The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

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Last-Modified: 1999/12/16

ADOLF VON STEENGRACHT, a witness, took the stand and
testified as follows:


Q. Will you state your name, please?

A. Adolf von Steengracht.

Q. Will you repeat this oath after me:

I swear by God the Almighty and Omniscient that I will speak
the pure truth, and will withhold and add nothing.

(The witness repeated the oath.)

THE PRESIDENT: You may sit down if you wish.



Q. What was your last position in the Foreign Office?

A. From May, 1943, I was State Secretary of the Foreign

                                                   [Page 79]

Q. What were your activities?

A. In order to present my activities in a comprehensible
way, I must make the following prefatory remarks:

From the beginning of the war, the Foreign Minister had his
office in the neighbourhood of Hitler's Headquarters; that
is to say, in most instances several hundred kilometres
distant from Berlin.

Here he carried on his business with a limited circle of
people. The Foreign Office in Berlin had tasks of a routine
and administrative nature. But above all, his duty also was
the execution of the regular business with foreign

Within the sphere of this field of activity, I bear the
responsibility, as Secretary of State, from May, 1943. The
formation of foreign political opinions, decisions and
instructions, in contrast, originated in the headquarters,
mostly without any subsequent participation, sometimes also
without any subsequent concurrence, on the part of the
Foreign Office.

Q. Who determined the basic lines of the foreign policy?

A. The foreign policy, not only in its basic lines, but also
usually down to the most minute details, was determined by
Hitler himself. Ribbentrop frequently stated that the
Fuehrer needed no Foreign Minister, he simply wanted a
foreign political secretary. Ribbentrop, in my opinion,
would also have been agreeable to this because then, at
least, he might have eliminated a part of the direct
destructive influences on Hitler's foreign policy. Perhaps
he would then have also had influence on Hitler's speeches,
which Hitler was accustomed to prepare without Ribbentrop,
even in the foreign political field.

Q. Were there other offices or personalities, in addition to
the Foreign Office, that concerned themselves with foreign,

A. Yes, there was practically no office in the Party or its
organisations that after 1933 had no foreign political
ambitions. Every one of these offices had a sort of foreign
bureau with which it took up connections with foreign
countries and in this way sought for itself its own foreign
political channels.

I should judge the number of these to be approximately
thirty. For example, the Hitler Jugend, the S.A., the German
Labour Front, the S.S., Rosenberg's office, the Propaganda
Ministry, the office of Prince Waldeck, Ribbentrop's office,
the Nordic Society; further the V.G.A., the German Academy,
the Reich transportation office (Reichsbahn) and others.
Together with these offices must be included also the
immediate entourage of Hitler and personalities like
Himmler, Goebbels and Bormann, who had an influence in the
formation of foreign policy. Goering, too, as I see it, had
perhaps a certain influence, but only until 1938, at any
rate, in matters of foreign politics; scarcely later than

Q. Did Ribbentrop make efforts to prevent such influences or
to exclude them?

A. From my own observation, I can only give the following
judgement: Almost every one of those persons who had never
before been in foreign countries and who in peace time, as
an occasional traveller for the Third Reich, and after the
occupation of a foreign country, had eaten a good breakfast
in the capital of this or that foreign country, considered
himself an unrivalled expert on the country. They all had a
predilection for bringing their enlightenment and
discernments to Hitler. Unfortunately the further they were
from actual conditions, the more they stood at variance with
political requirements and necessities, and, unfortunately
above all, the more so-called strength they showed and the
more they stood in contradiction to the elementary feelings
of humanity, the more they pleased Hitler. For Hitler
regarded such statements and representations as sound
judgement, and they had sometimes an irreparable effect and
formed in Hitler's mind, together with his so-called
intuition, the start of some fundamental idea. To the
possible objection that it should have been easy for an
expert to criticise such an opinion or view, I should like
to point out the following: As[Page 80]long as the later
German Ambassador in Paris was still a teacher of painting,
Hitler read his reports with interest; but when he became
the official representative of the Reich, his reports were
mostly thrown unread into the waste-paper basket. Himmler's
reports, the designing observations of Goebbels, and
Bormann's influence played, on the other hand, a decisive
role, as did reports from agents which could not be checked
and which carried more weight than the opinions of experts
on the countries.

