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 8 of 12)

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

[Page 239]

Q. It is quite clear from the document that he did want war, is it not?

A. This document, no doubt, shows the intention of an action against Poland, but I know that Hitler often used strong language to his military men, that is, he spoke as though he had the firm intention of attacking a certain country in some way, but whether he actually carried it out later is an entirely different question. I know that he repeatedly told me that one had to talk with military men as if war was about to break out here or there on the next day.

Q. Now, I want to ask you about another point. You said on Friday that you had never expressed the view that Great Britain would stay out of a war and would fail to honour her guarantee to Poland. Do you remember saying that?

A. Yes.

Q. Is that true?

A. Yes.

Q. Well now, I would just like you to look at one or two other documents. Do you remember on the 29th of April, 1939, receiving the Hungarian Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister at three-thirty in the afternoon?

A. No, I do not remember that.

Q. Well, we have the minutes of your meeting signed by - I think von Erdmannsdorf. Did you say this to the Hungarian Prime Minister and Foreign Minister; "The Reich Foreign Minister added that it was his firm conviction that, no matter what happened in Europe, no French or English soldier would attack Germany. Our relations with Poland were gloomy at the moment."

Did you say that?

A. I do not think I ever said that. I consider that impossible.

[Page 240]

Q. Well, if you got a copy -

A. May I perhaps have a look at the document?

Q. Certainly; with pleasure. This will become Exhibit GB 289, Document D-737.

A. I cannot, of course, tell you now in detail what I said at that time, but what is possible is that there was an attempt at that time to reassure the Hungarians, who were probably concerned about the Polish problem; that is absolutely possible. But I hardly believe that I said anything like this. One thing, however, is certain. The Fuehrer knew, and I had told him, that England would march to the aid of Poland.

Q. If you are a little doubtful would you look at Document D- 738, which will be Exhibit GB 290. Apparently you saw these gentlemen again two days later. Just look at the last sentence of that. "The Reich Foreign Minister pointed out again that Poland presented no military problem for us. In case of a military clash the British would coldly leave the Poles in the lurch." That is quite straight speaking, is it not? "The British would coldly leave the Poles in the lurch"?

A. I do not know on what page that is exactly.

Q. It is paragraph 7, and it is the report of the 1st of May, the last sentence of my quotation. It is signed by a gentleman called von Erdmannsdorf; it appears at about his signature. The words I am asking you about are "in case of a military clash the British would coldly leave the Poles in the lurch."

A. Is that on Page 8 or where? On what page, if I may ask?

Q. My heading is paragraph 7. It begins: "The Reich Foreign Minister then returned to our attitude towards the Polish question and pointed out that the Polish attitude had aroused great bitterness."

A. It is perfectly feasible that I said something like that, and if so it was in order not to alarm the Hungarians, and to keep them on our side. That is, quite clearly, nothing but diplomatic talk.

Q. Do you not think there is any requirement to tell the truth in a political conversation?

A. That was not the point; the point was to bring about a situation which made it possible to solve this Polish question in a diplomatic way. If I had told the Hungarians - and this applies to the Italians also - that England would assist Poland and that a great war would result, then this would have created a diplomatic situation which would make it impossible to solve the problem at all. There is no doubt that during the entire time I had to use very strong language, just as the Fuehrer has always ordered, for if his own Foreign Minister had hinted at other possibilities, then that would naturally have caused great difficulties, and, I venture to say, it would have meant that this would, under all circumstances, have led to war. But we wanted to create a strong German position so that we could solve this problem peacefully. I may add that the Hungarians were somewhat worried with regard to the German foreign policy and that the Fuehrer had told me from the start to use particularly clear and strong language in that connection. I used that kind of language also quite frequently to my own diplomats for the same reasons.

Q. You want us to assume that you were telling lies to the Hungarians but you are telling the truth to this Tribunal. That is what it comes to shortly, is it not? That is what you want us to understand - that you were telling lies to the Hungarians, but you are telling the truth to this Tribunal. That is what you want us to understand, is it not?

A. I do not know whether one can talk of lies in this case, Mr. Prosecutor. This is a question of diplomacy, and if we wanted to create a favourable situation, then of course we could not go beating about the bush. Consider the impression if the German Foreign Minister had spoken in such manner as if at the slightest German step the whole world would attack Germany! The Fuehrer frequently used such strong language, and expected me to do the same. I want to emphasise again that I had to use such language, even to my own foreign office, so that there

[Page 241]

should be no misunderstanding. If the Fuehrer was determined on the solution of a problem, no matter what the circumstances, even at the risk of war if it had to be, our only chance to succeed was to adopt a firm stand, for had we failed to do that, war would have been inevitable.

