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 9 of 9)

[SIR DAVID MAXWELL FYFE continues his cross examination of Karl Donitz]

[Page 258]

Q. And didn't you know quite well also that Speer was getting his man-power from foreign labour brought into the Reich?

A. I knew, of course, that there were foreign workers in Germany. It's just as self-evident that as Commander-in- Chief of the Navy, I was not concerned as to how these workers were recruited. That was none of my business.

Q. Didn't Gauleiter Sauckel tell you on the occasion of this trip that he had got 5,000,000 foreign workers into the Reich, of whom only 200,000 had come voluntarily?

A. I did not have a single conversation with Gauleiter Sauckel. I have never had a discussion with anyone about questions referring to workers.

Q. Now, defendant, you were head of a service department in the fifth and sixth years of the war. Wasn't Germany, like every other country, searching around to scrape the bottom of the barrel for labour for all its requirements? Weren't you in urgent need of labour, like every other country in the war?

A. I think that we needed workers.

Q. Are you telling the Tribunal that you did not know after these conferences with Hitler and with Speer that you were getting this labour by forcing foreign workers to come into the Reich and be used?

A. During my conferences with Hitler and Speer, the system of obtaining these workers was never mentioned. The methods did not interest me at all. During these conferences the labour question was never discussed. I was interested merely in how many submarines I received, that is, how large my allotment was to be in terms of ships built.

Q. You tell the Tribunal you discussed that with Speer and he never told you where he was getting his labour? Is that your answer on this point?

A. Yes, that is my answer, and it is true.

Q. Do you remember; just before we pass from the industrial side of it, that at certain meetings the representatives for coal and transport and Gauleiter Kaufmann, the Reichskommissar for Shipping, were present at meetings which you had with the Fuehrer?

A. No.

Q. You may take it from me that they are listed as being present at these meetings. Were you dealing with general problems of shipping and transport?

[Page 259]

A. Never. As far as sea transport is concerned - that is true. I was thinking of things on land. I thought you meant on land. I have already stated that at the end of the war I was keenly interested in the tonnage of merchant vessels because this tonnage, which I needed in order to carry out military transports from Norway and from the East and to the East and for refugee transports, was not under my jurisdiction but under that of Gauleiter Kaufmann, the Reichskommissar for shipping. So at meetings and discussions which dealt with the sea transport situation I was of course present.

Q. Let us take another subject of these 119 days. On 39 of these days, the defendant Keitel was also present at the headquarters, and on about the same number, the defendant Jodl.

A. I am sorry, I did not understand the date.

Q. I will put it again. At 39 of these meetings between January, 1943 and April, 1945 the defendant Keitel was present, and at about the same number, the defendant Jodl. Now, is it right that you discussed or listened to the discussion in their presence of the general strategical position?

A. I might say that the word "meeting" doesn't quite describe the matter. It was rather, as I -

Q. Well now, you choose the word; you give us the word.

A. It was, as I described it, a large-scale discussion of the military situation, and at this discussion I heard also, of course, reports about the army situation. That I explained before.

Q. I just want to get it quite clear that over these two years you had every opportunity of understanding and appreciating the military strategical position; that is so, isn't it?

A. Yes.

Q. Well now, on twenty of these occasions the defendant Goering was present. This defendant has put himself forward in two capacities; as Commander-in-Chief of the Luftwaffe and as a politician. What was he doing on these twenty occasions?

A. Reichsmarschall Goering was there as Commander-in-Chief of the Air Force when the military situation was discussed.

Q. And so from the defendant Goering you would have a full knowledge and appreciation of the air situation and the position of the Luftwaffe during this period?

A. During my occasional presence at these discussions, in which only segments were dealt with - an overall picture was never given at such a discussion - naturally I could only form a very incomplete opinion. That was the reason why I have never made statements about military matters outside the Navy.

Q. Let me ask you just one further question on this point. Following up what Dr. Laternser asked, on 29th June, 1944, apart from Keitel and Jodl and Goering, Marshal von Rundstedt and Marshal Rommel were also present; and may I remind you that that was three weeks after the Allies had invaded in the West. You were being given the opportunity, were you not, of getting the appreciation of the strategical position after the allied invasion of Normandy, isn't that so?

