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-Eighth Day: Monday, 13th May, 1946
(Part 4 of 9)

[DR. KRANZBUHLER continues his direct examination of Gerhard Wagner]

[Page 346]

Q. Are these statements in accord with the actual circumstances and were they approved by the Naval War Staff, or just what was the situation?

A. Here we are concerned with the rather romantic ideas of a young expert, ideas which were in no way commensurate with the situation. The situation was rather as follows:-

At this time, that is, in September, 1939, the second wave of the British Expeditionary Force left England for France. The transports ran mostly during the night and were blacked out. At this same time an order according to which

[Page 347]

French ships were neither to be stopped nor attacked was still in force for political reasons.

It is quite obvious that at night a blacked-out French ship cannot be distinguished from a blacked-out English ship, just as at night a merchant ship cannot, or can only with difficulty be distinguished from a warship.

These orders, therefore, meant that at night, in order to avoid a mistake, practically no shooting could be done, and therefore the English troop transport was entirely unhampered.

This brought about really grotesque situations. It was ascertained that a German U-boat, in a favourable position for attack, let a fully-loaded English troop transport ship of 20,000 tons pass by, since there was the possibility of making a mistake.

The Naval War Staff (SKL) agreed completely with the commanders of the U-boats, that no naval war could be carried on in this manner. If a blacked-out ship sails in a belligerent area, still more in an area where there is a strong supply and troop transport traffic, it easily comes under suspicion and it cannot be expected that the war would be halted at night for its sake.

Therefore it was not a question of our explaining or excusing ourselves for sinking a ship without warning, because we had mistaken it, but the undoubted fact was that the blacked-out ship alone was to blame if it was not properly recognized and sunk without warning.

Q. In these notes we find that the commanders of U-boats, when sinking a merchant ship without warning, were required to make the notation in their log that they had taken it for a battleship and that an order, a verbal order to this effect, was to be given to these commanders. Is this correct, and was it done in actual practice?

A. No, we never did anything like that.

Q. Was the flag officer of the U-boats given strict and clear orders that at night in the Channel blacked-out ships might be attacked without warning?

A. Yes. This clear order was issued, but nothing more.

Q. If the statements of this young officer are not correct, and if no orders were issued accordingly, how is it that these things may be found in the war diary of the Naval War Staff (SKL)?

A. This paper is not a direct part of the war diary of the Naval War Staff. The war diary itself in which the daily happenings were recorded was signed by me, by the Commander- in-Chief of the SKL, and by the Commander-in-Chief of the Navy. Here we are concerned with the entry of an expert which was destined for a file collection and motivated by the war diary.

Q. That means, then, that the considerations and opinions of experts were collected and filed without regard as to whether they were approved of or put into actual practice?

A. Yes. All of these files were collected for later purposes.

Q. Did the Naval War Staff receive news of the incidents which happened after the sinking of the Laconia, and did it approve of the measures taken by the Commander-in-Chief of the U-boats?

A. The SKL, then as always, listened in on all the wireless messages of the Commander-in-Chief in the Laconia case. It approved of the measures taken by him, but it would not have been at all surprised if the Commander-in-Chief of the U- boats had stopped the entire rescue work at the very first air attack upon the U-boat.

Q. Did the SKL know of the order of the Commander-in-Chief of the U-boats, dated 17th September, in which rescue work by U- boats was expressly prohibited?

A. This order given by the Commander-in-Chief of the U-boats was also heard by wireless.

Q. Was this order interpreted by the SKI, to the effect that it was to be an order for the shooting of shipwrecked people?

A. No; no one ever had this idea.

[Page 348]

DR. KRANZBUHLER: Mr. President, at this point I should like to put several questions to the witness which have a bearing on the credibility of the statements made by the witness Heisig. But I should like to ask in advance whether there are any objections to my putting these questions, since my documents referring to the witness Heisig were not ruled admissible.

THE PRESIDENT: Was the object of the questions which you were offering to put to this witness, to show that the witness Heisig was not a witness who could be believed upon his oath? Was that your object?

