The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

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Last-Modified: 1999/12/7

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Q. What reasons were decisive for the invasion of Holland
and Belgium?

A. This question must first be examined from the purely
military and strategic point of view. It had been considered
whether the neutrality of both countries would be absolutely

THE PRESIDENT: There is some difficulty with the equipment.
The Tribunal will adjourn.


Q. Would you please continue.

A. I repeat. At first, we had to determine whether the
neutrality of Holland and Belgium would, under all
circumstances, be assured in case of a conflict and a fight
in the West. In the beginning, it seemed as if it would.
Then information came that not only between Belgium and
France, but also between Holland and England, negotiations
had taken place. There was an incident at Venlo, where a
Dutch officer of the General Staff had been caught on German
territory, and I believe another one was shot by the
frontier post during this occurrence, which gave a new
insight into the possibility that this neutrality could not
be maintained under conditions of more severe pressure from
the enemy side.

Now if neutrality was not assured under all circumstances,
there arose a tremendous danger for the battle, in that the
right flank was menaced and exposed. The purely military
officers who were only concerned with the strategic point of
view, when being asked for their opinion, had to give it
from a purely military angle - that is, to point out that,
of course, by occupying both countries - the purely military
and strategic situation would be different than it would be
if this were not done, and such an occupation were
undertaken by the enemy.

An additional element which made it necessary to doubt the
absolute neutrality of these countries was the fact that
nearly all flights from Great Britain into Germany which
took place at that time went over Dutch or Belgian
territory. Reliable information reached us that the Belgian
Army, which at the beginning of the war had been reinforced
on its South-western frontier, was being regrouped and drawn
up along the German border with all its fighting forces.

Further information indicated that an exchange of views
between the French and Belgian General Staff had taken
place, and that under pressure from the French General Staff
Belgium had promised to participate with full force in the
construction of the fortification line of the Maas against

Other information indicated that the Chief of the French
General Staff, Gamelin, as well as Admiral Darlan and the
Chief of the Air Force, Vuillemin, insisted on the
occupation of Belgium under all circumstances for the
security of France, and that considerable negotiations were
taking place on this subject between the French and British
Governments. The information at the time was highly
reliable. How correct and absolutely clear it was became

                                                  [Page 119]

later when, after marching into France, we found the secret
documents of the French General Staff and also minutes of
conferences which had taken place between the French and
British Governments in the so-called Supreme Military

It was the opinion of the Fuehrer that the inability of
these countries to maintain their neutrality in the face of
increased Franco-British pressure would in consequence
expose the Ruhr area, which was particularly vital to us, to
extreme danger. How justified this opinion was can also be
seen from reports in which the British Chief of Government
suggested and had also fully explained to the experts in the
War Council how best the Ruhr Valley could be attacked by
low-flying British aircraft, which would approach over
Belgium and then, at the last moment, in a short flight from
Belgium, could attack the Ruhr Valley and destroy the most
important industries there.

If that was not carried out at first, it was due to the
concern of the French Prime Minister that he, on his part,
was worried about French industry and wanted to leave it to
the other side to make the first attacks against industrial
areas. England insisted, however, at all times that she be
able to carry out this attack on the Ruhr Valley via

If one takes into consideration how short the flying
distance is from the Belgian border to the most important
industries of the Ruhr Valley, only a few minutes, then one
has to recognise the entire danger which would arise if the
neutrality of Belgium were not respected by our enemies;
then, on the other hand, if it were respected, an attack by
the British Air Force on the Ruhr Valley would have
necessitated a relatively long flight over the German Bucht
from the North which, at that time, would have easily made
it possible for us to avoid and to repel such an attack.

However, if this came over Belgium it was almost impossible.

Therefore, in this serious struggle it was necessary, in the
first place, to think of our own interests in the fight and
in our existence and not to leave the advantage to the
enemy. But at the moment when one was sincerely convinced of
the danger threatening our people and particularly our Armed
Forces, to prevent this, in advance, and to assure ourselves
of those advantages which the adversary had expected for

Q. For what reason were officers interned in France, even
after the war was over?

A. First I would like to correct an expression in regard to
this question. In France the war as such was by no means
terminated. An armistice had been concluded. This armistice
was a very generous one. Even the preamble of this armistice
expressed a tendency of coming conciliation, contrary to
that armistice which had been signed in 1918 on the same

When, at that time, Marshal Petain asked for an armistice,
the first answer he received was also that capitulation
would have to be an unconditional one. Later, however, we
gave him to understand that quite a number of wishes
concerning the fleet, certain parts of the unoccupied
territory, the respecting of colonies - that these wishes
would be further considered. The situation was such that
Germany, at that moment, could have insisted on an
absolutely unconditional surrender, since no French forces
of any consequence, nor any help that might have come from
England, were available in order to avoid a complete
military catastrophe in France.

