The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)
Nuremberg, war crimes, crimes against humanity

The Trial of German Major War Criminals

Sitting at Nuremberg, Germany
16th April to 1st May, 1946

One-Hundred-and-Fourteenth Day: Thursday, 25th April, 1946
(Part 4 of 10)

[DR. DIX continues his direct examination of Hans Bernd Gisevius]

[Page 240]

Q. I am quite sure that the Tribunal will permit you to do so. I think that the Tribunal will permit that the motives ...

THE PRESIDENT: I think the Tribunal thinks you are going into too great detail over these matters. If the Tribunal is prepared to accept this witness's evidence as true, it shows that Schacht was negotiating with him and General Witzleben at this time, with a view to prevent the war. I say, if the Tribunal accepts it, and that seems to be a matter you will not prove with the details of these negotiations, which seem to me not very important.

DR. DIX: Yes, but in my opinion, I should have to touch upon the seriousness and intensity of the activities of these conspirators, and to substantiate them in detail. In my opinion it is not sufficient that these plans ...

THE PRESIDENT: But you have touched upon them since 10 o'clock this morning.

DR. DIX: Your Lordship, I am now coming to a political survey of Schacht's part ...

THE PRESIDENT: I am told that you said last night that you would be half-hour longer. Do you remember saying that? Perhaps it was a mistranslation.

DR. DIX: Oh no, that is a big misunderstanding. I said that if I were to touch upon the Fritsch crisis and complete it, it would take another half-hour; that is, the Fritsch crisis alone. Gentlemen of the Tribunal, the case is the following: We are now hearing the story of the political opposition, in which Schacht played a leading role. If the defendant Goering and others had time for days to describe the entire course of events from their point of view, I think that justice demands that those men, represented in this court room by the defendant Schacht, who fought against that system under most awful conditions of terror, should also be permitted to minutely tell the story of their opposition movement.

I would, therefore, ask the Tribunal - and I am not referring to superfluous matters - to give me permission to allow the witness to make a few more remarks on the measures taken by the group of conspirators Beck, Schacht, Canaris, and others, which he has already started to discuss. I pray the Tribunal to realise that I consider it of the greatest importance and I assume, your Lordship, that if it is not done now, the prosecution will do so during cross- examination. I believe that since it is now being told in sequence, it will take less time than if we were to wait for the cross-examination.

THE PRESIDENT: The Tribunal does not propose to tell you how you are to prove your case, but it hopes that you will deal with it as shortly as possible and without unnecessary details.

DR. DIX: I promise that.


Q. Well, then, witness, you had mentioned the "foreign political measures" and you were about to talk of the motives which caused some of you to take up relations with foreign countries for support of your movement. Will you please continue?

A. I should like to confine myself to the statement that from that time on there were considerable and weighty discussions with foreign countries in order

[Page 241]

to try to do everything possible to prevent the outbreak of war, or at least to shorten it or keep it from spreading. However, as long as I am not in a position to be able to speak of the motives in this very complicated matter, in connection with which people like us would be accused, in Germany at least, of high treason - as long as that is the case, I shall not say more than that these conversations had taken place.

Q. I did not understand that the Tribunal would prevent you from explaining your motives. You may state them therefore.

A. I owe it to my conscience and above all to those who participated and who are now dead, to state here that their consciences weighed heavy upon them as a result of those matters which I have described. We knew that we would be accused of conspiring with foreign countries.

THE PRESIDENT: The Tribunal, of course, knows that these matters were not conducted without danger, but we are not really here for the purpose of considering people who have, unfortunately, lost their lives. We are considering the case of the defendant Schacht at the moment.

DR. DIX: I think the witness' intentions have been misunderstood. He does not wish to speak of those men who lost their lives, and he does not want to speak of the dangers; rather does he wish to speak of the conflicts of conscience, which those who planned and undertook those steps experienced. I think that that privilege should be granted the witness if he is to speak of this very delicate matter here in public. I should, therefore, beg you to allow it. Otherwise, the witness will confine himself to general intimations which will not be sufficient for my defence. In any case I assume that the prosecution will touch on the matter in the cross-examination.

THE PRESIDENT: Will you try and get him to come to the point? We, of course, can't tell what he wants to talk about. We can only tell what he does talk about.


Q. Well, then, you will describe briefly the motives of those who made these foreign connections, and also the connections themselves.

