa

[Page 223]

and had all the comforts possible. That is what I heard at that time and I was glad about it because, as I have said already, I liked him.

Q. There is one thing he did not have, witness, he did not have the opportunity of giving his account as to what had happened at Berchtesgaden, or of his side of the Anschluss, to anyone for these seven years, did he? It is quite obvious after all you have said, that he was very comfortable at Buchenwald and Dachau, wherever he was, but comfortable or not, he did not get the chance of putting his side of the happenings to the world, did he?

A. That I could not judge.

Q. You could not judge? You know perfectly well, do you not, that Herr Von Schuschnigg was not allowed to publish his account of anything while he was under restraint for these seven years? You know that quite well, do you not?

A. That may be assumed -

Q. Now -

A. - it may have been in the interests of the State, however.

Q. Well that is your view of it. We will pass to another subject.

I am going to ask you a few questions now about your share in the dealing with Czechoslovakia. Will you agree with me, that in March of 1938, the Foreign Office, that is, you, through your ambassador in Prague, took over control of the activities of the Sudeten Deutsche Party under Konrad Henlein?

A. I am sorry but that is not correct. May I explain -

Q. Before you explain, I think you might save time if you look at the document book, Page 20 in your book - it is Page 31 in the English book - and listen while I refer you to a letter from your ambassador.

A. Which number, please?

Q. Page 20. It is a letter from your ambassador in Prague to the Foreign Office.

SIR DAVID MAXWELL FYFE: If I may explain to the Tribunal, it is not the defendant's Document Book, it is the Prosecution's Book. I will see hereafter that it is correct.

Q. Now, this letter from your ambassador to the Foreign Office -

A. Yes, I know about that letter. May I -

Q. Just let me refer you to paragraph I. I shall refer you also to paragraph 3, so you need not be worried that I shall miss it.

Paragraph 1: "The line of German Foreign policy, as transmitted by the German Legislation, is exclusively decisive for the policy and tactics of the Sudeten German Party. My" - that is, your ambassador's - "directives are to be complied with implicitly."

Paragraph 2: "Public speeches and the Press will be co- ordinated uniformly with my approval. The editorial staff of 'Zeit' is to be improved."

In Paragraph 3: "Party leadership abandons the former intransigent line which, in the end, might lead to political complications and adopts the line of gradual promotion of Sudeten German interests. The objectives are to be set in every case with my participation and to be promoted by parallel diplomatic action."

Having read that, do you not agree with me - as I put it to you a moment ago - that the activities of the Sudeten German- Party were to take place according to the directives?

A. May I state an opinion on that now?

Q. I would like the answer to that question first, and I am sure the Tribunal will let you make an explanation. It is perfectly easy to answer that question by "yes" or "no." Is it not right that that letter shows that the Sudeten German Party was acting under your directives; is that not right?

A. No.

Q. Why not?

[Page 224]

A. I would like to explain. This letter in itself is a crowning proof of the fact that things were quite to the contrary. Between the Sudeten German Party and many agencies in the Reich, connections had been established, which was quite natural, because there was a very strong movement among the Sudeten Germans, who were striving for closer connection with the Reich, especially after Adolf Hitler had come to power. These tendencies were beginning to impair the relations between Germany and Czechoslovakia, and this very letter bears proof of the fact that I attempted gradually to put these uncontrolled connections, which existed between the Sudeten Germans and the Reich, in some way under control.

Q. That is not what I am asking you, witness, what I put to you, and I put it to you three times, I think, quite clearly is: Does this letter show that that Party, the Sudeten German Party, were from that time acting under your directions? Are you still denying that?

A. Yes, I deny that emphatically. The case is just the opposite. This letter indicates an attempt to direct the German-Czech relations, which had become very difficult due to the natural desire of the Sudeten Germans to establish closer relations with the German people, into right and sensible channels, which, however, shortly after this letter unfortunately failed.

Q. Now, if you deny what I have put to you, what is meant when your ambassador writes to the Foreign Office and says that the line of German policy, as transmitted by the German legation, is exclusively decisive for the policy and tactics of the Sudeten German Party? What does that mean if it does not mean that the party was acting under your direction? What else can it mean if it does not mean that?

A. It means exactly what I have said, that the embassy should try to induce the leadership of the Sudeten Germans to adopt a sensible programme, so that the illegal tendencies which were existent should not lead to difficulties in German-Czech relations. That was at that time the purport of the conversation with the embassy in Prague and that is quite clearly expressed by this letter.

Q. Let us see what this sensible programme which you were suggesting was. The next day, on the 17th of March, Konrad Henlein writes to you and suggests a personal talk; and if you will turn over to Page 26 of the German Document Book - Page 33 of the English - you will find the note of the personal talk which you had at the foreign office on the 29th of March with Henlein, Karl Hermann Frank, and two other gentlemen whose names are not so well known. I only want you to look at four sentences in that, after the first one: "The Reichsminister started out by emphasising the necessity of keeping the conference, which had been scheduled, strictly a secret." And then you refer to the meeting that the Fuehrer had had with Konrad Henlein the afternoon before. I just want you to have that in mind.

Now, if you will look down the page, there is a paragraph which begins "The foreign minister," and the second sentence is: "It is essential to propose a maximum programme which has, as its final aim the granting of full freedom to the Sudeten Germans. It appears dangerous to be satisfied prematurely with the consent of the Czechoslovakian government. This, on the one hand, would give the impression abroad that a solution has been found; and, on the other hand, would only partially satisfy the Sudeten Germans."