Q. Was the Foreign Office responsible for relations with all
foreign countries?

A. I should like to remark further here that I have not yet
answered the second part of your question, namely, regarding
the elimination of these influences.

With Hitler's methods of work, these so-called counter-
influences simply could not be excluded. Against this
organised disorganisation Ribbentrop waged an unmitigating,
bitter war, and that against almost all German offices. I
should like to state further that at least sixty per cent.
of his time was devoted to these things alone.

Q. Was the Foreign Office responsible for the relations with
all foreign countries?

A. In peace, yes.

Q. Did the position of the Foreign Office change with the
outbreak of war?

A. Yes. In point of fact, the Foreign Office lost its
responsibility toward the country concerned at that moment
when the first German bayonet crossed the border.

The exclusive right to maintain direct relations with
foreign governments was eliminated in all occupied
territories, in most instances even the right to have a
representative of the Foreign Office, whose post was for
observation only, was refused. This is particularly true for
the Eastern territories and for Norway.

Where Ribbentrop made the effort to maintain, in spite of
the occupation, the independence of a country in a certain
respect, as, for example, in Norway, this policy was termed
weak, traitorous, stupid, and those responsible had to stop
this work at once, on Hitler's orders, and disappeared from
the Foreign Office.

In general, the changed position of the Foreign Office
during the war is best characterised by Hitler's statement:
"The Foreign Office shall, so far as possible,
disappear from the picture until the end of the war." Hitler
wanted to limit the Foreign Office to 20 to 40 people, and
it was even partially forbidden to form or to maintain any
connection with the Foreign Office.

The Foreign Office, as such, and its officials were detested
by Hitler. He considered them objective jurists, defeatists
and cosmopolitans, to whom a matter can be given only if it
is not to be carried out.

Q. Was there any foreign policy, in a traditional sense, in

A. No; at least, I never noticed anything of it, for Hitler
had in effect made the statement: "Diplomacy is treason.
Treaties are childish; they are to be used only as long as
they seem useful to the respective partners." That was
Hitler's opinion of all diplomats in the world.

Q. Did the Foreign Office have any influence in the Eastern
territories and the territories that were under civilian

A. I have already touched on this question. I have already
said that in the territories in which there was a military
government or a civilian administration, a representative of
the Foreign Office - if he was tolerated at all - was
tolerated only as an observation post, and at any rate had
no functions; that was the rule.

I think it would be going too far on my part if I went
through the condition in every country. The situations

Q. Do you consider Ribbentrop a typical National Socialist
or not?

A. Ribbentrop was, in his whole attitude, no typical
exponent of National Socialism. He knew extraordinarily
little of the dogma and doctrines of National

                                                   [Page 81]

Socialism. He felt himself only personally bound to Hitler,
whom he followed with soldierly obedience, and he seemed to
be hypnotised by Hitler to a large extent. However, I cannot
characterise him as a typical exponent of National

Q. Was Hitler a man who was accessible to suggestions and

A. In the first years after 1933 he is said still to have
been; but he shut himself off more and more, during the
course of years, from expert objections and suggestions.
From the time that I became Secretary of State, I saw him
only twice on official occasions. I can thus speak only on
the success or lack of success of our work. In the course of
my activities, covering almost two years, I can now recall
almost no case in which he agreed to one of our suggestions.
On the contrary, it was always to be feared that through
some objection of a personal nature he would be led to take
forceful action in an opposite direction. The basic trait of
his character was probably lack of confidence, and this bore
unprecedented fruit. Thus, experts and decent people who
tried to influence Hitler to their way of thinking were
engaged, in my opinion, in an altogether vain task. On the
other hand, irresponsible people who incited him to take
violent measures or to voice his suspicions, unfortunately
found him extremely accessible. These men were then termed
"strong," whereas the behaviour of anyone who was even half-
way towards normal was called "weak" or "defeatist"; through
a sensible opinion voiced only once, the influence of that
man could be forever destroyed.

