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-Seventh Day: Tuesday, 18th June, 1946
(Part 5 of 10)

[Page 325]

Q. Was not up to that moment rather a long time for you in which to discover that somewhat obvious truth after your close co-operation with Hitler?

A. My opinion about Hitler and his inner political significance was completely clear after 30th June, 1934. But, like all other human beings, I could assume that in the field of foreign politics at least he would be sensible, and I was of this opinion until after the Munich agreement.

Q. Well now, just let us see whether you had not had an opportunity of forming that view much earlier. When you were Reich Chancellor in 1932 it was necessary for you to acquaint yourself with the personalities and aims and methods of the Nazi Party, was it not?

A. Yes.

Q. And you did so, did you not?

A. Yes.

Q. And you remember - I do not want to delay by referring to the document, but you may take it as an exact quotation - that on 16th November, 1932, Hitler wrote to you and said: "You must be aware of my attitude and the attitude of my Party."

A. Of course I knew the aims of his Party, but I may add, if a party forms a coalition with another party it has to eliminate a great deal from its own programme and forms a coalition programme. That was what Hitler did on 30th January, 1943.

Q. Yes, but before we come to 30th January I want to get your view in 1932. You had very little doubt in 1932, during the period of your chancellorship, that, if Hitler got into power, Germany was in danger of being ruled by violent and unconstitutional methods, had you not?

A. Doubtless the programme of the National Socialists was revolutionary in this connection, but I explained in detail to the Tribunal that, when we came to this forced solution of 30th January, we established a number of safeguards and drew up a joint coalition programme which, in our opinion, eliminated the points of danger which you have mentioned.

Q. It was very strongly the view of President von Hindenburg in the middle of 1932 that it would be most dangerous to put power into Hitler's hands, was it not?

A. Yes, that was indeed his opinion, that Hitler had to be controlled by restricting his power.

Q. I will just give you one sentence from the affidavit of Herr Meissner, which the Tribunal will find in Document Book IIA, on Page 43. This will be Exhibit GB 495. The document number is 3309-PS.

This was after, in August 1932. According to Meissner:

"Hindenburg stated that because of the tense situation he could not, with a clear conscience, risk transferring the power of government to a new party, such as the National Socialists, which did not command a majority and which was intolerant, noisy and undisciplined."
That is a very moderate statement of the Reich President's views at that time, is it not?

A. Yes.

Q. And you know, defendant - I am not talking about a coalition, I am talking about if the National Socialists came into power themselves - it was obvious to you that they had few scruples and would make short work of their political opponents, is that not so?

[Page 326]

A. One cannot say that. In political life it always happens that a radical party, any party, but particularly a radical party, if it comes to power and is made responsible, has to eliminate much of its programme. For example, we have seen that in the case of the Socialist parties of all countries.

Q. Now, is it true, as the defendant Goering stated under oath, that he told you in 1932 that, whatever else the Nazis would do, Hitler would not become a "vice" or second man; that he would oppose any political set-up which did not give him the first place? Is that correct?

A. Yes, Hitler also always told me that.

Q. And therefore you realised that Hitler and his accomplices wanted a full opportunity to put their programme and intentions into effect, did you not?

A. No, I did not know that. That is a statement which you make here which does not reflect the conditions at that time. You need only read the government programme of our coalition of the 1st of February.

Q. Defendant, do not be afraid that I am not coming to the period of your coalition of January the 30th. For the moment I am just asking you one or two questions about your view of Hitler and Hindenburg's view of Hitler in 1932 because I want to deal with this matter by very quick but very clear stages.

I am still asking you about 1932. The question I put to you was: Did you realize that, if Hitler and his accomplices came into power, they wanted and would be content only with a full opportunity of putting their programme and intentions into effect?

A. No, I did not know that; otherwise I would not have made the attempt in 1933 to get them to support a joint coalition programme.

Q. Now, you have told us, I think, but I just want to get it quite clear, that your views as to what was necessary for Germany in the second half of 1932 was a settlement of the internal political differences and strife and an adjustment of relations with the Western Powers for the modification of the requirements of Versailles. I am trying to put it quite shortly as I understand it from you. That is right?

