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

The Trial of German Major War Criminals

Two Hundred and Sixteenth Day: Saturday, 31th August, 1946
(Part 7 of 7)

[Page 405]


Could I have been the friend of the Dutch, the overwhelming majority of whom were against my countrymen, who, in turn, were fighting for their existence? My only regret is that I did not go to the country as a friend. But I was neither a hangman nor, of my own will, a plunderer, as the Soviet prosecution contends. My conscience is untroubled with regard to that as the biological condition of the Dutch people during the period of my full responsibility - that is, up to the middle of 1944 - was better than in the First World War, when Holland was neither occupied nor blockaded. This is evidenced by the statistics of marriages and births and by the mortality and illness figures. This is certainly largely to be attributed to the effects of a number of measures instituted by me, for example, an

[Page 406]

extensive health insurance, contributions to married couples and children, graduation of the income tax according to social position, etc. Finally, I did not carry out the order to destroy the country, which was issued to me, and, on my own initiative, I put an end to the occupation for defence purposes when resistance in Holland had become senseless.

I have two more statements regarding Austria.

If the Germans in Austria wish their common destiny with the Germans in the Reich to become a reality, then no authoritarian obstacle ought to be opposed to this wish, nor scope given for interference by non-German forces in this decision. Otherwise, the whole German people would follow the most radical trend towards Anschluss without considering how the rest of the political programme of such a movement might be constituted.

Secondly, on the question of the effectiveness of provisions of International Law during a war: From the point of view of her own interest Germany cannot desire any war. She must even see to it that no weapons are forced into her hands. The -other nations do not want a war, either, but the possibility of one is not absolutely out of the question unless nations abhor it. It is, therefore, wrong to try to minimize a future war and reduce the defensive forces in the nations by creating the impression that a future world war could in some way be kept within the framework of the Hague Conventions on Land Warfare, or some other international agreement.

And now I probably still owe an explanation regarding my attitude to Adolf Hitler. Since he saw the measure of all things only in himself, did he prove himself incapable of fulfilling a decisive task for the German people, indeed, for Europe itself, or was he a man who struggled, although in vain, even to the point of committing unimaginable excesses, against the course of an inexorable fate? To me he remains the man who made Greater Germany a fact in German history. I served him and remained loyal to him. I cannot today cry "Crucify him," when yesterday I cried "Hosanna."

Finally I thank my counsel for the care and circumspection he has employed in my defence.

My last words express the principle by which I have always acted and to which I will hold to my last breath: "I believe in Germany."

THE PRESIDENT: I call on the defendant Albert Speer.

DEFENDANT SPEER: Mr. President, may it please the Tribunal: Hitler and the collapse of his system have brought a time of tremendous suffering upon the German people. The useless continuation of this war and the unnecessary destruction make the work of reconstruction more difficult. Privation and misery have come to the German people. After this trial, the German people will despise and condemn Hitler as the proved author of its misfortune. But the world will learn from these happenings not only to hate dictatorship as a form of government, but to fear it.

Hitler's dictatorship differed in one fundamental point from all its predecessors in history. His was the first dictatorship in the present period of modern technical development, a dictatorship which made a complete use of all technical means in a perfect manner for the domination of its own country.

Through technical devices like the radio and the loudspeaker, eighty million people were deprived of independent thought. It was thereby possible to subject them to the will of one man. The telephone, teletype and radio made it possible, for instance, that orders from the highest sources could be transmitted directly to the lowest ranking units, by whom, because of the high authority, they were carried out without criticism. From this it resulted that numerous offices and headquarters were directly attached to the supreme leadership, from which they received their sinister orders directly. Another result was the far- reaching supervision of the citizens of the State and the maintenance of a high degree of secrecy for criminal events.

[Page 407]

Perhaps to the outsider this machinery of the State may appear like the cables of a telephone exchange - apparently without system. But, like the latter, it could be served and dominated by one single will.

Earlier dictators during their work of leadership needed highly qualified assistants, even at the lowest level, men who could think and act independently. The totalitarian system in the period of modern technical development can dispense with them; the means of communication alone make it possible to mechanize the lower leadership. As a result of this there arises the new type of the uncritical recipient of orders.

We had only reached the beginning of the development. The nightmare of many a man that one day nations could be dominated by technical means was all but realized in Hitler's totalitarian system.

Today the danger of being terrorized by technocracy threatens every country in the world. In modern dictatorship this appears to me inevitable. Therefore, the more technical the world becomes, the more necessary is the promotion of individual freedom and the individual's awareness of himself as a counterbalance.

