The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)
Nuremberg, war crimes, crimes against humanity

The Trial of German Major War Criminals

Sitting at Nuremberg, Germany
December 3 to December 14, 1945

Twelfth Day: Tuesday, 4th December, 1945
(Part 4 of 8)


[Page 61]

The document goes on to set out the general preparations necessary for a possible war in the mobilisation period of 1937-1938. It is evidence at least for this, that the leaders of the German armed forces had it in mind to use the military strength which they were building up for aggressive purposes. "No reason," they say, "to anticipate attack from any side .... there is a lack of desire for war." Yet they prepare to "exploit militarily favourable opportunities."

Still more important as evidence of the transition to planned aggression is the record of the important conference which Hitler held at the Reich Chancellery on the 5th of November, 1937, at which von Blomberg, Reich Minister for War, von Fritsch, the Commander-in-Chief of the Army, Goering, Commander-in- Chief of the Luftwaffe, Raeder, the Commander-in-Chief of the Navy, and von Neurath, then the Foreign Minister, were present. The minutes of that conference have already been put in evidence. I refer to them now only to emphasise those passages which make apparent the ultimate intention to wage an aggressive war. You will remember that

[Page 62]

the burden of Hitler's argument at that conference was that Germany required more territory in Europe. Austria and Czechoslovakia were specifically envisaged. But Hitler realised that the process of conquering those two countries might well bring into operation the treaty obligations of Great Britain and of France. He was prepared to take the risk. You remember the passage:
"The history of all times: Roman Empire, British Empire, has proved that every space expansion can only be effected by breaking resistance and taking risks. Even setbacks are unavoidable: neither formerly nor today has space been found without an owner. The attacker always comes up against the proprietor. The question for Germany is where the greatest possible conquest can be made at the lowest possible cost."
In the course of that conference Hitler had foreseen and discussed the likelihood that Poland would be involved if the aggressive expansionist aims which he put forward brought about a general European war in the course of their realisation by the Nazi State. And when, therefore, on that very day on which that conference was taking place, Hitler assured the Polish Ambassador of the great value of the 1934 pact with Poland, it can only be concluded that its real value in Hitler's eyes was that of keeping Poland quiet until Germany had acquired such a territorial and strategic position that Poland was no longer a danger.

That view is confirmed by the events which followed. At the beginning of February, 1938, the change from Nazi preparation for aggression to active aggression itself took place. It was marked by the substitution of Ribbentrop for Neurath as Foreign Minister, and of Keitel for Blomberg as head of the O.K.W. Its first fruits were the bullying of Schuschnigg at Berchtesgaden on 12th February, 1938, and the forcible absorption of Austria in March. Thereafter, the Green Plan for the destruction of Czechoslovakia was steadily developed in the way which you heard yesterday - the plan partially foiled, or of which the final consummation was at least delayed, by the Munich Agreement.

With those aspects, those developments of Nazi aggression, my American colleagues have already dealt. But it is obvious that the acquisition of these two countries, their resources in manpower, their resources in the production of munitions of war, immensely strengthened the position of Germany as against Poland. And it is, therefore, perhaps not surprising that, just as the defendant Goering assured the Czechoslovak Minister in Berlin, at the time of the Nazi invasion of Austria, that Hitler recognised the validity of the German- Czechoslovak Arbitration Treaty of 1925, and that Germany had no designs against Czechoslovakia herself - you remember, "I give you my word of honour," the defendant Goering said - just as that is not surprising, so also it is not perhaps surprising that continued assurances should have been given during 1938 to Poland, in order to keep that country from interfering with the Nazi aggression on Poland's neighbours.

Thus, on the 20th February, 1938, on the eve of his invasion of Austria, Hitler, referring to the fourth anniversary of the Polish Pact, permitted himself to say this to the Reichstag - and I quote: "... and so a way to a friendly understanding has been successfully paved, an understanding which, beginning with Danzig, has today succeeded in finally taking, the poison out of the relations between Germany and Poland and transforming them into a sincere friendly co- operation. Relying on her friendships, Germany will

[Page 63]

not leave a stone unturned to save that ideal which provides the foundation for the task ahead of us - Peace."

