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

The Trial of German Major War Criminals

Sitting at Nuremberg, Germany
August 26, 1946

Two Hundred and Eleventh Day: Monday, 26th August, 1946
(Part 5 of 12)

[Page 102]

DR. PELCKMANN: - which he, an expert, realized only in 1936, remained hidden from the masses. In this connection I ask you to read the summary of approximately 136,000 affidavits which show why the membership of the General SS increased within a few months from 50,000 on 30th January, 1933, to approximately 300,000.

Hitler's great gamble for power, and with it the tremendous betrayal of the German people, only begins - paradoxical as it may sound - after the so-called seizure of power. After one month of triumph over the Chancellery and this parliamentary revolution, in the course of which, no doubt, the Right did commit excesses, which however cannot be laid to the charge of the masses as premeditated planning, the pretext is created for the final elimination of all opponents; the burning of the German Reichstag. The prosecution does not assert that the German people, the members of the organizations, the SS men, knew or even suspected that this fire had been planned by the Nazis and carried through by the Brown Shirts by using the tool van der Lubbe. Such an assertion would, of course, be absurd.

[Page 103]

In order to understand the mentality of the SS men who, after January, 1933, filled the ranks of the SS and formed four-fifths of their strength, one must recall Hitler's Reichstag speech of 17th March, 1933. When the new Reichstag was elected, a large part of the opposition was eliminated, after the fire, by the banning of the Communist Party and the arrest of many of its members, and this with the approbation of the enraged population, because they had committed high treason by their alleged participation in the crime of arson.

When Hitler, while observing all parliamentary forms, asked for an Enabling Law (Ermachtigungsgesetz), the Social Democratic members of the Reichstag asserted that this law would undermine legal security.

In view of the true background portrayed above, it could only be the act of a daring trickster when Hitler answered in reply: "I really must say that had we not had an understanding of what is legal, then we would not be sitting here and you would not be sitting here - Gentlemen, it would not have been necessary for us to embark on this election or summon the Reichstag." (Reichstag Records 1933 Pages 65 and 66.)

But who, gentlemen of the Tribunal, among the mass of the people, among the old and new members of the General SS, knew at the time how audaciously Hitler was lying. These men were misled by the cloak of legality with which Hitler concealed his true self. And this speech is not all. Just consider how the Supreme Court, made up of old, experienced, former Republican judges, with scrupulous precision during many months of the trial until 1934, sought to establish who was guilty of the Reichstag fire. They acquitted the Communists Torgler, Dimitroff and others, but sentenced the Communist van der Lubbe and established publicly the complicity of Communist circles who remained unknown. Could the mass of SS members, as well as the rank and file of the German people, think otherwise than that Hitler had really saved the people and the State from a violent revolution for which the Communists were blamed at that time? Who at that time knew - as I knew, being a defence counsel - that the charge which had been prepared for months, even years, against Thaelmann, had to be withdrawn because of insufficient evidence? These few who then, or soon after, learned or guessed the truth, and who, in spite of the ever- increasing danger of being arrested, in discussions with friends and acquaintances, expressed doubts regarding the authenticity of the official and popular thesis, these few knew that, as against the semblance of legality supported by unceasing propaganda, they would not be believed by the masses.

The masses appreciated that in view of this threat to the State the so-called "enemies of the State" were to be rendered harmless in time. Seen from this angle, even the concentration camps appeared justified. But I shall come back to that later. All these were harsh and in many cases even criminal measures which partly also incriminate SS members but not the entire mass of the SS.

However, we must not lose sight of one thing. It did not come to the use of force, typical in a revolution, until after Hitler had assumed power. The cunning thing about it was that these excesses - such as arrests and bodily injuries - which were committed by members of Nazi formations - in very few cases by members of the SS - were committed in the belief, created by the deceiving of the masses, that they were necessary in order to safeguard and defend the power, which had been legally acquired, against attacks or threats.

After the acquisition of power, this revolutionary mood, created by the deception of the masses regarding the true events, which, indeed, is unique in history, is typical of all revolutionary excesses: Under the cover of factual or alleged idealistic motives - such as love of the Fatherland, love of humanity - crimes were committed. Just consider, gentlemen of the Tribunal - since we have not yet sufficient perspective of the many revolutions of the modern age just consider the French Revolution: what crimes were committed under the slogan of "Equality, Liberty and Fraternity." In the light of the experience of modern

[Page 104]

psychology it seems to me to be quite out of the question that mass movements can be unleashed or incited by inferior moral aims. The masses cannot consciously be led to crime. Even Gustave Le Bon inclines to this opinion. In the shadow of the high ideals of the masses it frequently happens that crimes are committed; but then, they are only instigated or perpetrated by the few who deceive the masses about the true reasons and events. This thought seems to me to be a decisive factor when dealing later with the question of concentration camps and the atrocities committed there and establishing whether the mass of the SS were responsible or not for these.