Hitler not only took advantage of technical developments to dominate his own people - he nearly succeeded, by means of his technical lead, in subjugating the whole of Europe. It was merely due to a few fundamental shortcomings of organization, such as are typical in a dictatorship because of the absence of criticism, that he did not have twice as many tanks, aircraft, and submarines before 1942.

But if a modern industrial State utilizes its intelligence, its science, its technical developments and its production for a number of years in order to gain a lead in the sphere of armament, then, even with a sparing use of its manpower, it can, because of its technical superiority, completely overtake and conquer the world, if other nations should employ their technical abilities during that same period only on behalf of the cultural progress of humanity.

The more technical the world becomes, the greater this danger will be, and the more serious will be an established lead in the technical means of warfare.

This war ended with remote-controlled rockets, aircraft with the speed of sound, new types of submarines, torpedoes which find their own targets, with atom bombs, and with the prospect of a horrible kind of chemical warfare.

Of necessity the next war will be overshadowed by these new destructive inventions of the human mind.

In five to ten years the technique of warfare will make it possible to fire rockets from continent to continent with uncanny precision. By atomic fission it can destroy one million people in the centre of New York in a matter of seconds with a rocket manned, perhaps, by only ten men, invisible, without previous warning, faster than sound. Science is able to spread pestilence among human beings and animals and to destroy crops by insect warfare. Chemistry has developed terrible weapons with which it can inflict unspeakable suffering upon helpless human beings.

Will there ever again be a nation which will use the technical discoveries of this war for the preparation of a new war, while the rest of the world is employing the technical progress of this war for the benefit of humanity, thus attempting to create a slight compensation for its horrors?

As a former minister of a highly developed armament system, it is my last duty to say the following:

A new large-scale war will end with the destruction of human culture and civilization. Nothing prevents unconfined technique and science from completing the work of destroying human beings, which it has begun in so dreadful a way in this war.

Therefore, this Trial must contribute towards preventing such degenerate wars in the future and towards establishing rules whereby human beings can live together.

[Page 408]

Of what importance is my own fate after everything that has happened in comparison with this high goal?

During the past centuries the German people have contributed much towards the creation of human civilization. Often they have made these contributions in times when they were just as powerless and helpless as they are today. Worthwhile human beings will not let themselves be driven to despair. They will create new, lasting values and, under the tremendous pressure brought to bear upon everyone today, these new works will be of particular greatness.

But if the German people create new cultural values in the unavoidable period of their poverty and weakness - but at the same time in the period of their reconstruction - then they will, in that way, make the most valuable contribution to world events which their position allows them to.

It is not war alone which shapes the history of humanity, but also, in a higher sense, the cultural achievements which one day will become the common property of all humanity. But a nation which believes in its future will never perish. May God protect Germany and the culture of the West.

THE PRESIDENT: I call upon defendant Constantin von Neurath.

DEFENDANT VON NEURATH: Firm in the conviction that truth and justice will prevail before this High Tribunal over all hatred, slander and misrepresentation, I believe that I should add only this one thing to the words of my defence counsel: My life was consecrated to truth and honour, to the maintenance of peace and the reconciliation of nations, to humanity and justice. I stand with a good conscience not only as regards myself, but before history and the German people.

If, in spite of this, the Tribunal should find me guilty, I shall be able to bear even this and regard it as a last sacrifice on behalf of my people, to serve whom was the substance and purpose of my life.

THE PRESIDENT: I call upon the defendant Hans Fritzsche.

DEFENDANT FRITZSCHE: May it please the Tribunal: The Chief Prosecutors in their final speeches have repeated several of the accusations against me, although in my opinion they were clearly refuted by the evidence.

I have summarized some of these points in writing. I do not propose to read them. If it is not contrary to the rules of this Tribunal and if it please the Tribunal, then I shall request that they take judicial notice of this summary, which amounts to six pages. They are available in translations.

I should not like to waste the great opportunity for the final word in this Trial by enumerating details, all of which can be found in the transcripts and documents. I must turn to the sum total of all the crimes, since the prosecution alleges that I was connected with all these crimes through a conspiracy.

To this charge I can only say that if I had spread the kind of propaganda in my radio talks which the prosecution now accuses me of, if I had advocated the doctrine of the master race, if I had preached hatred against other nations, if I had incited people to wars of aggression, acts of violence, murder, and inhumanity, if I had done all that, then, gentlemen of the Tribunal, the German nation would have turned from me and would have repudiated the system for which I spoke.

