\ Trials of German Major War Criminals: Volume 19

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 Eighty-Third Day: Monday, 22th July, 1946
(Part 4 of 11)

[Page 193]

By DR. STEINBAUER, Continued:

The Jesuit Father Kuhle also expresses himself in a similar way in his book, The Concentration Camps - a Question of Conscience for the German People. He writes, Page 19:

" ... and he believed it was possible to prevent the unmasking by an absolutely impenetrable ring of silence with which he surrounded his works. This ring was closed so tightly that a German had to travel abroad to learn something concrete about the camps and to read there about these Soldiers of the Marshes (Moorsoldaten). Books like these did not exist at home, and one learned only very little from hearsay. Nobody came out of the worst camps, and the wrongdoers themselves were 'liquidated ' from time to time, so that they could not tell anything. But the few who got out of the less terrible camps were so intimidated that they gave only quite general, obscure hints just enough to create in the entire people a general feeling of horror of these mysterious places."
But even the little which went from mouth to mouth never came to the knowledge of higher officials of the Third Reich, for if they followed up these things, the police learned about it and took care to see that those who spread such "atrocity propaganda" kept silent. Therefore, as time went on, one refrained from telling anything to these officials.

But the most important testimony is that of one who knows, who himself had an active share in the liquidation of the Jews. On 25th June, 1946, Dieter Wisliceny, the special representative of Eichmann who was in charge of the liquidation of the Jews, was questioned as a witness by the appointed judge of this Tribunal. He stated that commissions of the International Red Cross or foreign diplomats were conducted to Theresienstadt in order to make it appear that conditions were normal. The Jews who were brought to Auschwitz were forced to write postcards before they were murdered; these postcards were then mailed at long intervals in order to create the impression that the persons were still alive. He invited various representatives of the Press. To the specific question, "Under whose jurisdiction is the Jewish question in the occupied countries, under the commander of the regular police, the Security Police or the Security Service?" he gave the answer: "According to my knowledge, the Jewish question in the other occupied countries is an affair of the Higher SS and Police Leader, in accordance with a special order by Himmler."

In order to make the deception even greater, 500 Reichsmark, for instance, would be demanded from the Slovak Government as settlement contribution for every Jew. I confronted the defendant with this, and he told me that Himmler also demanded from him a settlement contribution of 400 Reichsmark for every Dutch Jew. As Reich Commissioner he refused this, because of the inadequate information about the actual settlement of the Jews. Also he argued that the final settlement would have to be left over until the time of peace.

During his examination, the defendant, of his own accord, mentioned individual cases of sterilisation. The letters written by Seyss-Inquart to Himmler, procured as evidence, taken in conjunction with the statement of the defendant, show the following facts

[Page 194]

Contrary to the statement of the then 18-year-old informant Hildegard Kunze, Seyss-Inquart never reported through any sort of official channels to Himmler about the Jewish question. What happened was that Seyss-Inquart asked Himmler not to aggravate the situation of the Jews in the Netherlands any further, referring in this connection to the measures which had been carried out in the meantime against the Jews and which exceeded the measures in the Reich, and at the same time pointing out the cases of sterilisation.

Seyss-Inquart took an immediate stand against the sterilisation of women and made a statement to the Christian Churches that no coercion must be exercised. As a matter of fact, after a short time there were no further cases.

As regards the case itself, the defendant can only be made responsible in so far as he did not take an immediate stand against it, irrespective of whether he was certain that he would be able to prevent the action. The reasons for the attitude of the defendant are given in the letter which it was requested should be put in evidence. He was worried lest the position of the Jews should be made even worse, and supposed that these Jews would be spared further attention from the police in the future.

In any case, in so far as measures against the Jews went through the defendant, they were taken only as measures against enemy aliens for reasons which the defendant mentioned in his speech of 21st March, 1941, in Amsterdam. Whatever happened beyond that was the express order of the Reich Central Agencies, especially Heydrich, and was mostly carried out by organs of these Reich Central Agencies themselves.

A further point of the Indictment is the assertion that the defendant as Reich Commissioner, in accordance with the planned policy to weaken and exterminate the peoples of the occupied countries, had deliberately neglected food supplies for the Dutch, and thus brought about a famine crisis.

Such allegations appear to be refuted by the testimony of the witnesses Dr. Hirschfeld and von der Wense, as well as by the statements of the defendant himself. In the interests of the population the whole machinery of food supply was from the very beginning under Dutch direction, although it was known to the Reich Commissioner that it was particularly in this field that the leading cells of the resistance movement had established themselves. The food supply in the Netherlands was certainly not worse than in Germany; they even received from the latter supplies of grain for bread. As late as 1944, the ration amounted to 1,800 calories and before that 2,500 calories, which was supplemented by a great variety of things.