A. Mr. President, it was not merely a question of conscience. I was concerned with the fact that relatives are still alive who may be subject to unjust accusations, and that is why I had to say, with reference to those conferences abroad which I shall describe, that even our intimate circle of friends did not agree in all respects as to what steps were justifiable. One wanted to go ahead, while another held back. I owe it to the memory of the dead Admiral Canaris, for instance, to rectify many erroneous Press statements, and affirm that he had refused to conspire with foreign countries. I must guard against the possibility that anything I say now might be applied to men whom I have mentioned earlier. That is the reason I wanted to make that statement and at the same time I wanted to say that we who were involved refuted the charge of high treason, because we felt that we were morally obliged to take these steps.

Q. Well, then, what happened?

A. The following happened: Immediately after Hitler announced his intention to invade Czechoslovakia, we tried to keep the British Government informed, from the first intention to the final decision. These attempts began with the journey of Goerdeler in the spring of 1938 to London, where he gave information concerning the existence of an opposition group which was resolved to go to any lengths. Through this group the British Government was continuously informed of what was happening, and made to realise that it was absolutely essential to make it clear to the German people and to the generals, that every step across the Czech border would be, for the Western Powers, a reason for war. When the crisis neared the climax and when our preparations for a putsch had been completed to the last detail, we took steps that had no precedent; we informed the British Government that the pending diplomatic

[Page 242]

negotiations would not, as Hitler stated, deal with the question of the Sudeten countries, but with his intention to invade the whole of Czechoslovakia; and that if the British Government were to remain firm, we could give the assurance that there would be no war.

That, at the time, was our attempt to receive a certain amount of assistance from abroad in our fight for the psychological preparation of a revolt.

Q. We now come to September of 1938 and the crisis which led to the Munich Conference. What were the activities of your group of conspirators at that time?

A. As the crisis gradually came to a head, we tried to convince Halder that he should undertake the putsch at once. Since Halder was quite sure of the situation, Witzleben prepared everything in detail. I shall now describe only the last two dramatic days. On 27 September it was clear that Hitler wanted to go to the last extremity. In order to make the German people war-minded he ordered a parade of the armies in Berlin, and Witzleben had to carry that order out. The parade had entirely the opposite effect. The population, which assumed that these troops were going to war, showed their open displeasure. The troops, instead of jubilation, saw clenched fists, and Hitler, who was watching the parade from the window of the Reich Chancellery, had an attack of anger. He stepped back from his window and said, "With such a people I cannot wage war." Witzleben on his return from the parade, said that he would have Eked to have unlimbered the guns outside the Reich Chancellery. On the next morning ...

Q. One moment, Witzleben told you that he would have liked to unlimber the guns outside the Chancellery?

A. Yes.

Q. And what is the source of your knowledge regarding Hitler's remarks when he stepped back from the balcony?

A. Several people from the Reich Chancellery repeated them to us.

Q. And now to continue.

A. The following morning - this was the 28th - we believed that the opportunity had come to start the revolt. On that morning too we discovered that Hitler had rejected the final offer from the British Prime Minister Chamberlain and had sent the intermediary, Wilson, back with a negative answer. Witzleben received that latter and took it to Halder. He believed that now the proof for Hitler's desire for war had been established, and Halder agreed. Halder visited von Brauchitsch while Witzleben waited in Halder's room. After a few moments Halder came back and said that Brauchitsch now also had realised that the moment for action had arrived and that he merely wanted to go over to the Reich Chancellery to make quite sure that Witzleben and Halder's story was correct. Brauchitsch accordingly went to the Reich Chancellery after Witzleben had told him over the telephone that everything was prepared, and it was at midday on 28 September, when suddenly and contrary to our expectation Mussolini intervened and Hitler, impressed by Mussolini's step, agreed to go to Munich. So, at the eleventh hour, the putsch was made impossible.

Q. You mean through Munich, don't you?

A. Of course.

Q. And now the Munich conference was over. How did matters stand in your group of conspirators?

A. We were extremely depressed. We were convinced that now Hitler would soon lay down his cards. We did not doubt that Munich was the signal for the world war. Some of our friends wondered if we should emigrate and it was discussed with Goerdeler and Schacht. Goerdeler wrote a letter to a political friend in America and expressly asked whether the opposition people should now emigrate. Goerdeler said, "There is only one other possibility, and that is to employ the methods of Tallyrand in order to be able to continue

[Page 243]

our political work in Germany." We decided to persevere and then events followed quickly, from the Jewish pogroms to the conquest of Prague.

