The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

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M. CHAMPETIER DE RIBES: Mr. President, your Honours:

We have asked you to condemn the leaders responsible for the
drama which has bathed the world in blood. Today, when we
ask you to declare as criminal the organizations which
served as instruments for their designs, we seek from your
justice the moral condemnation of an entire, coherent
system, which has brought civilization into the gravest
danger it has known since the collapse of the Roman world.

We attach as much importance to the sentence which we are
asking for today as to the one which we requested yesterday.

For, if we believe it necessary that the guilty should be
punished, we think it no less salutary solemnly to remind
those in power today, and who will be in power tomorrow, of
the dictates of a moral law without which neither order nor
peace can rule in the universe.

Who does not see, in fact, that in the times in which we are
living, when man's folly has made use of the prodigious
progress of science and technology for the work of death,
and when, as a philosopher has said, "our civilization has
equipped itself for suicide," the problems confronting the
agony of the world are, above all, moral problems?

"Humanity," says our great Bergson, "groans, half crushed by
the weight of the progress it has made .... The ever-growing
body awaits the addition of a soul, and the machine requires
a mystic faith."

We, know what it is, this mystic faith of which Bergson was
thinking. It was there at the zenith of the Graeco-Roman
civilization, when Cato the Elder, the wisest of the wise,
wrote in his treatise on political economy: "One must know
the right time to sell one's old oxen and one's old slaves,"
and introduced these two ideas of the individual person and
human brotherhood into the world, which, violently disturbed

The person, that is to say, the spiritualized individual, no
longer the isolated man, the mere cipher in the political
order, the cog in the economic order, but the whole man,
body and soul, soul incarnate, no doubt, but, above all, a
soul for the flowering of which society has been fashioned;
the social man, who finds his full development only in
fraternal communion with his neighbour, the man whose
calling confers upon him a dignity which gives him the right
to escape from every attempt at bondage or monopoly.

It is this mystic faith which, in the realm of politics, has
inspired all the written or traditional constitutions of all
civilized nations ever since Great Britain, the mother of
democracies, guaranteed to every free man, by virtue of
Magna Charta and the act of Habeas Corpus, that he should be
"neither arrested nor imprisoned, except by the judgment of
his peers delivered by the due process of the law."
It is this faith which inspired the American Declaration of
   "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men
   have been endowed by their Creator with certain
   inalienable rights."
It is that which inspired the French Declaration of 1791:
   "The representatives of the French, people, constituting
   a Nation Assembly, considering that ignorance,
   forgetfulness or contempt for the rights of man are the
   sole causes of common misfortunes and the corruption of
   governments, have resolved to set forth in a solemn
   declaration the natural, inalienable and sacred rights
   of man. Consequently, the National Assembly recognizes
   and declares, in the presence and under the protection
   of the Supreme Being, the following rights of the man
   and of the citizen."

Does not the idea of the high dignity of the human
individuality also inspire the Constitution of the Union of
Soviet Socialist Republics, which, in Chapter X, proclaims
"the fundamental rights and duties of citizens of the USSR
.... without distinction as to nationality or race."

                                                  [Page 333]

Finally, does, not the Charter of the United Nations, signed
on 26th June, 1945, at San Francisco by fifty-one nations,
begin. with this solemn declaration:

  "We, the peoples of the United Nations, are resolved to
  preserve future generations from the scourge of war,
  which twice within the span of human life has inflicted
  indescribable sufferings on humanity, and to proclaim our
  faith in the fundamental rights of man, in the dignity
  and value of the human individual, in the equality of
  rights of men and women; as well as of nations; large and
  small .... "

Certain among, us have been able to secularize this mystic
faith as much as they desired. All of us recognize that it
is Christianity's chief contribution to the world, and that
extending its conquests slowly, in the course of centuries,
it has laid the foundations of world-wide civilization.
It was against this mystical faith that Hitler, in the
middle of the twentieth century, attempted a violent
reaction, by opposing to it his barbarous ideology of
racialism, his primitive conception of social life regulated
by biological laws alone.

For he not only envisaged establishing the military
domination of Germany in Europe, but his ambition was to
impose on the world his "culture," a culture which would
destroy all the moral and intellectual foundations upon
which the civilized world has rested ever since the dawn of
the Christian era.

For him the biological laws which govern animal communities
are equally applicable to human communities, and, first of
all, those of natural selection and the struggle for
So, there could be no question of the autonomy of the human
individual. Like the ant in the antheap, the individual
exists only by and for the whole. The State is not made for
the individual but the individual for the State.

