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-Eighthth Day: Saturday, 27th July, 1946
(Part 2 of 8)


[Page 441]

Goering appears to have assisted Himmler in recruiting the necessary personnel for anti-partisan work and he is recorded by a Cabinet Councillor on the 24th September, 1942, as stating that he was looking for daring fellows for employment in the Eastern Special Purpose Units, and that he was considering convicts and poachers for the purpose. His idea was:
"In the regions assigned for their operations these bands, whose first task should be to destroy the communications of the partisan groups, could murder, burn and ravish. In Germany they would once again come under strict supervision."
A month later he gave the Duce a description of Germany's method in combating the partisans in the following terms:
"To begin with, the entire livestock and all foodstuff is taken away from the areas concerned so as to deny the partisans all sources of food. Men and women are taken away to labour camps, children to children's camps, and the villages burnt down. Should attacks occur, then the entire male population of villages would be lined up one side and the women on the other side. The women would be told that all men would be shot unless they (the women) indicated which of the men did not belong to the village. In order to save their men the women always pointed out the stranger."
These methods were not confined to the East. They were going on throughout the length and breadth of every occupied territory. Wherever the slightest resistance was offered the German answer was to attempt to stamp it out with the utmost brutality. It would not be difficult to rival the events of Lidice and Oradour-sur-Glane by a hundred other instances.

One of the most brutal expedients - the taking of hostages - was the subject of an order by the German High Command on 16th September, 1941. Keitel ordered: I quote:

"It should be inferred in every case of resistance to the German occupying forces, no matter what the individual circumstances, that it is of Communist origin.

In order to nip these machinations in the bud the most drastic measures should be taken immediately on the first indication so that the authority of the occupying forces may be maintained and further spreading prevented. In this connection it should be remembered that a human life in unsettled countries frequently counts for nothing, and a deterrent effect can be attained only by unusual severity. The death penalty for fifty to one hundred Communists should generally be regarded in these cases as suitable atonement for one German soldier's life. The way in which sentence is carried out should still further increase the deterrent effect."

We may compare the wording of the Einsatz Commando Report:

[Page 442]

"In the knowledge that the Russian has been accustomed of old to ruthless measures on the part of the authorities, the most severe measures were applied."
There is no difference in outlook between Keitel and Kaltenbrunner: the German soldier was being ordered to emulate the SS.

A fortnight after issuing that order, Keitel, whose only defence was that he had pressed for five to ten hostages for one German in place of fifty to one hundred, had had a further idea, and on the 1st October, 1941, he suggested that it was advisable that military commanders should always have at their disposal a number of hostages of different political tendencies, nationalist, democratic-bourgeois, or Communist, adding:

"It is important that among them shall be well-known leading personalities or members of their families whose names are to be made public. Depending on the membership of the culprit, hostages of the corresponding group are to be shot in case of attacks."
The original document bears the ominous note: "Complied with in France and Belgium."

The effect of these orders throughout the German Army is well seen from three instances of the action taken by a local commander.

In Yugoslavia, a month after Keitel's original order a station commander reported that in revenge for the killing of ten German soldiers and the wounding of another twenty- six, a total of 2,300 people had been shot, one hundred for each killed and fifty for each wounded German soldier.

On the 11th July, 1944, the Commander of the District of Kovolo in Italy was in a public poster, threatening to kill fifty men for every member of the German armed forces, whether military or civilian, who was wounded, and a hundred if a German was killed. In the event of more than one soldier or civilian being killed or wounded, all the men of the district would be shot, the houses set on fire, the women interned, and the cattle confiscated immediately. In June of the same year 560 persons, including 250 men, were reported by Kesselring as having been taken into custody under threat of shooting within forty-eight hours, some German colonel having been captured by bandits.

The men directly implicated in these brutalities are Goering, Ribbentrop, Keitel, Jodl, and Kaltenbrunner, but who can doubt that every man in that dock knew of the orders and of the way in which the German armed forces were being taught to murder men, women and children, and were doing so throughout the length and breadth of Europe? Raeder, who says he disapproved of this sort of policy in Norway, states that he tried to dissuade Hitler, yet he continued to hold his post and to lend his name to the regime under which these things were being done.

