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-Fourth Day: Tuesday, 23rd July, 1946
(Part 10 of 12)


[Page 274]

There is certainly no need for further proof of the utter emptiness and inaccuracy of the further assertion of the prosecution, also submitted without proof, that the defendant had used his position, his reputation, his connections and his influence to lift Hitler and the Nazi Party into the saddle, and to help them to secure supreme power in the Reich. Therefore, I hardly need to refer again to the statements of the defendant Goering and other witnesses, particularly Dr. Koepke, from which it appears beyond doubt that at that time there were absolutely no relations between Hitler and the Nazis and the defendant, and, therefore, even less could the defendant have taken any part in the negotiations which took place before Hitler's call to the chancellorship.

Love for his country, a strong sense of responsibility, deepest concern about the weal and woe of his people and his promise not to leave Reich President von Hindenburg in the lurch in this time of need, these were the only reasons which moved this man to leave the post of Ambassador in London, which he had come to like so much, to assume the heavy charge of Foreign Minister of the Reich at that critical and fateful hour, and to accept the task assigned him by the President of the Reich to continue to guide the foreign policy of the Reich in a peaceful manner, even eventually against the will of Hitler.

The defendant von Neurath can claim fully and rightly that he carried out this heavy task at all times with all his strength and with the full force of his personality, even after the death of Reich President von Hindenburg, up to the time he was forced to admit that this task was beyond his strength, that Hitler no longer let himself be influenced by him, but had decided to pursue a line of foreign policy along which the defendant, owing to his inmost convictions and his personal point of view, could not follow.

Up to 5th November, 1937, the date of the famous speech of Hitler to the Commanders of the various branches of the Wehrmacht, the defendant von Neurath remained at his post, in the most faithful performance of his promise to the Reich President von Hindenburg, even after the death of the latter. By reason of this loyalty to the dead Reich President, he endured the odium, in many cases concerning Hitler's home politics, of having been compelled as a member of the Reich Cabinet to allow in silence things to happen which were contrary to his own convictions, which did not agree with his views and even were in direct contradiction to them. It was not in his power to prevent them. So he was forced to be satisfied with trying as far as possible to mitigate their effects and consequences, as you could see from the affidavit of the Bishop Dr. Wurm, Document Book 1, No. 1, and the statements of the other witnesses heard in this connection.

The reproach of the prosecution that he did not make such cases an excuse to lay down his office of Minister, but that through his remaining in office he had consciously approved and abetted them, is entirely irrelevant. The first law governing his actions was the carrying out of the duty assigned him by President von Hindenburg, to secure the continuance of the Reich's peaceful foreign policy. He would have considered himself false to his word if he had resigned his post

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as Foreign Minister before this was accomplished or before there was no possibility of its accomplishment. What person thinking objectively could bring himself to reproach him regarding this, or even identify him with the Nazis, as does the prosecution?

But this attitude of the defendant, however, is the only reason why he did not refuse, as did the Minister Eltz von Ruebenach, his nomination to the rank of Honorary Gruppenfuehrer of the SS in September, 1937, and the presentation by Hitler of the gold Party Badge at the Cabinet Session of 30th January, 1937, which facts are made a reproach by the prosecution and given as evidence of his alleged National Socialist sentiments. For as the statement of the defendant Goering concerning the latter indicates, such a refusal by the defendant von Neurath, as was the case with Eltz von Ruebenach, would have been resented by Hitler as an act of rudeness which would without any hesitation have been answered by the immediate dismissal of the defendant. But this was just what the defendant wished to and had to avoid, for at that time he was still in a position to carry out to the full extent the task assigned him by the President of the Reich - to be the guarantor of peace in the foreign policy of the Reich, because he was fully justified in his conviction that his influence over Hitler was still strong enough to ensure his agreement with the peace policy he was then fostering.