So, also, there could be no question of pity, nor of
brotherly love. Christianity, the religion of the degenerate
and the sick would be replaced by the new religion, which
recognizes no law but that of might, no duty but that of

This animal conception of human life, this "culture," this
religion, is not the work of a philosopher propounding a new
theory in the field of intellectual speculation, it is the
work of a realist who puts it into practice.

In the sphere of internal policy it will order the purging
of the German people of the elements which contaminate it,
and the improvement of the race of blond Aryans. So Jews
will be driven out or exterminated. The abnormal, the sick,
the weak, will be eliminated or at least sterilized. Youth,
snatched at an early age from family life, will be trained
by the State for its mission, which is "to make the world
tremble." "I want," Hitler said to Rauschnigg, "I want to
see in its eyes the gleam which one sees in the eyes of a
stag." But by this he slanders the stag, which kills, no
doubt, because it is hungry, because it is afraid, or
because it is in rut, but which is not versed in the sadism
of refined tortures.

This conception of life is applied by Hitler to
international relations. "A stronger race," he writes in
Mein Kampf, "will drive out the weaker ones, for the vital
urge in its ultimate form will break down the absurd
barriers of the so-called humanity of individuals, to make
way for the humanity of Nature, which destroys the weak to
give their place to the strong."

We know what crimes have been committed in the name of this
new religion, how many dead the realization of this sham
doctrine of life has cost; the concentration camps, the gas
chambers and the crematorium ovens, the inoculations with
viruses, the sterilizations, the vivisection practised on
prisoners and deportees, the enslavement of peoples
considered assimilable, and above all the methodical
extermination of those alleged to be inferior; in short
"genocide" - all this is the monstrous fruit of the
Hitlerite ideology.

M. de Menthon was right when he said that the sin against
the spirit is the fundamental vice of National Socialism and
the source of all the crimes committed in its name. And had
not Louis Veuillet the gift of prophecy when he wrote in his
Parfum de Rome in 1871:

                                                  [Page 334]

  "Germany, Germany, to whom heaven had given so much! When
  thou shalt see the ghost of an emperor reappear, who will
  not wield the sword to protect justice and defend the
  ancient law, but who will call himself the emperor of the
  people and the sword of the new law ... then will be the
  hour of great expiation."

We have shown who those were who were principally guilty of
all the crimes of National Socialism. But to realize their
diabolical plan of universal domination, not only of
territories but of men's consciences, they needed
collaborators inspired with the same faith, trained in the
same school, and that is why the leaders, the "Fuehrers,"
conceived and brought into being, little by little, this
complicated and coherent system of leadership, coercion and
control, which constitutes the whole of the organizations of
the State and of the National Socialist Party.

Executive bodies were necessary, from which emanated, by
virtue of the Fuehrerprinzip, general orders and directives;
these were the Reich Cabinet and the Leadership Corps of the
Nazi Party.

Instruments were needed for control, for propaganda, for
police and for the execution of orders; these were the
Gestapo, the SA, the SD, and the SS.

Finally, it was necessary for the Army to be at the service
of Party policy, and this was the work of the General Staff
and the High Command, purged of all elements which were
insufficiently Nazified.

It is possible that the members of these organizations,
these groups or these services were more or less the
fanatics of the regime, and the Tribunal will recall the
plausible distinction made in the course of Ribbentrop's
examination between the "pure Nazis" and those who were only
hybrid. All had at least accepted the Party doctrine and the
material advantages which the regime lavished upon them.
Because certain of them made mental reservations, are they
less contemptible and less guilty?

That all these organizations, these groups or these services
contributed to the work of universal domination by every
means has been abundantly proved in the course of these

Have not the defence counsels of the organizations
constantly intervened during the interrogations of the
individual defendants, and were not all of these defendants,
in various capacities, members of one and often of several
of these organizations, so that the close co-operation
between the collective organizations and the men who are now
in the dock has been established indisputably?

After these proceedings, which have been so thorough, and
after the presentations of my eminent colleagues of the
American and British prosecution, I shall refrain from
recalling once more the innumerable atrocities in which the
groups or organizations enumerated in the indictment have
participated by ordering them, by committing them, or by
permitting them.

I should only like to reply briefly to two of the arguments
to which the defence counsel, and particularly those for the
Gestapo, the SD and the High Command, appear to attach the
greatest importance.

