The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

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Q. During the last days we have heard here repeatedly about
the aerial attacks on Warsaw, Coventry and Rotterdam. Were
these attacks carried out beyond military necessity?

A. The witnesses, and especially Field-Marshal Kesselring,
have reported about part of that. But from these statements
I had to realise once more, which is of course natural, how
a commander of an army, an army group or an air fleet views
in the last analysis only a certain sector. As Commander-in-
Chief of the Air Force, however, I am in a position to view
the whole picture, since I, after all, was the man
responsible for issuing orders, and according to my orders
and my point of view the chiefs of the fleets received their
instructions and directives as to what they had to do.

Warsaw: First of all I should like to state that on the
first morning of the attack on Poland a number of Polish
cities, I believe the British prosecutor mentioned their
names, were attacked. I do not remember their names any
more. In my instructions for the first day of the attack on
Poland it says specifically: First target: destruction and
annihilation of the enemy Air Force. Once that had been
achieved the other targets could be attacked without
difficulty. Therefore I gave the order to attack the
following airfields - I am certain, without having the names
at hand at the moment, that 80 per cent. of the names
mentioned were cities in which there were air bases. The
second main target, which was, however, to be attacked only
to a slight extent on the first day or with the first main
blow, were railway junctions of decisive importance as far
as the dislocation of troop units was concerned. I point out
that shortly before the last and decisive attack on Warsaw,
an air attack about which I will speak in a minute, the
French Military Attache in Poland sent a report to his
Government, which we are in a position to submit here and
which we found later in Paris, from which it can be seen
that even this opponent declared that the German Air Force -
he had to admit that himself - had attacked exclusively
military targets in Poland, "exclusively" particularly
emphasised.

At the beginning Warsaw contained only one or two targets
long before - "long before" is the wrong expression because
it went too quickly - in other words, before the
encirclement of Warsaw. That was the airfield Okecie, where
the main enemy Polish Air Force was concentrated, and the
Warsaw railway station, one of the main strategic railway
stations of Poland. However, those attacks discussed were
not the decisive ones, but rather after Warsaw was
encircled, when it was asked to surrender. That surrender
was refused. On the contrary, I remember the appeals which
urged the entire civilian population, as well as the
inhabitants of Warsaw, to offer resistance, not only
military but also civilian resistance, although contrary to
International Law, as is known. Still we gave another
warning. We dropped leaflets at first, not bombs, in which
we urged the population to cease fighting. Secondly, when
the commanding officer persisted in his stand we urged the
evacuation of the civilian population before the bombing.

When a radio message was received that the commanding
officer wanted to send a truce emissary we agreed, but
waited for him in vain. But then at least we requested that
the Diplomatic Corps and all neutrals leave Warsaw on a road
designated by us, which, in fact, was done.

Then, after it was clearly stated in the last appeal that we
would now be forced to attack the city most severely if no
surrender took place, we proceeded to attack first the
forts, then the batteries put up within the city, and the
troops. That was the attack on Warsaw.

In Rotterdam the situation was entirely different. In order
to terminate the campaign in the Netherlands as quickly as
possible and thereby to avoid further bloodshed, inasmuch as
we had no basic differences, but had to execute this
campaign for the previously mentioned reasons, I had
suggested the use of the Parachute Division in the rear of
the entire Dutch forces deployed against

                                                  [Page 132]

Germany; especially in order to capture the three most
important bridges, one near Mordyk across the Rhine, another
near Dortrecht and the third near Rotterdam. Thereby, from
the beginning the way was paved in the rear of the entire
troop deployment and, were we to succeed, the Dutch Army,
with all its valour, could only hold out for a few days.
This landing of my Parachute Division on the three bridges
proved entirely successful.

While at Mordyk and Dortrecht resistance was overcome
quickly, the unit at Rotterdam got into difficulty. First it
was surrounded by Dutch troops. Everything hinged on the
fact that the railway bridge and the road bridge, which were
next to each other, should under all circumstances fall into
our hands without being destroyed because then only would
the last backdoor to the Dutch stronghold be open. While the
main part was in the Southern section of Rotterdam, a few
daring spearheads of the Parachutists had crossed both
bridges and stood just North of both bridges, at one point
in the railway station, right behind the railway bridge
North of the river, and in the second place, within a block
of houses which was on the immediate North side of the road
bridge opposite the station, and which was the well-known
butter or margarine factory, later playing an important
role. This spearhead held its position in spite of heavy and
superior attacks.

In the meantime a Panzer Division of Germans approached
Rotterdam from the outside via the Mordyk and Dortrecht
bridges, and here I would like to correct a misapprehension
which arose in the cross-examination of Field-Marshal
Kesselring by Sir David Maxwell Fyfe, concerning persons
involved. Lieutenant-General Schmidt belonged to this group
which came from the outside and led the Panzer troops.
General Student led the Parachute Division which was in
Rotterdam, that is, inside, and that explains the fact that
at one, time there were negotiations for capitulation with
the German commander of the troops coming from the outside,
and at another time surrender negotiations with the
commander of the Parachute troops within the city. Both were
later co-ordinated - I do not want to go into details here
whether clear agreements were arrived at - examining this
chronologically one can trace it down to the very minute -
and whether it could be seen at all, as to whether
capitulation would come about or not, this, of course, for
the time being concerned Rotterdam alone. At that time the
group North of the two bridges was in a very precarious and
difficult position. Bringing reinforcements across the two
bridges was extremely difficult, because they were under
heavy machine-gun fire. To this day I could still draw a
precise picture of the situation. There was also artillery
fire, so that only a few individuals, suspended by their
hands, were able to work their way across, in order to get
out of the firing line - I still remember exactly the
situation at the bridge later on.