A. Yes.

Q. And were these aims - I think your first approach was to invite Hitler to be Vice-Chancellor in your government in August 1932, was it not?

A. That is quite right.

Q. Hitler refused that; and he refused a repetition of your offer in November 1932, is that not right?

A. Yes.

Q. Now, in order to save time I just want to see if Herr Meissner puts the position correctly in paragraphs six and seven of his affidavit. I will summarize it for you and believe me I will be most pleased to read anything of which you have any doubt. He puts it in this way. That in November 1932 you thought that the general situation and the Nazi Party, in particular, could be controlled if the President gave you the power to make decrees under Article 48, and you had the support of the Reichswehr and the police; but at that time General von Schleicher disagreed because he thought that the Reichswehr was not capable of keeping order in Germany. Is that right?

A. It is incorrect in so far as this process cannot be covered by any paragraph of the Constitution but constitutes a breach of the Constitution. Otherwise it is correct.

Q. That he might have had to use ultra-constitutional methods to keep control, is that what you mean?

A. Yes. As I have said here, he gave me this assignment on the first of December.

Q. Yes, but originally, is Meissner right in saying that you desired, after you had failed to get Hitler into your government, you desired to rule by decree and by keeping control with the Reichswehr, and General von Schleicher said that it could not be done?

[Page 327]

A. No, that is not true. After President von Hindenburg had decided that he did not want to break the Constitution, he appointed General von Schleicher Reich Chancellor, as is well known. At that time Herr von Schleicher wanted to create a majority by splitting the Party and, of course, I supported this attempt of Herr von Schleicher.

Q. Just in case it is any mistake of mine may I just give you Meissner's own words. It is paragraph 5, Page 44 of Document Book IIA. I think, defendant, it would be convenient for you to follow it, if you do not mind, so as to avoid any possibility of mistake.

A. Yes.

Q. It is paragraph 5 of Herr Meissner's statement:

"Papen's re-appointment as Chancellor by President Hindenburg would probably have taken place if he had been prepared to take up an open fight against the National Socialists, which would have involved the threat or use of force. Almost up to the time of his resignation, Papen and some of the other ministers agreed on the necessity for pressing the fight against the Nazis by employing all means at the disposal of the State and taking recourse to Article 48 of the Constitution, even if this might lead to armed conflict. But the other ministers believed that such a course would lead to civil war.

The decision was provided by Schleicher, who earlier had recommended energetic action against the National Socialists, even if this meant the use of police and army. Then at the decisive cabinet meeting he abandoned this idea and declared himself ready for an understanding with Hitler."

Is that correct?

A. In part it is correct, and in part it is not correct.

Q. Now tell us as shortly as you can the part which is not correct.

A. My re-appointment as Chancellor by Hindenburg, as Herr Meissner puts it, would have been possible if I had been ready to wage an open battle against the Nazis. That is completely false historically. On 1st December, I suggested to Hindenburg that he violate the Constitution and thereby wage open battle against the Nazi Party. Herr von Schleicher opposed that. That is the historical truth.

Q. So that we shall have it in sequence, will you now look at paragraph 6 of the same document, about the second sentence; it begins:

"When it became clear that Hitler was not willing to enter Schleicher's cabinet and that Schleicher on his part was unable to split the National Socialist Party, as he had hoped to do with the help of Gregor Strasser, the policy for which Schleicher had been appointed Chancellor was shipwrecked. Schleicher was aware that Hitler was particularly embittered against him and would never agree to co-operate with him. Therefore he, Schleicher, changed his policy and decided to fight against the Nazis - which meant that he now wanted to pursue the policy which he had sharply opposed a few weeks before, when Papen had suggested it."
Is that right?

A. That is quite right.

Q. Now, you see - I want to get the position quite clear. You told us that you had approached Hitler first in August; before you approached Hitler you had already legalised the position of the SA and the SS, which had been made illegal by Chancellor Bruning. You did that on 14th June, did you not?