The evidence submitted proves beyond doubt that in both cases it was not a question of actual membership of the SS and the Party, but in the first case it was only a matter of uniform, an external vanity of Hitler in regard to the men of his retinue during the forthcoming visit from Mussolini; and secondly, that it was a matter of a visible recognition for the services rendered by the defendant as Foreign Minister, which at the same time implied a proof of the unlimited agreement of Hitler with the peaceful foreign policy followed by the defendant; in other words, an entirely normal awarding of decorations as is practised in every State. The conferring of decorations in the ordinary sense was not yet possible because at that time they did not yet exist in the Third Reich. That the defendant in both cases nevertheless expressed at once that under no circumstances did he wish to prove his entry or admission into the SS or the Party by accepting this investiture, intended by Hitler as a mark of honour, has been proved by his affidavit.

Moreover, he never took the oath required to become a member of the SS; he never exercised even the slightest activity in the SS, and wore the SS uniform only twice in his life at Hitler's explicit request. This has also been confirmed by his affidavit.

Both cases actually concerned a personal sacrifice of the defendant to the promise which he had given to Hindenburg. If the prosecution consequently believes it must infer from both these incidents a National Socialist conviction of the defendant and his agreement with Hitler's ideas and his entire governmental system, it is altogether off the track. And the conferring of the Order of the Eagle supports the prosecution's assertion even less. For this Order was not conferred on him nor on the defendant Ribbentrop as a personal distinction for services rendered, but it was merely conferred on them in their positions as Reich Minister for Foreign Affairs and Reich Protector as such; this was done in order to give this Order, which was intended to be conferred on foreign personalities only, a special significance in the eyes of people abroad, which is even shown by the fact that it had to be returned by the defendant when he resigned.

The presentation of evidence, through the affidavits of all the witnesses examined in this connection, unequivocally resulted in the fact that the defendant's attitude towards the National Socialist system and its maxims was negative from the beginning to the end, and that, therefore, certain Party circles continually bore him ill will and opposed him. For these circles knew quite well that the defendant von Neurath, as is proved by his own statement and by those of the witnesses

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Dr. Koepke and Dr. Diekhoff, energetically and successfully opposed to the last day all attempts to introduce members of the Party as officials into the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to prevent opening it to Nazi influences; and that in spite of various intrigues he could not be dissuaded from his definite peace policy. On account of his inviolable sense of responsibility and his patriotism, the defendant also took upon himself this enmity and these intrigues, endeavouring only to manage German foreign policy along those lines which he considered right, formed by long years of most successful diplomatic activity. He was fully convinced that when he resigned his office it meant the collapse of the last bulwark against the infiltration of members of the Party and of the Nazi spirit into the Reich Ministry of Foreign Affairs; it also meant that the danger of the renunciation of the peace policy which was embodied in him became threatening, as happened immediately on his resignation on 4th February, 1938.

It was therefore for the defendant one of the most grievous, perhaps the most grievous disillusionment in his official life, when he was forced to recognize by Hitler's speech on the ominous day of 5th November, 1937, that all his efforts, his entire struggle, all his personal sacrifices during the last five years were in vain and that his influence with Hitler was broken; that the latter had decided to abandon him and the policy of peace and agreement advocated by him; and, if the occasion arose, to make use of military means in order to carry out his more than Utopian plans and intentions set forth in this speech. The recognition struck him like lightning from a clear sky, since up to then nothing had intimated that Hitler might no longer agree on the peace policy advocated by the defendant. The heart attack which he had the next day may testify to the fact how seriously, he felt this blow, which seemed to shatter all his hopes, all his efforts to protect Germany from the dangers of this foreign policy, from military entanglements and a possible, if not probable, catastrophe.

But from his consciousness of responsibility, his burning concern regarding the future of his people, before drawing the last self-evident conclusions and resigning, he considered it his duty to try once again by a very detailed and serious conversation to dissuade Hitler from persevering in his fatal plans and intentions. Yet, having to recognize from this conversation that Hitler's decisions were unalterable, he did not hesitate for one instant to tell Hitler that he had decided under no circumstances to take part in this pernicious policy, and that for such a foreign policy Hitler must find another Foreign Minister. Hitler accepted his resignation by his letter of 4th February, 1938.

