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 7 of 12)

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

[Page 235]

Q. It is signed by yourself on the 2nd of January, 1938. It is your own report to the Fuehrer.

A. Yes, that is quite correct as such; that is the conclusive statement: Only thus can we, some day, come to an agreement or to a conflict with England. The situation at that time was clearly this, that England was resisting the German wishes for revisions which the Fuehrer had declared vital and, that only through a strong diplomatic coalition did it seem possible to induce England, by diplomatic rather than bellicose means, to yield to these German aspirations. That without doubt, was the situation.

Q. I want to know, witness, why you told the Tribunal five minutes ago that you had not advised Hitler in the sense in which I put it to you?

A. Which advice do you mean?

Q. Outwardly an understanding with England, but formation under great secrecy of a coalition against her. I put that to you twice and you denied it, I want to know why you did deny it.

A. I said quite clearly that England was resisting the German requests and that therefore, if Germany wanted to realise these aspirations, she could do nothing but find friends and bring England with the help of those friends to the conference table so that England would yield to these aspirations by diplomatic means. That was my task at that time.

Q. Now, I want you to direct your attention to the relations with Poland. I will give you the opportunity of answering a question generally, and I hope in that way we may save time.

Will you agree that up to the Munich Agreement, the speeches of all German statesmen were full of the most profound, affection and respect for Poland? Do you agree with that?

A. Yes.

Q. What was the purpose of what is shown in the Foreign Office memorandum

[Page 236]

of 26th August, 1938? I will give you the page number. Page 107 of your Document book. I want you to look at it, I think it is the fourth paragraph, beginning, "This method of approach towards Czechoslovakia -," and you may take it from me that the method of approach was putting forward the idea that you and Hitler wanted the return of all Germans to the Reich. I put it quite fairly and objectively. That is what precedes it. I want you to look at that paragraph.

A. Which paragraph do you mean? I did not hear.

Q. The fourth, "This method of approach towards Czechoslovakia" it begins. The fourth on my copy.

A. I have not found it yet. Paragraph Five. Yes, I have it.

Q. "This method of approach toward Czechoslovakia is to be recommended because of our relationship with Poland. Germany's change of interest in the boundary questions of the South-east to those of the East and Northeast must inevitably make the Poles sit up. After the liquidation of the Czechoslovakian question, it will be generally assumed that Poland will be the next in turn, but the later this assumption becomes a factor in international politics the better."
Does that correctly set out the desires of German foreign policy at that time?

A. Undoubtedly no, for first of all, I do not know what kind of a document it is. It has apparently been prepared by some branch in the Foreign Office where sometimes those theoretical treatises were prepared and may come to me -from some reporter or other - through the State Secretary. However, I do not remember having read it. Whether it reached me, I cannot tell you at the moment; but it is possible that such thoughts prevailed among some of our officials. That is quite possible.

Q. I see. Now, if you do not agree, would you look at Page 110, on which you will find extracts from Hitler's Reichstag speech on 26th September, 1938. I am sorry. I said Reichstag; I meant Sportpalast.

A. Sportpalast, yes.

Q. At the end of this extract, the Fuehrer is quoted as saying with regard to Poland, after a tribute to Marshal Pilsudski:

"We are all convinced that this agreement will bring lasting pacification. We realise that here are two peoples which must live together and neither of which can do away with the other. A people of 33 million will always strive for an outlet to the sea. A way to understanding, then, had to be found. It has been found, and it will be continually extended further. Certainly, things were difficult for this area. The nationalities and small groups frequently quarrelled among themselves, but the main fact is that the two governments and all reasonable and clear-sighted persons among the two peoples and in the two countries possess the firm will and determination to improve their relations. This is a real work of peace, more valuable than all of the chattering at the League of Nations Palace in Geneva."
Do you think that is an honest statement of opinion?

A. Yes, I believe that that was definitely the Fuehrer's view at the time.

Q. And so at that time all the questions of the treatment 6f minorities in Poland were a very unimportant matter; is that so?

