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

The Trial of German Major War Criminals

Sitting at Nuremberg, Germany
2nd May to 13th May, 1946

One Hundred and Twenty-Fifth Day: Thursday, 9th May, 1946
(Part 6 of 9)

[DR. KRANZBUHLER continues his direct examination of Karl Donitz]

[Page 245]

Q. You know the document submitted by the prosecution which describes how in the summer of 1943, a commando unit was shot in Norway. I mean the prosecution's Exhibit GB 208. The incident is described there as showing that the crew of a Norwegian motor torpedo boat were taken prisoner on a Norwegian island. This motor torpedo boat was charged with belligerent missions at sea. The document does not say who took the crew prisoner, but it does say that the members of the crew were wearing their uniforms when they were captured, that they were interrogated by a naval officer, and that on the order of Admiral von Schrader, they were given over to the SD. The SD later shot them. Did you know about this incident, or was it reported to you as Commander- in-Chief?

A. I learned about this incident only from the trial brief of the prosecution.

Q. Can you explain the fact that an incident of this nature was not brought to your attention? Would this not have had to be reported to you?

A. If the Navy was concerned in this matter, that is, if this crew had been captured by the Navy, Admiral von Schrader, who was the Commander there, would absolutely have had to report this matter to the Commander-in-Chief of the Navy, I am also convinced that he would have done so, for the regulations regarding this were unequivocal. I am also convinced that the naval expert at the Navy High Command, who was concerned with such matters, would have reported this to me as Commander-in-Chief.

Q. What is your opinion about this case now that you have learned about it through the prosecution's document?

A. If it is correct that it concerns the crew of a motor torpedo boat which had belligerent missions at sea, then this measure, the shooting which took place, was entirely wrong in any case, for it was in direct opposition, even to this commando order. But I consider it completely out of the question, for I do not believe that Admiral von Schrader, whom I know personally to be an especially chivalrous sailor, would have had a hand in anything of this sort. From the circumstances of this incident, the fact that this incident was not reported to the High Command,

[Page 246]

that this incident, as has now been ascertained by perusal of the German newspapers of that time, was also not mentioned in the Wehrmacht communique, as would have had to happen if it had been a matter concerning the Wehrmacht, from all these circumstances, I assume that the incident was as follows:-

The police arrested these people on the island, they were taken thence by sea to Bergen, where one or two - if I remember correctly - naval officers interrogated them, since the Navy, of course, was interested in this interrogation; then these people were handed back to the Security Service, since it was the Security Service which had originally captured them.

I cannot explain it otherwise.

Q. You wish to say, then, that in your opinion these men had never been prisoners of the navy?

A. Yes. If they had been, a report to the High Command would have been made.

Q. Quite apart from these questions I should like to ask you, didn't you in your position as Commander-in-Chief and during your visits to the Fuehrer's headquarters have experiences which made you consider dissociating yourself from Adolf Hitler?

A. I have already stated that as far as my activity was concerned, even at Headquarters, I was strictly limited to my own department, since it was a peculiarity of the Fuehrer to listen to a person only about matters which were that person's express concern. It was also self-evident that at the discussions of the military situation only purely military matters were discussed, that is, no problems of domestic policy, of the SD or the SS, unless it was a question of SS divisions in military service under one of the army commanders. Therefore, I had no knowledge of all these things. As I have already said, I never received an. order from the Fuehrer which in any way violated military ethics. Therefore, I firmly believe that in every respect I kept the Navy unsullied down to the last man, until the end. In naval warfare, my attention was focused on the sea, and the Navy, small as it was, tried to fulfil its duty according to its tasks. Therefore, I had no reason at all to break with the Fuehrer.

Q. Such a reason need not have been in relation to criminal acts only; it could also have been for political considerations, having nothing to do with criminal acts. You have heard the question put repeatedly as to whether there should have been a putsch. Had you entered into contact with such a movement, or did you yourself consider or attempt a putsch?

A. No. The word putsch has been used frequently in this court room by various people. It is easy to say, but I believe that one should realize the tremendous significance of such an action.

The German nation was involved in a struggle of life and death. It was like a fortress surrounded by enemies. It is clear, to keep to the simile of the fortress, that every disturbance from within must, without doubt, have affected its military might and fighting power. Anyone therefore, who violates his loyalty and his oath to plan and try to bring about an overthrow during such a struggle for survival, must be most deeply convinced that the nation needs such an overthrow at all costs and must be aware of his responsibility.

Despite this, every nation will judge such a man to be a traitor, and history will not vindicate him unless the success of the overthrow actually contributes to the welfare and prosperity of his people. This, however, would not have been the case in Germany.