A. I had lifted the prohibition, yes, but only for four weeks.

Q. Did you think it was a good thing to lift the prohibition against the SA, the terror of the streets?

A. I explained clearly to the Tribunal how the lifting of this prohibition came about. The intention was to influence Hitler and his party to tolerate my cabinet. The second reason was that the prohibition of these formations was one-sided, if the socialists' and communists' fighting formations were not also prohibited.

Q. And on 20th July you had forcefully got rid of the Braun-Severing government and got control of Prussia, and the Prussian police under your own hand?

[Page 328]

A. It cannot be expressed in that way, no.

Q. Well, you had got rid of the Braun-Severing government and got power over Prussia and the Prussian police under your own hands, had you not?

A. I did not have the Prussian police in my hands. The Reich Commissioner for Prussia, whom I had appointed - a very moderate man - now had charge of the Prussian police.

Q. And under the Weimar Constitution you, as Chancellor, had the right to dictate all the general lines of policy, and the Commissioner for Prussia and every other Minister had to accept your policy; was that not right?

A. After I had appointed a commissioner, I had the right to determine the general lines of policy for Prussia.

Q. Now, I would just like you to look at a speech of yours which you made at Essen in November 1933.

SIR DAVID MAXWELL FYFE: It is Document Book II, Page 54, and it is Page 47 of the German document book.


Q. Now, you see the introductory words:

"Ever since Providence called upon me to become the pioneer of the national resurrection and the rebirth of our homeland, I have tried to support with all my strength the work of the National Socialist movement and its leader."
Is that true?

A. Absolutely, yes, that refers to -

Q. I just asked you if it is true. I may come back to it again.

"Just as I, when I took over the chancellorship, advocated paving the way to power for the young, fighting liberation movement."
Was your work, in paving the way to power for the young, fighting liberation movement, to legalise the SA and to turn out the moderate government in Prussia and centralise the control of the police?

A. No, that would have been a very bad course.

Q. Just pause there and tell me if that was not what you had done. Tell the Tribunal how you had paved the way to power for the young, fighting liberation movement, if it was not by doing that.

A. Yes, I will explain clearly. The programme of the National Socialist Party provided for the liberation of Germany from the discriminations to which we were subjected by the Versailles Treaty. I have spoken here in detail about this. I have explained what efforts I made to obtain the co-operation of the big Powers in this connection. We wanted to become a big power again, after being a second-rate nation. That was the meaning of it.

Q. Defendant, I do not want to stop you, and the Tribunal will give you every opportunity of repeating what you have said on that point, but I do want you to answer my question. If I am wrong in what I have put to you as the two things you did to pave the way, just tell us quite shortly what else you had done to pave the way for this fighting liberation movement? That is the question. What had you done?

A. I had asked Hitler twice to join my own government, and, when at the end of January 1933 there was no other way out, I formed a coalition at Hindenburg's request with the National Socialist Party.

Q. Now, did you believe at that time that Hitler was absolutely necessary for Germany?

A. I was of the opinion that a man who in March 1932, before I was in the government, had 36.8 per cent of all German votes in the presidential election, that that man and his party had to be included in any responsible government.

Q. But beyond his electoral success, did you think that Hitler, from his personality, aims and programme, was essential for Germany at that time?

[Page 329]

A. I do not know how a party which controlled 36.8 per cent of all German votes could be dealt with by means of the police.

Q. Look at your own words in the next paragraph of that speech. You do not seem to refer to merely electoral success:

"The dear Lord has blessed Germany by giving it in times of deep distress a leader who will lead it through all crises and moments of danger, with the assured instinct of the statesman, into a happy future."
That was, shall we say - we will not say extravagant, but, rather, strong language for an ex-cavalry officer to use of a political figure if he did not think, or if he did not want other people to think, that he firmly believed in him. Did you really mean what you said there?

A. May I say the following in answer? After I had formed the coalition with Hitler, I was convinced that he would keep this pact of coalition, and repeatedly - not only in this speech - I professed my allegiance to Hitler and to our joint programme, and I have already told the Tribunal why I took his part precisely in this speech. This was a question of stating before the whole world that Hitler's solemn promise to keep peace was a serious promise to which we all subscribed.

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