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

The Trial of German Major War Criminals

Sitting at Nuremberg, Germany
23rd March to 3rd April, 1946

Ninety-Second Day: Wednesday, 27th March, 1946
(Part 4 of 10)

[COLONEL JOHN HARLAN AMEN continues his cross examination of ADOLF VON STEENGRACHT]

[Page 98]

Q. And you consider all of the others not to be typical Nazis? Correct?

A. I did not say that. Then I would have to go through them individually.

Q. I have asked you to do that three times. Will you please name them individually?

A. I also see Herr Sauckel. Sauckel was Gauleiter and was active as a leader in the National Socialist Movement.

[Page 99]

Then I see the Reich Youth Leader, who educated the Hitler Youth.

Q. Who else? Just give me the names. Do not give these explanations; please.

A. Well, I think that with that I have pointed out the typical representatives of the Party.

Q. Well, how about Streicher?

A. I do not see him here, or I would have answered in the affirmative.

Q. In other words, you consider him to be a typical Nazi according to your standards?

A. Yes, but please do not attribute his abuses to all National Socialists.

Q. Now, while you were working with Ribbentrop, do I understand that you knew nothing about the murder, torture, starvation and killings which were taking place in the concentration camps?

A. By the facts that foreign diplomats supplied to me, and by the fact that I was informed by opposition elements in Germany, and from enemy propaganda, I knew of the existence and some of the methods. But I emphasise only some of the methods. I learned about the total extent and degree only when in internment here.

Q. Did you know that priests were being tortured and starved and killed in concentration camps while you were working with Ribbentrop?

A. No, I heard nothing specific regarding individual things that occurred there, and if that had happened or has happened to priests, then I would consider the only authentic information to be that which the Nuncio or the Vatican had given me; but that did not occur. But in spite of the fact that, as I said yesterday, the Vatican had no jurisdiction, I took care of all cases based on humanity, that is, all humanitarian cases. I took care of them, and always strove to handle them successfully. I handled 87 cases in which my activity threatened to bring about my death. I intervened in hundreds of cases, and thus saved, or at least improved, the lives of thousands and thousands of people.

Q. If you do not confine your answers directly to my questions, it is very difficult to get through and to save time. Now, will you please try to answer my questions Yes or No, if possible, and make your explanations short. Do you understand?

A. I understand perfectly. As far as I can, I shall of course do so.

Q. Did you know that nuns were being tortured and starved and killed in concentration camps, while you were working with Ribbentrop?

A. No.

Q. You did not know either about what was happening to priests or the nuns or to other inmates of concentration camps? Correct?

A. I have just said that I have intervened in hundreds of cases, in which I was approached by the Nuncio even when it concerned Jews, for whom the Nuncio was not authorised to act, and in cases in which the Nuncio was acting on behalf of Polish clergymen, also a sphere for which he was not authorised. In spite of the fact that I had strictest orders not to receive such cases, I did receive the cases, ,and, in spite of the "Nacht und Nebel" ("Night and Fog") decree, I always gave information when I could get any information. Details, other than those which I received officially, I never had.

Q. Who gave you the instructions not to do anything about these complaints?

A. These orders came directly from Hitler and came to me through Ribbentrop.

Q. How do you know?

A. I said already yesterday that the two notes which, before my time, Secretary of State von Weizsaecker passed to Hitler through Ribbentrop, were rejected with the remarks that they were stupid lies and, apart from that, this was not under the jurisdiction of the Nuncio; these notes were to be returned and in the future such documents were not to be accepted. Furthermore, there were to be no discussions and that did not only apply to the Nuncio, it applied to all unauthorised actions, particularly when foreign diplomats intervened in matters in which they had no jurisdiction.

[Page 100]

Q. But do you want the Tribunal to understand that you went ahead and tried to do something about these complaints, whereas Ribbentrop did nothing; is that correct?

