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

The Trial of German Major War Criminals

Sitting at Nuremberg, Germany
16th July to 27th July 1946

One Hundred and Seventy-Ninth Day: Tuesday, 16th July, 1946
(Part 7 of 11)

[DR. KRANZBUEHLER continues.]

[Page 28]

In contrast to this line of evidence of the prosecution, I should like to emphasize the attitude which Admiral Donitz actually showed towards the population of the occupied territories. There is before the Tribunal a survey of the administration of justice by the Naval Courts for the protection of the inhabitants of the occupied territories against excesses of members of the Navy. The survey is based on an examination of about 2,000 files on delicts and some of the sentences given are quoted with the findings and the bases of the verdicts. Judging from that survey, one can fairly say that the Naval Courts protected the inhabitants in the West and in the East with justice and strictness, protected their lives as well as their property and the honour of their women.

This administration of justice was constantly supervised by the Commander-in-Chief of the Navy as the highest legal authority. According to the statutes of the courts, he had to confirm death penalties imposed on German soldiers.

[Page 29]

The time at my disposal does not permit a more detailed discussion of some of these judgements. What is set down in one of them applies to all: All soldiers must know that in occupied territory also the life and property of others will be fully safeguarded. This was the general attitude in the Navy, and the severity of the penalties inflicted proves how seriously it was taken.

I need only say a few words about the order of the spring of 1945, in which a German prisoner of war, an N.C.O., was held up as an example, because he had unobtrusively and systematically liquidated some Communists who were attracting attention to themselves in their prison camp. As Wagner recalled, it was actually an informer who was liquidated. But the facts were camouflaged as described in order to avoid giving the enemy intelligence a clue to the camp and the person of the N.C.O. That this order in its true foundations could be justified, cannot be doubted by anyone, in view of the enormous number of political murders which have been committed with the connivance or assistance of governments engaged in the war, and the perpetrators of which are today extolled as heroes. I cannot, however, seriously consider that the unsuccessfully camouflaged wording could be proof of a general plan to liquidate Communists. An example will serve to reveal the true circumstances. A sergeant had stolen hospital blankets which were intended for Soviet prisoners of war and had taken a dead prisoner's gold teeth. This sergeant was condemned to death by a Naval Court and executed after the sentence had been confirmed by the Commander-in-Chief.

Finally, the prosecution also established a connection with the Jewish question through a remark in which the Grand Admiral speaks of the "lingering poison of Jewry". On this point I should like to say the following:

Donitz knew as little of the plan for the destruction of the Jews as he did of its execution. He did know of the resettlement in the Government General of Jews living in Germany. I do not think that a resettlement of this sort can be condemned at a time when expulsions of Germans on a much larger scale are taking place before the eyes of a silent world. Here, too, I refer to a sentence of long penitentiary terms against two German sailors. Together with some Frenchmen they had robbed French Jews. From the findings of the Court I again quote a sentence which characterises the general attitude: "That the crimes were committed against Jews does not exonerate the defendants in any way."

Similarly, it seems to me that the efforts of the prosecution to include Admiral Donitz in its construction of the conspiracy as being a so-called fanatical Nazi have failed. He was neither a member of the Party nor was he ever politically prominent before his appointment as Commander-in- Chief of the Navy. The assertion of the prosecution that he became Commander-in-Chief of the Navy because of his political attitude lacks all foundation. As a professional officer, to whom every political activity was forbidden by the Defence Law, he had no reason for dealing with National Socialism in any way. However, he, too, like millions of other Germans, recognized the unique success of Hitler's leadership in social and economic fields and, of course, also the liberation from the obligations of Versailles which Hitler had brought about, and which particularly concerned Admiral Donitz as a soldier. Therefore, at the time of his appointment as Commander-in-Chief of the Navy, he was, politically, in no way active, but he was loyal to the National Socialist State.