Still more striking, perhaps, are the cordial references to Poland in Hitler's speech in the Sportpalast at Berlin on the 26th September, 1938. He then said:

"The most difficult problem with which I was confronted was that of our relations with Poland. There was a danger that Poles and Germans would regard each other as hereditary enemies. I wanted to prevent this. I know well enough that I should not have been successful if Poland had had a democratic constitution. For these democracies which indulge in phrases about peace are the most bloodthirsty war agitators. In Poland there ruled no democracy, but a man: and with him I succeeded, in precisely twelve months, in coming to an agreement which, for ten years in the first instance, entirely removed the danger of a conflict. We are all convinced that this agreement will bring lasting pacification. We realise that here are two peoples which must live together and neither of which can do away with the other. A people of 33 millions will always strive for an outlet to the sea. A way for understanding, then, had to be found, and it will be further extended. Certainly things were hard in this area. But the main fact is that the two Governments, and all reasonable and clear- sighted persons among the two peoples within the two countries, possess the firm will and determination to improve their relations. It was a real work of peace, of more worth than all the chattering in the League of Nations Palace at Geneva."
And so flattery of Poland preceded the annexation of Austria and renewed flattery of Poland preceded the projected annexation of Czechoslovakia. The realities behind these outward expressions of goodwill are clearly revealed in the documents relating to the Fall Grun, which are already before the Tribunal. They show Hitler as fully aware that there was a risk of Poland, England, and France being involved in war to prevent the German annexation of Czechoslovakia, and that this risk, although it was realised, was also accepted. On 25th August, 1938, top secret orders to the German Air Force in regard to the operations to be conducted against England and France, if they intervened, pointed out that, as the French- Czechoslovak Treaty provided for assistance only in the event of an "unprovoked" attack, it would take a day or two for France and England, and I suppose their legal advisers, to decide whether, legally, the attack bad been unprovoked or not, and, consequently, a blitzkrieg, accomplishing its aims before there could be any effective intervention by France or England, was the object to be aimed at.

On the same day an Air Force memorandum on future organisation was issued, and to it there was attached a map on which the Baltic States, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Poland were all shown as part of Germany, and preparations for expanding the Air Force [and I quote] "as the Reich grows in area", as well as dispositions for a two-front war against France and Russia were discussed. And on the following day, Von Ribbentrop was being advised about the reaction of Poland towards the Czechoslovak problem. I quote: "The fact that after the liquidation of the Czech question, it will be generally assumed that Poland will be next in turn" is recognised, but it stated, "The later this assumption sinks in, the better."

[Page 64]

I will pause for a moment at the date of the Munich Agreement and ask the Tribunal to remind itself of what the evidence of documents and historical facts shows up to that day. It has made undeniable both the fact of Nazi aggressiveness and of active and actual aggression. Not only does that conference Of 1937 show Hitler and his associates deliberately considering the acquisition of Austria and Czechoslovakia, if necessary by war, but the first of the operations had been carried through in March, 1938, and a large part of the second, under threat of war, a threat as we now see which was much more than a bluff - a threat of actual and real war, although without the actual need for its initiation, secured, as I said, a large part of the second objective in September, 1938. And, more ominous still, Hitler had revealed his adherence to the old doctrines of Mein Kampf, those essentially aggressive doctrines to the exposition of which in Mein Kampf, long regarded as the Bible of the Nazi Party, we shall draw attention. Hitler is indicating quite clearly to not only his associates, but indeed to the world at this time, that he is in pursuit of "Lebensraum" and that he means to secure it by threat of force, or if threat of force fails, by actual force-by aggressive war.

So far actual warfare had been avoided because of the love of peace, the lack of preparedness, the patience, the cowardice - call it what you will - of the democratic Powers, but after Munich the question which filled the minds of all thinking people with acute anxiety was "where will this thing end? Is Hitler now satisfied as he declared himself to be, or is his pursuit of Lebensraum going to lead to future aggressions, even if he has to embark on open, aggressive war to secure it?"