A. Yes, from that I gained an impression of the situation in Normandy after the enemy had set foot there. I was in a position to report to the Fuehrer which of my new small attacking weapons I could put to use in that sector.

Q. Now, let us change to another aspect of the government in general.

On a number of occasions the Reichsfuehrer SS Himmler was present at these conferences - shall I call them - isn't that so?

A. Yes. If the Reichsfuehrer SS Himmler was there, and as far as I remember that happened once or twice, it was because of his Waffen SS.

[Page 260]

Q. You may take it from me that he is shown as being there on at least seven occasions, and that Fegelein, who was his representative at the Fuehrer's headquarters, is shown as being present on five occasions. What did Himmler discuss about the Waffen SS? Was it the doings of the Totenkopf division?

A. That can't be right. Fegelein was always present during the discussions of the military situation, he never missed, because he was a permanent representative. If the Reichsfuehrer was present during these discussions, he reported only on the Waffen SS, those divisions of the Waffen SS which were being used somewhere under the army. I don't know the names of these individual divisions. I don't think they included the Totenkopf (Death Head), I never heard it did there was a Viking or -

Q. That was because they were being largely occupied in concentration camps, and you say that Himmler never mentioned that?

A. That Totenkopf divisions were used in concentration camps I learned here in Nuremberg. It wasn't mentioned there. I have already said that during the military discussions only military matters were discussed.

Q. Now, the defendant Kaltenbrunner is reported as being present only once, on 26th February, 1945, when there was quite a considerable gathering of SS notabilities. What were you discussing with him then?

A. It is not correct that Kaltenbrunner was there only once. As far as I remember, he was there two, three, or four times. At any rate, during the last months of the war, I saw him two, three or four times. Kaltenbrunner never said a word there; as far as I remember, he just listened and stood about.

Q. What I want you to tell the Tribunal is: What was the subject of conversation when you had not only the defendant Kaltenbrunner there, but you had the SS Obergruppenfuehrer Steiner, your own captain in attendance, and Lieutenant- General Winter. What were these gentlemen there for, and what were you hearing from them?

A. Who is the captain and who is the general?

Q. Captain von Assmann; I took it he was the captain in attendance on you, though I may have been wrong - Captain Serge von Assmann. Then there was Lieutenant-General Winter, SS Obergruppenfuehrer Steiner, and SS Obergruppenfuehrer Kaltenbrunner.

What were you discussing on 26th February, 1945?

A. I must mention one fact in this connection: Captain Assmann was present at every discussion of the general situation.

Q. just a moment. You can tell us something afterwards, but first of all listen to my question. What were you discussing with these people from the SS on the 26th of February, 1945?

A. I can't remember that now. I do remember, however, that Steiner received an order in regard to the Army Groups in Pomerania which were to make the push from the North to the South in order to relieve Berlin. I think that when Steiner was present perhaps this question, which didn't concern me, was discussed.

Q. Now I just want you to concentrate, before I leave this point. You have agreed with me that at a number of meetings, a large number, there were present Keitel and Jodl, at not quite so many Goering, who would give you the army and air situation in Germany; there was present the defendant Speer, who would give you the production position, there was present Himmler, or his representative Fegelein, who would give you the security position; and you yourself were present, who would give the naval position. At all meetings there was present the Fuehrer, who would make the decisions.

I put it to you, defendant, that you were taking as full a part in the government of Germany during these years as anyone, apart from Adolf Hitler himself.

A. In my opinion that description is not correct. At these discussions of the general situation neither Speer nor anybody else supplied a complete survey of the work being done. On the contrary, only acute questions of the day were

[Page 261]

discussed. As I have said, the happenings of the last 24 hours were discussed, and what should be done. That there was a staff there which in its reports gave an overall picture - that was quite out of the question. It was not at all like that. The only one who had a complete picture of the situation was the Fuehrer.

At these discussions of the military situation the developments of the last 24 hours and the measures to be taken were discussed. Those are the facts.

Therefore, one cannot say that any one of the participants had an overall picture. Rather every one had a clear view of his own department for which he was responsible. An overall picture in the mind of any of the participants is out of the question. Only the Fuehrer had that.