This appointment introduced two new elements into his relations with National Socialism. There was first of all his personal contact with Adolf Hitler. Like almost everyone else who had personal dealings with this man, he too was most deeply impressed by him. Added to respect for the head of the State and loyalty to the Supreme Commander, in which the professional officer is trained, was admiration for the statesman and the strategist. It is difficult to understand such an attitude completely, in view of the information which has come to light in the course of this trial. I feel neither qualified nor able to judge a personality like Adolf Hitler. But one thing seems to me certain, namely that with the accomplished

[Page 30]

art of camouflage he skilfully concealed the repulsive - repulsive from a human point of view - traits of his character, from those of his colleagues to whom he did not dare to reveal this part of his nature. The Hitler with whom the new Commander-in-Chief of the Navy became acquainted at that time and whom he admired was therefore an entirely different man from the one which the world - rightly or wrongly - sees in him today.

The second new element in the relations between the Grand Admiral and National Socialism was that in the performance of his military duties he necessarily came into contact with the political authorities of the Reich. Whether he needed more men, more ships, or more arms; in the end he always had to discuss these matters with the political authorities, and in order to be successful in his demands, it was necessary that any political mistrust be eliminated from the very start. This he did intentionally, and he demanded the same of his subordinates. To him the Party was not an ideological factor, but rather the actual representative of political power. He was linked with it in the common aim to win the war, and for the achievement of this aim he considered it as his ally. But to obtain the advantages which one expects of an ally, one must be willing to make certain sacrifices, especially sacrifices in overlooking faults, and in ignoring contrasts.

The connection with the Fuehrer, however, and the contact with the Party which were concomitants of his position and of his duties as Commander-in-Chief of the Navy, never led him to participate in anything for which he could not be responsible before his conscience. Some points of the prosecution even prove this. The Fuehrer demanded action against the shipwrecked; Admiral Donitz rejected it. The Fuehrer asked for withdrawal from the Geneva Convention; Admiral Donitz rejected it. He stubbornly and successfully resisted the Party's influence upon the armed forces. Thanks to his resistance the National Socialist educational officers did not become political commissars, but were, as genuine officers, merely advisers to their commander, who retained the sole responsibility for the leadership of his unit. The transfer of proceedings against soldiers on political grounds from the military courts to the People's Courts, which had been advocated by the Party, was prevented by Admiral Donitz until the winter of 1944-45, and a Fuehrer order to this effect issued at that time was never carried out in the Navy. Thus he never identified himself with the Party and can, therefore, surely not be held responsible for its ideological endeavours or its excesses, just as in foreign politics a government would not be ready to assume responsibility for such things if they had been done by an ally.

I do not by any means want to give the impression that Admiral Donitz was not a National Socialist. On the contrary, I just want to use him as an example to disprove the theory that every National Socialist as such must be a criminal. This Tribunal is the sole instance in which authoritative personalities of the great allied powers are dealing directly and in detail with the last twelve years of the German past. It is, therefore, the only hope of very many Germans for the removal of a fatal error which is causing the weaker elements of our nation to become hypocrites and is thus proving a decisive obstacle on the road to political recovery.

And now I should like to deal with the charge that in February, 1945, Admiral Donitz protracted the inevitable surrender out of political fanaticism, and I want to deal with this for a particular reason. This charge, which does not seem to have anything to do with the indictment before an international tribunal, weighs particularly heavily in the eyes of the German people, for this nation truly knows what destruction and what losses it endured in those last months from February until May, 1945. I submitted declarations of Darlan, Chamberlain and Churchill from the year 1940, in which those statesmen, in a critical hour for their country, called for desperate resistance, for the defence of every village and of every house. Nobody will conclude from this that these men were fanatical National Socialists. The question of unconditional surrender is, indeed, of such colossal import to a nation that, in fact, it is possible only after the event to judge whether a statesman

[Page 31]

who had to face this question did or did not do the right thing. Admiral Donitz however, was not a statesman in February, 1945, but the Supreme Commander of the Navy. Should he have asked his subordinates to lay down their arms at a time when the political authority of the State still considered military resistance as opportune and necessary? Nobody will seriously demand that.

