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-Fifth Day: Wednesday, 24th July, 1946
(Part 5 of 11)


[Page 306]

I particularly want to point out that the reply which the defendant authorized to be drafted on the basis of Hitler's description and for which he also did not use the letterhead of the

[Page 307]

Ministry of Foreign Affairs, was not signed by him in his own name, nor on behalf of the absent Foreign Minister, but, as the wording of the document discloses, it was forwarded by him on the order of the Reich Government as a description of the events. But the Reich Government was Hitler, or rather on that day Goering. He therefore made perfectly plain that he was not writing in his own name, on his own responsibility, but that like an attorney he was only forwarding information of a third person, namely, Hitler. He really cannot be reproached for not having doubted the accuracy of this information and for not having checked the official description of the head of the State, quite apart from the fact that he would not have been in position to check it.

He can also not be reproached for the statement which he made a short time later to the Czechoslovak Ambassador, Dr. Mastny. In the first place, according to the sworn statement of the defendant, the discussion in question took place in a way rather different from that described in the report of Ambassador Dr. Mastny, which apparently aimed at greater emphasis and effect. But, in any case, the penultimate paragraph of this report - Document Book V, No. IV - shows clearly that even Mastny interpreted the statement of the defendant, that Hitler had no intention of attacking Czechoslovakia and now, as before, considered himself bound by the provisions of the agreement of arbitration, to imply no guarantee for all time, but only for the immediate future, that is, until the action against Austria had been terminated. In view of the insufficient preparations of the Wehrmacht for war, confirmed here by the defendant Jodl, there was absolutely no reason to doubt the accuracy of this statement, that is, to doubt that it actually corresponded to Hitler's wish at the time, in spite of the references of the prosecution to Hitler's statements in his speech on 5th November, 1937, about the conquest of Austria and Czechoslovakia. For these statements referred only to the possibility of war with other States and to a much later period. So the accusations raised by the prosecution against the defendant on this point are also unfounded. That already a few months after his speech on 5th November, 1937, Hitler decided to incorporate Austria into Germany came as a surprise to all, even to his closest collaborators. This decision, however, was taken not only on the basis of developments in Austria, but most likely not least on the basis of conferences between Hitler, the defendant and Lord Halifax, the then Lord President of the Council, in November and December, 1937, in which, according to the sworn statement of the defendant, Lord Halifax declared that the British people would not understand why they should enter a war because two German countries had united.

(A recess was taken until 1400 hours.)

DR. VON LUDINGHAUSEN (counsel for the defendant von Neurath):

Once more, in the autumn of 1938, the defendant von Neurath took it into his hands to stem the tide of events in order to stave off the immediate danger of war from the German people. In view of the corroborative testimony of Goering and other witnesses I do not need to describe in detail how the Munich conference came about towards the end of September, 1938. The fact remains that it was held and was successful - I refer to the agreement with Britain and France on the Sudeten question - and this was due in no small measure to the initiative and co-operation of the defendant.

If, however, he was able to accomplish this, it is due to a circumstance which the prosecution, completely misunderstanding the situation, now includes among the accusations, namely, that upon his resignation as Foreign Minister he was appointed President of the Secret Cabinet Council, which had been newly created by Hitler at the same time.

Had he not been in this position it would not have been possible for him to force his way to Hitler in September, 1938, and persuade him to agree to the Munich conference; for, contrary to the allegation of the prosecution, even though he kept the title of Reich Minister from the day he resigned as Foreign Minister, he was no

[Page 308]

longer a member of the Reich Cabinet, which is shown by the fact that from that day on his salary was decreased by one- third.

Any joint responsibility which the defendant might have had for the policy of the Reich ceased as from that day. For, contrary to the assertion of the prosecution, as President of the Secret Cabinet Council he was not a member of the Reich Cabinet and had no access to it, let alone a seat or a vote in the Cabinet sessions.