Q. Well, now, I want you to have in mind what Count Ciano says that you said to him on, I think the 11th or 12th of August, just before your meeting at, I think it was at Salzburg, with you and Hitler. You remember that according to Count Ciano's diary he said that he asked you "What do you want, the Corridor or Danzig?" and that you looked at him and said "Not any more; we want war." Do you remember that?

A. Yes, but that is absolutely untrue. I told Count Ciano at the time - this is on the same lines - "the Fuehrer is determined to solve the Polish problem one way or another." This was what the Fuehrer had instructed me to say. That I am supposed to have said "We want war" is absurd, for the simple reason that it is clear to every diplomat - those things are just not said. Not even to the very best and most trusted ally, and most certainly not to Count Ciano.

Q. I should like you to look at a report of the subsequent conversation that you had with Mussolini and Count Ciano not very long after, on the 16th of March, 1940 - that is, about nine months later. If you look at the document 2835-PS, which will become Exhibit GB291, and if you will turn to, I think it is Page 18 or 19.

A. You mean Page 18?

Q. I remind you again of a conversation between you and Mussolini and Ciano on the 16th of March, 1940. It begins by saying: "The Reich Foreign minister recalled that he actually did state in Salzburg to Count Ciano that he did not believe that England and France would assist Poland without further ado; that at all times the possibility of intervention by the Western powers must still be reckoned with. He was glad now about the course of events, because first of all it has always been clear that the differences would have to come sooner or later, and they were inevitable."

And then you go on to say that it would be a good thing to finish the conflict in the lifetime of the Fuehrer.

A. Yes; that was after the outbreak of war; is that it?

Q. Yes. What I am putting to you are these words: "He was glad now about the course of events, because, first of all, it had always been clear that differences would have to come sooner or later and they were inevitable." And if you will look at where it says "secondly" -

A. May I reply to that?

Q. Yes; but what I am suggesting to you is that that shows perfectly clearly that Count Ciano is right, and that you were very glad that the war had come, because you thought this was an appropriate time for it to happen.

A. No, I do not agree. On the contrary, it says here also that he had always taken into account the possibility of an intervention of the Western allies. It says so here quite clearly.

Q. But it is the second part that I am putting to you. I pass from that point about British intervention. I say "he was glad now about the course of events," and if you will look down at the paragraph where it says "secondly," so that you will have it in mind, the third line says: "Secondly, at the moment when England introduced general conscription it was clear that the relationship of the powers would not group itself in the long run in favour of Germany and Italy."

A. May I ask where it says that?

Q. A few lines further down. The word secondly is underlined, is it not?

A. No, it is not here -

Q. "Secondly, at the moment when England introduced general conscription ... " it is about ten lines further on.

[Page 242]

A. Yes, what does the British Prosecutor try to prove with that; I do not quite understand?

Q. I want you to look at the next sentence before you answer my question. "This, along with the other things, was decisive for the Fuehrer's decision to solve the Polish question even under the danger of intervention by the Western powers. The deciding fact was, however, that a great power could not take certain things lying down and what I am saying - "

A. Yes, that appears correct to me.

Q. And that was your view at the time and the view that you declared afterwards as being your view - that you were determined that you would solve the Polish question even if it meant war? Count Ciano was perfectly right in saying that you wanted war. That is what I am putting to you.

A. No; that is not correct. I told Count Ciano at the time at Berchtesgaden that the Fuehrer was determined to solve the problem one way or another. It was necessary to put it in that way because the Fuehrer was convinced that whatever became known to Rome would go to London and Paris at once. He wanted therefore to have clear language used so that Italy would be on our side diplomatically. If the Fuehrer or myself had said that the Fuehrer was not so determined to solve that problem, then it would have been without doubt passed on immediately. But since the Fuehrer was determined to solve the problem, if necessary by war if it could not be solved any other way, this would have meant war, which explains the clear and firm diplomatic attitude which I had to adopt at that time in Salzburg. But I do not know in what way this is contradictory to what is being said here.

Q. I want you to pass on to the last week in August and take that again very shortly, because there is a lot of ground to cover.

You agreed in your evidence that on the 25th of August the Fuehrer called off the attack, which was designed for the morning of the 26th. You remember that. I just want you to have the dates in mind.

