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

The Trial of German Major War Criminals

Sitting at Nuremberg, Germany
7th June to 19th June 1946

One Hundred and Fifty-Third Day: Wednesday, 12th June, 1946
(Part 2 of 12)

[Page 147]


Q. I was just thinking that we could leave that to the judgement of the Tribunal.

Let us come back to the matter of these railway strikes. Did you not ask the General Secretaries to stop these strikes?

[Artur Seyss-Inquart] A. Yes.

Q. Did you not put an embargo on the means of transport and on the food in transit?

A. Certainly.

Q. That was you, was it not?

A. Yes, I said that yesterday.

Q. Consequently, you knew very well at that time what the food situation was in Holland and the consequences which would inevitably result from the decision which you made - a very serious decision.

A. No, not really. The fact was that traffic had already been disrupted because of requisitioning by the Wehrmacht, and it was only a question of finding a modus vivendi and, after ensuring the requirements of the Wehrmacht, which appeared urgent to me, of resuming the transport of foodstuffs into Holland. If the railway strike had not taken place, I would have succeeded in persuading the Wehrmacht to refrain from requisitioning, and shipping would have been left undisturbed.

Q. But we are not discussing the Wehrmacht. You knew very well that the moment you placed this embargo on ships - on the fleet - you knew perfectly well that at the time they were transporting food stuffs for the winter to Holland from the West.

A. Yes, but at the moment when I declared the embargo, there was actually no more traffic, and the few ships carrying food were a requisitioned by the Wehrmacht together with the foodstuffs.

Q. Then your decision was useless?

A. No, because in making this decision I persuaded the Wehrmacht to make the requisitioning as short as possible and they promised me that the ships which I earmarked would not be interfered with by them.

Q. How long did this embargo last?

A. I believe that between the 15th and 20th of October I instructed the chief of my traffic department to lift the embargo. Actually, it lasted some weeks longer because the Dutch transport organization did not function.

Q. Until what date, approximately?

A. It may have lasted until the middle of November.

Q. Was not that the period when the traffic was heaviest?

A. That is quite correct. In November and December we could bring enough food stuffs to Holland to tide us over these six weeks of frost, at the most, and in September I was of the firm conviction that in November and December the shipping facilities would be at my disposal.

[Page 148]

Q. And actually, did you obtain them?

A. Unfortunately no. For, due to the failure of the Dutch transport authorities, coupled with the other war conditions, these facilities were not at my disposal.

Q. But you knew very well that the decision which you were making was fraught with grave consequences?

A. In September this decision was not as serious as the fact that the Wehrmacht, in view of the railway strike, was in sore need of this transport and these facilities; and as it was up to me to safeguard the Reich's interests, there could be no graver accusation against me than for the German people to say that I did not do everything humanly possible to help to win the war.

Q. The Tribunal will take note of your answer.

THE PRESIDENT: Monsieur Debenest, you dealt with the subject yesterday, did you not?

M. DEBENEST: I do not think I did, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, the embargo on shipping surely was gone into yesterday.

M. DEBENEST: Mr. President, I think I spoke yesterday only of the requisitions which were carried out and I only asked one or two questions of an economic nature. I do not think I touched upon this subject. If I did, I apologise to the Tribunal. In any case, I am finished with it.


Q. What was the position of the Netherlands Bank on your arrival in 1940?

A. The Netherlands Bank as an issuing Bank was, I believe, set up primarily on the basis of a private bank. The President was Mr. Trip. The State probably had a certain influence since it served as the issuing bank.

Q. Give us a briefer explanation.

A. Then I should not be stating the whole truth.

Q. Did the gold reserves cover the amount of notes issued?

A. I assume so on the basis of the gold backing or the reserves of gold currency. In fact the gold backing was higher than the amount of notes issued. The Netherlands Bank had more gold and more gold backing than notes issued.

Q. And what was the position at the time of the German capitulation?

A. There were several milliards - it had several milliards of paper money in circulation, and perhaps another twenty-three million in gold guilders.

Q. But, above all, Reichsmarks?

A. No, I said twenty-three million guilders in gold. The rest of the coverage might have been bills from the Reich.

Q. Was it not you who ordered the abolition of the "Exchange Frontier" (frontiere des devises)? Will you answer?

A. I do not know what you mean by abolition of exchange.

INTERPRETER: "Exchange frontier."

A. Yes.

Q. Were you absolutely in agreement with the necessity for abolishing these frontiers?

A. The proposal originated in my office. I accepted it. Mr. Trip protested. I sent it to Berlin. In Berlin the Reichsmarschall decided in its favour. Reich Minister Funk was against it; I carried out the proposal which I had made, and which had been approved by the Reichsmarschall.

Q. But personally you agreed with it?

THE PRESIDENT: What do you mean, exactly, by the "Frontier of Devises" that you are dealing with now? We merely want to understand what you are talking about.

M. DEBENEST: I mean the free circulation of German currency in Holland.

[Page 149]


Q. Did not Holland also have to pay large sums in the form of so-called voluntary contributions, amongst other things, for the war against Bolshevism?

A. I believe I have explained this matter clearly. The Reich demanded during a certain period of time, as direct occupation costs, fifty million marks for the defences of Holland. In Holland we called this a "voluntary contribution," clearly for obvious political reasons. In reality, it was a demand of the Reich which would have had to be paid one way or another, and I would not charge it against any Dutchman that he paid this contribution voluntarily.

