The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

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Last-Modified: 1999/12/18

Q. Since when have you been employed in this capacity in the
Foreign Office, and for whom did you work?

A. I have been working in the Foreign Office as interpreter
since 1923, and in this capacity I interpreted for all
foreign ministers, from von Stressmann to Ribbentrop, as
well as for a number of German Reich Chancellors, such as
Hermann Muller, Marx, Bruning, Hitler and other members and
delegates who represented Germany at international
conferences. In other words, I participated as interpreter
in all international conferences since 1923 at which Germany
was represented.

Q. Did you have the opportunity to act as interpreter during
the discussion between Ribbentrop and Sir Nevile Henderson?

A. No, I did not have that opportunity as the discussion was
conducted in German.

Q. Was Ambassador Henderson able to speak German fluently?

A. Ambassador Henderson's knowledge of German was fairly
good, but not perfect, hence it could happen that in moments
of excitement he did not quite understand certain points, as
proved by an incident which occurred during the conference
just mentioned, and it was not always easy for him to
express himself in German, but when speaking to Germans he
usually preferred to conduct these discussions in German.

Q. In the course of the conference, von Ribbentrop read out
to Henderson a memorandum containing the German proposals
for a settlement of the questions pending between Germany
and Poland? Now I am asking you, witness, did Henderson ask
you during that discussion to translate to him the contents
of the memorandum Ribbentrop had read out?

A. No, he did not do that.

Q. Did you get the impression from his attitude that Sir
Nevile Henderson had not fully understood the contents of
the memorandum?

A. That is, of course, very hard to say. You cannot tell
what goes on inside a person's mind, but I doubt whether he
understood the document in all its details.

Q. Did Ribbentrop, when he read out the document to Sir
Nevile Henderson, give him any explanations?

A. Yes, whilst reading out the document the Foreign Minister
now and then commented to Henderson about some points which
might not have been quite clear.

Q. Did Sir Nevile Henderson himself ask for such

A. No, Henderson just sat and listened to the document being
read out and the comments which were made.

Q. What atmosphere prevailed during that conference?

A. The atmosphere during that conference was, I think I can
say, somewhat charged with electricity. Both participants
were extremely nervous. Henderson was very uneasy and never
before and perhaps only once afterwards have I seen the
Foreign Minister so tense as he was during that conference.
An incident which occurred during the first part of the
discussion can perhaps serve to illustrate the atmosphere.
It was when the Foreign Minister in summing up all the
points Germany had against Poland and her Government
concluded with the words:

  "So you see, Sir Nevile Henderson, the situation is
  damned serious."

When Sir Nevile Henderson heard those words "damned serious"
he started up, half raised himself, and pointing a warning
finger at the Foreign Minister said:

  "You have just said 'damned.' That is not the language of
  a statesman in so serious a situation."

                                                  [Page 137]

THE PRESIDENT: To what charge in the Indictment is this

DR. HORN: To the point in the Indictment that on 30th
August, 1939, von Ribbentrop read out the memorandum, the
momentous memorandum, so quickly that Ambassador Sir Nevile
Henderson was not able to grasp its contents, transmit it to
his government, and have it forwarded to the Polish
Government in order to continue negotiations between Germany
and Poland. England at that time had offered her good
services as intermediary between both governments. Germany
on the basis ...

THE PRESIDENT: Which passage of the Indictment are you
referring to? You may be right, I do not know. I only want
to know which passage in the Indictment you are referring

DR. HORN: I am referring to the preparation, that is, to the
failure to prevent aggressive war for which Ribbentrop is
indicted as a co-conspirator.

THE PRESIDENT: That is on Page 9, is it not? There is
nothing about the way in which this document was handed over
to Sir Nevile Henderson. Presumably you have got the
indictment. Where is it in the Indictment?

DR. HORN: It has been presented by the prosecution and it
has also been presented in the House of Commons where
Chamberlain insisted that Ribbentrop had read it out so
rapidly that to grasp the contents and transmit them through
diplomatic channels, which England had expressly offered to
do, was impossible. Thus the defendant von Ribbentrop is
directly indicted for having prevented this last chance of
further negotiations with Poland. The statement of the
witness will prove that the defendant von Ribbentrop cannot
be charged with this.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, Dr. Horn, you made the point that it
was read in that way. There is no charge about it in the
Indictment at all. It may be that the prosecution referred
to it in the course of the history. You have made the point
surely it is not necessary to go on at length about it.

DR. HORN: In that case may I proceed?


