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-Fourth Day: Wednesday, 26th June, 1946
(Part 5 of 10)

[Lord Justice Lawrence, the President, continues his examination of Constantin von Neurath]

[Page 217]

Q. Are you telling the Tribunal that Goering did not know about it?

A. Perhaps Goering knew about it.

THE PRESIDENT: That is all. The defendant can return to the dock.

DR. VON LUDINGHAUSEN: Mr. President, I ask permission to call the first witness, the former Ministerial Director, and head of the political section in the Foreign Ministry, Dr. Koepke.

GERHARD KOEPKE, a witness, took the stand and testified as follows:


Q. Will you state your full name, please?

A. Gerhard Koepke.

Q. Will you repeat the oath after me:

I swear by God, the Almighty and Omniscient, that I will speak the pure truth and will withhold and add nothing.

(The witness repeated the oath.)

THE PRESIDENT: You may sit down.



Q. Dr. Koepke, how long have you known Herr von Neurath?

A. I have known Herr von Neurath for over forty years. His career is well known. Therefore I can limit myself to stating that we worked together as Vice-Consuls in London, as Counsellors of Legation in the Foreign Office, and later

[Page 218]

when Herr von Neurath became Minister in 1932, until my resignation in 1935. In the meantime, von Neurath was in Copenhagen, Rome, London, and for some time at his home, and finally in Prague. We met only occasionally when I was in Berlin, and we kept up a comparatively lively correspondence with each other as old friends. I myself was employed in the Foreign Office during the entire period. From 1921 on, I was head of the Legal Department, and from 1923 I was director of the political, so-called Western Department, which I directed until I left the service. I voluntarily tendered my resignation at the end of 1935.

Q. What do you know about the attitude, the fundamental attitude of Herr von Neurath on domestic and foreign policy, but only in a general way?

A. In domestic politics, Herr von Neurath stood close to the conservative circles, but he was never a member of the Conservative Party. From this basic conservative attitude and also because of his outstanding character, his devotion to duty, and his reliability, he had the confidence of Reich President von Hindenburg, and retained it without interruption until the latter's death. Herr von Hindenburg esteemed von Neurath as a prudent, moderate, reliable diplomat. Men of other party leanings also had confidence in von Neurath. I shall mention only the deceased Reich President, Ebert, who recalled Neurath to office during his term.

Q. What do you know about von Neurath's appointment as Reich Foreign Minister in the summer of 1932?

A. The appointment of Herr von Neurath as Reich Foreign Minister was based on a personal wish of President von Hindenburg. Neurath did not become Foreign Minister within the von Papen Cabinet, but as the special confidant of President von Hindenburg.

Q. Then how did it happen that von Neurath remained as Foreign Minister in the new Hitler Government?

A. Von Neurath did not participate as far as I know in the negotiations with Hitler about the assumption of power. If I can only rely on my memory, he was sick abed with a heart disease during the decisive days, but he remained Foreign Minister, again at the special wish of von Hindenburg.

Q. Can you tell us anything about the attitude, the relationship of Neurath to Hitler?

A. I should like to remark by way of introduction that I cannot testify on this subject from my own immediate observation. I was never present at conferences which Herr von Neurath had with Hitler. I myself never had any official conversation with Hitler whatsoever. But, according to Neurath's own description, and according to the information which I received from other important personalities in the course of time, I had the impression that, especially in the first years, Hitler treated Heir von Neurath carefully and politely. To what extent this was due to consideration of the Reich President, whose regard for von Neurath was of course known to Hitler, I cannot say. In any case, Neurath was never actually in the confidence of Hitler and was not in the small circle close to Hitler, the powerful men of the Party. After the death of President von Hindenburg, von Neurath remained because he had promised the Reich President to do so. During the following period also, Neurath repeatedly attempted to exercise his moderating and calming influence on the Party. However, I know that as disappointments and differences of opinion multiplied, Herr von Neurath tried many times to break away from Hitler. In this connection I can recall two occasions on which he wrote offering his resignation, and he showed me one of these letters which must have been dated from the beginning of the year 1936. For at that time I had already resigned and visited Herr von Neurath in a purely friendly and private capacity.

Q. Now can you also give us a brief picture of Neurath's attitude toward the National Socialist Party?

A. At first Herr von Neurath waited to see what the Party and in particular its leading men would do. To my knowledge he was personally acquainted with

[Page 219]

hardly any of these men, since, indeed, he had lived most of the time abroad. Neurath was convinced that by reason of his years of experience as an old diplomat, and his confidential position with the Reich President, and the latter's moderating influence, he would succeed in working in accordance with his policy, which was directed toward compromise and understanding.