No line, no French formation, could have avoided the
penetration by German troops all the way to the
Mediterranean. No reserves were available in England. All
the replacements were in the expeditionary force which had
been beaten in the Belgian and Northern French area and
finally at Dunkirk.

In this armistice those conditions were respected which had
been mentioned as wishes. The Fuehrer also, apart from that,
had touched on a certain generous solution in regard to the
question of captured officers. When, contrary to a

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far-reaching satisfaction which we had hoped for, and which
we really got at the beginning, the Resistance movement
within France began to develop gradually by means of
propaganda from across the Channel, and the establishment
there of a new centre of resistance under General de Gaulle,
then it was perfectly understandable, from my point of view,
that French officers would offer their services as patriots.
But at the same time it was just as natural for Germany,
recognising this danger and in trying to master it, again to
take as prisoners of war those elements who would be the
leaders and experts in such military resistance movements -
that is to say, all those officers who were still moving
freely in France. That was a necessary basic condition in
order to avoid the danger of a war at our back and of a
renewed flaring up in France. I believe that it is quite
unique that, while war was still raging on all fronts, one
permitted the officers of a country with whom one has only
an armistice to move around freely at a time while war is at
its height. As far as I know, that happened for the first
time in the history of warfare.

Q. Can you give us specific facts to explain why the
struggle in France, which was apparently carried out in a
mutually honourable manner in 1940, later took on such
considerable dimensions?

A. One must consider the two phases of the war with France
completely separately. The first phase was the great
military dispute, that is to say, the attack of the German
Forces against the French Army. This struggle was executed
quickly. One cannot say that it was a chivalrous fight
throughout because from that period we know of several acts,
on the part of the French, against our prisoners, which were
recorded in the White Book and later presented to the
International Red Cross in Geneva. But all in all, it kept
within the usual bounds of a military fight, with the
excesses that always occur here and there in such a

After that had been terminated, appeasement and quiet set in
for the time being. Only later, when the struggle continued
and expanded, especially when the fight against Russia was
added, and as I said before, when on the opposite side a new
French centre of leadership had been created, then in the
countries of the West which had been quiet until then, and
where no serious incidents had taken place, a definite
intensification of the Resistance movement became evident.
Attacks on German officers and soldiers; hand grenades and
bombs were thrown into restaurants where German officers or
soldiers were present. Bombs were even thrown in places
where there were women, members of the Women's Auxiliary
Signal Service and Red Cross nurses. Cars were attacked,
communications cut, trains blown up, and this in increasing

A war behind the front during a period of land warfare
represented difficulty enough, but when aerial warfare was
added, entirely new possibilities and methods were
developed. Night after night a large number of planes came
and dropped a tremendous quantity of explosives and arms,
instructions, etc., for this Resistance movement, in order
to strengthen and enlarge it. The German Counter-
Intelligence was quite successful, by means of aerial
deception and code keys thrown down by enemy planes, in
getting into their hands a large part of these materials;
but a sufficient amount was left which fell into the hands
of the Resistance movement. The atrocities which had been
committed in this connection were also of large extent. As
to this, documents can be submitted. Of course -

MR. JUSTICE JACKSON: If the Tribunal please, I am very
reluctant to  interrupt this examination, but I should like
to ask if the Tribunal will avail itself of the Charter
provision to require from counsel a statement as to how this
is relevant to the charges which we are engaged in trying.

It raises a rather large and important question, and that
question is this, as I see it: It raises a question which
involves a great deal of time, if time is an important
element in this proceeding.

                                                  [Page 121]

For the purposes of this statement, I may admit that there
were actions taken by Partisan groups within occupied
territories which were very annoying and very objectionable
and very injurious to the would-be conqueror. If it is
sought to introduce testimony as to - what Partisans did
toward the German occupying forces, on the theory of
reprisal, then I respectfully submit that counsel is
proceeding in reverse order, that is to say, if the defence
says, "Yes, we did commit certain atrocities; we did violate
International Law," then it may be that the motive - I shall
argue that it is not is relevant under The Hague Convention,
but then at least we might have that question presented.