It had been ordered that these batteries standing North of
the station and also those Dutch forces on the street
between the station and the road leading North, representing
a great handicap to our shock troops, be bombed, since at
that time the Parachute troops had no artillery, and bombing
was the only sort of artillery for the Parachute troops, and
since I had assured my Parachutists before the venture that
they would under all circumstances receive protection by
bombers against heavy fire. Three groups of my squadrons
were used. The call for help came over the radio station of
the Paratroopers in Rotterdam, which did not function as
well as has been claimed, and also from the clearly
exhibited and agreed upon ground signals, which the
reconnaissance planes brought back. These were signs such as
arrows, indicators and letters which spelled out to the
reconnaissance airmen: "We are pressed by artillery from the
North, East, South, etc."

Thereupon I ordered the Air Force to use one squadron. The
squadron started in three groups, about twenty-five to
thirty planes. When the first group arrived, as far as I
know, the surrender negotiations were in progress, but to no

                                                  [Page 133]

clearly defined end. In spite of that red flares were sent
up. The first group did not grasp the significance of these
flares, but rather threw their bombs, as agreed upon,
exactly in that area as had been ordered. If I remember the
figure correctly, there were at the most thirty-six twin-
engined planes which chiefly released 50-kilo bombs. The
second and third groups which followed understood the red
signals, turned around, and did not drop their bombs.

There was no radio connection between Rotterdam and the
planes. The radio connection went from Rotterdam by way of
my headquarters, Airfleet 2, to division squadron, ground
station, and from there there was a radio connection to the
planes. That was in May, 1940, when, in general, the radio
connection between ground station and planes was, to be
sure, tolerably good but in no way to be compared with the
excellent connections which were developed in the course of
the war. But the main point was that Rotterdam could not
send directly to the planes and therefore sent up the
signals agreed upon, the red flares which were understood by
groups two and three, but not by group one.

The great amount of destruction was not caused by bombs but,
as said, by fire. That can best be seen from the fact that
all the buildings which were built of stone and concrete are
still standing in the ruined part, while the older houses
were destroyed. The spread of this fire was caused by the
combustion of large quantities of fats and oils. Secondly -
I want to emphasise this particularly - the spread of this
fire could surely have been prevented by energetic action on
the, part of the Rotterdam Fire Department, in spite of the
storm coming up.

The final negotiations for capitulation, as far as I
remember, did not take place until about 6 o'clock in the
evening. I know that because, during these surrender
negotiations, there was still shooting going on, and the
General of the
Paratroopers, Student, went to the window during the
surrender negotiations and was shot in the head, which
resulted in a brain injury.

That is what I have to say about Rotterdam in explanation of
the two Generals and their surrender negotiations, one from
within and one from without.

Coventry: After the period from 6th or 7th September to
November, only after repeated warnings to the English
Government, and after the Fuehrer had reserved for himself
the right to give the order for reprisal attacks on London
and had long hesitated to give this order, and after German
cities which were not military objectives had been bombed
again and again, then London was declared a target for
attack. From 6th and 7th September-the first attack was on
6th September in the afternoon - the German Air Force
pounded London continuously. Although this seemed expedient
for reasons of retaliation and for reasons of political
pressure on the part of the political leadership, I did not
consider it of ultimate value.

I do not wish to be misunderstood when I say that I knew
from the First World War that the people of London can take
a great deal and that we could not break their military
resistance in this manner. It was important to me, first of
all, to prevent an increase in the defence power of the
British Air Force. As a soldier, or, better said, as
Commander-in-Chief of the German Air Force, the weakening
and elimination of the enemy Air Force was a matter of
decisive importance for me.

Although the Fuehrer wanted, now as before, to see London
attacked, I, acting on my own decision, made an exact
preparation for the target Coventry since, according to my
information, there was located in and around Coventry a main
part of the aircraft and aircraft parts industry. Birmingham
and Coventry were targets of decisive importance. I decided
on Coventry because there the most targets could be hit
within the smallest area.

I prepared that attack myself with both air fleets which I
examined - I regularly examined the target information - and
then with the first favourable

                                                  [Page 134]

weather, that is, a moonlight night, I ordered the attack
and gave directions to carry it out as long and as
repeatedly as was necessary to achieve decisive effects on
the British aircraft industry there, and then to switch to
the next targets in Birmingham and to large motor factories
South of Bristol and London.