I pass on to matters for which he and Donitz were more immediately responsible. The conduct of the war at sea reveals exactly the same pattern of utter disregard for law and for decency. There can seldom have been an occasion when the minds of two naval commanders have been so clearly read from their documents as those of the defendants Raeder and Donitz can be read in the present case.

As early as the 3rd September, 1939, the German Navy, in a memorandum to the Foreign Office, were seeking agreement to a policy of sinking without warning both enemy and neutral merchant ships in disregard of the London Submarine Rules, their own Prize Ordinance and of course International Law. A series of documents during the following six weeks reveals constant pressure on the Foreign Office by Raeder to consent to this policy.

On 16th October, 1939, Raeder produced a memorandum on the intensification of naval warfare against England. In this document, having proclaimed the "utmost ruthlessness" as necessary and the intention to destroy Britain's fighting spirit within the shortest possible time, Raeder went on to say:

[Page 443]

"The principal target is the merchant ship, not only the enemy's but in general every merchant ship which sails the seas in order to supply the enemy's war industry both for imports and exports."
It is that document which contains the infamous passage:
"It is desirable to base all military measures taken on existing International Law; however, measures which are considered necessary from a military point of view, provided a decisive success can be expected from them, will have to be carried out even if they are not covered by existing International Law. In principle, therefore, any means of war which is effective in breaking enemy resistance should be based on some legal conception, even if this entails the creation of a new code of naval warfare."
In another memorandum on the 30th December he went on to urge further intensification, particularly with regard to neutrals. I quote:
" ... without binding ourselves to any conceptions of warning";
and he suggested that as they were going to invade neutral States it really did not matter if they went a little far regarding sea warfare.
"The intensified measures of the war at sea will in their political effect only play a small part in the general intensification of the war."
You will have noted that these memoranda on the conduct of the war at sea echo the High Command's view on the future war, which had been written eighteen months earlier:
"The normal rules of war towards neutral nations may be considered to apply only on the basis of whether the operation of these rules will create greater advantages or disadvantages for the warring nations."
Was that a mere coincidence? At all events, such was the pattern laid down by Raeder and followed by Donitz. From the very first the Naval War Staff never had any intention of observing the laws of war at sea. The defence that the sinking of Allied merchant ships without warning was justified by Allied measures is as untenable as the suggestion that the sinking at sight of neutral merchant ships was preceded by warning which complied with the requirements of International Law. You have seen the very vague and general warnings given to the neutrals and the memorandum of the Naval War Staff revealing that these were deliberately given in the most general terms because Raeder knew that the action he intended against neutrals was utterly illegal. I need not remind you of the document which suggests that orders should be given by word of mouth and a false entry made in the log book, the very practice followed in the case of the Athenia, or of the entries in Raeder's own war diary revealing that carefully selected neutrals should be sunk wherever the use of electric torpedoes might enable the Germans to maintain that the ship had really struck a mine. You have confirmation in the bland denials prepared by Raeder to answer the protests of the Norwegian and Greek Governments on the sinking of the Thomas Walton and the Garoufalia, and the reluctant admission in the case of the Deptford, all three ships sunk in December, 1939, by the same U-boat. Nothing reveals more of the cynicism or opportunism with which Raeder and Donitz treated International Law than the contrast between their attitude towards the sinking of a Spanish ship in 1940 and that of September, 1942. In 1940 Spain did not matter to Germany; in 1942 she did.

Details with regard to the various successive measures taken in the course of putting into effect the policy of sink at sight do not require recapitulation but there are two features of the conduct of naval warfare by these two defendants which I must emphasize. First, they continued to put out to the world that they were obeying the London Rules and their own Prize Ordinance. The reason for that appears in Raeder's memorandum of the 30th December, 1939, where he says:

"A public announcement of intensified measures for the war at sea must be urgently advised against in order not to burden the Navy again in the eyes of history with the odium of unrestricted U-boat warfare."

[Page 444]

And that, you see, is the common plan - the common plan - the very argument put forward by Jodl and Donitz in February, 1945, in favour of simply breaking the regulations of the Geneva Convention rather than announcing Germany's renunciation of it to the world. And here, once again, is the doctrine of military expediency; if it will pay Germany to break a particular law she is entirely justified in breaking it, provided always it can be done in such a way as to avoid detection and the condemnation of world opinion.