Q. What conclusions did Hitler draw from contradictory
viewpoints in respect to the contradicting persons?

A. I cannot answer that question in general terms. I have
already adumbrated it in my previous answers. First of all
the reaction depended very much, in my opinion, on the mood
of the dictator at the time. It was also a matter of
importance as to who contradicted and how much strength or
weakness he had already shown or seemed to have shown. But
what the atmosphere was can perhaps be demonstrated by the
following case shortly after the death of President
Roosevelt, as told by Ribbentrop's liaison officer with
Hitler, a man named Hebel. He said: "Today I almost met my
doom. Goebbels came from the Fuehrer, and reported on
Germany's prospects, as far as they were affected by
Roosevelt's death, as seen by the Fuehrer, and he drew up a
very hopeful picture of the future. I, Hebel, was of the
opinion that such a view was not justified and remarked as
much, cautiously to Goebbels. Goebbels fell into a rage,
called me a man who demoralised everyone, who trampled on
the happy moods and hopes of every decent person. I was
forced," Hebel reports, "to make a special trip to see
Goebbels and to ask him to keep the matter to himself. For
if he had informed the Fuehrer of my attitude, Hitler would
have merely pressed a button, and called Rattenhuber, the
Chief of his Security Service, and had me taken away and

Q. How do you explain the fact that so many people remained
in Hitler's circle, although they could not agree with him
on basic matters?

A. It is true that many people remained in their positions
although at heart they disapproved of Hitler's methods of
government and, indeed, were inimical to those methods.
There are various reasons for this.

First, it must be said that the N.S.D.A.P. had come into
power according to the rules of parliamentary procedure as
being the strongest party in the Reichstag. The officials
employed had no reason at all to retire from service on
account of the change of government. In consequence of the
change to a dictator government and the completely different
concept of the State which the change of government
involved, the individual suddenly found that he was no
longer allowed to have any opinion of his own concerning
this government. The notorious reign of terror began.
Everywhere, in the Ministries and Chancelleries, in private
dwellings and in restaurants there were spies who, out of
fanaticism or for pay, were willing to report everything
they heard. Nevertheless, many would deliberately have
risked the gravest consequences if their withdrawal could
have helped. But it became obvious that such persons merely
sacrificed themselves and their families unavail-

                                                   [Page 82]

ingly, because cases of the kind were withheld from
publicity and therefore had no effect. Worst of all was the
fact that the appointment vacated was filled by an
especially radical man. Many people realised this; and
remained at their posts in order to prevent the development
that I have just described. The great number of acts of
cruelty committed or ordered by Hitler or Himmler, led many
foreigners to the conclusion that the German people in its
entirety shares the responsibility for these crimes, or has,
at least, had knowledge of them. This is not the case. The
majority of people even in high government positions did not
learn details of these matters - or the extent to which they
were carried on - until the war was over. Perhaps the key to
this is found in the speech which Himmler delivered in Posen
on 3rd October, 1943, to his Gruppenfuehrers and which I
learned of for the first time here. This speech directed
that his special assignments, that means, the actions
against the Jews and the concentration camps, were to be
kept just as secret as the events of 30th June, 1934 had
been - of which the German people had only just learned the
authentic story.

Guilt for all these occurrences rests only on a relatively
small group, to be appraised at a few thousand people. It is
these who carried out this unparalleled terror against the
German people. But those who thought differently are chiefly
to be thanked for the fact that, for example, the Geneva
Convention was not renounced, that tens or even hundreds of
thousands of English or American airmen and prisoners were
not shot. Unfortunate prisoners and those seriously wounded
were returned during the war to their families in their home
countries; Greece in its dire need received food, guarantees
were kept as far as possible in Belgium and France, and
militarily senseless destruction ordered in foreign
countries and in the home country could be in part prevented
or at least lessened; indeed the principles of human
justice, in some places at least, remained alive. These
circles were encouraged in their attitude by the fact that
no foreign power had used the conditions in Germany as a
reason for breaking off diplomatic relations, but that
almost all, until the outbreak of war, negotiated with
National Socialism, concluded treaties and even had their
diplomatic representatives at the National Socialist Party
days at Nuremberg. It was particularly noted that National
Socialist Germany, outwardly at any rate, received much more
consideration, understanding and respect, from foreign
countries than had the Weimar Republic despite all its
fidelity to treaties or points of law. Then the war came,
and with it a special official duty for civil servants,
officers and every individual German. Should, and if so when
and how, could these people who still felt themselves to be
the servants of their nation, leave their posts under these
circumstances? Would they, above all by taking such a step,
be useful to their country and to humanity? Would they have
frightened Hitler or even been a cautioning factor for him?

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