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-Sixth Day: Friday, 10th May, 1946
(Part 3 of 12)

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

[Page 271]

Q. Did you think that all your labour was going to be German or that it was going to be partly foreign labour?

A. I didn't think about that at all. I should like to explain now how these demands came to be made.

At the end of the war I was given the task of organising large-scale transports in the Baltic Sea. Hundreds of thousands of poverty-stricken refugees had to be moved out of the coastal areas of East and West Prussia, where they were exposed to starvation, sickness and bombardment and brought back to Germany. For this reason I made enquiries about merchant shipping, which was not actually under my jurisdiction, and in so doing, I learned that out of eight ships ordered in Denmark, seven had been destroyed by saboteurs in the final stage of construction. I called a meeting of all the departments connected with those ships and asked them: "How can I help you so that we get shipping space and have damaged ships repaired more quickly?" I received suggestions from various quarters outside the Navy, including a suggestion that repair work, etc., might be speeded up by employing prisoners from the concentration camps. By way of justification, it was pointed out that in view of the excellent food conditions such employment would be very popular. Since I knew nothing about the methods and conditions in the concentration camps, I included these proposals in my collection as a matter of course, especially as there was no question of making conditions worse for them, as they would be given better food when working. And I know that if I had done the opposite, I could have been accused of refusing these people an opportunity of having better food. I had not the slightest reason to do this, as I knew nothing about any concentration camp's conditions at the time.

Q. I am sure we are grateful for your explanation. But I just want you to tell me, after you had proposed that you should get 12,000 people from concentration camps, d1d you get them?

[Page 272]

A. I don't know. I didn't do anything more about that. After the meeting I had a memorandum prepared and submitted to the Fuehrer -

Q. Keep to the answer. The answer is that you don't know whether you got them or not, assuming that you did get them.

A. I didn't get them at all. I had nothing to do with shipbuilding and consequently I don't know whether those responsible for the work in the shipbuilding yards received those additional workers or not.

Q. But you held a position of some responsibility; if you get 12,000 people from concentration camps into the shipbuilding industry, they would have to work alongside people who weren't from concentration camps, would they not?

A. Certainly.

Q. Are you telling this Tribunal that when you ask for and you may have got 12,000 people out of concentration camps, who work alongside people not in concentration camps, that the conditions inside the concentration camps remain a secret to the other people and to all the rulers of Germany?

A. First of all, I don't know whether they came. Secondly, if they did come, I can very well imagine that they had orders not to talk; and thirdly, I don't even know what camps they came from, and whether they were not people who had already been put into other camps on account of the work they accomplished. At any rate, I didn't worry about the execution or methods, etc., because it was none of my business; I acted on behalf of the competent non-naval departments which required workmen in order to carry out repairs more quickly, so that something could be done about repairs for the merchant navy. That was my duty, considering the arrangements which I had to make for the re-transport of these refugees. I would do exactly the same thing again today. That is the position.

Q. Well now, just look a little down the document to the fourth paragraph after it says: "Translator's note." If you will look at the English, the paragraph beginning: "Since elsewhere." Have you found that? This is as you have told us, after you express your worry about the sabotage in the Danish and Norwegian shipyards. I just want you to look at your proposal to deal with saboteurs.

"Since elsewhere measures for exacting atonement, taken against whole working parties amongst whom sabotage occurred, have proved successful, and, for example, the shipyard sabotage in France was completely suppressed, possibly similar measures for the Scandinavian countries will come under consideration."
That is what you were suggesting, defendant, a collective penalty against the whole working party where any sabotage occurred; isn't that so?

A. Yes. May I give an explanation in that connection?

Q. That is all right. But otherwise, it is so?

A. Agencies outside the Navy connected with shipbuilding stated at that meeting that sabotage had been prevented in France by the introduction of certain reprisals. Through an affidavit by an officer who attended the meeting and drafted the minutes, or short memorandum, I have now ascertained that reprisals at that time mean the withholding of the additional rations issued by the management of the ship- yard. That is what that meant. And, secondly, to come to Norway and Denmark, I told these people:-

"It is impossible for us to build ships there with our foreign currency and our materials, only to have them smashed up by sabotage - and assuredly with the co- operation of the ship-yard workmen - when they are nearly ready. What can we do against that."
The answer I received was that the only way was to keep them away from saboteurs and to round them up in camps.