Firstly, they say that it is possible that abuses were
committed in the heat of the struggle, which had become
pitiless in the course of the war which had become total,
but it was never a question of anything but individual
crimes, which might involve the responsibility of the
persons who committed them, but not that of the groups which
censured them.

Secondly, they say that watertight compartments separated
the various organizations of the Reich. For this reason the
activity of each organization should be examined separately,
and this examination does not reveal a criminal intention or
activity in any of them.

The first argument of the defence is as follows: In order to
determine whether or not an organization is criminal, it is
necessary, says the defence, to examine the essential
principles of its structure. There is nothing criminal in
these, it says, so that the crimes, should any have been
committed, can only be attributed

                                                  [Page 335]

to individuals, and do not permit the conclusion to be drawn
that the character of the group as a whole is criminal.

Thus the Gestapo, according to the terms of its
constitution, was a State police, charged, like the police
of all civilized States, with aiding in the work of justice
and protecting the community against individuals who might
threaten its security. It is possible that it may sometimes
have received and carried out orders from above which were
not directly relevant to its essential mission of
protection, such as mass arrests of Jews, the extermination
of Russian prisoners of war, or the murder of recaptured
prisoners who had escaped. But such accidental activities
did not fall within its competence as an institution. They
would not alter the essential character of the organization,
which had nothing criminal about it.

Thus the SD is, constitutionally, simply a service for
obtaining information and sounding public opinion, a sort of
Gallup poll, harmless in itself.

It is possible that members of the SD accidentally
collaborated in the repressive measures of the Gestapo. It
is true that members of the SD held a number of high
positions and indulged in a number of questionable
activities, but they were not acting then as officials of
the SD and could not compromise the organization, the
institutional character of which had nothing criminal about

Thus the High Command was charged institutionally only with
the defence of the Reich, and solely with its defence. It
did not deal with politics and had nothing to do with the
police. It is possible that it may sometimes have
overstepped its mission. It is true that it signed orders to
deport to an unknown destination those who resisted, to hand
over to the police for extermination the commandos and
escaped prisoners, acts which were contrary to military
honour, but it acted then merely as an intermediary for
Hitler's or Himmler's orders. This accidental activity
outside its own province could not change its essential
character, which was not criminal in any way.

Thus the defence always tries to distinguish between the
institutional character of the organization, which it
believes it has shown to be non-criminal, and the practical
activity of the group, which, it admits, is open to
criticism, a distinction which is understandable in a
democratic regime, where pre-established institutions limit
the arbitrary nature of governments, and the autonomy of the
individual and the liberty of the citizen are protected from
the misuse of power, but which is incomprehensible in the
Hitler regime.

Did Best, the police theorist, trouble about respecting a
principle when he wrote that the methods of the police were
prescribed by the enemy?

Did the decree of 28th February, 1933, trouble about
principle, when it allowed the all-powerful State to ignore
all legal restraints?

Did Hitler make any distinction between principle and
practice when, at the conference of 23rd May, 1939, held in
the Chancellery and attended by the members of the High
Command, he stated:

  "The principle of avoiding the solution of problems by
  adaptation to circumstances must be banished. Rather must
  circumstances be adapted to necessities .... It is no
  longer a question of justice or injustice, but of the
  existence or non-existence of 80 million people"?

In reality, under the Hitler regime there are no pre-
established institutions, no legality, no limitation to
arbitrariness, no excess of power possible. There is no
other principle than the "Fuehrerprinzip," no other legality
than the good pleasure of the chief, whose orders must be
executed without any possible dissension all the way down
the scale.

The concept of a so-called institution which was supposed to
have presided over the constitution of the collective
organizations and given them a certain character, is merely
an a posteriori construction originating in the defence
counsel's ingenuity.

The concrete activity of the collective organizations is the
only thing which counts, and we have proved that it was

                                                  [Page 336]

Moreover, the defence seeks grounds for the exculpation of
the collective organizations in the fact that the members of
the Gestapo, the SS, or the SD, who indulged in, these
criminal acts, did not perform them in the name of their
original organization, but were temporarily detached from

Has it not been proved, on the contrary, that in the general
organization of the National Socialist system these groups
played the role of reserves and preparatory schools from
which the leaders, for their work of domination, drew
executives who were perfectly prepared for the criminal
deeds entrusted to them?

And is not the fact that Hitler often conferred on his
accomplices the dignity of honorary membership in one of
these organizations also proof of the importance which he
attached to the evidence of orthodoxy implied by membership
of one or other of these groups?

Thus, whatever point of view one may take the first argument
of the defence cannot be maintained.

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