A. I know that date very well.

Q. Now, you have heard - you were here in court the day Dahlerus gave his evidence, were you not?

A. Yes, I was here.

Q. And let me remind you of the date, that on the evening of the 24th the defendant Goering asked Herr Dahlerus to go to London the next morning to carry a foreword - a pre-message - of what the Fuehrer was going to say to Sir Neville Henderson on the 25th. Do you remember that was his evidence? And on the 25th, at 1.30 -

A. I do not recall the dates exactly, but I suppose they are correct.

Q. I know these dates pretty well, and the Tribunal will correct me if I am wrong, but I am giving them as I have looked them up. That was the night of the 24th; Dahlerus left on the morning of the 25th, and then at 1.30 p.m. on the 25th - you said about noon, I am not quarrelling with you for a matter of minutes - at midday on the 25th the Fuehrer saw Sir Neville Henderson -

A. Yes, that is right.

Q. And gave him what is called a "Note Verbale."

A. No, it was given to him in the evening. At noon he had only talked to him and in the evening I had Minister Schmidt take the "Note Verbale" to him, I think that is the way it was, with a special message in which I asked him again to impress upon his Government how serious the Fuehrer was about this message or offer. I think that is contained in the British Blue Book.

Q. Whenever you gave him the actual note, Herr Hitler told him the general view of the oral conversation which he had with Sir Neville in the middle of the day?

A. Yes, that is right.

Q. And the actual calling off of the attack on the morning of the 26th, as you

[Page 243]

have said, was not done until you had had the message from Signor Mussolini at about 3 o'clock, and the news that the Anglo-Polish formal agreement was going to be signed that evening about 4 o'clock. That is what you have said.

Now, the first point that I am putting to you is this: That at the time that Herr Dahlerus was sent, and the time of this note, when the words were spoken by the Fuehrer to Sir Neville Henderson, it was the German intention to attack on the morning of the 26th; and what I suggest is that both the message to Herr Dahlerus and the words which were spoken to Sir Neville Henderson were simply designed in order to trouble the British Government, in the hope that it might have some effect on them withdrawing from their aid to Poland; is not that right?

A. Do you want me to answer that?

Q. Certainly; I am asking you.

A. The situation is, that I am not familiar with the message Dahlerus had I cannot say anything about it.

Regarding the meeting between Hitler and Sir Neville Henderson, I can say that I read the correspondence between Mr. Chamberlain and Adolf Hitler in the morning - I think it was dated the 22nd - which somehow had arrived at a sort of deadlock. I talked to the Fuehrer afterwards, wondering whether or not another attempt should be made in order to arrive at some kind of a solution with England. Subsequently, towards noon - I think it was 1 or 2 o'clock - the Fuehrer met Sir Neville in my presence and told him he should take a plane and fly to London in order to talk to the British Government as soon as possible. He had the intention after the solution of the Polish problem, to approach England again with extensive proposals. He had given, I believe, a rough outline of the offer in the "note verbale"; but I do not recall that exactly. Then Sir Neville Henderson flew to London. While the Fuehrer was having that conversation, military measures were under way. I learned of that during the day, because Mussolini's refusal had arrived, I believe, earlier in the course of the morning, or at noon. Then at 4 or 5 o'clock in the afternoon I heard about the ratification of the Polish-British agreement. I went to the Fuehrer immediately and suggested to him to withdraw the military measures; and he did so after short deliberation. There is no doubt that in the meantime certain military measures had been taken. Just how far they went I cannot say unfortunately. But when the Fuehrer sent that "note verbale" to England I was convinced and under the impression that if England would react to it in some way, it would not come to an armed conflict, and that in this case the military measures which, I believe, were automatically put into effect could somehow be stopped later on. But I cannot say anything about that in detail.

I only recollect one thing, and that is that when I received the note from the Fuehrer - which I think was in the afternoon or in the evening - these measures had already either been stopped or were, at any rate, in the process of being stopped. I cannot give it to you in chronological order at the moment, for that I have to have the pertinent documents which, unfortunately, are not at my disposal here. But one thing is certain, the offer of the Fuehrer to England was made in order to try once again to come to a solution of the Polish problem. When I saw the "note verbale" I even asked him, "How about the Polish solution?" and I still recollect that he said "We will now send that note to the British, and it they react to it then we can still see what to do, there will still be time.

At any rate, I believe, the military measures had either been stopped when the note was submitted or they were stopped shortly thereafter.

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