This is established beyond doubt by the very wording of Hitler's decree whereby this Secret Cabinet Council was created, for it says expressly that the sole purpose of this Secret Cabinet Council was to advise the Fuehrer personally, that is, Hitler alone, and only on questions concerning foreign policy. Even Huber's book Constitutional Law of Greater Germany, quoted by the prosecution under PS-1744 in its attempts to prove the contrary, shows that the Secret Cabinet Council and its President had nothing whatsoever to do with the Reich Cabinet and were not a branch or an organ of it, but only one of several of the Fuehrer's personal offices.

As has been shown by the testimony of Goering, Lammers and other witnesses, the Secret Cabinet Council never really functioned, and was never meant to function. In point of fact, all that was intended was to bestow a personal honour on the defendant, and thus efface the impression that differences had arisen between him and Hitler. That he himself did not look upon his appointment in any other way is proved by the fact that after 4th February, 1938, the defendant lived on his estate in Wurttemberg as a private citizen according to his own personal inclinations and went only very rarely to Berlin, where, however, he was not and could not be active in any official capacity, as all information as to what was happening in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was deliberately kept from him.

If the prosecution believes that it is able to conclude from the documents submitted by it under 3945-PS that the defendant received sums of money from the Reich or the Reich Chancellery for obtaining diplomatic information, then - apart from the defendant's own testimony under oath - this is refuted by a letter among these documents dated 31st May, 1939, from Amtsrat Koppen, the head of the office of the Secret Cabinet Council, which was kept going merely for the sake of appearances - a letter which proves conclusively that these not very large payments made to this office at long intervals were for covering the cost of maintaining this office, and were not intended for any purposes of secret information.

And if the defendant made no use of his position as President of this Secret Cabinet Council, except for this one occasion in September, 1938, he made just as little use of his position as a member of the Reich Defence Council, to which he was appointed by the Law for the Defence of the Reich. Here too the prosecution errs when it makes use of this membership to accuse the defendant of warlike intentions or of promoting such intentions.

As this Reich Defence Council has already been discussed so much during the course of the evidence, I believe there is no need for me to examine more closely this assertion of the prosecution, and that I can limit myself to pointing out that no aggressive tendencies of any kind were embodied in these Reich Defence Laws, but that, on the contrary, as their contents state, they merely contain - as is the custom in any country that has to reckon with the possibility of a war - the necessary provisions for the event of the Reich being attacked or being drawn into a war in some other manner. How one can deduce from them that the defendant had warlike intentions or planned for war is utterly incomprehensible.

Moreover, the defendant did not take part in a single one of the meetings of this Council, and no reports about the decisions of this Council were ever forwarded to him. The document 2194-PS submitted by the prosecution as alleged counter-evidence was not sent to the defendant at all, but to a department of the Reich Ministry of Transport attached to the Government of the Protectorate, namely, the Transport Department - and was intended for the latter. Also the sender of the document was not the Reich Defence Council, but the Ministry of Economics and Labour of Saxony.

[Page 309]

All these and similar efforts will never enable the prosecution to prove that the defendant, by his policies, was at any time directly or indirectly guilty of the crime of planning or preparing an aggressive war or even of approving or supporting such a war. Quite the contrary. All his efforts were directed to one end and one end only - to attain by peaceful means and in a peaceful way only those aims which had been sought by all former democratic governments since 1919; namely, the removal of the provisions of the Versailles Treaty which discriminated against Germany and stamped the German Reich as a second- rate power, and the bringing about of a general pacification of Europe. Not one of his diplomatic actions served any other purpose or was performed with any intention which would imply a crime in the sense of the Charter.

