The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

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One has to admit that it was in no way sure, or in any case
highly problematical whether the guaranteeing powers,
England and Italy, would under those circumstances consider
the case in point as one in which the guarantee applied and
would actively assist Germany against a French attack, or
whether they would not rather prefer to stay neutral. That
this possibility actually existed, also from the legal point
of view of the treaty, was already shown in the German note
of 25th May, 1935, about the Franco-Russian pact - Document
Book III, No. 105 - and was emphasized again in the German
memorandum to the signatory powers of the Locarno Treaty of
7th March, 1936 - Document Book IV, No. 109.

As I have already said, this possibility, this danger,
became even greater and more imminent as a result of the
events leading up to the ratification of the Franco-Russian
pact by the French Chamber and as a result of the
ratification itself. It was therefore an imperative and
manifest act of self-defence and self-preservation, when the
German Government, in the realization of this tremendous
danger, took the minimum steps necessary to meet this
danger, namely, when it restored the armed sovereignty of
the Reich in 1935, when, one year later, it reoccupied the
demilitarised zone, an ideal basis for any French attack,
and thus the defence line against any attack from the West
forward to the border of the Reich.

With all due respect to the rights and rightful interests of
other nations, the very highest overriding duty of every
government, and of all responsible statesmen, was, is now
and always will be, to maintain and safeguard the existence
and life of their own State and nation. A statesman who
neglects this duty commits a sin against his nation. The re-
establishment of armed sovereignty, rearmament, and the
reoccupation of the Rhineland were the natural reactions,
the dutiful answer of the German statesmen, and of the
defendant von Neurath, to the policy of the French
Government, in which, after all that had gone before, they
had to see, and saw, a threat to Germany.

                                                  [Page 303]

Far be it from me - and I wish to state this quite
emphatically - to reproach the French Government here,
morally or otherwise, for its policy as I have described it.
I am, in fact - together with the defendant von Neurath -
firmly convinced and I recognize fully, that the French
policy was dictated solely by France's interests, and that
the French statesmen surely did only what they believed was
right from the French point of view. And if they proceeded
thereby from an incorrect premise according to German
conviction, namely, the premise that a Germany which had
regained its strength constituted a danger and a threat to
France, and that the German people had always regarded the
French people with blind rage, hatred and enmity and were
animated only by a passion for aggression and a craving for
revenge, then my client and I can only sincerely deplore
this, but we cannot condemn it.

But, on the other hand, I too must claim for the German
statesmen, for the defendant von Neurath, the right that
their deeds and actions be judged on the basis of their
reasons, on the basis of the needs and circumstances of the
time and from the viewpoint of German interests; and that
these men be not accused of motives which in themselves are
more than improbable and were in any case far from their
minds.

Politics, diplomacy, are history come to life. Like the
entire universe, like everything that lives and moves in it,
this living history, too, is subject to an unchangeable
fundamental law, the law of causality. And I believe,
gentlemen of the Tribunal, that I have been able to produce
clear evidence that the two actions with which the defendant
is charged by the prosecution, and which are said to
incriminate him in particular because they constituted
treaty violations in preparation for war, namely, the re-
establishment of the armed sovereignty of the Reich and the
remilitarization of the Rhineland, were the logical and
inevitable sequence of the events and of the political
development during the years of my client's activity as
Foreign Minister, that they were the certain result of the
politics of the Western Powers, and that neither he nor
Hitler consciously, intentionally, or according to a
preconceived plan, brought them about, but that they were
the unavoidable outcome of French policy. They therefore
cannot only not have an aggressive character or tendency and
cannot indicate preparations for war, as the prosecution
asserts in its retrospective consideration of these things,
but on the contrary, they served only the defensive purpose
of warding off a possible attack, and have a decidedly
defensive and therefore peaceful character. That they cannot
therefore be viewed as actions preparatory for a future war
of aggression on the part of Germany, I need hardly
emphasize.