The concept of loyalty, too, belongs to those ideals which inspire the masses. One must be acquainted with the German mentality in order to be able to gauge what immense opportunities this concept afforded the psycho-pathological seducer of a people - Adolf Hitler - ignominiously to deceive hundreds of thousands. We know how much the word "loyalty" means to a German, educated as he is, and influenced by romantic and retrospective contemplation of history. Even Tacitus praised that trait in the ancestors of the Germans. Hitler exploited this weakness of the Germans and in this way was able to cause hundreds of thousands, even millions, to link themselves with him and his destiny. We know that what is permissible and understandable in private life is fundamentally wrong for the State. By that I mean unconditional devotion to a human being. In his work, The Question of Guilt, the Heidelberg philosopher Karl Jaspers says in regard to this question:

"The loyalty of followers in narrow circles and in primitive conditions is a feeling which has nothing to do with politics. In a free State all people are subject to control and change."
The German Socialist Bebel once expressed it in the following manner:
"Mistrust is a virtue of democracy."
These views are taken for granted by the free peoples of the world. But for a people who wanted to create a modern State according to retrospective historical dreams, they are a new revelation. Quite justifiably Jaspers sees a twofold guilt.
"First, the very fact of submitting oneself politically and without reservation to a leader, and secondly, the esteem of the leader to whom one subjects oneself. Even the atmosphere created by such subjection is a collective guilt."
Actually Jaspers means by that a moral and political guilt, but not a criminal guilt.

In the individual case, however, this loyalty can render the individual perpetrator criminally guilty. That becomes clear when we listen to the secret speech of Himmler at Posen when he addressed SS Obergruppenfuehrer of the home country and of the rear army area. That was late in the war - October, 1943 (PS-1919, SS Document 98). After various statements concerning obedience and the possibility of refusing to execute orders, he says quite clearly:

"But he who proves unfaithful, be it only in his thoughts, will be thrown out of the SS and I, Himmler, will see to it that he disappears from among the living."
This, gentlemen of the Tribunal, is an important fact when considering the question of guilt in the individual case and the question as to what extent coercion and obedience to orders, during the war, eliminate the guilt and thereby the criminality of certain individual persons or subordinated groups. This is additional to the question of refusal of military service and its consequences according to military law.

The supernatural, I can even say devilish, power of this bond of loyalty was exemplified by Himmler himself in his relations to Hitler during the last days of the war.

The Swede Count Bernadotte describes, from his own experience, in his book The Curtain Falls, how Himmler could not make the decision to save the German

[Page 105]

people from destruction by calling a halt to hostilities because - and Bernadotte admits this - even in this hopeless situation he dared not violate his loyalty to Hitler. We also know how in all times and with all peoples it has always been this loyalty that made soldiers fight to the last drop of blood in the heaviest battles, just as the Waffen SS did, who in so doing won the respect of their opponents in this war. And from these two examples we see how this hypnotic word, "loyalty," embraces alike criminal madness and the highest virtue of the soldier.

So much for the question of how far the SS man had knowledge of the points of the Party Programme - if indeed he knew them sufficiently, which from the affidavits of 136,000 SS men is doubtful - and how he viewed the ideals of his organization. But did not the Nazi leaders plot war from the very beginning? Mr. Justice Jackson asserts this, and I answer: According to the knowledge that we have today, I admit it, yes. But how could the SS man know of it?

The prosecution does not say why the conversion of an army of professional soldiers into a people's army should signify the planning of an aggressive war. Switzerland, the best example of a country with a people's army, has not been engaged in a war for a long time. Was the sponsoring of physical training and sports activities of youth a camouflaged plan for military training? In my opinion Mr. Justice Jackson failed to give us the proof for that assertion. The training of the General SS was non-military. Field sports as practised by the SA were completely lacking, and - a typical example - the cavalry units of the SS, which were numerically smaller than those of the SA, did not even give their members the right to hold a horsemanship certificate, as was the case with the SA. (Compare the testimony of Weikowsky-Bideau before the Commission.)

We know today that Hitler wanted war; it is particularly clear from the intimate conversations with Rauschnigg and when we consider the events as a whole. But, gentlemen of the Tribunal, please note: It is ex post.