A. I tried to settle within my own sphere of jurisdiction all cases which, according to instructions, I was not permitted to accept at all. But if a case here and there was of primary importance, or where the lives of several people could have been saved, I always applied to Ribbentrop. In most of these cases Ribbentrop took the matter before Hitler, after we had invented a new authorisation, so that he could not raise the objection that the Nuncio had no jurisdiction. When that was done, Hitler either absolutely rejected them or at least said that the police would have to investigate the case first. This presented the grotesque picture that in a humanitarian matter or an affair which under all circumstances had to be handled as foreign politics, the Foreign Minister no longer made the decision, but the Criminal Inspector Meier or Schulze, who only needed to state "Undesirable in the interests of State security."

Q. Did Ribbentrop obey the instructions which you say were received from the Fuehrer not to do anything about these complaints or did he not? Yes or No?

A. I cannot answer that question since I do not know how many orders he received from Hitler and whether he obeyed in each individual case.

Q. Well, you have been testifying that you received instructions not to do anything about these complaints from the Vatican; is that not correct?

A. Yes, and I did not obey them.

Q. Well, I am now asking you whether Ribbentrop obeyed those instructions or whether he did not?

A. But he was in a higher position. What orders Hitler gave to Ribbentrop privately I cannot say since I do not know.

Q. Where did you receive your instructions from?

A. From Ribbentrop.

Q. Ribbentrop has testified under interrogation that he knew nothing of what went on in any of these concentration camps until the Fuehrer ordered Luther to be placed in a concentration camp. Do you know who Luther was?

A. Yes.

Q. Who was he, please?

A. Luther was an Under-Secretary of State of the Foreign Office who was the head of the "Deutschland" department.

Q. And when was he placed in a concentration camp?

A. That must have been about February, 1943.

Q. Now, as a matter of fact, is it not true that Ribbentrop had a whole desk full of complaints from the Vatican about killings, atrocities, the starving of priests and nuns, to which he never made any reply at all, even an acknowledgement?

A. Mr. Prosecutor, what happened before May, 1943, I do not know. As long as I was Secretary of State, I never failed to accept a note or failed to answer it. On the contrary, I accepted all notes and attempted, as I said before, to assist these people. Regarding conditions before my term of service, I cannot give you any information because I do not know it.

Q. Well, I am not talking about that time; I am talking about the period immediately before and following your appearance there in 1943. Now I want to read to you from ...

A. I am sorry. I would gladly answer your question if I knew anything about the matter. During my time - I cannot say anything about it because I do not know.

Q. Well, I will read to you from the interrogation of Ribbentrop and ask you whether what he says conforms with your recollection of the facts.

A. I should only like to say that until May, 1943, I was not active politically, so that from my own knowledge I cannot make a statement about it.

Q. Well, as I read the testimony to you, you will find that the interrogation

[Page 101]

refers to communications which remained in his desk unanswered for an indefinite period of time. Did you have access to Ribbentrop's desk? Did you know what was in it?

A. No.

Q. "Question: Did you receive from the Vatican a communication dated 2nd March, 1943, calling your attention to a long list of persecutions of bishops and priests, such as imprisonment, shooting, and other interferences with the exercise of religious freedom?

Answer: I do not recollect at the moment, but I know that we had protests from the Vatican, we had a whole desk- full of protests from the Vatican."

Does that conform with your recollection?

A. That was, I must unfortunately say again, before my time. I cannot know whether he had a whole drawer full of things.

Q. If they had remained in his desk from March until May, then you would know about them. Is that not correct?

A. I? No. I was not von Ribbentrop's servant, who went over his chest of drawers or desk.

Q. So that your testimony is that you knew nothing about any protests from the Vatican other than those which you have already referred to?

A. Apart from those I have mentioned, I know nothing about protests. I emphasize again that during my time in office I accepted them all and answered them all.

Q. I will read you further from the interrogation:

"Question: Did you reply to these Papal protests?

Answer: I think there were very many we did not reply to- quite a number."

Does that conform with your recollection?

A. Certainly, that is correct. That was in accordance with the instructions which were originally given.

Q. By whom?

A. Hitler's instructions.

Q. To whom?

A. Certainly to Ribbentrop.

Q. Those are the instructions which you say that you were secretly violating, is that correct?

A. Instructions which I did not obey, for otherwise I would not have been allowed to accept the notes from the Vatican in all those cases where the jurisdiction was questioned; nor would I have been allowed to accept, for example, protests from the Swedish Ambassador regarding mistreatment in Norway. This also, however, I accepted.