But unless this evidence is offered on the theory that
reprisals would be justified, it has no place, I submit, in
the case. If it is offered on the basis of establishing a
theory of reprisal, our first inquiry is, what is it that
reprisals were for? In other words, the doctrine of reprisal
can only be invoked when you first admit that you committed
certain definite acts in violation of International Law.
Then your question is whether you were justified. I submit
that it might shorten and certainly would clarify this
proceeding if counsel will definitely state as to what acts
on the part of the German occupying force he is directing
this testimony, as I suppose, to excuse it, and that, unless
there is some theory of reprisal pointed out with sufficient
definiteness, so that we may identify the violations on
Germany's part for which she is seeking excuse by way of
reprisal, this testimony is not helpful in deciding the
ultimate question.

The question here is not whether the occupying countries
resisted. Of course they resisted. The question is whether
acts of the character we have shown can be excused by way of
reprisal and, if so, there must be an admission of those
acts, and the doctrine of reprisal must be set forth, it
seems to me, much more specifically.

THE PRESIDENT: Yes, Dr. Stahmer.

DR. STAHMER: I have not been able to get all of the
statement, because the translation did not quite keep up
with it, but I believe that for the following reasons what
we have discussed up to now is relevant:

The defendants are accused of the fact that hostages were
taken in large numbers and shot and it is maintained that
this was not justified; at any rate, the motives which led
to the taking of hostages have not, up to now, been
discussed, at least not sufficiently. To clarify this
question, which is so important for the decisions in this
trial, it is in my opinion absolutely necessary to make it
clear that these decrees concerning the arrest and the
treatment of hostages were called for by the attitude of the
Resistance movements. Therefore, in my opinion it could be
said with justification that the actions of the Resistance
movement were the cause for the measures which had to be
taken later by the German military authorities, much to
their regret.

MR. JUSTICE JACKSON: May I say one word in answer to Dr.
Stahmer's offer, if it be an offer?

The suggestion of Dr. Stahmer that the motives here are to
be tried seems to me to lead us very far afield. If he is
invoking the International Law doctrine of reprisal, then he
has to meet the conditions of that doctrine. Article 2 of
the Geneva Convention of 27th July, 1929, provides
specifically that measures of reprisal against prisoners of
war are prohibited. He therefore must relate it to some one
other than prisoners of war. Under the doctrine of reprisal,
as we understand it, any act which is claimed to be
justified as a reprisal must be related to a specific and
continuing violation of International Law on the other side.
That is, it is not every casual and incidental violation
which justifies wholesale reprisals. If it were, then
International Law would have no foundation, for a breach on
one side, however unimportant, would completely absolve the
other from any rules of warfare.

Secondly, anything which is claimed to be justified as a
reprisal must follow within a reasonable time and it must be
related reasonably to the offence which

                                                  [Page 122]

it is sought to prevent. That is, you cannot by way of
reprisal engage in wholesale slaughters because of a single
murder. Next, it must be shown as to the reprisals that a
protest was made, as a basis for invoking reprisals. You
cannot engage in reprisals without notice. The reprisal must
be notified and there must be notification by a responsible
party of the Government.

And next, and most important, a deliberate course of
violation of International Law cannot be shielded as a
reprisal. Specific acts must be reprisals for specific acts
under the conditions I have pointed out. You cannot
vindicate a reign of terror under the doctrine of reprisals;
and so I respectfully submit that the offer of Dr. Stahmer
to inquire into the motive of Goering individually or of all
defendants collectively or of Germany does not meet any
legal test. It might be pointed out to the Tribunal by way
of mitigation of sentence after conviction, but is not a
proper consideration on the question of guilt or innocence
of the charges which we have brought to the Bar.

THE PRESIDENT: Mr. Justice Jackson, I understood you to
agree that this sort of evidence might be relevant in
mitigation of sentence?

MR. JUSTICE JACKSON: I think if your Honours find the
defendants guilty, then it comes to the question of
sentence, as in our practice. You might find almost anything
that a defendant saw fit to urge relevant to the sentence,
but I do not take it that Dr. Stahmer is now dealing with
the question of matters relevant to that subject. If it is,
I should consent that any plea for leniency be heard, of
course. It is offered, as I understand it, on the question
of guilt.

THE PRESIDENT: That may be so, but the Tribunal may consider
it more convenient to hear the evidence now. The Charter, as
far as I see, has not provided for any evidence to be given
after conviction, if a defendant is convicted. Therefore any
evidence which would have to be given in mitigation should
be given now.

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