I ask you, gentlemen, is there a more unequivocal and clearer proof than this resignation of the absolute inaccuracy, the entire emptiness of the charges made against my client at this trial of having assisted or having wished to assist by his foreign policy in the planning and the preparation of wars of aggression which took place one and a half years later? Is there a more unequivocal and clearer proof of the absurdity of the application of the principles of conspiracy to the acts and deeds of statesmen and, in particular, of the defendant? Finally, is there a more unequivocal and clearer proof of the absurdity of a retrospective judgement of the policy of States, such as constituted here as one of the main bases of the whole prosecution?

All of you, gentlemen, who are here to do justice, know from your own activity and experience at least as well as I do, how dangerous conclusions a posteriori are regarding the actions of a man, regarding the thoughts, views and deeds of this man at a time several years previously. Tempora mutantur et nos in illis. Each of us has surely experienced the truth of this sentence more than once in his life. Convictions and views, intentions and resolutions, which we have held and carried out at a certain time, have in the course of years become changed and altered, partly because of the transformation of one's own personality, partly because of exterior circumstances, or change of conditions. Does one really wish to expound this thesis and draw a conclusion retrospectively, that the former

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views, assertions and actions were only camouflage, and that the person already intended to do and was determined to do what he did years later under quite different circumstances? Why should you demand a different standard of a politician, a statesman? He, too, is only a human being and is subject to the same change of ideas, opinions and intentions as anyone else. He is even more subject to exterior influences, exterior conditions, to certain imponderable circumstances than the ordinary man. Just one example for this: What would you say to a man who would dare to assert in earnest that Napoleon Bonaparte, when he went to Paris during the great revolution, or later on when taking over the supreme command of the French armies in Northern Italy, already had the idea or even the plan or the intention, of making himself in 1804 Emperor of the French and of marching on Moscow in 1812? I believe that whoever adopted this attitude would stand alone in the world. And an able dialectician with more or less apparent logic and right could still base this opinion on the historical development of events, like the prosecution with regard to their opinion that Hitler, at the time of his assumption of power, yes, already with the presentation of the Party programme in 1920, had not only the intention but even the plan ready for conducting his later wars of aggression, and everything which Hitler and the Nazis or his collaborators did, from the very moment of the assumption of power, both in domestic and foreign politics, was the conscious preparation for those wars of aggression.

Your Honours, I believe whoever follows the prosecution and its principle, which still stands on a very weak basis, and its retrospective consideration of things, overrates too highly probably not only the spiritual, but also the statesmanlike abilities, not only of his satellites, but also of Hitler himself. Because, after all, it is in any case already evidence of a certain mental limitation, if a person, and particularly a statesman, founds his policy on the basis, as Hitler indisputably did, that the governments and statesmen of the remaining States would again and again let themselves be fooled and bluffed by the same methods, that they would again and again stand for actions which they considered to be violations of treaties, and that they would watch quietly until Hitler believed himself to be so far ready as to be able now to attack almost the whole world by force of arms. And is it not all the more proof of a mental limitation, if a statesman in this way underestimates the abilities and cleverness and also the power potential of his opponents as Hitler did? In addition to all this, however, there is something which must not be underestimated either; that is the desultory way of thinking and the decisions resulting therefrom which was a trait of Hitler. I do not consider it necessary to have to give you any further evidence thereof, as they are generally well known. Hitler, however, was also a man who did not stand for any argument, or any resistance, and who, when he encountered such and met obstacles which he could not remove through an emphatic word, changed his plans and intentions like lightning and let himself be led to decisions which were frequently just the opposite from what he had wanted and planned previously.