DR. KRANZBUHLER: The general object is to show how the testimony of this witness originated; that is, the testimony which was submitted to the Tribunal.

THE PRESIDENT: What do you mean by "originated"?

DR. KRANZBUHLER: That is to say, on what influence was the testimony of Heisig based.

THE PRESIDENT: What is the exact question you wanted to ask? You may state it, and we will let the witness wait until we have heard what the question is.

DR. KRANZBUHLER: I should like to ask the witness, "Did the witness Heisig report to you about the manner in which his affidavit, which was submitted to the High Tribunal as evidence by the prosecution, originated?"

THE PRESIDENT: The question that you put, as I took it down, was: What did the witness Heisig report to you about the way his affidavit came about? Is that the question?

DR. KRANZBUHLER: Yes, your Honour.

THE PRESIDENT: What are you purporting to prove by getting the reports that Heisig may have made to this witness?

DR. KRANZBUHLER: I should like to prove thereby, Mr. President, that Heisig was under a certain influence, that is, that he wrongly assumed that he could help a comrade by his testimony.

THE PRESIDENT: Who applied for Heisig's affidavit?

DR. KRANZBUHLER: I do not understand, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT: Heisig has given an affidavit, has he not?


THE PRESIDENT: That was for the prosecution, was it?

DR. KRANZBUHLER: That is right.

THE PRESIDENT: And have you asked to cross-examine him?

DR. KRANZBUHLER: I interrogated him about this affidavit, Mr. President.


DR. KRANZBUHLER: Yes, I did question him; and I called his attention to the contradictions between his affidavit and his testimony here in Court.

SIR DAVID MAXWELL FYFE: My Lord, I have not read the transcript on this point for about ten days. But I did read it then, and my recollection is that it was never suggested to the Witness Heisig that he gave his affidavit under pressure, which I gather is the suggestion now. Your Lordship will remember that although we had the affidavit, we called the witness Heisig. He said that what was in his affidavit was true; and then he gave his evidence, giving a detailed account of all the relevant matters. So we made it perfectly possible for Dr. Kranzbuhler to cross-examine him at the time and to show any differences,

[Page 349]

as Dr. Kranzbuhler just said he purported to do, between the affidavit and his oral evidence.

THE PRESIDENT: Dr. Kranzbuhler has just said, I think, that he did actually cross-examine him.

SIR DAVID MAXWELL FYFE: He did cross-examine him on that point, on any differences that appeared between his affidavit and his oral testimony. But he was here to be cross-examined, and if it is going to be suggested that the affidavit was obtained by improper means, that suggestion ought to have been made at the time, and then it could have been dealt with.

My Lord, I object to bringing it in at this stage, after the witness Heisig has been away, and therefore no opportunity has been given to us either to investigate the matter or to have the evidence here, which could have been done when Heisig gave his evidence; and we could have been prepared for any contradictory evidence now.

My Lord, as a matter of correctness, surely, if I may put it that way, there are two distinct lines. If it was a question of whether Heisig's evidence was admissible or whether it had been obtained under pressure, then it would be quite possible to have this trial within a trial as to whether it was admissible or not.

But if this evidence is, broadly, merely directed to the credibility of Heisig's evidence, then I respectfully submit it falls within the same objections I made on Saturday to, general evidence directed against the credibility of a witness.

THE PRESIDENT: I do not think it is suggested that there was any pressure put by the prosecution upon Heisig. I do not understand, that is what you are suggesting, Dr. Kranzbuhler, is it?

DR. KRANZBUHLER: No, no pressure; but the picture as drawn was not true.

SIR DAVID MAXWELL FYFE: I understood Dr. Kranzbuhler - if I misunderstood him, it simplifies the matter - I understood him to say that he wanted to give this evidence as to certain influence. I thought that was the word used.

THE PRESIDENT: I think he meant, not influence exerted by the prosecution but exerted by a mistaken notion in the witness's own mind that he was helping a friend.

SIR DAVID MAXWELL FYFE: I see. My Lord, then that merely goes to credibility and it does then fall within my general objection; that is, if we are going to have evidence as directed on credibility, we go on ad infinitum.