Much more difficult seems to me the question of whether in view of the high esteem Hitler had for him he should not have considered it his duty to point out clearly to Hitler the hopelessness of a prolonged resistance.

Personally, I would have affirmed this as a duty towards his nation, if Admiral Donitz himself had considered at that time that a surrender was justified. He did not consider it justified, and he gave his reasons: surrender implied a halt of the armies and of the population; the German Army on the Eastern front - still more than two million men strong in February, 1945 - and the entire civilian population of the German eastern provinces would therefore have fallen into the hands of the Soviet armies, and this in a bitterly cold winter month. Admiral Donitz therefore, was of the opinion - shared by Colonel-General Jodl - that the losses in men suffered in that way would be far greater than the losses which would necessarily be caused if the capitulation were postponed until the warmer season. Only in future years, when more exact data regarding casualties of the Army and of the civilian population, both before and after the surrender in the East and in the West, are available, will it be possible to view this opinion objectively. But it may already be said today that such considerations were based only on a serious sense of responsibility for the life of German men and women.

The same sense of responsibility caused him, when he became head of the State on 1st May, 1945, to cease hostilities against the West, but to protract the surrender in the East for a few days, days in which hundreds of thousands were able to escape to the West. From the moment when - to his own complete surprise - he became political head, he calmly and intelligently averted a threatening chaos, prevented desperate acts of masses without a leader, and assumed responsibility, before the German people, for the gravest action which any statesman can take at all. Thus, to come back to the beginning of the Indictment, he did nothing to start this war, but he took the decisive steps to end it.

Since that moment the German nation has learned many things which it did not expect, and more than once it has been referred to the unconditional surrender which the last head of the State carried through. It is for this Tribunal to decide whether, in the future, this nation will be referred to the binding value of the signature of a man who is being outlawed as a criminal, in front of the whole world, by his partners in the agreement.

At the beginning of my speech I referred to the doubts which any trial of war criminals is bound to call forth in the mind and heart of any lawyer. They must weigh upon all who bear the responsibility for such a trial. I could not more fittingly describe the task of all the responsible persons than in the words of a British attorney speaking of the trials before the German Supreme Court in the year 1921. I quote:

"The War Criminals' trials were demanded by an angry public rather than by statesmen or the fighting services. Had public opinion in 1919 had its way, the trials might have presented a grim spectacle, of which future generations would have been ashamed. But thanks to the statesmen and the lawyers, a public yearning for revenge was converted into a real demonstration of the Majesty of Right and the Power of Law."
May the verdict of this Tribunal be valid in a similar way before the judgement of history.

THE PRESIDENT: I call on Dr. Siemers for the defendant Raeder.

DR. SIEMERS (counsel for the defendant Raeder): Gentlemen of the Tribunal, in my final speech for the defendant Grand Admiral Raeder, I should like to

[Page 32]

keep to the order I chose for my document books and for the whole presentation of my evidence. I think a survey of the whole case will thus be made easier.

Raeder, who has just turned 70 years of age, has been exclusively an officer, body and soul, ever since the age of 18, that is to say for half a century or so, in an eventful period. Although he has never known anything but his duties as an officer, the prosecution has accused him, in this major trial against National Socialism, not only as an officer, namely as Commander-in-Chief of the German Navy, but - which is singular and decisive - as a politician, as a political conspirator, and as a government member, three things which in truth he never was.

I am, therefore, faced with the singular task of defending Raeder as a politician, although it was precisely, as I shall demonstrate, his life principle to be completely detached from politics as an officer and to command an officers' corps and a navy which were likewise committed to remain entirely free from politics.

