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 5 of 12)

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

[Page 226]

Q. Just to put your point of view fairly - I do not want to put anything more into it - you knew that military preparations were being made, but you did not know the details of what we know now as "Fall Grun."

A. No, I did not know any details; I never heard about them, but I knew that during the last weeks and months of the crisis ...

DR. HORN: Mr. President, I object to this question. I believe I may, in order to save time, just point out that the entire Sudeten German policy was sanctioned by the four great powers, England, France, Italy and Germany, and by the Munich Agreement which determined this policy. Therefore, I do not see that in this respect there can be a violation of International Law.

THE PRESIDENT: The Tribunal thinks the question is perfectly proper.


Now, at the time you knew enough to discuss the possible course of the possible war with the foreign personalities. Would you look on to Page 34 - that is, Page 40 of the English book.

[Page 227]

These are the notes of a discussion with the Italian ambassador. I do not know with which of your officials it took place, but I want you to look at where it says in a hand-written note "only for the Reichsminister."
"Attolico further remarked that we had indeed revealed to the Italians our intentions against the Czechs unmistakably. Also, the date which had been mentioned made it clear that he might go on leave, maybe for two months, but certainly not later than ..."
If you look at the date you will see it is the 18th of July, and two months from the 18th July would be the 18th of September. Then if you will look, a month later there is a note, I think signed by yourself, on the 27th of August:
"Attolico paid me a visit. He had received another written instruction from Mussolini, asking that Germany communicate in time the probable date of action against Czechoslovakia. Mussolini asked for such notification, as Attolico assured me, in order to be able to take in due time the necessary measures on the French frontier.

"Note: I replied to Ambassador Attolico just as on the occasion of his former demarche, that I could not impart any date to him; but that in any case Mussolini would be the first one to be informed of any decision."

So that it is quite clear, is it not, that you knew that the general German preparations for an attack on Czechoslovakia were under way but the date had not been fixed beyond the general directive of Hitler, that it was to be ready by the beginning of October. That was the position in July and August, was it not?

A. In August, on 27th August, there was, of course, already a sort of crisis between Germany and Czechoslovakia about that problem; and it is quite clear that during that time there was some alarm as to the final outcome. And apparently, according to this document, I told the Italian ambassador that, in case this crisis developed into a military action, Mussolini would, of course, be notified in advance.

Q. And Mussolini would be ready to make a demonstration on the French frontier in order to help forward your military plans; is that right?

A. That is in this document, but I do not know anything about it. Perhaps Attolico said that; if it says so here he must have said it.

Q. Now, just turn over to about the same time, Pages 36 to 38, Pages 41 to 43 of the English book. I do not want to take up time in reading it all, but that is the account of the meeting which you had with the Hungarian Ministers Imredy and Kanja. I should be very glad if, in the interest of time, you would try and answer the general question.

Were you not trying, in your discussions with Imredy and Kanja, to get the Hungarians to be prepared to attack Czechoslovakia should war eventuate?

A. I am not very familiar with the contents of this document. May I read it first, please?

Q. I will just read you -

A. I may perhaps be able to answer it from recollection. I do not know exactly what the document says, but my recollection is, that at that time a crisis was impending. It is quite natural, if an armed conflict about the Sudeten German problem was within the realm of possibility, that Germany should then establish some sort of contact with neighbouring States. That is a matter of course, but I believe -

Q. But you went a little beyond contacting them, did you not? The document says, at the end of the sixth paragraph "Von Ribbentrop repeated that whoever desires revision must exploit the good opportunity and participate."

That is a bit beyond contacting people. What you are saying to the Hungarians is: "If you want the revision of your boundaries, you have to come into the war with us." It is quite clear, is it not, witness, that that is what you were saying, that is what you were trying to do?

[Page 228]

A. That is exactly in line with what I just said. I do not know if that expression was used, but, at any rate, it is clear that at that time, I remember, I told these gentlemen that the possibility of a conflict was present and that in such a case it would be advisable if we reached an agreement regarding our interests.

I would like to mention that Hungary, during all the preceding years, considered it one of the hardest conditions of the Peace Treaty that these territories in the North had been separated from her, and naturally she was very interested in the agreement.

Q. You were very much interested in offering them revision. Just look at the last two paragraphs, headed "The 29th." It should be Page 38 of your document book. It begins - the very end of this statement: "Concerning Hungary's military preparedness in case of a German-Czech conflict, von Kanja mentioned several days ago that his country would need a period of one or two years in order to develop adequately the armed strength of Hungary. During today's conversation, von Kanja corrected this remark and said that Hungary's military Situation was much better; his country would be ready, as far as armaments were concerned, to take part in the conflict by October 1st of this year."