THE PRESIDENT: Dr. Kranzbuhler, the Tribunal will allow this question to be put in this particular instance, but they make no general rule as to the admissibility of such questions.

DR. KRANZBUHLER: Thank you very much, Mr. President.


Q. Admiral Wagner, in December you were in the prison here together with the witness Heisig. Is that correct?

A. Yes, from the 1st until the 5th of December.

Q. And what did Heisig tell you about the underlying considerations of his affidavit?

A. He told me the following, personally:-

At the interrogation he had been told that Lieutenant General (Oberleutnant) Hoffmann, Captain of the Guard (sr. Grade) Eck had testified that at that time he had listened to the speech by Grand Admiral Donitz at Gotenhafen, in the autumn of 1942, and that he had considered this as a demand for the killing of survivors of shipwrecks. Heisig had been told: "If you confirm this testimony of Hoffmann, then you will save not only Eck and Hoffmann, but also two others who would have been sentenced to death.

[Page 350]

You will prevent any kind of judicial proceeding against Captain Mohle from being instituted. Of course, you will thus incriminate Grand Admiral Donitz but the material against Grand Admiral Donitz is of such tremendous weight that his life has been made forfeit anyway."
Further he told me, and without prompting, that at that time, at the occasion of the speech by the Grand Admiral, he had been in a distressed state of mind. He had just returned from Lubeck, where he had experienced and seen the frightful consequences of an air attack, that is, perhaps he had not experienced it, but at least he had seen the consequences. His mind was entirely set upon revenge for these brutal measures, and he considered it possible that this emotional state might have influenced his interpretation of Grand Admiral Donitz's speech.

Q. Now we shall turn to a different point.



THE PRESIDENT: If the prosecution desire to do so, they can, of course, recall Heisig for the purpose of investigating this further.

SIR DAVID MAXWELL FYFE: If your Lordship pleases, Heisig is no longer here; that is the difficulty when this is done in this order. However, we can consider the matter, my Lord, and we are grateful to the Tribunal for the permission.

THE PRESIDENT: Is Heisig not in custody? Is that what you mean?

SIR DAVID MAXWELL FYFE: Yes, my Lord, he is no longer in custody.

DR. KRANZBUHLER: He is studying medicine at Munich; he can be very easily reached.



Q. From when on were you Admiral for special missions attached to the Commander-in- Chief of the Navy and what were your tasks in that capacity?

A. From the end of June, 1944, onward, and the purpose of my assignment was the following:-

After the success of the Anglo-Saxon invasion in Northern France, Grand Admiral Donitz counted on an aggravation of the military situation. He believed that one day he might be forced to separate himself from the Naval War Staff, either to remain permanently at the Fuehrer's headquarters or, at least, for a longer period of time in order to keep abreast of the development of the entire war situation, or because a transfer of the Naval War Staff might be necessary because of the increasingly heavy air attacks on Berlin. For this purpose the Grand Admiral wanted an older and experienced naval officer in his immediate vicinity, an officer who was well versed in the problems of sea warfare and who was acquainted with the duties and tasks of the Naval War Staff.

My mission was, therefore, a sort of liaison between the Commander-in-Chief of the Navy, of the SKL, and the other offices of the supreme command, for the duration of the separation of the Grand Admiral from the Supreme Command.

Q. Did you accompany the Grand Admiral regularly on his visits to the Fuehrer's headquarters?

A. Yes; from the period of time mentioned, I was present regularly.

Q. Now I shall submit to you a list of these visits, which has been submitted by the prosecution as Exhibit GB 207. This may be found in the document book of the prosecution on Page 56.

Please look at this list and tell me whether the dates recorded there are essentially correct.

A. The dates are essentially correct. At the end, the list is not complete, for the period from 3rd, no, from 10th April until 21st April, 1945, is missing. On that day the Grand Admiral participated for the last time at the briefing sessions

[Page 351]

in the Fuehrer's headquarters. Beyond that, it seems to me that the list of the people present is incomplete. I also do not know according to what point of view or with what idea in mind this list was compiled.

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