Q. But before we come to Prague, witness, you mentioned the Jewish pogroms and obviously you mean November, 1938. Do you know or can you recollect what Schacht's reaction was?

A. Schacht was indignant about the pogroms, and he said so in a speech to the staff of the Reichsbank.

Q. I shall submit that speech later as documentary evidence. How did things go on from there? We have come to the end of 1938. Were there new political events on the horizon which were stimulating to you conspirators?

A. First of all, there was Schacht's sudden dismissal as President of the Reichsbank, Schacht's desire for a consultation of the cabinet on this matter did not materialise and our hopes to occasion a cabinet crisis were vain. Thus our opposition group had no firm hold and we had to wait to see what would happen after the conquest of Prague.

Q. One moment, you mentioned Schacht's dismissal from his position as President of the Reichsbank. Can you tell us anything about this, anything about these events; the circumstances leading to it and the affect it had on Schacht, etc.?

A. I saw how the various letters and memoranda of the Reichsbank directorate were drafted and how they were progressively toned down, and how Schacht was then dismissed. A few minutes after the letter of dismissal arrived from Hitler, Schacht read it to me, and he was indignant at the contents. He repeated to me the passage in which Hitler praised him for his participation in the German rearmament programme, and said: "And now he wants me to work with him openly and use me for his war policy."

Q. But then Schacht remained as a minister without portfolio. Was the problem of whether he should do so or whether he could have acted differently ever discussed between you and Schacht at the time?

A. Yes, but as far as I know it was the same type of discussion which took place whenever he was to resign. He talked to Lammers, and I assume that Lammers gave him the customary reply.

Q. In other words, he thought he had to remain, that he was forced to remain?

A. Yes.

Q. Now, you have made several attempts, but I interrupted you, to speak about Prague. Will you please describe the effects upon your group of conspirators, as far as Schacht was concerned?

A. Since December our group had definite proof that Hitler would attack Prague in March. This new action was cynically called the "March whirlwind." Since it was quite openly discussed in Berlin circles, we hoped that news of it would reach the British and French embassies. We were firmly convinced that this time there would be no victory by surprise. But Halder had already adopted a different view. He thought that Hitler had been given free passage to Prague by the Western powers. He refused to have preliminary conferences and wanted to wait and see whether this Prague action could be achieved without a fight. And that is what happened.

Q. You have already spoken about the steps regarding the British and French embassies.

A. I have said that no steps were taken in regard to these embassies.

Q. Do you want to say anything further about it? Do you have something to add?

A. No. Nothing, except that, as I said, we hoped that news of the action would reach them.

Q. Now, then, Prague is over, and I believe that you and Schacht went to Switzerland together on behalf of your group. Is that correct?

A. Not only Schacht but also Goerdeler. We were of the opinion

[Page 244]

that Prague would have incredible psychological effects in Germany. As far as foreign countries were concerned, Prague showed that no peace and no treaty could be made with Hitler. Inside Germany unfortunately we remarked that now the generals and the people were convinced that this Hitler could do whatever he wanted to; nobody could stop him; he was protected by Providence. This alarmed us. On the one hand we saw that the Western powers would no longer complacently accept these things; on the other we saw that within Germany the illusion was growing that the Western powers would not go to war. We could see that a war could only be prevented if these powers would tell not only the foreign minister, not only Hitler, but by every means of propaganda tell the German nation that any further step towards the East would mean war. That appeared to us to be the only possibility of warning the generals and getting them to revolt and was the subject of the discussions which Schacht, Goerdeler and I had in Switzerland, immediately after Prague.

Q. With whom?

A. We met a man who had excellent connections to the British and French Governments. This man made very exact reports, at any rate to the French Government. I can testify to this because later, after Paris was conquered, I was able to find a copy of his report among Daladier's secret papers. We told this man that in autumn at the latest, the fight for Danzig would start. We told him that, as good Germans, we were without doubt of the opinion that Danzig was a German city, and that some day that point would have to be peacefully discussed; but we also warned him that to have conferences now regarding Danzig alone would be of little avail, because Hitler did not want only Danzig but the whole of Poland; not only the whole of Poland but the Ukraine; and that that was the reason why the Western Powers should make it abundantly clear to Germany, in their propaganda, that the limit had now been reached, and that they would intervene. We said that only then would a putsch be possible.

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