You see that? What I am putting to you, witness, is this: That your position was perfectly clear. First of all, you get the Sudeten Germans under your control. Then you learned from Hitler that there were military preparations. Then you get the Italians in line. Then you get the Hungarians in line. You are getting everyone ready for aggression against Czechoslovakia. That is what I am putting to you. I want you to be quite clear about it, to be under no misapprehension. Now, look, what -

A. May I answer to that?

Q. Yes, certainly, if you like.

A. I said once before that the Sudeten German Party was unfortunately not under my control. Moreover, it is and was my view that it was the fundamental right of the Sudeten Germans, according to the law of the sovereign rights of peoples which had been proclaimed in 1919, to decide themselves where they wanted to belong.

When Adolf Hitler came, this pressure to join the Reich became very strong. Adolf Hitler was determined to solve this problem, either by diplomatic means or, if it had to be, by other means. That was obvious to me, and became more obvious. At any rate, I personally did everything to try to solve the problem diplomatically. On the other hand, I naturally tried my utmost to surround Germany with friends in order to make our position as strong as possible in face of such a problem.

Q. You knew perfectly well, did you not, that the "Fall Grun" and Hitler's military plans envisaged the conquest of the whole of Czechoslovakia? You knew that, did you not?

A. No, I did not know that. As far as the Sudeten-German problem is concerned, the British Government itself concluded the agreement at Munich by which the entire problem was solved in the way I always strove to achieve it, by German diplomacy.

Q. Witness, I am not going to argue politics with you on any point. I only remind you of this: That the "Fall Grun" and Hitler's plans on this matter had only been known to His Majesty's Government since the end of the war, when it came into our possession as a captured document. What I asked you was - you say that as the Foreign Minister of the Reich, you did not know of these military plans, which envisaged the conquest of the whole of Czechoslovakia. You say that? You want the Tribunal to believe that?

A. I repeat again that I read about "Fall Grun" and its conception here for the first time, in the documents. I did not know that term before nor was I interested. That the Fuehrer envisaged a more far-reaching solution became, of

[Page 229]

course, clear to me later in the course of the subsequent developments, and by the establishment of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia.

Q. Just a moment. We will get to that in a moment. I just want you to look at the final act of preparation which I suggest you were making for this clear aggression; if you will look at Page 45 in the book in front of you, you will see a note from the Foreign Office to the embassy in Prague.

"Please inform Deputy Kundt, at Konrad Henlein's request, to get into touch with the Slovaks at once and induce them to start their demands for autonomy tomorrow."
That was your office's further act, was it not, in order to make things difficult for the Government in Prague? You were getting your friends to induce - to use your own word - the Slovaks to start an advance for autonomy, is that right? Is that what your office was doing?

A. This is, beyond doubt, a telegram from the Foreign Office. I can no longer recall the details, but according to the contents, Henlein apparently approached us to send a telegram, because he was apparently of the opinion, at that time, that he should put the demands for autonomy to the Prague Government. How that came about, I could not say in detail today. I would like to emphasise again that Konrad Henlein's activity was, unfortunately, as I said before, far beyond my control. I only saw Henlein once or twice during that entire time.

Q. I am not going to take you through all the details. You understand what I am suggesting to you, that your office was now taking one of its last steps, because this was in the middle of the crisis, on the 19th of September, trying to weaken the Czech Government by inducing demands of autonomy from the Slovaks. You said that you were only passing on Henlein's wishes. If you like to leave it at that, I shall not trouble you further. Besides, you suggested - I come on to what took place in the spring and ask you one or two questions about that. In the spring Hitler was out, and you acquiesced in his wishes, to obtain the adherence of Bohemia and Moravia to the Reich and to make Slovakia separate from Bohemia and Moravia. Now, just look at Page 65 of the book in front of you. That is a telegram in secret code from the Foreign Office, from yourself, in fact, to the Embassy in Prague.

"With reference to telephone instructions given by code today, in case you should get any written communications from President Hacha, please do not make any written or verbal comments or take any other action but pass them on here by ciphered telegrams. Moreover, I must ask you and the other members of the Embassy to make a point of not being available if the Czech Government wants to communicate with you during the next few days."
Why were you so anxious that your ambassador should not carry out these ordinary functions and form a channel of communication with the Czech Government?