If, for instance, the putsch of the 20th of July had been successful, then a dissolution, if only a gradual one, would have resulted inside Germany, a fight against the bearers of weapons, here the SS, there another group, complete chaos inside Germany, for the firm structure of the State would gradually have been destroyed and disintegration and a reduction of our fighting power at the front would have inevitably resulted.

[Page 247]

THE PRESIDENT: The Tribunal thinks that the defendant is making a long and political speech. It really hasn't very much to do with the questions with which we have to deal.

DR. KRANZBUHLER: Mr. President, I was of the opinion that the question of whether or not a Commander-in-Chief is obliged to bring about a putsch was regarded as a main point by the prosecution, a point having a bearing on the question of whether he declared himself in agreement, or not, with the system which is being characterised as criminal. If the Tribunal considers this question irrelevant, I do not want to press it further.

THE PRESIDENT: I do not think the prosecution has put forward the view that anybody had to create a putsch.

DR. KRANZBUHLER: It seemed to me a self-evident view of the prosecution.

Q. Grand Admiral, the prosecution has submitted two documents, from the winter of 1943, and May, 1945, containing speeches made by you to the troops. You are accused by the prosecution of preaching National Socialist ideas to them. Please define your position on this point.

A. When in February Of 1943, I became Commander-in-Chief of the Navy, I was responsible for the fighting power of the entire Navy. A main source of strength in this war was the unity of our people, and those who had most to gain from this unity were the armed forces, for any rupture inside Germany would perforce have had an effect on the troops and would have reduced their fighting capacity. The Navy in particular, in the first World War in 1917-1918, had had bitter experiences in this direction.

Therefore, in all my speeches, I tried to preserve this unity and the feeling that we were its guarantors. This was necessary and right, and particularly necessary for me who, as a leader of troops, could not preach disunity or dissolution. My speeches had their effect. Fighting power and discipline in the Navy were of a high standard until the end. And I believe that in every nation such an achievement is considered a proper and good achievement for a leader of troops. These are my reasons for talking the way I did.

Q. On 30th April, 1945, you became head of State as Adolf Hitler's successor, and the prosecution concludes from this, that before that time as well, you must have been a close confidant of Hitler, since only one of his confidants would have been chosen to be his successor as far as matters of State are concerned. Will you tell me how you came to be his successor, and whether Hitler before this time ever spoke to you about this possibility?

A. From 20th July, 1944, on, I did not see Hitler alone, but only at the large discussions of the military situation. He never spoke with me about the question of a successor, not even by way of hinting. This was entirely natural and clear, since, according to law, the Reichsmarschall was his successor, and the regrettable misunderstanding between the Fuehrer and the Reichsmarschall did not occur until the end of April, 1945, at a time when I was no longer in Berlin.

Q. Where were you?

A. I was in Holstein. Therefore, I had not the slightest inkling, nor had the Fuehrer, that I was to become his successor.

Q. Just how, through what measures or orders did that actually come about?

A. On 30th April, 1945, in the evening, I received a wireless message from headquarters to the effect that the Fuehrer was designating me his successor, and that I was authorized to take at once all measures which I considered necessary.

The next morning, that is, on 1st May, I received another wireless message, a more detailed directive, which said that I was to be Reich President; Minister Goebbels, Reich Chancellor; Bormann, Party Minister; and Seyss-Inquart, Foreign Minister.

Q. Did you adhere to this directive?

[Page 248]

A. This wireless message, first of all, contradicted the first wireless message in which it clearly stated: "You can at once do everything you consider to be right." I did not act on, and, as a matter of principle, never would have acted on this second wireless message, for, if I were to have responsibility, then no conditions were to be imposed on me. Thirdly, under no circumstances would I have agreed to work with the people mentioned, with the exception of Herr Seyss-Inquart.

In the early morning of 1st May, I had already had a discussion with Minister of Finance, Graf Schwerin Krosigk, and had asked him to take over the business of government, in so far as we could still talk about that.

I had done this because in a chance discussion which had taken place several days before, I had seen that we held much the same view, the view that the German people belonged to the Christian west, that the basis of future conditions of life is the absolute legal security of the individual and of private property.

Q. Grand Admiral, you know the so-called Political Testament of Adolf Hitler, in which you are charged to carry on the war. Did you receive an order of this sort at that time?

A. No. I saw this Testament for the first time a few weeks ago here, when it was made public in the Press. As I have said, I would not have accepted any order, any restriction of my activity at this time when Germany's position was hopeless, and I was given the responsibility.

Q. The prosecution has submitted a document in which you exhorted the war leaders in the spring of 1945 to carry on tenaciously to the end. It is Exhibit GB 212. You are accused in this connection of being a fanatical Nazi who was ready to carry on a hopeless war at the expense of the women and children of your people. Please define your position in respect to this particularly grave accusation.