The assertion of the prosecution proves only that it is
absolutely inappropriate and quite absurd to view
retrospectively and draw conclusions from single historical
actions and events torn out of their context and roughly and
incoherently put together. This way of thinking is useless
for the purpose of investigating and finding historical
truth, which is surely the first condition and duty of this
High Tribunal not only for the forming of its judgement, but
also for its task of laying the foundation for a new
international law controlled by ethical principles.

But a critical examination of the two steps charged against
the defendants as breaches of international treaties does
not, upon closer scrutiny of the circumstances, prove the
charges sound. For the Treaty of Versailles as well as the
Treaty of Locarno had, in the course of time and events, not
only lost their significance and therewith their
justification, but both of them had long since been broken
by French policy and therefore, in law, annulled: the Treaty
of Versailles had been broken by the obstinate refusal to
carry out the disarmament obligations imposed upon France as
well as upon the other contracting nations in return for
Germany's disarmament; and the Treaty of Locarno had been
broken by the conclusion of the agreement with Russia which
was incompatible with the Locarno Treaty. History, as often
before, had passed over them too, and had thus shown the
absurdity of applying rigidly the dogma "Pacta servanda
sunt", as France tried to

                                                  [Page 304]

do with regard to Germany. This fact cannot be altered by
the League of Nations resolution of 19th March, 1936, which
had been proposed by France and which in itself was not
astonishing in view of France's dominating position in the
League of Nations; this resolution found that by reoccupying
the Rhineland, Germany had violated Article 43 of the Treaty
of Versailles. But history passed over that also.

I do not think that further comments are needed upon this
resolution and the statements and parleys between the
participating nations which preceded and followed it; they
came to nothing, in the course of events, and Europe finally
made the best of the accomplished facts.

But even on the supposition that this resolution were
correct, a breach of an international treaty is punishable
according to the Charter of this High Tribunal only if it
served the preparation of a war of aggression, and during
this trial one of the gentlemen of the American prosecution
expressly stated that it was absolutely legal and
justifiable to bring about the revision or annulment of
treaties by peaceful means. And German foreign policy did
nothing else. The military action of the reoccupation of the
Rhineland was, in view of the small force of troops used -
only one division, and the Luftwaffe did not take part in it
at all - in reality only a symbolic act for the restoration
of the sovereignty of the Reich; that was already evident
from the fact that, as early as 12th March, 1936, the German
Government through a statement of its ambassador in London
contained in my Document Book IV, No. 113, made the proposal
that in the case of reciprocity it would not reinforce its
troops and would not order them to advance closer to the
borders. The proposal was rejected by France. German policy
has throughout and in every respect remained true to its
principle of peace for which it had stood consistently, for
many years, and in reality it only desired to serve and did
serve peace and its maintenance in Europe. Both steps, the
restoration of armed sovereignty and the reoccupation of the
Rhineland were, and I especially want to emphasize this
here, nothing else but the visible expression and outlet of
the full and unrestricted sovereignty of the Reich. This
sovereignty had already been recognized by the Western
Powers in the often mentioned Five-Power Agreement of 11th
December, 1932, containing the recognition of Germany's
right of equality. More conclusive evidence can hardly be
found for the love of peace and the clear policy of peace of
the defendant von Neurath than the fact that he waited for
years for the realization of this recognition, in order to
avoid complications which in view of the earlier attitude of
the French and their policy might possibly arise; he waited
for years up to the moment when, in consequence of the
changed balance of power this realization became an
unquestionable necessity for the security of the Reich, a
necessity for self-defence. And German foreign policy
continued unchanged in practice to follow this peaceful
tendency, even after and in spite of this resolution. In the
German memorandum of 31st March, 1936, Document Book IV, No.
116 - the German Foreign Office, on behalf of the Reich
Government, once more submitted to the powers a new great
peace plan for a quarter of a century of peace in Europe, by
means of which, as is stated at the end, it wanted to make
its contribution to the building of a new Europe on the
basis of mutual respect. This again was clear and
unmistakable evidence of its unalterable will for peace. It
was not Germany's fault that this German peace plan - and
its absolute honesty and sincerity has been affirmed here
upon oath by the defendant - was also not successful, and
did not lead to the building of a new and peaceful Europe.