It is not surprising, therefore, that his resignation as Reich Foreign Minister was received by the whole world with anxiety and dismay - both outside Germany - I refer to the statement of the witness Diekhoff - as well as inside Germany - especially in conservative circles. This alone goes to prove that the assertion of the prosecution that he was active in these circles as a fifth columnist is untrue. All the prosecution's references to Hitler's speech to his generals in November, 1939, and still less to the speeches by the defendant himself of 29th August arid 31st October, 1937, will alter none of those facts. Hitler's speech was made at the time of the first military successes and was calculated to vindicate the success of his, that is, Hitler's State leadership, and should be taken at its face value. The speeches made by the defendant, however, say just the opposite of what the prosecution sees fit to put into them. For both speeches, Nos. 126 and 128 in my Document Book IV, stress quite clearly the success of the peaceful intentions of the German foreign policy conducted by the defendant, and lay particular emphasis on the fact that the results were obtained entirely by peaceful means and not by means of force. In particular, the speech of 31st October, 1937, the last public speech of the defendant as Foreign Minister, is actually a resume of his peace policy. That this was and still is a correct resume the prosecution itself has had to admit in this Court when, in the words of one of the prosecutors, it specially quoted Hitler's speech of 5th November, 1937, which was used by my client as an excuse for his resignation, as the turning-point in German foreign policy. Thus the prosecution acknowledged unequivocally that, up to that day, German foreign policy had not been an aggressive policy of force, or pursued any warlike plans or intentions of war, but had been peaceful throughout. Indeed it could not have been otherwise, in view of the defendant's political and humane creed, and this has been unanimously confirmed by all witnesses examined here and in all of the questionnaires and affidavits in my document books.

This creed was built on three main pillars: love for his fellow men, love of the fatherland, and love of peace, all three springing from and sustained by a very deep sense of responsibility towards himself, towards his God, and towards his people.

When a few days after the occupation of Czechoslovakia Hitler called the defendant to Vienna from his well-deserved otium cum dignitate on his estate and told him that he had been selected as Reich Protector for Bohemia and Moravia, it was this same sense of responsibility which made him feel it to be his duty to accept this post. At first he was opposed to the idea and struggled long with himself, for he had always been an inveterate opponent of any interference in the affairs of other nations, let alone the more or less forcible annexation of a country to the German Reich.

It was for this reason that he had also condemned the annexation of Czechoslovakia and the so-called protective alliance entered into with President Hacha, although at that time he had not the slightest idea of how this really came about. He came to know of the true facts of this incident for the first time here in Nuremberg.

In spite of his reluctance to accept a public office once more, especially at his age, and to serve again under. Hitler and his regime, of which he heartily disapproved,

[Page 310]

his sense of responsibility towards his people and his humane principles led him to be persuaded that it would be wrong to refuse this mission. When Hitler explained to him that he had chosen him as being the only man possessing the necessary qualities to reconcile the Czechoslovakian people with the new conditions and with the German people, which Hitler said was his desire, he could not fail to recognize that the task which was being given to him was one which, in the interests of the German people, of humanity and of international understanding, he ought not to refuse. And was it not indeed a task worthy of the utmost effort to appease by just government and humane treatment a people who would regard every restriction and encroachment on their liberty and independence as the worst injustice that could be done to them, and who would be filled with deadly hatred and resentment towards a people they felt to be an intolerable oppressor and to reconcile them with these very people and the conditions for which they were directly responsible?

But was not this aim in line with the endeavour to ensure and preserve peace, which clearly and unequivocally pervaded his whole foreign policy? And he had every justification for telling himself that if he refused this task, then another man from Hitler's entourage would in all probability be nominated Reich Protector, who would be neither able nor willing to conciliate the Czech people by humane and just treatment - and who, on the contrary, would be more inclined to hold them down by force and terror, as indeed happened two and a half years later. Such were the thoughts and considerations which led him to accept the appointment offered him, setting aside all personal interests and willing to face the risk that this might be interpreted and held against him in some quarters as denoting approval and support of Hitler and his regime, for Hitler had made him the definite and firm promise that he would at all times be willing to support his (the defendant's) intended policy of appeasing and reconciling the Czech people by humane and just treatment, and of furthering the interests of the Czech people to the greatest extent.