It must not be thought that in initiating this policy of sink at sight and in disregarding the rules of the war at sea Raeder was any more drastic than Donitz. In his defence Donitz made a great effort to explain away his order of 17th September, 1942. I ask the Tribunal to remember its terms:

"No attempt of any kind must be made at rescuing members of ships sunk .... Rescue runs counter to the rudimentary demands of warfare for the destruction of enemy ships and crews."
His diary entry of the same date, which confirms that order, starts:
"The attention of all C.O.'s is again drawn to the fact that all efforts to rescue ... run counter to the rudimentary demands of warfare ...."
Well, the defendant denied that this means that crews were to be destroyed or annihilated. But the previous history makes it abundantly clear that this was an invitation to U- boat commanders to destroy the crews of ship-wrecked merchantmen, while preserving an argument for Donitz, should - as has indeed happened - occasion arise. That, after all, was the pattern laid down by Hitler when on the 3rd January, 1942, he told Oshima that:
"He must give the order that in case foreign seamen could not be taken prisoner ... U-boats were to surface after torpedoing and destroy the lifeboats."
The evidence shows constant pressure by Hitler from then on for the issue of this order. It is admitted that he demanded it at a meeting with both Donitz and Raeder on the 14th May, 1942, and that he raised the question again on the 5th September, 1942. Donitz himself referred to pressure by Hitler during the Laconia incident. You have confirmation that the order issued on the 17th September was intended to bear the construction put upon it by the prosecution in the evidence of the witness Heisig and in that of Moehle. Is it conceivable that a senior officer would have been allowed to go on, from the 17th September, 1942, until the end of the war, briefing the hundreds of U-boats which set out from Kiel, that this was an order to annihilate unless that was what the Naval War Staff intended? You have the evidence that Donitz himself saw every U-boat commander before and after his cruise, in his own admissions with regard to the comments made by his staff officers at the time he drafted the order and his general attitude revealed by the order of October, 1939, which he admits was a non-rescue order - an utterly indefensible order in itself in the submission of the prosecution. There is further the coincidence that the very argument which Hitler advanced to Oshima, namely, the importance of preventing the Allies finding the crews for the immense American construction programme, was the argument Donitz himself admits putting forward on the 14th May, was the argument which Heisig reports hearing, and is the reason given for the subsequent order to give priority in attacking convoys to sinking rescue ships. You have the instances of the Antonico, the Noreen Mary, and the Peleus, whilst the man who expressed horror at the idea that he should issue such an order admittedly saw the log book of the U-boat which sank the Sheaf Mead, with its brutal entry describing the sufferings of those left in the water. Donitz's own statement was that, I quote:
"To issue such a directive could only be justified if a decisive military success could be achieved by it."
Was it not because, as his own document shows, the percentage of ships being sunk outside convoys in September, 1942, was so high that 'a decisive military success might have been gained that this order was issued, whereas in April, 1943,

[Page 445]

when almost all sinkings were in convoy, it was not necessary to issue a further order in more explicit terms?

The prosecution firmly and strongly submit that the defendant Donitz intended by that order to encourage and to procure as many submarine commanders as possible to destroy the crews of merchant ships but deliberately couched the order in its present language so that he could argue the contrary if circumstances required it. On the evidence of Admiral Wagner that the Naval War Staff approved the order of 17th September, 1942, with respect to survivors, Raeder cannot escape responsibility and, indeed, since he was present at the meeting with Hitler in May of that year and received the Fuehrer order of the 5th September, 1942, to issue instructions to kill survivors, there can be little doubt that he was fully involved in his subordinate's policy.

Although within a few months Allied air power made it impossible for U-boats in most areas to risk surfacing at all after they had discharged their torpedo, and the question became one of less importance, it is interesting to note that when the order against rescue ships was issued on the 7th of October the following year the same phrase, "destruction of ships' crews," recurred.

Despite the denial of Kapitan-Lieutenant Eck, there can really be no doubt that, briefed by Moehle, he did what his superior officers intended him to do. Why should it be supposed that a man who a month later received Hitler's Commando Order without protest, should shrink from ordering the destruction of seamen on rafts or clinging to wreckage, when Hitler had explained its military necessity. Eck, who obeyed the orders of Raeder and Donitz, has paid the supreme penalty. Are they to escape with less?

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