Q. You agreed to these measures, did you not?

A. Yes.

Q. What were the economic and financial consequences of all these measures?

A. The financial consequences were a greatly increased circulation of bank notes, and extremely large banking accounts which remained the same in the Reich as in all occupied countries. We applied one system in Holland, another in France and, in view of the collapse of the Reich, the financial consequences were the same. If Germany had not lost the war, Holland would have had a claim of more than four and a half milliard guilders against a sovereign Germany.

Q. Good. Will you then look at Document 997-PS, which you had in your hands yesterday. I will read to you what you thought of these measures. It is Page 14 of the French text and Page 12 of the German text. It is the big Seyss-Inquart report, Exhibit RF 122, Document 997-PS.


M. DEBENEST: 997-PS, Page 14.


Q. You write there - and I am reading from the sixth line -

"This regulation goes far beyond all similar regulations which have been introduced so far into the national economics of neighbouring countries, including the Protectorate."
Page 12 of the German text, 14 of the French:
"It actually represents the first step towards a currency union. In consideration of the significance of the agreement, which affects the independence of the Dutch State ..."
And then you add:
"... it is of decisive importance that the president of the Bank, Trip, who is very well known in western banking and financial circles, signed this agreement of his own free will in the above sense."
That was your impression of these measures, was it not?

A. That is true, but I must admit today, that the opinion I held at that time was wrong. Otherwise I would incriminate the bank president, Mr. Trip, too deeply. What is written down here is not yet the situation as it existed later when the exchange frontier was abolished. This was only the agreement between the two issuing banks concerning the unlimited acceptance of bank notes. I should also like to refer to the statements which I made about the qualities of Mr. Trip. The fact that he gave his approval does, in my eyes, establish the admissibility under International Law.

Q. Did you not state that it affected the independence of the occupied country?

A. That was an exaggerated optimism in my presentation of the facts.

Q. Very well, the Tribunal will judge as to that. On the other hand you contemplated the suppression of customs barriers?

A. I did not understand you.

Q. You do not wait until you have had the translation. How can you expect to understand? I said: Did you not contemplate the suppression of the customs barriers?

A. Yes.

[Page 150]

Q. Were there not in the Netherlands certain agencies which were charged with the looting of art objects?

A. I cannot call it "looting," but rather the administration and care of them, and so forth.

Q. That is your opinion. At any rate there were several agencies?

A. Yes.

Q. You are particularly well acquainted with the agency of Dr. Muhlmann?

A. Yes.

Q. Who called him to the Netherlands?

A. I sent Muhlmann to the Netherlands ahead of me so that he could arrange for premises for my offices.

Q. Was it only to set up your offices?

A. At that time, only to set up the offices.

Q. But later -

A. Muhlmann then left and some time after he returned as an agent of the Four-Year Plan, for the safeguarding of works of art. It was similar to what took place in Poland.

Q. What do you understand by "safeguarding"?

A. In point of fact - I do not want to talk a lot about it - but actually he had to determine whether there were any works of art in the property confiscated and then he had the task of reporting these works of art to the various Reich offices.

Q. Only to report them?

A. Yes, because the purchasing was taken care of by these various offices themselves. I assume - that is, I know - that he also dealt privately in works of art, as an intermediary.

Q. Did you also obtain some pictures yourself through his mediation?

A. Yes. Not for myself, but for the purposes that I described yesterday.

Q. Yes. You also stated yesterday that you had placed in safe keeping a large number of works of art, particularly pictures. What was your purpose in doing this?

A. Many works of art I secured only in the sense that when the decree about confiscation of enemy and Jewish property came out, they were secured and liquidated. I bought perhaps three or four pictures which, as I mentioned, were to be presented as gifts to the Museum of Art History in Vienna.

Q. No, no, I asked you for what purpose you placed these works of art in safety.

A. The confiscation of Jewish and enemy property had, as its primary purpose, sequestration, but in time it became clear that these art treasures were being bought by the Reich. These three or four pictures I purchased with the immediate purpose of giving them to certain Reich institutions, the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, for instance.

Q. But there was not only Jewish property there.

A. I said enemy property as well, but that was not enemy property in general, but only in cases where a specially hostile attitude towards the Reich was proved. Such property was confiscated also.

Q. Very well. That is what you wrote in a document which has already been submitted to the Tribunal, and which you certainly know. It is Document 824-F, Exhibit RF 1344. You know that document. It is a letter which came from you and is addressed to Dr. Lammers. This letter concerns pictures which were acquired for the Fuehrer. In paragraph 3 of this document, in the French text, you write as follows:

"From the list which has been submitted to me I deduce that in this manner a comparatively large number of valuable pictures have been secured, which the Fuehrer was able to acquire at prices which, according to investigations which I have made in the country, must be described as extraordinarily low."
Then you add that Rembrandt's self-portrait had been found again, thanks to Muhlmann.

[Page 151]

Consequently, the placing in security of works of art was clearly a means of allowing the Reich authorities to take them into Germany; is that not true?

A. There is no doubt about that. Regarding the Rembrandt picture, I should only like to say that it had come into Holland illegally, and therefore it was confiscated.

Q. And it was taken to Germany by legal means?

A. I believe that in the case of the Rembrandt picture there was no question at all, because in this case a German regulation had been violated.

Q. In addition to paintings, you also procured for yourself a large number of works of art and diamonds, precious stones, and so on?

A. I know nothing about that.

Q. You know nothing about that, but do you know that you have a house in Vienna at Untergasse 3?

A. No, that is Iglauer Strasse 15. However, that may be true, yes.

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