Q. The whole of this explanation that you have given us is in this document which is in front of the Tribunal. Have you anything to add to what is in the document?

[Page 273]

A. Right: I have to add that the workmen were to be treated in exactly the same way as our own workmen, who were also housed in barracks. The Danish and Norwegian workers would not have suffered the slightest discomfort.

Q. I want you to look at one more sentence:

"By the employment of the working parties concerned as concentration camps workers, their output would not only be increased to a hundred per cent. but the threat of cessation of their previously good wages might possibly result in their being considerably deterred from sabotage."
That fairly represents your view of the way to treat Norwegian and Danish workers, does it not?

A. This was a preventative measure against sabotage.

Q. Well now, just turn back to Page 70 of the English Document Book, Page 103 in the German Document Book. This is an extract from the minutes of a meeting between you and Hitler on the 1st of July, 1944, signed by yourself. Have you got it?

A. Not yet.

Q. Page 70 in the English, Page 103 in the German text.

A. I have got it.

Q. Concerning the general strike in Copenhagen, the Fuehrer says:

"The only weapon to deal with terror is terror. Court martial proceedings create martyrs. History shows that the names of such men are on everybody's lips, whereas there is silence with regard to the many thousands who have lost their lives in similar circumstances without court martial proceedings."
Silence with regard to those who are condemned without trial! Do you agree with that statement of Hitler?

A. No.

Q. Then why did you distribute it to Operations Department for circulation if you didn't approve of it?

A. I do not agree with this procedure, but it expresses an idea of the Fuehrer's. This was not a discussion between the Fuehrer and myself; it represents notes, made by the officer who accompanied me, on the military situation generally, and contains widely differing points -

Q. Will you try and answer my question? It is a perfectly simple one. It is, why did you distribute that to Operations for circulation? What was there in these few lines that was of interest to your officers? What did you think was valuable for your officers to know in that dreadful piece of savagery that I have just quoted to you?

A. It is very easy to explain that. The officer who made the notes included it in an order to inform our ship-yard establishments that there was a general strike in Copenhagen. That one paragraph from that long, situation discussion was included as part of the warning to the ship- yard establishments that there was a strike in Copenhagen. That was the whole point.

Q. I am suggesting to you, defendant, that you circulated that to your officers to inculcate ruthlessness among them. That is my suggestion. What do you say to that?

A. I say that is entirely wrong. I may tell you also that I did not hear the Fuehrer make that statement, but it is possible that it was taken down by the accompanying officer, Wagner, for the reason which I have just given you, to warn our people of the general strike in Copenhagen.

Q. Now, defendant, I am not going to argue with you about your knowledge of documents you have signed. I have questions to do with documents you have not signed, so let us pass on to the next one.

A. I know the document. I know it because I have signed it.

Q. Page 69, that is Page 4 in the English Document Book or Page 102 in the German Document Book, the minutes of the conference on the 19th February, 1945, between you and Hitler -

A. No, that is not correct.

[Page 274]

Q. No, I beg your pardon. It is an extract from the minutes of the Hitler conference on the 19th February, 1945; and then there is a note -

A. No. It says here: Participation by the Supreme Commanders of the Navy in situation discussions with the Fuehrer.

It was not a special conference on the military situation as a whole.

Q. I did not mean to say "special." I said the Hitler conference on the 19th.

A. Yes.

Q. Now the first sentence of paragraph 1 says: "The Fuehrer is considering whether or not Germany should renounce the Geneva Convention." The last sentence is: "The Fuehrer orders the Commander-in-Chief of the Navy to consider the pros and cons of this step and to state his opinion as soon as possible." And if you look down at the next minutes of the conference on the 20th February, which is headed: Participation of C-in-C Navy in a Hitler conference on 20th February at 16oo hours, it reads as follows: "The C-in-C of the Navy informed the Chief of the Armed Forces, Operations staff, General Jodl, and representative for the Minister for Foreign Affairs at the Fuehrer's headquarters, Ambassador Hewel, of his views with regard to Germany's possible renunciation of the Geneva Convention. From a military standpoint there are no grounds for this step as far as the conduct of the war at sea is concerned. On the contrary, the dis-advantages outweigh the advantages. Even from a general standpoint, it appears to the Commander-in-Chief of the Navy that this measure would bring no advantage."