That was the attack on Coventry. That the city itself was
greatly affected resulted from the fact that the industry
there was widely spread over the city, with the exception of
two new plants which were outside the city, and again in
this case the damage was increased by the spreading of fire.
If we look at German cities to-day, we know how destructive
the influence of fire is. That was the attack on Coventry.

Q. In the year 1941, negotiations took place about
collaboration with Japan. Were you present at these
negotiations?

A. I myself did not take part in the negotiations. I can say
very little about negotiations with Japan because from a
military point of view I had very little to do with Japan
and seldom met with the Japanese. During the entire war only
once, and for a short time, I received a delegation of
Japanese officers, attaches. Therefore, I cannot say
anything about collaboration with Japan. We were instructed
to exchange experiences, war experiences, with the Japanese,
but that went through the various offices. Personally, I had
nothing to do with the Japanese.

Q. When were you first informed that Hitler thought a war
against Russia necessary?

A. Not until the late autumn of 1940 in Berchtesgaden was I
informed about the intentions of the Fuehrer to get into a
conflict with Russia under certain circumstances.

Q. Were you present at the conversation, which took place in
Berlin in November, 1940, with the Russian Foreign Minister
Molotov?

A. I personally was not present at the conversation between
Hitler and Molotov. M. Molotov, however, also paid me a
visit, and we discussed the general situation. I know, of
course, about the conversation with Molotov, because the
Fuehrer informed me about it in detail. It was just this
conversation which very much increased the Fuehrer's
suspicion that Russia was getting ready for an attack upon
Germany, and this was brought out during this discussion by
the remarks and demands which M. Molotov made.

These were, firstly, a guarantee to Bulgaria, and a pact of
assistance with Bulgaria, such as Russia had made with the
three Baltic States.

Secondly, it involved the complete abandonment of Finland by
German to the extent that Russia, who had signed a peace
with Finland a short time ago, thought herself justified in
attacking Finland again in order not to have to be satisfied
with the results of the previous agreements, trade, etc.

Thirdly, it dealt with discussions about the Dardanelles and
the Bosphorus, and the fourth point was the possibility of
penetration into Roumania through Bessarabia.

These were the points which were discussed with the Fuehrer.
There was also a hint to the Foreign Minister about an
occupation or securing of interests at the exit of the
Baltic.

The Fuehrer viewed these demands in a different light.
Although Russia might have been justified in making demands
to Germany concerning Finland, he believed that, in
connection with other reports which he had received about
Russian preparations and deployment of troops, Russia wanted
to strengthen her position in Finland in order to overtake
Germany in the North and to be in immediate proximity to the
Swedish ore mines, which were of vital or at least decisive
importance to Germany in this war. Secondly, as to the
advance, as demanded, into the Roumanian and Bulgarian area,
the Fuehrer was not so sure that this pressure would not
continue in the South, that is, the Dardanelles, or in a
Near Eastern direction, but rather in a Western direction,
that is to say,

                                                  [Page 135]

that here, also, Russia might push into the Southern flank
of Germany and, by getting control of the Roumanian
oilfields, make Germany absolutely dependent on Russia for
deliveries of oil. In these demands he saw the camouflaged
attempts to arrive at deployment of troops and troop
positions against Germany. The suggestion of securing an
outlet to the Baltic was not even up for discussion, as far
as Germany was concerned at that time. All in all, that
conversation caused the Fuehrer to feel that further
relations would be menaced by Russia.

Already in his discussion with me the Fuehrer told me why he
thought to anticipate the Russian push under certain
circumstances. The information about feverish work on
deployment preparations in the area newly acquired by Russia
in Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Esthonia and Bessarabia made
him extremely suspicious. Until then we had sometimes only
eight, later twenty and twenty-five, divisions along the
entire Eastern border. Further reports came that Russia
might be expected to attack us from the rear as soon as
Germany was at war in the West, either because of an
invasion by Britain or because Germany on her part had
decided to invade England. His arguments were strengthened
even more by the fact that shortly before, contrary to
anything practised in Russia before this, engineers - that
is, Germans, and, I believe, also officers of ours -
suddenly were shown the tremendous Russian armament works of
the aviation and tank industry. These reports about the
surprisingly high production capacity of these armament
works further strengthened the Fuehrer's conviction. He was
so firmly convinced that he said - and this was his
political thought - if England still does consider coming to
an agreement with us, although she now stands alone against
us, she must have something in the back of her mind. He had
information that worried elements in England had pointed out
two things to Prime Minister Churchill:

Firstly, that increased support by the United States could
be expected, first of all in the technical field - that is,
in respect to armaments, and then extending to other fields;
and, secondly, this he considered even more probable, that
Churchill had already come to an understanding with Russia
in that direction, and he pointed out that here sooner or
later there would be a clash. His calculations were the
following:

Before the United States could be ready with her armaments
and the mobilisation of her Army, he would have to destroy
the Russian troops deployment, and to break down and weaken
the Russian forces to such an extent by strong concentrated
attacks that they would not represent a danger in the rear,
in case he had to enter into an English-American conflict on
the continent. These were the explanations of the Fuehrer.

Then came the visit of Molotov, which I just mentioned and
which enhanced this point of view considerably.


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