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

The Trial of German Major War Criminals

Sitting at Nuremberg, Germany
20th June to 1st July 1946

One Hundred and Sixty-Second Day: Monday, 24th June, 1946
(Part 4 of 8)

[DR. VON LUDINGHAUSEN continues his direct examination of Constantin von Neurath]

[Page 128]


Q. What did you do when this speech forced you to realize these things?

A. About two days after this speech, I went to General von Fritsch, who had been present on the occasion of this speech; and together with him and the Chief of the General Staff, Beck, I discussed what could be done to get Hitler to change his ideas. We agreed that, first of all, General von Fritsch, who was due to report to Hitler during the next few days, should explain to him all the military considerations which made this policy inadvisable. Then I intended to explain the political reasons to him.

Unfortunately Hitler left for Obersalzberg soon afterwards and could not receive or did not wish to receive me before his departure. I could not see Hitler until 14th or 15th January. On that occasion I tried to show him that his policy would lead to a world war, and that I would have no part of it. Many of his plans could be realised by peaceful means, even if the process was slower. He answered that he could not wait any longer. I called his attention to the danger of war and to the serious warnings of the generals. I reminded him of his speech to the Reichstag in 1933 in which he himself had declared every new war to be sheer madness and so forth. When, despite all my arguments, he still stuck to his opinions, I told him that he would have to find another Foreign Minister, and that I would not be an accessory to such a policy. At first Hitler refused to accept my resignation, but I insisted, and on 4th February he gave me my release without further comment.

Q. Did you have the impression; Herr von Neurath, that Hitler decided to grant your release with reluctance, or that by your request to be allowed to resign you met his wishes half-way?

A. I believe the latter is the case. I believe Hitler had been wanting it for some time -

THE PRESIDENT: That is not evidence. You cannot say what you think another man thought.


Q. Then, immediately after your resignation as Foreign Minister, you were made President of the newly instituted Secret Cabinet Council. What did that appointment mean?

A. As the witness Goering has already stated here, the Secret Cabinet Council was set up for the sole purpose of masking the change in foreign policy and change on the military side. Several witnesses have testified to the fact that the Secret Cabinet Council was never called together. I might add that in actual practice, it would not have been able to function, for since my resignation on 4th February, I was cut off from all access to news concerning foreign policy.

Q. Now, after your resignation as Foreign Minister, you kept your title as Reich Minister. But were you still a member of the Reich Cabinet or not?

[Page 129]

A. No. Apart from the fact that as far as I knew the Reich Cabinet no longer functioned, because there were no longer any sessions of the Reich Cabinet, the title "Reich Minister" was just a nominal title which was not connected with any activity or with any Government department. Unlike the members of the Reich Government, I did not receive any Government bills for signature.

Q. The prosecution states that in March of 1938 you represented Ribbentrop as Foreign Minister during his absence, and they deduce this from an entry in the diary of General Jodl, which said, "Neurath in the meantime is taking over the Foreign Office." Will you please comment on this?

A. After my resignation on 4th February, I was quite out of touch with my former colleagues, and I withdrew myself completely. However, I still remained in Berlin. On 11th March, 1938, late in the afternoon, suddenly Hitler rang me up in my apartment and asked me to come and see him. In the ante-room I met, besides Herr von Papen, General von Brauchitsch and a number of other high officials and officers of his immediate entourage. Also Goering was in the room with Hitler when I came in. Hitler told me that the Anschluss with Austria was a fact, and that German troops would cross the border in the night of the 11th and 12th. When I objected and asked whether that had to be, Hitler told me the reason why he did not wish to wait any longer. He asked me what the Foreign Office should do, as the Foreign Minister was absent in London at the time. I told him quite clearly that we would probably receive protests to which a reply would have to be sent. Apart from that we for our part should make a statement to the Powers. There should be no formal negotiations. I also told him that the Foreign Minister should be immediately recalled from London. Goering objected to this. Finally Hitler asked me to tell the State Secretary of the Foreign Office what he had just told me, so that the Foreign Office would know what was happening.

On 12th March, in the morning, I did as Hitler had instructed, and passed on his description of events to the State Secretary, who was the official representative of Ribbentrop. Goering was appointed by Hitler to be his deputy during the time he was absent. On the same day, I personally told him about the letter addressed to me by the British Ambassador containing the British protest against the occupation of Austria. I told him that the Foreign Office would submit a note of reply.