It was in relation to the remainder of Czechoslovakia and to Poland that the answer to these questions was to be given. So far, up to the time of the Munich Agreement, no direct and immediate threat to Poland had been made. The two documents from which I have just quoted show, of course, that high officers of the defendant Goering's Air Staff already regarded the expansion of the Reich and, it would seem, the destruction and absorption of Poland, as a foregone conclusion. They were already anticipating, indeed, the last stage of Hitler's policy as expounded in Mein Kampf - war to destroy France and to secure Lebensraum in Russia. And the writer of the minute to Ribbentrop, already took it for granted that, after Czech6slovakia, Poland would be attacked. But more impressive than those two documents is the fact that, as I have said, at the conference of 5th November, 1937, war with Poland, if she should dare to prevent German aggression against Czechoslovakia, had been quite coolly and calmly contemplated, and the Nazi leaders were ready to take the risk. So also had the risk of war with England and France under the same circumstances been considered and accepted. As I indicated, such a war would, of course, have been aggressive war on Germany's part, and they were contemplating aggressive warfare; for to force one State to take up arms to defend another State against aggression, in other words, to fulfil its treaty obligations, is undoubtedly to initiate aggressive warfare against the first State. But in spite of those plans, in spite of these intentions behind the scenes, it remains true that until Munich the decision for direct attack upon Poland and her destruction by aggressive war had apparently not as yet been taken by Hitler and his associates. It is to the transition from the intention and preparation of initiating an aggressive war, evident in regard to

[Page 65]

Czechoslovakia, to the actual initiation and waging of aggressive war against Poland that I now pass. That transition occupies the eleven months from 1st October, 1938, to the actual attack on Poland on 1st September, 1939

Within six months of the signature of the Munich Agreement, the Nazi leaders had occupied the remainder of Czechoslovakia which, by that agreement, they had indicated their willingness to guarantee. On 14th March, 1939, the aged and infirm president of the "Rump" of Czechoslovakia, Hacha, and his foreign minister were summoned to Berlin. At a meeting held between one o'clock and two-fifteen in the small hours of the 15th March in the presence of Hitler, of the defendants Ribbentrop, Goering and Keitel, they were bullied and threatened and even bluntly told that Hitler "had issued the orders for the German troops to move into Czechoslovakia and for the incorporation of Czechoslovakia into the German Reich."

It was made quite clear to them that resistance would be useless and would be crushed "by force of arms with all available means," and it was thus that the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia was set up and that Slovakia was turned into a German satellite, though nominally independent, State. By their own unilateral action, on pretexts which had no shadow of validity, without discussion with the governments of any other country, without mediation, and in direct contradiction of the sense and spirit of the Munich Agreement, the Germans acquired for themselves that for which they had been planning in September of the previous year, and indeed much earlier, but which at that time they had felt themselves unable completely to secure without too patent an exhibition of their aggressive intentions. Aggression achieved whetted the appetite for aggression to come. There were protests. England and France sent diplomatic notes. Of course, there were protests. The Nazis had clearly shown their hand. Hitherto they had concealed from the outside world that their claims went beyond incorporating into the Reich persons of German race living in bordering territory. Now for the first time, in defiance of their solemn assurances to the contrary, non-German territory and non-German people had been seized. This acquisition of the whole of Czechoslovakia, together with the equally illegal occupation of the Memelland on the 22nd March, 1939, resulted in an immense strengthening of the German position both politically and strategically, as Hitler had anticipated it would when he discussed the matter at that conference in November, 1937.

But long before the consummation by the Nazi leaders of their aggression against Czechoslovakia, they had begun to make demands upon Poland. The Munich settlement achieved, on the 25th October, 1938, that is to say within less than a month of Hitler's reassuring speech about Poland, to which I have already referred, and within, of course, a month of the Munich Agreement, M. Lipski, the Polish Ambassador in Berlin, reported to M. Beck, the Polish foreign minister, that at a luncheon at Berchtesgaden the day before, namely, on 24th October, 1938, the defendant Ribbentrop had put forward demands for the reunion of Danzig with the Reich and for the building of an extra-territorial motor road and railway line across Pomorze, the province which the Germans called the Corridor. From that moment onwards until the Polish Government had made it plain, as they did during a visit of the defendant Ribbentrop to Warsaw in January, 1939, that they would not consent to hand over Danzig to German sovereignty, negotiations