If the prosecution levels such manifold and grave accusations against Raeder, this is primarily because it has conceived a notion entirely foreign to the German Wehrmacht, namely the notion of an admiral responsible for foreign policy and for the outbreak of a war.

I shall disprove this conception and show that it was unjustified and unfounded even in Hitler's National Socialist State. True, Hitler consistently imposed his polity on the whole of the nation and endeavoured to lead the nation in one fixed political direction. Foreign countries knew this, and they might therefore be all the more surprised by the fact that Hitler refrained from such political interference in one single instance. Every administration, every organization, and every police institution was directed by Hitler on political principles with the single exception of the Wehrmacht. The Wehrmacht, and the Navy in particular, remained for a long time and far into the war absolutely unpolitical. And not only did Hitler give Raeder an assurance to this effect, but he had also given the same assurance to Hindenburg as Reichspresident. This explains the fact, which has also been made clear in this trial, that up to 1944 an officer could not be a member of the Party, or, if he was, his membership was suspended.

After these preliminary reflections, it will be understood why Raeder, as his interrogation showed, was disconcerted and amazed by these accusations which amount to a political charge. A man who is nothing but an officer cannot understand why he should suddenly and without any relation to his duties be made responsible for things which at no time came within the compass of his activity.

I shall naturally also discuss the military accusations, with the exception of the U-boat warfare, which, for the sake of uniformity, has already been dealt with by Dr. Kranzbuehler on behalf of Raeder, too.

It will be seen from other military accusations - as for instance in the cases of Norway and Greece - that again and again there is this discrepancy between the political and the military aspects: Raeder acted as commander-in-chief on the basis of military considerations, but the prosecution now calls him to account on the basis of political considerations, by evaluating the military actions as political ones.

The first instance of this discrepancy just described lies in the accusations raised against Raeder already with regard to the period before 1933, that is, before National Socialism. In connection with these accusations, it must be specially remembered that Hitler, the head of the alleged conspiracy for the waging of wars of aggression, did not even rule Germany at that time, and yet even then there is supposed to have existed a common conspiracy between Hitler and some of the defendants.

This is all the more surprising, because Raeder, as a naval officer and after 1928 as Chief of the Naval Command, had at that time nothing, absolutely nothing at all to do with National Socialism, and did not even know Hitler and his co- workers in the Party. The accusations concerning the violations of the Versailles Treaty are included by the prosecution in the conspiracy, although the violations did not take place under Hitler's leadership, but under the leadership or with the approval

[Page 33]

of the democratic governments in Germany at the time. This shows that the prosecution does not only want to hit National Socialism through this trial, as has been emphasized again and again during the war and after the collapse, but, beyond that, that the Indictment affects large circles in Germany which had nothing to do with National Socialism, and some of which were even direct enemies of National Socialism.

For this very reason it seemed to me so very important to clear up completely the question of the violation of the Treaty of Versailles as part of the presentation of evidence in the Raeder case. I tried to do this, with the approval of the Tribunal, and I am firmly convinced that I succeeded. I need not discuss each of the violations, which have been treated in detail and which the prosecution has produced in Document 32-C. It should be sufficient if I refer to the extensive evidence, as well as to the following facts:

1. Every single point was a mere trifle or else was a military measure, such as, for example, the anti-aircraft batteries, and so on, measures which were based exclusively on ideas of defence. Raeder has plainly admitted that treaty infractions did occur, but the smallness of the infractions showed that these measures could not possibly have been connected with an intention to wage wars of aggression. Moreover, I need only to point out that from the legal point of view a treaty violation cannot ipso jure be a crime. Certainly the violation of a treaty between nations is no more permissible than the violation of a contract between private firms in commercial law. Such a violation is, however, not a punishable action, much less a crime. Even on the basis of the argument of the prosecution, such an action would be punishable only if the violation had been the result of a criminal intention that is, if it had been aimed at a war of aggression in contradiction to the Kellogg Pact.

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