A. In this connection I can say the following: In the spring of 1945, I was not the head of State, I was an officer. To continue the fight or not to continue the fight was a political decision. The head of State wanted to continue the fight. I, as an officer, had to obey. It is an impossibility that in a State one soldier declares, "I shall continue to fight," and another soldier declares, "I shall not continue the fight." I could not have given any other advice the way I saw things and for the following reasons:

(1) In the East the breaking through of our front at one point meant the extermination of the people living behind that front. We knew that because of practical experiences and because of all the reports which we had about this. It was the belief of all the people that the soldier in the East had to do his military duty in these hard months of the war, these last hard months of the war. This was especially important because otherwise German women and children would have perished.

The Navy was involved to a considerable extent in the East. It had about 100,000 men on land and the entire surface Navy concentrated in the Baltic for the transport of troops, weapons, wounded men and above all, refugees.

Therefore, the very existence of the German people in this last hard period depended above all on the soldiers carrying on tenaciously to the end.

(2) If we had capitulated in the first few months of the spring or in the winter of 1945, then, from everything we knew about the enemy's intentions, the country would, according to the Yalta Agreement, have been ruinously torn asunder and partitioned, and the German land occupied in the same way as it is today.

(3) Capitulation means that the army, the soldiers, stay where they are and become prisoners. That means, that if we had capitulated in January or February, 1945, 2,000,000 soldiers in the East, for example, would have fallen into the hands of the Russians. That these millions could not possibly have been cared for during the cold winter is obvious, and we would have lost men on a very large scale, for even at the time of the capitulation in May, 1945 - that is, in the spring, in the late spring - it was not possible in the West to take care of the large masses of prisoners according to the Geneva Convention.

[Page 249]

Then, as I have already said, Since the Yalta Agreement would have been put into effect, we would have lost a much larger number of people who had not yet fled from the East.

When on 1st of May I became the head of State, circumstances were different. By that time the fronts, the Eastern, and Western fronts, had come so close to each other that in a few days people, troops, soldiers, armies and the great masses of refugees would be transported from the East to the West. Therefore, when I became head of State on 1st May, I strove to make peace as quickly as possible and to capitulate, while saving German blood and bringing German people from the East to the West, and I acted accordingly as early as 2nd May, by making overtures of capitulation to General Montgomery for the territory facing his army, and for Holland and Denmark, which we still held firmly, and immediately following that I opened negotiations with General Eisenhower.

The same basic principle - to save and preserve the German population - motivated me in the winter to face bitter necessity and keep on fighting. It was very painful that our cities were still being bombed to pieces and that through these bombing attacks and the continued fight more lives were lost. The number of these people is about 300,000 to 400,000, the largest number of whom perished in the bombing attack on Dresden, which cannot be justified from a military point of view and which could not have been predicted. Nevertheless, this figure is relatively small compared with the millions of German people we would have lost in the East, soldiers and civilians, if we had capitulated in the winter.

Therefore, in my opinion, it was necessary to act as I did: (1) while I was still an officer, to call on my troops to keep on fighting hard and, (2) when I became head of State in May to capitulate at once. Thereby no German lives were lost, rather they were saved.

DR. KRANZBUHLER: I have no further questions, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT: The Tribunal will adjourn.

(A recess was taken.)

THE PRESIDENT: Does any other defence Counsel wish to ask questions?

BY DR. SIEMERS (Counsel for defendant Admiral Raeder):

Q. Grand Admiral Donitz, you've already explained that Grand Admiral Raeder and the Navy in the summer of 1939 did not believe, despite certain ominous signs, that it would come to a war. Since you saw Admiral Raeder in the summer of 1939 I should like you briefly to supplement this point. First of all, on what occasion did you have a detailed conversation with Grand Admiral Raeder?

A. Grand Admiral Raeder embarked in the middle of July, 1939, for submarine manoeuvres of my fleet in the Baltic Sea. Following the manoeuvres -

Q. May I first ask you something? What sort of manoeuvres were they? How large were they and where did they take place?

A. All submarines which had carried out their tests I had gathered together in the Baltic. I can't remember the exact figure, but I think there were about thirty. In the manoeuvres I then showed Grand Admiral Raeder what these could accomplish.

Q. Were all those submarines capable of navigating in the Atlantic?

A. Yes, they were and, in addition, there were the smaller submarines of lower tonnage, which could operate only as far as the North Sea.

Q. This means, therefore, that at that time you had no more than two dozen submarines capable of navigating in the Atlantic, is that right?

A. That figure is too high. At that time we had not even fifteen submarines capable of navigating in the Atlantic. At the outbreak of war, as far as I remember, we went to sea with fifteen submarines capable of navigating in the Atlantic.

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