The same peaceful tendencies and intentions continued to be
uppermost in the defendant's policy during the years 1936-
1937, in spite of all disappointments. Evidence of this is,
above all, the treaty between the German Reich and Austria
which was concluded on 11th July, 1936, as the result of
negotiations which had been conducted for some time by the
defendant von Papen. Not only the defendant's own testimony,
but also the testimony of the witnesses Kopke and Diekhoff
proves beyond doubt that the view on the Austrian question
which from the very beginning the defendant consistently
held and supported was this: closer co-

                                                  [Page 305]

operation between the two countries - both in the political
and particularly in the economic field - must indeed be
aimed at, but Austria's independence must, under all
circumstances, be respected and remain intact.

For that reason the defendant was a decided and fierce
opponent of any German attempts to interfere in the internal
politics of Austria and of the attempts of the Party to
support the Austrian National Socialists in their fight
against the Austrian Governments of Dollfuss and
Schuschnigg; and he again and again protested to Hitler
against them, not without success. That he, this Christian
and honourable man, abhorred and condemned the murder of
Dollfuss from the bottom of his heart, I need not emphasize.
And exactly from that point of view he welcomed the
agreement of 11th July, 1936, since it so fully corresponded
to his own opinions. This alone refutes the assertion of the
prosecution that the agreement was concluded with intent to
defraud, that is, with the intention to lull the Austrian
Government into security and thereby to prepare and
facilitate for the future the real intention, already
existing at that time, namely, to incorporate Austria by
force into the German Reich.

The absolute sincerity and honesty of the defendant during
the conclusion of the agreement is confirmed by the sworn
testimony of the then Austrian Foreign Minister Dr. Guido
Schmidt. And that the defendant von Neurath had no reason to
doubt Hitler's honesty and sincerity with regard to this
treaty was shown quite irrefutably by the witness Kopke who
confirmed Hitler's statements to the British Foreign
Secretary Simon during his visit to Berlin in March, 1935;
the defendant himself gave evidence that immediately after
the conclusion of the agreement Hitler told the leaders of
the Austrian National Socialists Rainer and Globotschnigg
that it was their duty and the duty of the Austrian Nazis to
adhere strictly to this agreement. And so, from his
viewpoint, the defendant considered this agreement as
another step on the road towards peace in Europe, since the
recognition of Austria's independence which he had
pronounced in the agreement eliminated the European danger
point inherent in the Austrian problem.

In the same way the defendant worked for an improvement of
the relations between Germany and the Czechoslovakian
Republic. It was only with this aim in mind that he so often
mentioned to the Czechoslovak Ambassador Dr. Mastny that the
Czechoslovak Government must at last meet the demands of the
Sudeten Germans, still very moderate at that time, which
were based on a promise already given by the Czechoslovak
Government in Versailles but not kept.

Nothing, however, was farther from the defendant's mind in
both the Austrian and the Czechoslovak questions than the
idea of a solution of these questions by force, a solution
which later, after the defendant had left his position as
Foreign Minister, Hitler considered right.