It would have been a fruitless undertaking, especially in view of the position in which the German people found themselves after the First World War, to present a new war as less shocking or bad, or even as a noble and necessary undertaking, to use Justice Jackson's own expression. Hitler, whom you can accuse of everything, but certainly not of not knowing the facts of mass psychology, stressed again and again before and after 1933 that he wanted peace, peace and nothing but peace. He pointed out that he had experienced the horrors of war on his own body, that war always meant a selection detrimental to the most valuable elements in any nation. And only by these means was he able to win over ever-increasing numbers of the German people to himself and to his ideas. With propaganda for war, however carefully conducted, he would never have achieved it.

Rearmament was represented to the German people as being merely a confirmation of the will for peace, as a defensive measure against the non-disarmament of other nations and as a counter to any attempts to interfere with the peaceful rebuilding of Germany. The building of the West Wall confirms it, and so do many utterances of foreign military experts. The high-ranking major defendants and many witnesses, including such a reliable witness as Gisevius, have confirmed that not even in the leading circles a planning of aggressive war was discussed. This applies to the SS to an even greater degree. The entire training with the organizations always centred around the idea that the Party Programme would be carried through in a legal and peaceful manner, that peace was absolutely necessary and should be preserved at all costs. Not only was there no psychological preparation for war in all the SS organizations, but on the contrary, the peaceful aims of the Reich were continually stressed.

In this connection, I would like to ask the High Tribunal to read Documents SS-70, 71, 73, 75, 76, 77, 78, 80, 81, 82 from the years 1933 to 1935, particularly an article from the Schwarze Corps entitled "The SS does not love war," written 1937, and other documents which I am not quoting. That psychological

[Page 106]

preparations for war were lacking among the German people and also among the SS was never more clearly demonstrated to observers at home and abroad than by the reaction of the masses to the Munich Pact in 1938. The jubilation of the masses, including the SS who formed the cordons, was not meant for the Adolf Hitler who had enforced the cession of the Sudetenland, but rather for the Hitler and, to an even greater degree, for those foreign statesmen who had saved the peace.

For the German people and the soldiers did not want war, and - this must be stated in this historical place for the sake of historical truth - when war came in 1939 they accepted this fate not with loud rejoicing as in 1914 but in solemn silence, most of them in the erroneous belief that their leaders did not desire this war - that it was not a war of aggression.

However, it would be unworthy of me and I should lose face if I attempted to deny that the young Germans, particularly in the SS, saw their ideals in the manly virtues, those same virtues of self-assertion and refusal to take things lying down - cherished by other nations too. It may be that the SS men over-emphasized those virtues in a manner which was not always good or wise. But none of the old soldiers, students and farmers who had joined the SS imagined that war was for a purpose even remotely akin to what Hitler had in mind. If Hitler had ever dared to speak to those men of attacks on other peoples with whom he had just concluded solemn pacts of friendship, or of Einsatzkommandos in foreign lands, he would never have found any followers, apart from a handful of desperadoes. The war which the tall, blonde, and perhaps intellectually not always very alert, typical SS man imagined - and I must admit that he did not shrink from it - was the kind of war which his ancestors before him had waged during many centuries, and which, in the last resort, always ended by an appeal to destiny - the great gamble of the gods. It is true that we have to wean the Germans, and particularly the younger Germans, from this atavistic longing - and in this respect I am now more optimistic for my fellow-countrymen than for many other peoples - but war, which at present it does not appear possible to extirpate - the Kellogg Pact and modern International Law do not ban war as a means of defence and self-preservation - is essentially different from that high treason, that betrayal of world peace, that attack and robbery for the purpose of extermination, which was invented by Hitler.

In addition to its general aims and tendencies, with which the prosecution charges the SS since the very beginning of its activities, and on the basis of which it seeks to declare it to be a criminal organization, there is one outstanding event which it is alleged, discloses its criminal character in a striking manner - the killings which took place on 30th June, 1934.

There are three pages, your Lordship (Pages 18 to 20 for the interpreters), which furnish evidence on these events, and which I pass over in order to save time.

The events of 30th June, according to my presentation of the facts, are by no means as significant as the prosecution would seek to assert. The members of the SS did not see in them the beginnings of a criminal development.

I have reached a point in my review of the ideas held by the SS and its activities where we should pause to consider what the other factors were which led to the holding of these opinions.

We must look the true facts in the face. The SS man, unlike an opponent, or an intellectual of our stamp, so ridiculed at that time, did not examine with a critical eye everything that was said about his Fuehrer, about his country. He felt the need to believe in something - I will give proof of this - his belief was not shaken by what was being said in the world around him. Unfortunately, the world around him did nothing to shake his belief.

[Page 107]

Your Lordship, I have just come to the end of a chapter. Would it be in order to adjourn now?

(A recess was taken until 1400 hours.)

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