Q. Then you had the impression that both these statesmen
were extremely agitated?

A. Yes, I did have that impression.

Q. To what causes do you attribute this agitation?

A. To the tension which prevailed during the negotiations;
to the numerous conferences which had taken place almost
without interruption during the preceding days and which had
made considerable demands upon the nervous system of all

Q. Is it correct that von Ribbentrop, as Sir Nevile
Henderson maintains in his book, said in the worst possible
language that he would never ask the Polish Ambassador to
call on him?

A. That I cannot remember. The Foreign Minister merely said
that he could receive the Polish Ambassador for negotiations
or discussions only if he came to him with the necessary

Q. Ambassador Lipski did not have that authority?

A. He answered a question respecting this, which was put to
him by the Foreign Minister with an emphatic "No." He had no

Q. Thereupon, Ribbentrop declared to Sir Nevile Henderson
that he could not receive the ambassador, is that right?

A. No. I have just spoken about a conference which the
Foreign Minister had with the Polish Ambassador in the
course of which the latter was asked whether he had
authority. To this he replied "no," whereupon the Foreign
Minister said that in this case there could naturally be no
question of any discussion.

Q. Then von Ribbentrop did not submit the, memorandum which
we mentioned previously to Sir Nevile Henderson. Had you the
impression that Ribbentrop did not submit the text of the
ultimatum to Ambassador Sir Nevile Henderson because he did
not wish to, or because he was not allowed to do so?

                                                  [Page 138]

A. It is difficult for me to give a clear-cut answer to this
question, as I was not present at the preliminary
discussions which Hitler surely had with the Foreign
Minister regarding that point, before the conference with
the British Ambassador. I, therefore, have to rely on the
impressions I got during the conference with the British
Ambassador, and from these I can draw my conclusions as to
the instructions Hitler may have given the Foreign Minister
for this conference. In this connection I can say the

When Henderson requested that the document containing the
German proposals be submitted to him, the Foreign Minister

  " No, I cannot give you the document."

These are the words he used. This, of course, was a somewhat
unusual procedure because, normally, Henderson had the right
to expect that a document which had already been read out
would be submitted to him. I myself was rather surprised at
the Foreign Minister's answer and looked up because I
thought I had mis-understood. I looked at the Foreign
Minister and heard him say for the second time:

  "I cannot give you the document."

But I saw that this matter caused him some discomfort and
that he must have been aware of the rather difficult
position in which he had placed himself by this answer,
because an uneasy smile played on his lips when he said
these words, "I cannot give you the document," in a quiet
voice to Sir Nevile Henderson.

Then I looked at Henderson as I, of course, expected him to
ask me to translate the document, but this request was not
forthcoming. I looked at Henderson rather invitingly, since
I wanted to translate the document, knowing that a quick and
complete transmission of its contents was extremely
important to the British Government. If I had been asked to
translate I would have done so quite slowly, almost at
dictation speed, in order to enable the British Ambassador
in this round-about way to take down not merely the broad
outline of the German proposal, but all its details and
transmit them to his government. But Henderson did not react
even to my unspoken invitation, and so the discussion soon
came to an end and events took their course.

Q. Did you, on the morning of September 3rd, 1939, receive
the British ultimatum to the German Government?

A. Yes, that is correct.

Q. To whom did you submit this ultimatum?

A. On the morning of the 3rd, at about 2 or 3 a.m. the
British Embassy telephoned the Reich Chancellery, where I
was still present with the Foreign Minister, in order to be
available for possible conferences, and gave the information
that the British Ambassador had received instructions from
his government, according to which, at exactly nine o'clock,
he had to make an important announcement on behalf of the
British Government to the Foreign Minister. He therefore
asked to be received by Ribbentrop at that time. He was
given the reply that Ribbentrop himself would not be
available but that a member of the Foreign Office, namely I,
would be authorised to receive the British Government's
announcement from the British Ambassador on his behalf. Thus
it happened that, at nine o'clock in the morning, I received
the British Ambassador in Ribbentrop's office. When I asked
him to be seated Henderson refused and whilst still standing
he read to me the well known ultimatum of the British
Government, to the German Government, according to which,
unless certain conditions were fulfilled by Germany, the
British Government would consider themselves at war with
Germany at eleven o'clock that morning.

After we had exchanged a few words of farewell, I took the
document to the Reich Chancellery.

Q. To whom did you submit this document there?

A. In the Reich Chancellery I gave it to Hitler. That is to
say, I found Hitler

                                                  [Page 139]

in his office in conference with the Foreign Minister and I
translated the document into German for him. When I had
completed my translation, there was at first silence.