Then, if you will look one sentence on, after some uncomplimentary remarks about Benes, it says:

"The aim of the negotiations to be carried out by the Sudeten Germans Party with the Czechoslovak Government is finally this: to avoid entry into the government" - observe the next words - "by the extension and gradual specification of the demand to be made."
And then you make the position of the Reich Cabinet clear:

[Page 225]

"The Reich Cabinet" - the next sentence but one - "itself must refuse to appear towards the Government in Prague or towards London and Paris as the advocate" - note the next words - "or peacemaker of the Sudeten demands."
The policy which I suggest to you was now to direct the activities of the Sudeten Germans as follows: They were to avoid agreement with the Czechoslovak Government, and avoid participation in the Czechoslovak Government; the Reich Cabinet in its turn, would avoid acting as peacemaker in the matter, in other words, Witness, you, through your influence on the Sudeten Germans, were taking every step and doing your utmost to see that no agreement could be reached on the difficulties or the minority problem. Is not that correct? Is not that what you were telling them at that interview?

A. No, that is not so.

Q. Give your explanation! What would you say these words meant?

A. I summoned Konrad Henlein at that time, and I believe it was the only time - or perhaps I saw him once more; unfortunately, only once or twice - in order to enjoin him, too, to work for a peaceful development of the Sudeten German problem. The demands of the Sudeten Germans were already far-reaching at that time. They wanted to return to the Reich. It seemed to me a solution which was dangerous and which had to be stopped in some way or another, because otherwise it might lead to a war. Henlein finally came to see me then, but I wish to point out in advance that it was the only time, I believe, that I discussed the matter thoroughly with him, and soon afterwards I lost control of the matter. The entire Sudeten German problem - that is, what is contained in this letter and about which there can be no doubt - is firstly: that I wanted to bring the efforts of the Sudeten Germans to a peaceful development so that we could support it diplomatically also, which to me seemed absolutely justified; and secondly, that in this way we should avoid the sudden development of a situation which, by acts of terror or other wild incidents, would lead to a German-Czech and European crisis. Those were at that time the reasons why I summoned Henlein.

Now, as to the various sentences which the prosecutor has read, it is clear that the Sudeten German Party had at that time very far-reaching demands. Naturally, they wanted Adolf Hitler to send an ultimatum to Prague saying "You must do that, and that is final." And that is what they would have preferred.

We did not want that, of course. We wanted a quiet, peaceful development and solution of these things. Therefore, I discussed with Henlein at that time the way in which the Sudeten German Party was to proceed in order to put through their demands gradually. The demands which I had in mind at that time were demands for a far-reaching cultural autonomy, and possibly autonomy in other fields too.

Q. If you were thinking of cultural and social autonomy, why were you telling these gentlemen not to come to an agreement with the Prague Government?

A. I could not specify that now. That may have been for tactical considerations. I assume that Konrad Henlein made such a suggestion and that I agreed with it. Naturally I did not know the problem too well in detail and I presume that what happened was that Henlein himself merely explained his programme - the details are not contained here - and that I agreed to it more or less. Therefore, I assume that at that time it seemed perhaps advisable to Henlein, for tactical reasons, not to enter into the government and to assume responsibilities, but rather to try first to proceed with the matter in a different way.

Q. That was the 29th of March, and you have told the Tribunal a moment ago about your anxiety for peace. You very soon knew that there was not going to be any question of relying on peaceful measures, did you not? Can you remember? Just try and apply yourself to it, because you have obviously been applying your mind to this. Can you remember when Hitler disclosed to you that he was making the military preparations for the occupying of Czechoslovakia that autumn?

A. Adolf Hitler spoke very little to me about military matters. I do not remem-

[Page 226]

ber such a disclosure, but I know, of course that the Fuehrer was determined to solve this problem at a fixed time, and, according to Germany's experiences in past years, it was for him a matter of course that to do this he would be forced to take some sort of military measures in order to back up his demands with more pressure.

Q. Let me help you about that. Turn on to Page 31 of your document book. It is Page 37 of the English Document Book.

A. Page 31?

Q. Page 31 of your document book, yes. It is a quotation from Hitler's speech in January, 1939, but it happens to make clear this point. You see he says - have you got it, witness?

A. Yes, I have it.

Q. "On the basis of this unbearable provocation, which was still further emphasised by truly infamous persecution and terrorising of our Germans there, I have now decided to solve the Sudeten German question in a final and radical manner.

On the 28th of May I gave, one, the order for the preparation of military steps against this State" - that is Czechoslovakia - "to be concluded by the 2nd of October. I ordered the forceful and speedy completion of our defensive front in the West."

I want to remind you of that, because there was a meeting on the 28th of May, and that is Hitler's own account of it. Put in another way, he said:
"It is my absolute will that Czechoslovakia should disappear from the map."
And then he made clear the other thing about the defensive front in the West.

Now, do you remember that meeting, the 28th of May?

A. I have here, I believe, seen the document about it. I do not recall the meeting.

Q. Well, if - I think Captain Fritz Wiedemann was still adjutant of the Fuehrer at that time; it was before he went abroad - he says you were there, would you deny it?

A. I have seen that, but I believe that is an error by Wiedemann.

Q. But you think you were not there?

A. I am inclined to believe that it is an error. At any rate I do not remember that meeting. I could not say for sure. Generally I was not drawn into military affairs, but in this case I cannot say for sure. But I knew that it was common talk that the Fuehrer, in the course of the year 1938, became more and more determined to assure the rights, as he put it, of the Sudeten Germans; I knew that he had made certain military preparations for that purpose, but I did not know in what form and to what extent.

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