Q. I will continue to read from the interrogation:

"Question: Now, do you mean to say that you did not even read a protest from the Vatican that came to your desk?

Answer: It is really true. The fact is that the Fuehrer took such a stand in these Vatican matters that, from then on, they did not come to me any more."

Does that conform with your recollection?

A. That Ribbentrop did not receive the protests any more? Yes, that is correct, that tallies with what I said, that in all these cases, where we could not accept them, I tried to settle them on my own, since it was against orders.

Q. And in the course of reading these complaints from the Vatican which went unanswered, both you and Ribbentrop learned full details of exactly what was going on in the concentration camps, did you not?

A. There was never anything about that in these notes - the ones I saw - there was never anything about the treatment in them. Instead they were only concerned

[Page 102]

with complaints asking why the death sentence was ever imposed, or why the clergyman was ever arrested, or similar cases, or the closing of churches or the like.

Q. I do not want to take the time of the Tribunal to read to you the documents which are already in evidence. I am referring to Documents 3261-PS, 3262-PS, 3264-PS, 3267-PS, 3268-PS and 3269-PS, but in those documents - I am sorry, Sir, 3269 is not in evidence.

But in those documents, witness, are set forth the details of numerous individual and collective cases of just what went on in concentration camps. You say you are not familiar with any of those matters?

A. Mr. Prosecutor, I do not think that I expressed myself like that. I expressed myself to the effect that I said that everything communicated to me by foreign diplomats I do, of course, know. In other words, if detailed reports were received during my term of office, then of course I knew of them. I never denied it.


What you said, witness, was - at least what I took down and understood you to say was - that nothing was ever mentioned in the notes about the treatment in concentration camps.

A. But I remarked with reference to the previous question, when the question was put generally as to whether I knew about conditions in concentration camps and the mistreatment, I said that I knew everything that had been reported to me by foreign diplomats, by people of the opposition and what I could learn from the foreign Press. In other words, if these documents contained details during my time in office, then I know that too. But may I ask the date of the documents?


Q. There are many documents with many dates, which can be obtained, but we do not want to take too much of the Tribunal's time. What I want to find out is whether or not you and Ribbentrop did or did not know all about the murders, tortures, starvations and killings that were taking place in the concentration camps, and which were the subject of constant and continuous protests from the Vatican, which Ribbentrop has testified were not even read or acknowledged? Do you understand that, witness?

A. I understand that. I knew nothing at all of the ill- treatment in concentration camps to the degree and in the bestial way that I have heard about here. I must strongly protest against the suggestion that I had heard things like that through the Vatican at that time. Also I am convinced that even Ribbentrop had no idea of the details as we have heard them here and as they have been shown in the films.

Q. Is it not a fact, witness, that if you had followed up any of these complaints from the Vatican which Ribbentrop has testified were ignored, you would have found out everything which was going on in the concentration camps to the last detail? Yes or no.

A. No, that is not correct. I said yesterday that perhaps the key to it can be found in the speech made by Himmler on 3rd October, 1943, in which he said that the action against Jews and the matter of concentration camps were to be kept just as secret as the matter of 30th June, 1934. The great majority of the German people will confirm the fact that until a short time ago they could not discover anything at all about these events. If I went to Gruppenfuehrer Muller or other officials I was always told that everything in those concentration camps was functioning beautifully and that there could be no question of ill-treatment. Then I insisted that the foreigners, particularly the Red Cross, inspect a concentration camp, and the Danish Red Cross was taken to the concentration camp Theresienstadt. After that inspection took place - this was a camp for Jews - the Danish Ambassador came to me and told me that contrary to expectation everything had been favourable there. I expressed my astonishment and he told me "yes, our people were there, there was a theatre there, and their own police force, their own hospital, their own money; the thing is well-run." I had no reason, therefore,

[Page 103]

to doubt that it was true. But I myself could get no idea of the true conditions from any German department, since they would certainly have been afraid to tell a member of the Foreign Office anything about it. But I want to emphasize again that we really had no idea of the atrocities and such things.

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