Q. Was Hitler alone in the room?

A. No, as I said before, he was in his office with the
Foreign Minister. And when I had completed my translation,
both gentlemen were absolutely silent for about a minute. I
could clearly see that this development did not please them
at all. For a while Hitler sat in his chair deep in thought
and stared somewhat worriedly into space. Then he broke the
silence with a rather abrupt question to the Foreign
Minister, saying "What are we going to do now?" Thereupon
they began to discuss the next diplomatic steps to be taken.
Whether this or that ambassador should be called, etc. I, of
course, left the room, since I had nothing more to do. When
I entered the ante-room, I found assembled there, or rather
I had already seen on my way in, some members of the cabinet
and higher officials. To their questioning looks - they knew
I had seen the British Ambassador - I had only said that
there would be no second Munich. When I came out again, I
saw by their anxious faces that my remark had been correctly
interpreted. When I then told them that I had just handed a
British ultimatum to Hitler, a heavy silence fell on the
room. The faces suddenly grew rather serious. I still
remember that Goering, for instance, who was standing in
front of me, turned round and said, "If we lose this war,
then God help us." Goebbels was standing in a corner by
himself and had a very serious, not to say depressed,
expression. This depressing atmosphere prevailed over all
those present, and it naturally lives in my memory as being
something most remarkable, for the first day of the war, in
the ante-room of the Chancellery.

Q. So you did not have the impression, then, that these men
expected a declaration of war?

A. No, I did not have that impression.

Q. Witness, were you in a position to observe how Ribbentrop
reacted to the news of Japan's attack on Pearl Harbour?

A. I had no direct opportunity, but in the Foreign Office it
was generally known that the news of Pearl Harbour took the
Foreign Minister, as indeed the whole Foreign Office,
completely by surprise. This impression was confirmed by
what a member of the Press department told me. The Press
department had a listening station, and the officer on duty
had instructions to inform the Foreign Minister personally
of important news at once. When the first news of Pearl
Harbour was received by the listening station of the Press
department, the officer on duty considered it of sufficient
importance to report it to his chief, that is to say, the
head of the Press department, who in turn was to pass it on
to the Foreign Minister. He was, however, so I was told,
rather harshly rebuffed by the Foreign Minister who said it
must be an invention of the Press or a hoax, and he did not
wish our Press department to disturb him with such stories.
After that, a second and third message about Pearl Harbour
was received. I think a Reuter report had also been received
by the listening station, and the head of the Press
department then again plucked up courage and, in spite of
the order not to disturb the Foreign Minister, he once more
gave him this news.

THE PRESIDENT: This evidence seems to be utterly
uninteresting and irrelevant to the Tribunal.

DR. HORN: Von Ribbentrop is accused also of having prepared
aggressive war against the United States of America.

THE PRESIDENT: What you were telling was the reactions of
the Press. What have we got to do with the reactions of the

DR. HORN: The witness described Ribbentrop's reaction to the
attack on Pearl Harbour, Ribbentrop did not know that the
Japanese were about to attack Pearl Harbour or America at
all. Neither was there such an agreement between Japan and
Germany. It is therefore not correct that Ribbentrop
prepared an aggressive war against the U.S.A.

                                                  [Page 140]

THE PRESIDENT: You were talking about the Press. I am not
saying that you ought not to ask the witness whether the
Foreign Minister knew nothing about the attack upon Pearl
Harbour. That was not what I said. What I said was that the
Tribunal was not interested and thought it was irrelevant
for you to go into the reactions of the Press.


Q. Witness, you were present in England at the negotiations
regarding the Naval Agreement. Can you tell us how those
negotiations proceeded and whether Ribbentrop was sincere
and what his aims were in this connection?

A. These negotiations, at which I was also present as
interpreter, went perfectly smoothly after some difficulties
had been overcome. The aims which the Foreign Minister -

SIR DAVID MAXWELL FYFE: My Lord, as I understand it, this is
the Naval Agreement of 1935. In my recollection - I am just
trying to check it - that was one of the matters which we
discussed on the application for witnesses and the Tribunal
ruled against going into the negotiations, antecedent to the
conclusion of that treaty. It came up on application for
witnesses. One or two witnesses were asked for, who were
going to give the negotiations and, I think, to deal with
this exact point which Dr. Horn put in his last question,
namely, the state of mind of the defendant Ribbentrop. I
found one or two - there is Lord Monsell, for example, who
was on the list of witnesses - who were denied by the
Tribunal, and a number of German ones were denied on the
same point. My Lord, it is in the Tribunal's statement of
26th February, and you will see on Page 2, I think,
certainly the witness Monsell, who happens to be the one
most familiar to myself, but I am sure there were other
witnesses, too. I know that we discussed this point quite
fully on the application for witnesses.

THE PRESIDENT: Who were the others, Sir David?

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