Before me, and I believe also before his other colleagues, Neurath frequently referred to the experiences of this sort which he had had with Fascism. He occasionally said that such revolutionary elements should be allowed to develop quietly, that these hotheads would come to their senses if they were given time and opportunity to gather experience themselves in responsible positions.

Moreover, Neurath also shared the opinions of State Secretary Bulow, the State Secretary of Reich Chancellor Bruning, and protected him until his death against repeated attempts of the Party to get rid of him.

Moreover, I should like to mention a small detail which was very valuable to us in the office at the time. When State Secretary Bulow, who was generally popular, died suddenly, Neurath managed to get Hitler to participate personally in the funeral at the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church. The old officials of the Foreign Office saw in that a good omen for the strong position of our minister in relation to the Party. This event, which in itself is perhaps unimportant, happened exactly ten years ago today.

Q: As head of the Political Department of the Foreign Office, you were one of Neurath's first co-workers, and can surely tell us what was the dominant tendency of Neurath's foreign policy.

A. Neurath's political attitude on the whole was, in accordance with his whole character and his years of experience in politics, inclined toward compromise, waiting, negotiation. Extreme measures and attempts at solution by violence did not suit von Neurath's temperament. Neurath was neither a gambler nor a fighter by nature.

Q. Now I come to individual important foreign political events which occurred during the period in which you worked under Herr von Neurath and were head of the political section.

In October, 1933 Germany left the disarmament conference and the League of Nations. Now, I should like to ask you whether this step of Germany's, leaving the conference and the League of Nations, was based on any aggressive or belligerent tendencies for the moment or for the future?

A. No. As far as the picture of the events mentioned by defence counsel was clear to us, the experts, it was as follows: No one of us in the Foreign Office thought of warlike plans or preparations for war. It was only done to proclaim as impressively as possible that Germany would no longer allow herself to be considered a nation without the same rights and obligations as other people.

In the same way the militarisation of the Rhineland was not based on any aggressive intention, either for the moment or for the future.

Q. Beginning in 1935, Germany's military strength was increased, and a year later the demilitarised Rhineland zone was remilitarised. I should like to read you one sentence from the affidavit of the former minister and interpreter, Paul Schmidt of the Foreign Office. He says the following in regard to the events in the spring of 1935:

"The conclusion of a pact of mutual assistance between France and Russia on the 2nd May, 1935, followed the proclamation of the foundation of a German air force and the introduction of general compulsory military service in March, 1935."
Will you please give us a brief review of the historical development of these matters which led to the increase of military strength in 1935 and to the remilitarization of the Rhineland in March, 1936.

A. I believe -

[Page 220]

THE PRESIDENT: Dr. Ludinghausen, we have had the historical development of these matters over and over again. Surely we do not want it from this witness.

DR. VON LUDINGHAUSEN: Only very briefly, only the dates, in proper order, Mr. President; no explanations about it. I should only like to emphasize strongly once more how the individual events are connected with each other.

THE PRESIDENT (interrupting): The Tribunal have the dates in their minds. We really have had these dates in our minds for some months.

DR. VON LUDINGHAUSEN: Very well. If the Tribunal believes that it does not need to be informed about it, I must, of course, dispense with it.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, you can put any question you really want to put about it, but you were asking to be given the historical developments from 2nd May, 1935. We have heard them over and over again.

DR. VON LUDINGHAUSEN: Yes, Mr. President. I was only interested in the following: from this affidavit of Herr Schmidt which I have just quoted, one could directly assume -

THE PRESIDENT: Ask the question, whatever you want to ask about this affidavit.

DR. VON LUDINGHAUSEN: Then I shall formulate the question as follows:


Q. I have just read this sentence by Herr Schmidt, and I have also told you what can be read from it, namely that the conclusion of the Franco-Russian Pact of 2nd May, 1935, was the result of the restoration of military strength. Is that true, or what was the case?

A. That question is difficult to answer if one merely considers these two events in chronological order. The conclusion of the Franco-Russian Pact was on 2nd May, 1935. The restoration of military strength was in March, 1935.

However, the negotiations for this treaty of assistance go much farther back, and I should like to recall the fact that the critical stage into which these negotiations had entered before the restoration of military strength is shown very clearly in the report of the French Military Committee's reporter in which the latter speaks quite openly of a close entente between the two nations. That was on 23rd November, 1934.