The Reich Commissioner succeeded in putting a stop to the knapsack-traffic of the Wehrmacht, which was mentioned in the cross-examination, by intervening with the Reich Food Office - even if it was not until 1943.

How much was done by the defendant to improve the food supplies of the Dutch, for example by developing the north- east polders, and by resisting the excessive demands of the Reich, is confirmed by the witness yon der Wense.

That the Dutch production of nitrogen was reserved for Dutch agriculture until September, 1944, is due exclusively to the defendant. From the autumn of 1944 on, the situation as regards food supplies deteriorated considerably. Most of the country was in the fighting zone after the invasion, and the traffic routes had been smashed by countless air attacks. This created a very difficult food situation, particularly in the west of Holland, where millions of people were crowded into a small area in three large cities. In view of the small number of occupation troops, it would have been a giant blunder to drive these crowded masses to desperate resistance by starvation.

When in September, 1944, there was a strike of railway and shipyard workers, engineered by the London exile Government, which was counting on a favourable outcome of the battle near Arnhem and a German collapse in the very near future, this, seen from the aspect of International Law, was a state of emergency in which

[Page 195]

the country had placed itself vis-a-vis the occupant. It was only natural that the Wehrmacht should have used all available shipping space for their own defence and to secure their food supplies.

In order to avoid repetition, may I refer to the testimony of von der Wense and Dr. Hirschfeld and bring out the most important point, namely that the witness Dr. Hirschfeld testified that as early as 16th October, 1944, the Reich Commissioner had given an order for lifting the ban on shipping traffic. He was able to count on the fact that a blockade of four weeks, which was not planned as a reprisal measure, would not cause any damage, because sufficient food- stocks were available or could be sent into Holland in the months of November and December. In fact he lifted the embargo at an earlier date, organized emergency transport and imported food from the north-eastern provinces, using for this German transport.

The breakdown of the Dutch transport system, the constant day and night enemy air attacks, the acts of sabotage by the resistance movement and finally, the serious coal shortage, hampered the supply operations, so that the state of emergency caused by the strike cannot be in any way laid to the charge of the defendant as a criminal offence.

In any case, the statistics submitted by me show that during the entire period of the occupation, until the middle of 1944, the population steadily increased, and that general standards of living, in spite of war-time conditions, did not deteriorate to any considerable extent.

As the food situation deteriorated more and more because of the war, the defendant arranged for food to be brought in by German trains, and also made food available for children from German Wehrmacht stocks. He supported the welfare work of the Churches and of the Red Cross, although the Geneva badge was often misused by the resistance movement. The Crown Prince of Sweden, as President of the Swedish Red Cross, expressed his special thanks to the Reich Commissioner. Finally the Reich Commissioner contacted the Dutch Government-in-exile through its confidential agents, and in this manner brought about an agreement with the Allied High Command, whereby supplies of food for Holland were secured and the occupation actually brought to an end.

In Allied military circles at that time one still expected the resistance to continue for another sixty days. The German occupation troops in the Netherlands would certainly have been able to hold out for this length of time, but this would have meant that the country and its population would have perished.

I come now to the last point of the French Indictment, that of the flooding and destruction caused by the Occupying Power. Even if the prosecution had not brought up this point, then I, as defence counsel, would have discussed this matter before the Tribunal, because it is this point, perhaps more than any other, which makes the defendant appear in a different, a very favourable light. In referring to the testimony of the witnesses Wimmer, Schwebel and Dr. Hirschfeld, also of General von Kleffel, I should like to make the following brief statement: The Tribunal is perhaps aware that forty per cent of the total area of the Netherlands lies below sea level. In the course of centuries of hard work the land was wrested from the sea and changed into fertile farming land. Protected by mighty dykes, locks and pumping installations regulate the entry of water and traffic on the inland waterways. The constant struggle against storms and water has made Dutchmen a proud and freedom-loving people. "God has created the earth; ourselves we have created our country," says the Dutch proverb.

When the Canadian troops thrust towards the north, the Reich Commissioner did not take the road back to the Reich through Groningen, as many people expected him to do, but returned to the Hague in order to carry out his task until the end. He feared that the collapsing Reich might adopt a desperate policy which would lead to the destruction of an exposed country like Holland, where there were 271 people to the square kilometre.

[Page 196]

The legendary battle of the Goths, in which everything is utterly destroyed, became a fixed idea with many. It was Goebbels who said in his boastful manner that if they must go, they would slam the door with such a bang that the whole world would hear. The. Reich Commissioner warned the people against such ideas. The "scorched earth" order was actually given, and would have meant the destruction of all technical installations in Holland, including dams and locks, and laying waste two-thirds of the country, but, acting together with Minister Speer and Donitz, the defendant prevented all this.

This has also been confirmed in my questionnaire by the Commander-in-Chief General von Kleffel and been acknowledged by the Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army, Bedell Smith. Historical monuments were also to be destroyed, as has been testified by Schwebel.