When this note had been drafted I told Goering about its contents over the telephone. Goering, as Hitler's deputy, asked me to sign the reply in his stead, since the British Ambassador's letter had been addressed to me. Goering has already stated this as a witness here in this courtroom; hence the phrase in this letter which says, "in the name of the Reich Government."

I repeatedly asked Goering to have Ribbentrop recalled from London and to keep him informed. From the telephone conversation between Goering and Ribbentrop which has already been mentioned here, it appears that Goering did this. The explanation why the British note was addressed to me I found out only here through the testimony of Goering when he said that on the evening of the 11th he himself had told the British Ambassador that he, Goering was representing Hitler during his absence and that Hitler had asked me to advise him, if need be, on matters of foreign policy.

The entry in Jodl's diary, about which I heard only here in this Court, and which, strangely enough, is dated 10th March - a time when I had not even put in an appearance - can probably be attributed to the fact that somebody had seen me on 11th March in the Reich Chancellery. In any case, I was not active in any other way as Ribbentrop's deputy.

Q. Also you did not use stationery with the heading "Foreign Office," did you?

A. The fact that I used stationery with the heading "President of the Secret Cabinet Council," which I found in a room of the Chancellery, and which was the only indication that this legendary institution actually existed, also proves

[Page 130]

that I did not represent the Foreign Office or the Foreign Minister, otherwise I would have used Foreign Office stationery.

Q. You answered the note of the British Ambassador on 12th March, in the letter just described. The prosecution reproaches you, asserting that the reasons given by you in this letter and the description of events in Austria which preceded the entry into the country are not correct. As I assume the Tribunal is cognizant of the passages which form the subject of this accusation, I think it is not necessary to quote them. You also know these passages and I should like to have your opinion.

A. The accusation that the contents of this reply are partly incorrect is quite true. This is explained by the fact that I had no other information except Hitler's communications and the note is based on these communications. This is the information which I had transmitted to the Foreign Office, which was completely ignorant of the events. That was the basis of the draft.

I should like to add that the incidents which led to the Austrian Anschluss were never planned during my period of office, and nothing of the kind was ever mentioned. Hitler never had any definite foreign policy plans at all; rather, he made decisions very suddenly and translated them into action, so that even his closest associates had knowledge of them only a few days in advance. The expression "Austrian Anschluss," which is used here, and generally used is not the same thing as what happened later and which was the incorporation of Austria. It is this incorporation of Austria that we are now concerned with. This incorporation of Austria was conceived by Hitler at the very last moment in Linz when the troops were marching in. A further proof that the plan for invasion had not been made in advance is the fact that Hitler a few days earlier had sent his Foreign Minister to London to clear up some diplomatic formalities.

DR. VON LUDINGHAUSEN: In this connection, I should like to refer to an excerpt from the book by Sir Nevile Henderson, Failure of a Mission, which has already been mentioned. This excerpt is No. 129 in my Document took 4. I ask the Tribunal to take judicial notice of this document.


Q. During the Austrian crisis on 12th March, on the day after the march in, you made a statement to the Czechoslovak Ambassador in Berlin regarding the measures taken in respect to Austria, and their effects on Czechoslovakia.

According to a report made by Dr. Mastny, the Czechoslovak Minister in Berlin, about this discussion, you declared that the German Government did not intend to take any steps against Czechoslovakia but to uphold the arbitration treaty concluded in the 'twenties with that State. Will you please comment on this report, which is known to you and which is to be found under No. 141 in my Document Book 5.

A. It is quite correct that on 12th March I made the said statement to Dr. Mastny. The reason, however, for the conversation and its gist was somewhat different from the way he has described it. On 12th March, Ministerial Director von Weizsaecker telephoned to me at my home, telling me that the Czechoslovak Minister Mastny was with him and wanted to know whether he could see me some time during the course of the day. I asked Dr. Mastny to come to my apartment during the afternoon. He did so, and asked me if I believed that Hitler, after the Austrian Anschluss, would now undertake something against Czechoslovakia as well. I replied that he could set his mind at rest, that Hitler had told me on the previous evening, in reply to my suggestion that the Austrian Anschluss might create unrest in Czechoslovakia, that he had no thoughts of undertaking anything against Czechoslovakia. Mastny then asked me whether Germany still considered herself bound by the agreement concluded in 1925. On the strength of the answer given to me by Hitler, I was able to confirm this with a clear conscience. Hitler had added in this connection that he believed the relations with Czechoslovakia would improve considerably. The settlement of the Austrian Anschluss was after all a domestic affair.