Q. Well, I won't argue with you, but I suppose, defendant, that you will say - as we have heard from so many other defendants - that you knew nothing about the slave labour programme, you knew nothing about the extermination of the Jews, and you knew nothing about any of the bad conditions in concentration camps. I suppose you are going to tell us you knew nothing about them at all, are you?

A. That is self-evident, since we have heard here how all these things were kept secret, and if one bears in mind the fact that everyone in this war was pursuing his own tasks with the maximum of energy, then it is no wonder at all. To give an example, I learned of the conditions in concentration camps -

Q. I just want your answer for the moment, and you have given it to me. I want you to come to a point which was well within your own knowledge, and that is the order for the shooting of commandos, which was issued by the Fuehrer on 18th October, 1942. You have told us that you got it when you were Flag Officer, U-boats. Now, do you remember the document by which the Naval War Command distributed it? Do you remember that it said this:

"This order must not be distributed in writing by Flotilla Leaders, Section Commanders or officers of this rank.

"After verbal notification to subordinate sections the above officers must hand this order over to the next higher section, which is responsible for its withdrawal and destruction."

Do you remember that?

A. Yes, I read that again when I saw the order here. But on the other side it says also that this measure had already been announced in the Wehrmacht order.

Q. What I want to know from you is: Why was there this tremendous secrecy about this order in the naval distribution?

A. I did not understand that question. I don't know whether tremendous secrecy was being observed at all. I am of the opinion that in 1942 all naval offices had been informed about it.

Q. This is on the 28th of October, ten days after the order was issued. I am not going to quarrel with you about adjectives, defendant. Let me put it this way: Why did the naval distribution require that degree of secrecy?

A. I don't know. I did not make up the distribution chart. As an officer at the front I received this order at that time. I do not know.

Q. Within three months you were Commander-in- Chief of the Navy. Did you never make any inquiries then?

A. I beg your pardon?

Q. Did you never make any inquiries?

A. No, I did not. I have told you that I saw this order as Commander of U-boats, and that as far as my field of activities was concerned this order did not concern me in the least, and, secondly, that those men, captured during naval engagements, were expressly excepted; so, as far as that goes, this order at that time had no actual, no real significance.

In view of the enormous number of things that I had to deal with when I became Commander-in-Chief of the Navy, it was quite natural that it did not occur to me to take up the question of this new order. I didn't think of the order at all.

[Page 262]

Q. I am going to put to you when the time comes a memorandum from the Naval Staff showing that it was put before you. Don't you remember that?

A. If you are referring to the memorandum which is in my trial brief, then I can say only that this memorandum was not submitted to me.

Q. What I want to ask you before the Tribunal adjourns is: Did you approve of this order or did you not?

A. I have already told you, as I -

Q. No, you have not. I want you to tell the Tribunal now, and you can answer it either "I approved" or "I did not approve." Did you or did you not approve this order to your Commanders?

A. Today I do not approve of that order since I have learned here that the basis was not so sound -

Q. Did you agree with it when you were Commander-in-Chief of the German Navy at the beginning of 1943? Did you approve of it then?

A. As Commander-in-Chief of the Navy I was not concerned with this order. While I was Commander of U-boats, as I have already explained to you, I considered it simply a reprisal order. It was not up to me to start an investigation or to take, it up with the office which had issued the order to find out whether the basis was correct or not. It was not up to me to start an investigation on the basis of International Law. It was quite clear in point (1) of the order that we had not placed any opponent of ours outside the bounds of the Geneva Convention, because they were murdering prisoners, and that therefore we had to do certain things as reprisals. Whether these reprisal measures were necessary or whether they were fully justified by the conditions in (1) that is something I did not and could not know.

Q. This is the last question. I want you to try and answer it with a straight answer if you can. At the beginning of 1943 did you or did you not approve of this order?

A. I cannot give you an answer, because at the beginning of 1943 I did not think of the order and was not concerned with it. Therefore I cannot say how that order affected me at that particular time. I can tell you only how it affected me when I read it as Commander of Submarines; and I can also tell you that today I reject this order, now that I have learned that the basis on which it was issued was not so sound. And thirdly, I can tell you that I personally rejected any kind of reprisals in naval warfare - every kind, in every case, and whatever the proposal.

Q. I will ask you some more questions about it tomorrow, as the time has come to break off.

(The Tribunal adjourned until May 10, 1946, at 1000 hours.)

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