General Christiansen's defence counsel has informed me that in addition to the technical troops of the Wehrmacht who dynamited and flooded everything which military necessity justified, Himmler sent his own men to carry out destruction behind the backs of the Wehrmacht. All this was prevented by the Reich Commissioner, who, conscious of his responsibility, intervened, and the country was spared much devastation which could have never been made good.

In May, 1932, a simple memorial was placed on the dam of the Zuider Zee, the largest dam which has ever been constructed, which bears no name - only the words: "Een volk dat leeft, bouwt san zijn toekomst" (A nation that lives builds on its future).

Regardless of how the Trial may end, perhaps the day will come when under this proverb the words will be added: "Saved from destruction by Seyss-Inquart."

Thus I come to the end of the second point of the Indictment.

Slowly the curtain falls on the drama of the alleged conspirators. But I ask you: Can one call that man a cruel and ruthless despot and war criminal, who in the middle of the life-and-death struggle of his nation is placed at the head of the administration of an enemy country and yet tries again and again to prevent excesses or to moderate them?

However, I would not wish to bring my discourse to an end without expressing some general remarks on the Trial. I esteem France and her tradition of culture, and I have considered it an honour to be allowed as an attorney to cross swords with Frenchmen in these proceedings. I have listened to the speech of the Chief Prosecutor for France, M. Franois de Menthon, with close attention and sympathetic interest. However, it cannot remain entirely undisputed. M. de Menthon has described Germany as the eternal enemy of France and has demanded the severest penalty, death, for all defendants without exception. He thereby brings out one of the weaknesses of this Trial, namely, that it will always be one of victors over vanquished. One is reminded too strongly of the Gaul Brennus, who with his "Vae victis" throws his sword into the scale. M. de Menthon with this demand unintentionally obstructs the road to a lasting peace.

The sin against the spirit is the basic error of National Socialism and the source of all crimes, says M. de Menthon; National Socialism is based on racial theory, a product of German mentality. But M. de Menthon rightly explains that National Socialism is the final stage of a doctrinaire development over a long period. There are no direct transitions in history, but all is rooted in preceding ideas and undercurrents. The events of the twentieth century can only find their explanation in the developments of the preceding century. The closing years of the nineteenth century saw the birth of an exaggerated nationalism, and here it must be said that it was not the Germans, but the French who first established the racial theory, for instance, Count Gobineau in his essay Sur L'Inigalite des Races Humaines, and George Sorel in his Reflexion sur la Violence.

At the end of his statement M. de Menthon quotes the book by Politis, La Morale Internationale, which I have also mentioned. Politis describes this exaggerated nationalism as a veritable international malady, deriving from the

[Page 197]

nineteenth century. He mentions particularly the case of the Frenchman Maurice Barres. He sees in the phrase: "La patrie eut-elle tort, il faut lui donner raison" (my country right or wrong), the negation of all ethical laws.

I would like to confront M. de Menthon with another Frenchman. He is an unknown professor of history. The Gestapo, the German and the French police are on his track, he frequently changes his appearance and his name. He is everywhere, we find him in the Massif Centrale, in the Auvergne, in the mountains near Grenoble, at Bordeaux on the coast and in Paris. Wherever he appears Wehrmacht trains are derailed, ammunition dumps blow up, and important industrial plants shut down. He always remembers the words of De Gaulle: "Our country is in mortal danger; join us, everybody; fight for France!" The name of this man is Georges Bidault. The first thing he did after the enemy had been driven out of the country was to visit severely wounded soldiers in the hospitals. But he does not only go to the Frenchmen, he also visits the German wounded in their wards and says to them: "Comrades, I wish you speedy recovery and a happy return to your homes." These words of the man who today is the leader of France show us the path to peace by the honest and free collaboration of peoples and nations.

Hitler wanted to create a new Europe; in this he failed because of his methods. Germany lies defenceless, her towns are destroyed, her economy shattered. France, one of the oldest countries of Christendom, the country which at the end of the eighteenth century proclaimed the Rights of Man, has today the special mission and responsibility of saving the Western civilisation.

To achieve this, however, it is necessary that distrust, which poisons the life of all peoples, should disappear. I thus conclude my very brief and general remarks on the Trial.

Honourable Judges.

Into your hands I confidently put the fate of my client. I know well that you will consider carefully all the facts which speak for Seyss-Inquart.

But I will walk again through the streets of Nuremberg, as I have done so often during the long months of this Trial, and from the ruins of the imperial castle look down on the German countryside. From the ruins of the old town rise, scarcely damaged, the monuments of the painter Albrecht Durer and the geographer Martin Beheim. They are the prophets of German art and science. May those two names be symbols for the future, and, like beacons, guide the German people from dark misery to the happy uplands of a lasting peace.

THE, PRESIDENT: The Tribunal will adjourn for a few minutes.

(A recess was taken.)

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