He was fully aware that the task which he had accepted was a difficult one. I do not hesitate to admit that it was here a question of a decision, the justification of which could - if one admits the point of view put forward here by the British Prosecutor that it was immoral to remain in a government which should be repudiated because of its amorality - cause embarrassment to a man whose thoughts and dealings were different from those of the defendant von Neurath; but having in mind the character of von Neurath, which I hope has been described to you clearly enough, and his deep sense of responsibility, this decision was the only possible and logical one. It is a veritable tragedy, resembling those of the ancient Greeks, that the failure of this mission, which had been undertaken with the highest ethical motives, should have brought the defendant von Neurath into this dock.

But at this point, I should like to make the following comments on the prosecution's attempt by means of the photostatic documents which it submitted under No. 3859 consisting of a letter from the defendant to the Chief of the Reich. Chancellery Lammers dated 31st August, 1940, and its alleged appendices, to discredit the defendant's assertion that in assuming his office as Reichsprotektor his sole aim was to appease and reconcile the Czech people by safeguarding to the utmost their interests and their way of life, and thus work for the well-being of this people and their prosperity as a nation.

I believe that the second examination of the defendant, which the Tribunal, in its readiness to help, granted to me, has proved that those documents, particularly the two reports attached to the letter to Lammers, which indeed cannot be reconciled with the intentions and tendencies of the defendant as mentioned above, have no evidentiary value. Not only do those photostatic copies in no way tally - and the defendant has made a statement to this effect - with the contents and the form, that is, the length of the originals attached to the letter to Lammers and which had been submitted to the defendant for signature and approved by him, but they give rise in several places to well-founded doubts as to whether the photo

[Page 311]

static copies of the said documents are really identical with the annexes to the letter addressed to Lammers, and this owing to the following facts:

In contrast to the practice adopted by all administration offices, neither of the photostatic copies bears the reference number of the letters to Lammers, or even a note that they are annexes to a third document, let alone to the Lammers letter. Neither does the photostatic copy of the first report bear the defendant's signature, which, according to his definite statement, when he signed the letter to Lammers, he added to the report annexed to it, which report had been drawn up by himself or by his office according to his instructions and submitted to him in a fair copy.

Another thing which strikes one is that it only bears a correction note of the copy which should have been, but actually was not, signed by a SS Obersturmfuehrer working in the office of State Secretary Frank. Those facts support the defendant's assertion that, if the reports from which the photostatic copies have been made were in fact annexed to the Lammers letter, they have been substituted for the original report of the defendant and for Frank's report, the draft of which was approved by the defendant, in the office of State Secretary Frank which was entrusted with the dispatch, either by the latter or by his orders. Furthermore, the defendant's statement, made by him in order to explain the purpose of this Lammers letter and its annexes, is quite worthy of belief, namely, in the same way as was intended by the plan contained in General Friderici's report dated 15th October, 1940, submitted under US 65 L 150, to induce Hitler by reporting verbally to him, and on the basis of the two reports sent, to abstain from dividing the Protectorate territory and from Germanising the Czech people in any way, and to prohibit any such plans, a course which the defendant repudiated for many reasons, but chiefly because he had at heart the interests of the Czech nation which had been entrusted to him, and its national character and unity.

[ Previous | Index | Next ]

Home ·  Site Map ·  What's New? ·  Search Nizkor

© The Nizkor Project, 1991-2012

This site is intended for educational purposes to teach about the Holocaust and to combat hatred. Any statements or excerpts found on this site are for educational purposes only.

As part of these educational purposes, Nizkor may include on this website materials, such as excerpts from the writings of racists and antisemites. Far from approving these writings, Nizkor condemns them and provides them so that its readers can learn the nature and extent of hate and antisemitic discourse. Nizkor urges the readers of these pages to condemn racist and hate speech in all of its forms and manifestations.