A. No, they were not an unimportant matter. They were a latent and even difficult problem between Poland and ourselves, and the purpose of that particular kind of statement by the Fuehrer was to overcome this problem. I am so familiar with the problem of the minorities in Poland because I watched it, for personal reasons, for many years. From the time we took over the Foreign Ministry, there were again and again the greatest difficulties which, however, were always settled on our part in the most generous way.

Q. At any rate, you have agreed with me that the speeches at that time - and

[Page 237]

you say quite honestly - were full of praise and affection for the Poles; is that right?

A. Yes, we were hoping that thereby we could bring the German minority problem in particular to a satisfactory and sensible conclusion. That had been our policy since 1934.

Q. Well, now, immediately after Munich, you first raised the question of Danzig with M. Lipski, I think, in October, around 21st October?

A. Right, the 28th October.

Q. 28th October. The Poles had replied on the 31st. That reply may have reached you a day later through M. Lipski, and it suggested the making of a bilateral agreement between Germany and Poland, but said that the return of Danzig to the Reich would lead to a conflict.

I put it quite generally. I just wanted to remind you of the tenor of the reply. Do you remember?

A. According to my recollection it was not quite like that. The Fuehrer had ordered me - it was on 28th October, to be exact - to request Ambassador Lipski to come to Berchtesgaden. His order was given because the Fuehrer - perhaps as a sequel to the speech in the Sportpalast, but that I do not remember - particularly wanted to bring about a clarification of the relations with his neighbours. He wanted that now especially in the case of Poland. He instructed me, therefore, to discuss with Ambassador Lipski the question of Danzig and of a connection between the Reich and East Prussia.

I asked Ambassador Lipski to come and see me, and stated these wishes. The atmosphere was very friendly. Ambassador Lipski was very reserved; he stated that, after all, Danzig was not a simple problem, but that he would discuss the question with his government. I asked him to do so soon and inform me of the outcome. That was the beginning of the negotiations with Poland.

Q. Well, now, if you will turn - I do not want to stop you, but I want to get on quickly over this matter. If you will turn to Page 114, you will find the minutes of M. Beck's conversation with Hitler on 5th January. I just want to draw your attention to the last paragraph, where after M. Beck had said that the Danzig question was a very difficult problem, "In answer to this, the Chancellor stated that to solve this problem it would be necessary to try to find something quite new, some new formula, for which he used the term 'Korperschaft,' which, on the one hand, would safeguard the interest of the German population and on the other hand, the Polish interest. In addition, the Chancellor declared that the Minister could be quite at ease; there would be no fait accompli in Danzig and nothing would be done to render difficult the situation of the Polish government."

Do you see that, before I ask you the question?

A. Yes, I have read that.

Q. Just look at the summary of your own conversation with M. Beck on the next day. It is Page 115, at the beginning of the paragraph, the second paragraph. You will see that after M. Beck had mentioned the Danzig question. You said:

"In answer, Herr von Ribbentrop once more emphasised that Germany was not seeking any violent solution."
That was almost word for word what Hitler had said the day before, do you see that?

A. Yes.

Q. Now, turn back to Page 113. These are the defendant Keitel's orders with regard to - or rather, to put it exactly, the defendant Keitel's transmission of the Fuehrer's order with regard to Danzig. The date is 24th November. That was some six weeks before, and it is supplementary to an order of 21st October, and you see what it says:

"Apart from the three contingencies mentioned in the instructions of 21st October, preparations are also to be made to enable the Free State of Danzig to be occupied by German troops by surprise.

[Page 238]

"Occupation of Danzig: The preparations will be made on the following basis. The condition is a quasi- revolutionary occupation of Danzig, exploiting a politically favourable situation, not a war against Poland."
Did you know of these instructions?

A. No, I did not know that. This is the first time that I have seen that order or whatever it might be. May I add something?

Q. Not for the moment. Hitler must have known of the order, must he not? It is an order of the Fuehrer?

A. Yes, of course, and therefore I assume - that is what I wanted to add - that the British prosecution is aware that political matters and military matters are in this case two completely different conceptions. There is no doubt that the Fuehrer, in view of the permanent difficulties in Danzig and the Corridor, had given military orders of some kind - just in case, and I can well imagine that it is one of these orders. I see it to-day for the first time.