All this speaks against the intention of the planning and the preparation of wars at the time of the seizure of power, and in previous years, which the prosecution has ascribed to Hitler. The impossibility of this charge is being underlined further, if one considers the following. It is indisputable that Hitler not only testified in public speeches, addresses and diplomatic notes on several occasions, from the day of the seizure of power until 1937, his desire for limitation of armaments, as can be seen from documents presented by me, but he also made positive suggestions for the practical execution of the limitation of armaments of all States, therefore also that of Germany, from which it can be indisputably seen that, with regard to the German armed forces and Germany's strength in relationship to the armament of the Western Powers, he declared himself satisfied with a relationship which from the very beginning excluded any aggressive war against the other States. And now just suppose that one of these offers of Hitler

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had been accepted by the remaining States, then the war of aggression which Hitler supposedly had been planning and preparing for years would never have been possible. All efforts, work, and expenses in connection with it would have been in vain. Or do you perhaps consider it possible that Hitler looked ahead and felt assured that his offers would be refused, and that he only made them because of this assumption? Then he would really be an almost demoniacal genius, a prophetic seer of the first rank. Do you really wish to presume this and to affirm from it the claim of the prosecution that the planning of the aggressive war of the year 1939 had occurred a long time before the seizure of power? And even if you should answer this question in the affirmative for the person of Hitler, do you also ascribe such a gift of second sight to his collaborators, his servants, yes, even all Party members? To ask this question is to answer it in the negative. With this question alone tumbles down the whole painfully built up artificial construction of the case of the prosecution: And along with it falls also the classification of the whole charge, and in particular the co-responsibility of all collaborators of Hitler generally under the conception of the conspiracy, at least until the period of time when it could be recognized by the most extensive circles of his followers that Hitler finally wanted war and had decided on it. Simultaneously with this, however, the unconditional accuracy of the postulate date advanced by me at the beginning of my statements becomes evident after examining the alleged subjective co-guilt of every single defendant, after the refusal of the co-responsibility of each individual, only from the fact of his participation in the actions which are considered as preparations for a war of aggression by the prosecution at any period of time, simply without examination and investigation of his knowledge of Hitler's aims and intentions.

To waive and disregard this postulate, as the prosecution does, would be to contradict every sense of justice, the most primitive as well as the most highly developed, in every nation on earth. The summum jus sought in this trial would become a summa injuria.

The best evidence of the truth of this assertion is personified by the defendant von Neurath himself. Is it not pure folly, is it not summa injuria to accuse this man of connivance in planning and preparing wars of aggression, this man who deemed it his exclusive duty, a duty to which he has made many a personal sacrifice, to prevent every form of entanglement involving war - and who, the moment he realised that the task was beyond him, forthwith resigned his position and demanded his dismissal? The prosecution obviously feel this themselves, otherwise it would not have brought, as evidence of the defendant's alleged joint culpability, his presence at Hitler's conference on the 5th November, 1937, wittingly omitting, however, that it was this conference and Hitler's deviation from a peace to a war policy which determined the defendant to refuse further collaboration, and thereby make it clear that he never concurred in the past and was not prepared to concur in the future in, or approve of, the planning, preparation or waging of a war of aggression. Thus, every charge of guilt made in the Indictment against the defendant von Neurath is originally void, once and for all. For should he be further accused of having broken international treaties while responsible for the conduct of German foreign policy, it must be pointed out, in answer, that according to the clear wording of the Charter, the breach of international treaties does not constitute a punishable crime in itself, and becomes a punishable crime only when it serves the purpose of preparation for wars of aggression. If such a breach of treaty serves this purpose, it must be intended to do so by its author, or at least its author must have consciousness of the fact. That defendant von Neurath had no such intention, nor indeed the faintest consciousness of the above implication, is quite clearly proved by his resignation from the office of Foreign Minister. But I shall moreover demonstrate to you that even the charge of violation or breach of international treaties is without foundation.

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When, on 2nd June, 1932, the defendant von Neurath took over the Foreign Office at Hindenburg's request, there were two problems that far surpassed in importance every other European problem and awaited an urgent solution; they were the problem of the German reparations and the problem of the disarmament of the victorious powers and of German equality of rights, a factor which was inseparable from it.

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