Now look to the last sentence: "It would be better to carry out measures considered necessary without warning and at all costs to save face with the outer world." That means, put in blunt and brutal language: "Don't denounce the convention but break it whenever it suit you," doesn't it?

A. No, that is not true.

Q. What does it mean? Let's take it word for word. "It would be better to carry out measures considered necessary"; aren't these measures contrary to the rules of the Geneva Convention?

A. I must give an explanation of that.

Q. Answer my question first and then make a statement. You have done it before, but try to answer my question. "These measure considered necessary," if they don't mean measures contrary to the terms of the Geneva Convention what do they mean? Answer that question first.

A. They are measures against our own troops. I have heard - I was told that the Fuehrer intended, or had said that because the front was yielding in the West and he feared that American and British propaganda might induce men to desert, he intended to depart from the Geneva Convention, so I said to my staff:

"How is it possible in this connection to contemplate abandoning a system of international law almost a century old!" I may have said something like this: " The necessary measures must be taken."
There was no thought of concrete measures in that connection and no such measures were introduced. My own views on the treatment of prisoners of war can best be heard from the 8,000 British prisoners of war who were in my camps. That is the situation regarding this matter. All the Service Chiefs protested against the idea of renouncing the Geneva Convention. They were not in favour of this idea.

Q. Is that your total explanation of "to carry out measures considered necessary?" You have nothing else to add on that point? Well, I shall pass to another one. Do you remember saying to Dr. Kranzbuhler yesterday that when you became Commander-in-Chief of the Navy that the war was purely a defensive war? Do you remember saying that to your counsel yesterday?

A. Yes.

Q. That was not your fault, was it? It was not your fault that it remained limited to the countries engaged when you took over? Do you remember your advice to Hitler at the meeting of 14th May, 1943?

[Page 275]

A. No.

Q. Well, let me just suggest to you, do you remember the discussion about the Sea Transport for Sicily and Sardinia? Do you remember having a discussion on that; and do you remember warning Hitler that your U-boat losses were fifteen to seventeen U-boats a month, and that the position as to the future of the U-boat war looked rather gloomy? Do you remember that?

A. Yes, I do.

Q. And do you remember Hitler saying: "These losses are too heavy. This cannot go on." And did you say to Hitler: "How our only outlet for sorties is the Bay of Biscay and control of this involves great difficulties, and already takes up ten days' passage time of the U-boats. The best strategic solution lies in the occupation of Spain, including Gibraltar." And did Hitler remark: "In 1940 this would still have been possible with the co-operation of Spain, but now, and against the will of Spain, our resources are no longer adequate?" Do you remember suggesting that to Hitler on the 14th of May, 1943 and Hitler saying his resources were no longer adequate?

A. I don't think that I had proposed to the Fuehrer that we should occupy Spain. I described the situation very clearly; I said that we were blockaded in that small corner of the Bay of Biscay and that the situation would be different if there was much more room. That, however, does not suggest that, in consideration of the defensive situation, we should occupy Spain.

Q. Let us get it clearly, I am quoting you now from Admiral Assmann's head-line diary, a verbatim translation.

SIR DAVID MAXWELL FYFE: The original is in London, my Lord. I will get the copy and put it in and certify it. This point only arose again yesterday and I haven't got it. I will have the original given and I will show Dr. Kranzbuhler this entry.

These are the words that Admiral Assmann records:

"Donitz continues: 'Now our only small outlet for sorties is the Bay of Biscay and control of this involves great difficulties and already takes up ten days' passage time of the U-boats.'"

"Donitz says, 'The best strategic solution lies in the occupation of Spain, including Gibraltar.'"

Did you say that, "The best strategic solution lies in the occupation of Spain, including Gibraltar"?

A. That's possible. If that's the wording you've got there. It's possible that that's the way I said it.

SIR DAVID MAXWELL FYFE: My Lord, I was going to pass on from these general -

THE PRESIDENT: Sir David, have you passed altogether from Document 158-C on Page 69?

SIR DAVID MAXWELL FYFE: My Lord, I had, but I can easily return to it, my Lord.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, the second sentence in paragraph I appears to have some bearing upon the answers which the defendant has given.

SIR DAVID MAXWELL FYFE: My Lord, I am sorry, but I tried to cut it as short as possible to the bare bone, and I am sorry if I omit matters.

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