[Page 66]

on these German demands continued. And, even after Ribbentrop's return from the visit to Warsaw, Hitler thought it worth while in his Reichstag speech on the 30th January, 1939, to say:
"We have just celebrated the fifth anniversary of the conclusion of our non-aggression pact with Poland. There can scarcely be any difference of opinion today among the true friends of peace as to the value of this agreement. One only needs to ask oneself what might have happened to Europe if this agreement, which brought such relief, had not been entered into five years ago. In signing it, the great Polish marshal and patriot rendered his people just as great a service as the leaders of the National Socialist State rendered the German people. During the troubled months of the past year the friendship between Germany and Poland has been one of the reassuring factors in the political life of Europe."
But that utterance was the last friendly word from Germany to Poland, and the last occasion on which the Nazi leaders mentioned the German-Polish Agreement with approbation. During February, 1939, silence fell upon German demands in relation to Poland. But as soon as the final absorption of Czechoslovakia had taken place, and Germany had also occupied Memel, Nazi pressure upon Poland was at once renewed.

In two conversations between himself and the defendant Ribbentrop, held on the 21st March and the 26th March respectively, with the Polish Ambassador, German demands upon Poland were renewed and were further pressed. And in view of the fate which had overtaken Czechoslovakia, in view of the grave deterioration in her strategical position towards Germany, it is not surprising that the Polish Government took alarm at the developments. Nor were they alone. The events of March, 1939, had at last convinced both the English and the French Governments that the Nazi designs of aggression were not limited to men of German race, and that the spectre of European war resulting from further aggressions by Nazi Germany had not, after all, been exorcised by the Munich Agreement.

As a result, therefore, of the concern of Poland, and of England and of France, at the events in Czechoslovakia, and at the newly applied pressure on Poland, conversations between the English and Polish Governments had been taking place, and, on the 31st March, 1939, Mr. Neville Chamberlain, speaking in the House of Commons, stated that His Majesty's Government had given an assurance to help Poland in the event of any action which clearly threatened Polish independence and which the Polish Government accordingly considered it vital to resist. On the 6th April, 1939, an Anglo-Polish communique stated that the two countries were prepared to enter into an Agreement of a permanent and reciprocal character, to replace the present temporary and unilateral assurance given by His Majesty's Government.

The justification for that concern on the part of the democratic powers is not difficult to find. With the evidence which we now have of what was happening within the Councils of the German Reich and its Armed Forces during these months, it is manifest that the German Government were intent on seizing Poland as a whole, that Danzig - as Hitler himself was to say in time, a month later - "was not the subject of the dispute at all." The Nazi Government was intent upon aggression and the demands and negotiations in respect of Danzig were merely a cover and excuse for further domination.

[Page 67]

Would that be a convenient point to stop?

THE PRESIDENT: We will adjourn now until 2 o'clock.

(A recess was taken until 1400 hours.)

THE PRESIDENT: Before the Attorney General continues his opening statement, the Tribunal wishes me to state the proposed new time of sitting for the immediate future. We think it would be more convenient that the Tribunal should sit from 10 o'clock in the morning until 1 o'clock, with a break of ten minutes in the middle of the morning; and that the Tribunal should sit in the afternoon from 2 o'clock until 5 o'clock with a break for ten minutes in the middle of the afternoon; and that there should be no open sitting of the Tribunal on Saturday morning as the Tribunal has a very large number of applications by the defendants' counsel for witnesses and documents and other matters of that sort which it has to consider.

[ Previous | Index | Next ]

Home ·  Site Map ·  What's New? ·  Search Nizkor

© The Nizkor Project, 1991-2012

This site is intended for educational purposes to teach about the Holocaust and to combat hatred. Any statements or excerpts found on this site are for educational purposes only.

As part of these educational purposes, Nizkor may include on this website materials, such as excerpts from the writings of racists and antisemites. Far from approving these writings, Nizkor condemns them and provides them so that its readers can learn the nature and extent of hate and antisemitic discourse. Nizkor urges the readers of these pages to condemn racist and hate speech in all of its forms and manifestations.