If I had done this merely in a disguised form, my listeners would have noticed it and repudiated it.

But the misfortune lies precisely in the fact that I did not advocate all the doctrines and ideas which were secretly guiding the actions of Hitler and a small circle, according to the testimony of the witnesses Hoess, Reinecke and Morgen, among others, and are now slowly emerging from the mist in which they were hidden.

I believed in Hitler's assurances of a sincere desire for peace. Thereby I strengthened the trust of the German people in them.

[Page 409]

I believed in the official German denials of all foreign reports of German atrocities. And with my belief I strengthened the belief of the German people in the uprightness of the German State leadership.

That is my guilt, no more, no less.

The Prosecutors have expressed the horror of their nations at the atrocities which occurred. They did not expect any good from Hitler, and they are shattered by the extent of what really happened. But try for a moment to understand the indignation of those who expected good from Hitler and who then saw how their trust, their good will, and their idealism were misused. I find myself in the position of a man who has been deceived, together with many, many other Germans, of whom the prosecution says that they could have recognized all that happened from the smoke rising from the chimneys of the concentration camps, or from the mere sight of the prisoners, and so on.

I feel that it is a great misfortune that the prosecution has pictured these matters in such a way as if all of Germany had been a tremendous den of iniquity. It is a misfortune that the prosecution is generalizing the extent of the crimes, which are in themselves horrible enough. But opposed to this I must say that if anyone once believed in Hitler during the years of peaceful reconstruction, he only needed to be loyal, courageous and self-sacrificing to go on believing in him, until, by the discovery of carefully hidden secrets, he could recognize the devil in him. This is the only explanation for the struggle which Germany carried on for sixty-eight months. Such a willingness to sacrifice does not grow from crime, but only from idealism and good faith, as well as from clever and apparently honest organization.

I regret that the prosecution has undertaken to generalize the crimes, because it is bound to add still more to the mountain of hatred which exists in the world. But the time has come to interrupt the perpetual cycle of hatred which has dominated the world up to now. It is high time to call a halt to the alternate sowing and reaping of new harvests of hatred. Finally, the murder of five million people is an awful warning, and today humanity possesses the technical means for its own destruction. Therefore, in my judgment, the prosecution should not replace one hatred by another.

I have a right to say this with a clear conscience, because I have not preached hatred, as the prosecution asserted, nor have I closed the door to pity. On the contrary, many times, even in the middle of the bitterest struggle, I have raised the voice of humanity. This is proved by the vast majority of my speeches, which one can compare at any time with the statements of my enemies. Even if my addresses could not be submitted here before the Tribunal, they cannot have simply vanished from this earth.

It is perfectly possible, perhaps even understandable, that the storm of indignation which swept the world because of the atrocities which were committed might sweep away the limits of individual responsibility. If that happens, if collective responsibility is to be attached even to those who were misused in good faith, your Honours, I beg you to hold me responsible. As my defence counsel has emphasized, I do not hide behind the millions who acted in good faith and were misused. I place myself before those for whom my good faith was once an additional guarantee of the purity of purpose of the system. But this responsibility of mine only applies for those who acted in good faith, not for those who originated, assisted in, or knew of these atrocities, beginning with murder and ending with the selection of living human beings for anatomical collections.

Between these criminals and myself there is only one connection: they merely misused me in a different way to which they misused those who became their physical victims.

It may be difficult to separate German crime from German idealism. It is not impossible. If this distinction is made, much suffering will be avoided for Germany and for the world.

[Page 410]

THE PRESIDENT: The Tribunal will carefully consider the statements which the defendants have made.

The Tribunal is now about to adjourn for the consideration of its judgment. Before doing so, the Tribunal wishes to express its appreciation of the way in which counsel for the prosecution and counsel for the defence have performed their duties.

The Tribunal has been informed that the defendants' counsel have been receiving letters from Germans improperly criticizing their conduct as counsel in these proceedings. The Tribunal will protect counsel in so far as it is necessary so long as the Tribunal is in session, and it has no doubt that the Control Council will protect them thereafter against such attacks. In the opinion of the Tribunal, defence counsel have performed an important public duty in accordance with the high traditions of the legal profession, and the Tribunal thanks them for their assistance.

The Tribunal will now adjourn until 30th September, in order to consider its judgment. On that date the judgment will be announced. If any postponement should be necessary, due notice will be given.

(The Tribunal adjourned until the 30th of September, 1946, at 1000 hours.)

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