Q. Now I come to another question and should like to ask you whether you know the opinions and attitude of yon Neurath concerning the Austrian question, at least during your time?

A. I have known Herr yon Neurath's attitude toward the Austrian question for a much longer time than the period when we worked together during his term as minister, for, as a South German, he was always particularly interested in the problem, and I recall many conversations which I had with him, even when I was still a vice-consul. His attitude and intentions had always been to make the relations between Germany and Austria closer in the economic sphere, chiefly in the interests of Austria, and politically to guarantee a similar policy by national treaties, but otherwise not to encroach on Austria's independence; that is what we in the Foreign Office had already learned several years before he became minister, from our experience with the Customs Union, which at that time was actually intended only in an economic sense. The fact that this attempt was quite generally considered as a political union gave pause for thought and should have been a warning to everyone who had decided to touch this hot iron again. Therefore Neurath, during his period of office, whenever he discussed the problem with me and worked on it, thought along just these lines.

I should like to add here that the critical time on the Austrian question was probably after I had left office. Moreover, even Hitler originally shared Neurath's moderate attitude, as was shown in his conversation with Mussolini in Venice in the summer of 1934. Especially interesting, however, are the remarks which

[Page 221]

Hitler made on the Anschluss problem to Sir John Simon during the negotiations in Berlin in March, 7935. At that time, Hitler expressed himself to the English statesman to the effect that if the people in London knew Austria as well as he did, they would believe his assurance that he could not want to increase our economic troubles by adding another field of economic difficulties. Germany did not want to interfere in this country at all. He was perfectly aware that any interference in Austrian affairs, even if it meant carrying out the wish of the Austrian people themselves for an Anschluss, could not be legalised.

That was Hitler's opinion at that time.

Neurath also rejected all interference in Austrian internal affairs and strongly condemned the attempts which could be noticed in Party circles to give direct support to the Austrian National Socialists. During my time, Neurath did everything he could to keep the Foreign Office out of the internal political struggle in Austria.

Q. Still one more question. Up to the time of your resignation at the beginning of 1936, was there ever any talk in the Foreign Office of attacking Czechoslovakia or not observing existent treaties with that country?

A. Never, neither the one nor the other. Our economic and political relations with Czechoslovakia were, as long as I was in service, very good. We had no reason whatsoever to change them, not even the slightest.

Q. And now my last question. Can you tell us anything about Herr von Neurath's attitude toward the race question?

A. On this question Neurath was completely opposed to the Party attitude. In this connection I should like to recall an experience which Neurath told me personally.

When the Jewish legislation was about to be proclaimed, the Reich Foreign Minister Guertner -

Q. Reich Minister of Justice?

A. Yes, excuse me, I meant Reich Minister of Justice Guertner - came to Neurath in great excitement and told him that he, Guertner, had warned Hitler in vain against proclaiming these completely impossible laws. He strongly urged Herr von Neurath as Foreign Minister to point out the enormous dangers which this madness could set loose abroad. Neurath told me that he did this immediately, but that all his efforts had been in vain.

Neurath's personal attitude on the Jewish problem was thoroughly conciliatory and reasonable, in keeping with his kind personality as a whole and his religious attitude. Among many examples I should here like to refer only to the following:

During the time when we were in London together, the Jewish doctor at the embassy was also one of the closest friends of the Neurath family. When he had to leave London during the World War and was homeless and without employment, Neurath immediately took active steps to help his old friend.

As Reich Foreign Minister, von Neurath always helped non- Aryan colleagues, although that often brought him under attack from the Party circles, and was not always easy.

DR. VON LUDINGHAUSEN: Mr. President, I have no further questions to put to the witness.

THE PRESIDENT: Does any other member of the defendants' counsel want to ask any question?

Does the prosecution wish to ask any questions?

SIR DAVID MAXWELL FYFE: My Lord, the Tribunal will, of course, not consider that the prosecution is accepting every statement of the witness, but I do not think that it would be a useful appropriation of time to cross-examine him. Therefore I shall ask no questions.

THE PRESIDENT: One moment, Sir David.

[Page 222]

Sir David, would it be convenient to you and to the members of the defendants' counsel to discuss the questions of supplementary applications for witnesses and documents at two o'clock?

SIR DAVID MAXWELL FYFE: Certainly, my Lord, it would be very convenient to me. I do not think there are many matters about which there will be any serious dispute.

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