And his efforts to improve and further the relations between
the Reich and the South-Eastern European nations also did
not serve any aggressive intentions or plans to partition
Czechoslovakia with the help of these nations. If in
Messersmith's affidavit it is alleged that in order to
secure this aim Germany had promised to the South-Eastern
States and also to Poland parts of Czechoslovakia and even
of Austria, then these are quite fantastic ideas which do
not contain a word of truth. What the true value of these
assertions is appeared clearly from the fact that the
prosecution was not able to submit a single report from one
of the diplomats of the Western Powers accredited in the
States in question which could confirm or only indicate the
accuracy of these assertions. Was only Mr. Messersmith
clever enough to obtain knowledge of such plans? In reality,
the defendant's efforts and his trip to Budapest, Belgrade
and Sofia served only peaceful purposes, namely, the
exchange and strengthening of economic relations between
Germany and these States; as the testimony of the witness
Kopcke showed, the defendant was particularly interested in
these efforts and they even influenced his policies.

How much he opposed any policy which seemed to him even
remotely out of line with his own policy of peace and
international reconciliation is best proved by

                                                  [Page 306]

the fact that he rejected the negotiations with Japan, which
the defendant von Ribbentrop entered into and conducted in
London without his assistance and completely independent of
him, on direct instructions from Hitler, and also the Anti-
Comintern Pact which was finally concluded with Japan. He
expressed his opposition clearly by refusing to sign this
pact, and it was, as is well known, signed by Herr von
Ribbentrop as Ambassador, which was a most unusual
procedure. The objection of the defendant to this kind of
policy could hardly find a stronger form of expression.

The defendant von Neurath adhered faithfully and
unflinchingly to his consistent peace policy up to the last
moment, in spite of the influences of other circles,
especially Party circles, on Hitler which made themselves
felt during the defendant's last years in office. He hoped
until the last moment that he would be able to check these
influences successfully, to eliminate them and to continue
directing the policies of Germany along peaceful lines,
according to his own convictions and to his promise to
Hindenburg.

When Hitler's speech on 5th November, 1937, and the
defendant's subsequent conversation with Hitler about it
forced him in January, 1938, to the conclusion that he no
longer had any influence on Hitler, that Hitler would no
longer shrink back from aggressive, warlike measures, he
immediately saw the consequences, and submitted his
resignation, which was accepted. His task, entrusted to him
by Hindenburg, had become impossible to fulfil. He would not
and could not have anything to do with a policy which did
not shrink from warlike measures. It was completely out of
the question for him to support such a policy, it would have
been the negation of his entire life-work, he would have
betrayed himself and his people.

But this did not mean that the defendant, who placed the
welfare of his people above everything, even above his
personal interests and desires, would not make himself
available again if the need arose or if he believed that he
would be able to save Germany from warlike complications,
for that was the danger of the policy which Hitler now
directed along a line different from that of the defendant.
This attitude of the defendant readily explains why when
Hitler summoned him on 11th March, 1938, to inform him of
the march of German troops into Austria and, because Reich
Minister von Ribbentrop was away in London, to ask him to
advise him and to answer the note of protest from the
British Embassy, he declared himself willing to do so. If
the prosecution now charges that the contents of this answer
were factually incorrect, the following must be pointed out:
In this letter the defendant only stated what Hitler himself
had told him about the events. The defendant himself knew
just as little about the actual events as the rest of the
world, since after his resignation as Foreign Minister he no
longer received political information of any sort. Hitler's
announcement that German troops were marching in surprised
him just as much as it surprised everybody else, and as the
order for it had surprised even the highest commanders of
the German armed forces, which Henderson himself admits in
his well-known book; he adds that Hitler's decision to march
in could have been taken only a few days before. There was
even less reason to doubt the accuracy of the description
which Hitler had given him of the preceding events because
he had given it in the presence of Goering who had not
contradicted it. It did not even occur to him - because of
his own upright and true nature and because of his entire
previous official activity under clean and honest
governments - that the head of the State, Hitler, could lie
to him and, at such an important moment, give him, for the
purpose of answering the British note of protest,
information which was bound within a very short time to
prove manifestly incorrect. And whom could he really have
consulted? Only very few men besides Goering had real
knowledge, but those he could not approach, if only because
they were not in Berlin. Goering did not contradict Hitler's
description. 


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