A. What happened was this. I remember very well. These were the reasons. The Foreign Minister of Czechoslovakia, Chvalkovski, on one of these days, it must have been the same day, approached the ambassador in Prague, saying that President Hacha wished to speak to the Fuehrer, I had reported that to the Fuehrer, and he had agreed to receive the Czechoslovak president. He said, at the same time, that he wished to conduct these negotiations himself, and that he did not wish anybody else, even the embassy, to interfere in any way. That, according to my recollection, was the reason for the telegram. No one was to undertake anything in Prague; whatever was done would be done by the Fuehrer personally.

I wish to point out that at the same time signs of an impending crisis between Prague and ourselves became apparent. The visit of President Hacha, or his desire to see the Fuehrer, can be explained as being the result of this situation in general.

[Page 230]

Q. Well, now, I would like to remind you what you and the Fuehrer were doing on that day. You will find that, if you look at Page 66, which is 71 of the English book. You were having a conference, you and the Fuehrer, with Meissner and the defendant Keitel, and Dietrich and Keppler, and you were having the conference with the Slovaks, with M. Tiso. Do you remember that conference?

A. Yes, I remember that conference very well.

Q. Well, then, I will ask you a general question and perhaps without putting the details to you. What Hitler and you were doing at that conference was saying this to the Slovaks:

"If you do not declare your independence of Prague, we shall leave you to the tender mercies of Hungary."
Is not that, in a sentence, a fair summary of what Hitler and you were saying at that conference?

A. That is correct to a certain degree. But I would like to add a further statement to that. The situation at the time was as follows, and one has to look at it from a political point of view: The Hungarians were highly dissatisfied and they wanted to regain the territories which they had lost by the Peace Treaty and which today form a part of Czechoslovakia, that is the Slovak part of Czechoslovakia. There were, therefore, constantly great differences between Pressburg (Bratislava) and Budapest and, chiefly, also between Prague and Budapest. The outbreak of an armed conflict could be expected at any time; at least half a dozen times we were given to understand by the Hungarian Government that this could not go on for ever; that they must have their revision in one way or the other. The situation was such that for quite a long time very strong movements for independence existed among the Slovaks. We were approached on this matter frequently, at first by Tuka and later by Tiso. In this conference described here, the situation was that the Fuehrer, who had known for weeks of the endeavours of the Slovaks to become independent, finally received Tiso, later president of the State, and told him that now, of course, he - I believe he told him during this conversation that he was not interested in the question for its own sake. But if anything should happen at all, then the Slovaks must proclaim their independence as quickly as possible.

There is no doubt that at the time we expected an action by Hungary. It is, however, correct ...

Q. You can see how very anxious the Slovaks seemed to be for independence and what action Hitler and yourself were taking to secure it, if you try to find it, it will probably be at Page 67; it is at the end of a paragraph beginning:

"Now he has permitted Minister Tiso to come here ..."
And just below the middle of that paragraph Hitler is reported as saying that he would not tolerate that internal instability and he had for that reason permitted Tiso to come in order to hear his decision. It was a question not of days, but of hours. He stated at that time that, if Slovakia wished to make herself independent, he would support this endeavour and even guarantee it; he would stand by his words so long as Slovakia would make it clear that she wished for independence. If she hesitated or did not wish to dissolve the connection with Prague he would leave the destiny of Slovakia to the mercy of the events for which he was no longer responsible.

Then, in the next paragraph, he asks you if you had anything to say, and you are reported as saying:

"The Reich Foreign Minister also emphasised for his part the view that in this case a decision was a question of hours and not of days. He showed Hitler a message he had received, which reported Hungarian troop movements on the Slovak frontier. The Fuehrer read this report and mentioned it to Tiso."

[Page 231]

Are you denying, witness, that Hitler and yourself were putting the strongest possible pressure you could on the Slovaks to dissolve connections with Prague and so leave the Czechs standing alone to meet your pressure on Hacha which was coming in a couple of days?

A. No, that is not correct. Very strong pressure was not used. There is no doubt that my remark refers to the possibility of war-like developments with the Hungarians, but wishes for independence had, for a long time, been conveyed to us again and again by the Slovaks. It is possible that, at the time, as the document shows, Tiso was hesitating because after all it was an important step. But in view of his wish, which must have been obvious by then, to solve the question of Bohemia and Moravia in one way or another, it was in the Fuehrer's own interest to do his part to bring about the independence of Slovakia.

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