Q. Supposing that you had known of the orders, witness, would you still have said on 5th of January that Germany was not seeking a fait accompli or a violent solution? If you had known of that order would you still have said it?

A. If I had known this order, and had considered it, as I must have, an order of the General Staff for possible cases, then I would still have the same opinion. I think it is part of the General Staff's duty to take into consideration all possibilities and prepare for them in principle. That his nothing to do with politics, after all.

Q. Nothing to do with politics to have a cut-and-dried plan how the Free State of Danzig is to be occupied by German troops by surprise when you are telling the Poles that you will not have a fait accompli? That is your idea of how matters should be carried on? If it is I will leave it.

A. No, but I have to add - I know that - that the Fuehrer was alarmed for a long time, during 1939 in particular, lest a sudden Polish attack take place against Danzig; so that to me, who am not a military man, it appears quite natural to make some part of preparations for all such problems and possibilities. But, of course, I cannot judge the details of these orders.

Q. Now, when did you learn that Hitler was determined to attack Poland?

A. That Hitler contemplated a military action against Poland, I learned, according to my recollection, for the first time during August 1939. That, of course, he had made certain military preparations in advance of any eventuality becomes clear from this order with respect to Danzig. But I definitely did not learn about this order and I do not recollect now in detail whether I received at that time any military communication. I do remember that I knew virtually nothing about it.

Q. Are you telling the Tribunal that you did not know in May that Hitler's real view was that Danzig was not the subject of the dispute at all, but that his real object was the acquisition of Lebensraum in the East?

A. No, I did not know it in that sense. The Fuehrer talked sometimes about living space, that is right, but I did not know that he had the intention of attacking Poland.

Q. Well now, just look at Page 117 - or it may be 118 of your document - on Page 117 You will find the minutes of the conference on the 23rd May, 1939, at the new Reich Chancellery.

A. Did you say 117?

Q. 117. I want you to look at - it may be on Page 118, and it begins:

"Danzig is not the subject of the dispute at all, it is a question of expanding our living space in the East, and of securing our food supplies, and of the settlement of the Baltic problem. Food supplies can only be expected from thinly populated areas over and above the natural fertility following German exploitation, which will enormously increase the surplus. There is no other possibility for Europe."

[Page 239]

Are you telling the Tribunal that Hitler never explained that view to you?

A. It may be strange to say so, but I should like to say, first, that it looks as if I was not present during this conference. That was a military conference, and Hitler used to hold these military conferences quite separately from the political conferences. He did now and then mention that we had to have Lebensraum (living space), but I knew nothing, and he never told me anything at that time - that is in May 1939 - of an intention to attack Poland. Yes, I think this was kept apart deliberately as had been done in other cases, because he always wanted his diplomats to work wholeheartedly for a diplomatic solution.

Q. You mean to say that Hitler was deliberately keeping you in the dark as to his real aims; that Danzig was not the subject of dispute and what he really wanted was Lebensraum; is that your story?

A. Yes, I assume that he did that deliberately because -

Q. Well now, just look at the very short paragraph a little further on where he says: "There is no question of sparing Poland, and we are left with no alternative but to attack her at the first suitable opportunity. We cannot expect a repetition of the Czech affair. There will be war. Our task is to isolate Poland."

Do you tell the Tribunal that he never said that to his Foreign Minister?

A. I did not quite understand that question.

Q. It is a perfectly simple one. Do you tell the Tribunal that Hitler never mentioned what I have just read from his speech, that there is to be no question of sparing Poland; that you had to attack Poland at the first opportunity, and your task was to isolate Poland? Are you telling the Tribunal that Hitler never mentioned that to his Foreign Minister, who would have the practical conduct of foreign policy?

A. No, he did not mention it at that time, but, according to my recollection, only much later - in the summer of 1939 to be exact. At that time he did say that he was resolved to solve the problem one way or another.

Q. And do you say that you did not know in May that Hitler wanted war?

A. Did he want what?

Q. You did not know in May that Hitler wanted war?

A. No, I was not convinced of that at all.

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