[Page 131]

Mastny's report states that I spoke on Hitler's instructions. However, that is not true. I merely referred to my discussion with Hitler, which was fresh in my mind. When Mastny in this report stresses the fact that I spoke as the President of the Secret Cabinet Council, he may have been using a manner of speech in order to give more weight to his report.

Q. The prosecution alleges a certain divergence between the statement made by you and the plans as expounded by Hitler on 5th November, 1937, and accuses you, who knew very well what these plans were, of being somewhat credulous when you made that reassuring statement to Mastny.

A. In this discussion Hitler talked about war plans only in a general way. There was no talk about an aggressive plan against Czechoslovakia. Hitler said that if it came to war, Czechoslovakia and Austria would have to be occupied first, so that our right flank would be kept free. The form of this or any other attack on Czechoslovakia, and whether there would be any conflict at all in the East, was doubtful and open to discussion.

In effect, the Sudetenland, which strategically held the key position of the Czech defence, was then ceded in a peaceful manner by agreement with the Western Powers. Concrete plans for a war against Czechoslovakia, as General Jodl has testified, were not given to the General Staff for elaboration until the end of May, 1938. I learned for the first time here about the existence of these plans. For the rest, when Hitler told me that he would do nothing against Czechoslovakia, I had to believe that this was his real intention; in other words, that he had given up his ideas as set forth on 5th November, 1937

That is all I can say about the Czechoslovakian question.

THE PRESIDENT: Shall we break off?

(A recess was taken until 1400 hours.)




Q. Herr von Neurath, in the Indictment there is mention of a conference of 28th May, 1938, at which Hitler, von Ribbentrop, Goering and the Commanders-in-Chief of the Wehrmacht branches were present and at which it is asserted, in the affidavit of Herr Wiedemann, that you were also present.

A. I cannot at all remember any such conference, nor the statement of Hitler which was mentioned by Wiedemann. Moreover, Keitel, Ribbentrop, Goering and Raeder knew nothing of this conference. Perhaps it is a mistake or it is being confused with the conference mentioned by Schmundt of 22nd or 28th April, 1938, but I was not present at this conference; I was not in Berlin at all.

Q. After your resignation, you had withdrawn completely to private life. In the Sudeten crisis, in the autumn of 1938, did you take an active part and advocate a peaceful policy?

A. Yes. After my dismissal in February, 1938, I lived on my estate. On about 26th September I received a telephone call from one of my former ministerial colleagues informing me that Hitler had instructed the Wehrmacht to be ready to march by 28th September. Apparently he wanted to solve the Sudeten question by force. I was asked to come to Berlin immediately and attempt to dissuade Hitler from his intention.

In the night I went to Berlin. After my arrival I inquired at the Foreign Office about the situation and reported to Hitler that I was there. I was sent away. Nevertheless on the 28th I went to the Reich Chancellery and there I met Hitler's entire entourage ready to march. I inquired for Hitler and was told that he was in his office but would receive no one. Nevertheless, I went to the door and entered Hitler's room. When he saw me he asked, in a harsh voice:

[Page 132]

"What do you want here?" I answered that I wanted to point out to him the consequences of this intended step. I explained to hire that he would bring on a European war, probably a world war, if he were to march into Czechoslovakia while negotiations were still in progress on the Sudeten problem; that Czechoslovakia would doubtless resist and it would not be an easy struggle, and in any case it would involve France and England and Poland. I told him that it would be a crime he could never answer for to shed so much blood unless all possibilities of peaceful settlement had been exhausted. I knew that Mr. Chamberlain was prepared to come to Germany again and that he was also prepared to induce the Czechs to turn over the Sudetenland if that could prevent war.

THE PRESIDENT: How did you know that Mr. Chamberlain would be willing to come?

THE WITNESS: Because I had met the English Ambassador in the street.


THE WITNESS: Hitler was not interested. During our talk, however, Goering had appeared and he supported me in my efforts to persuade Hitler to have a further conference with Chamberlain. Finally Hitler agreed, if I could bring Chamberlain, Daladier and Mussolini to Berlin by the next day. As that was impossible for Mussolini, I suggested Munich as the place for negotiations. I immediately established contact with the English and French Ambassadors, who were both on their way to see Hitler. Hitler himself telephoned directly to Mussolini, and by six o'clock the promises and answers had been received.

DR. VON LUDINGHAUSEN: I should like to ask the Tribunal to take judicial notice of my Document 20 in my Document Book 1, Page 72b, an excerpt from the book by Ambassador Henderson, Failure of a Mission.

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