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-Fourth Day: Friday, 29th March, 1946
(Part 6 of 7)

[DR. HORN continues his direct examination of JOACHIM VON RIBBENTROP]

[Page 179]

Q. Is it correct that on the following day you stated to the Polish ambassador that the memorandum of the 26th of March, 1939 could not serve as the basis for a solution?

A. That is true. I just said that Hitler received this harsh and serious message of the Polish ambassador very calmly. He said, however, that I should tell the Polish ambassador that of course no solution could be found on this basis. There should be no talk of war.

Q. Is it true that thereupon, on the 6th of April, 1939, the Polish Foreign Minister, Beck, travelled to London and returned with a temporary agreement of mutual assistance between Poland, England and France?

A. Yes, that is correct.

Q. What was the German reaction to this pact of mutual assistance?

A. The German reaction - here I might refer to Hitler's Reichstag speech in which he stated his attitude towards this whole problem. We felt this pact of mutual assistance between Poland and England to be not in agreement with the German-Polish pact of 1934, for in the 1934 Pact any application of force was excluded between Germany and Poland. By the new pact concluded between Poland and England, without previous consultation with Germany, Poland had bound herself, for example, to attack Germany in case of any conflict between Germany and England. I know that Adolf Hitler felt that it was also not in conformity with the agreements between him and Mr. Chamberlain in Munich,

[Page 180]

namely, the elimination of any resort to force between Germany and England, regardless of what might happen.

Q. Is it true that Germany then sent through you a memorandum to Poland on 28th April, by which the German- Polish Declaration of 1934 was rescinded?

A. That is true. It was, I believe, on the same day as the Reichstag speech of the Fuehrer. This memorandum stated more or less what I have just summarised here - that the pact was not in agreement with the Treaty of 1934 and that, consequently, Germany regarded this treaty as no longer valid.

Q. Is it true that as a consequence of this memorandum German-Polish relations became more tense and that new difficulties arose in the minority question?

A. Yes, that is true. During the preceding period negotiations had been pending in order to put the minority problem on a new basis. I still remember that no progress was made. That was the case even before the 28th of April, and after the 28th of April the situation of the German minority became even more difficult. In particular the Polish association for the Western Territories (Westmarken- Verband) was very active at that time and persecution of Germans and their expulsion from hearth and home was the order of the day. I know that just during the months following the 28th of May - that is to say, in the summer of 1939 - the so-called refugee reception camps for German refugees from Poland showed a tremendous influx.

Q. How did you and Hitler react to the British-French Declarations of Guarantee to Roumania and Greece, and later on, Turkey?

A. These declarations could be interpreted by the German policy only as meaning that England was initiating a systematic policy of alliances in Europe which was hostile to Germany. That was Hitler's opinion and also mine.

Q. Is it true that these Declarations of Guarantee and Roosevelt's message of 14th April, 1939, were then, on the 22nd of May, 1939, followed by the German-Italian Pact of Alliance? And what were the reasons for this pact?

A. It is known that between Germany and Italy friendly relations had naturally existed for a long time; and when the European situation became more acute these relations were, at Mussolini's suggestion, intensified and a pact of alliance, which was discussed first by Count Ciano and me in Milan, was prepared and provisionally signed on the order of the Government heads. This was an answer to the efforts of English-French policy.

Q. Is it correct that the crisis with Poland became acute through the fact that on the 6th of August in Danzig a strike of the customs inspectors took place, and thus Germany was forced to take a stand.

A. Yes, that is so. A quarrel had arisen between the Polish representative and the Senate of the City of Danzig. The Polish representative had sent a note to the President of the Senate informing him that certain customs officers of the Senate wanted to disobey Polish regulations. This information, proved later to be false, was answered by the Senate, and led to a sharp exchange of notes between the Senate and the Polish representative. On Hitler's order I told the Secretary of the Foreign Office to remonstrate accordingly with the Polish Government.

Q. Is it true that Weizsaecker, the then State Secretary, on the 15th of August saw the English and French Ambassadors and informed them in detail of the seriousness of the situation?

A. Yes, that is true. He did that on my order.

Q. On the 18th of August was Ambassador Henderson again asked to see your Secretary of State because the situation was becoming more acute in Poland and Danzig?

A. Yes. A conversation took place a few days later between the English Ambassador and the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State explained to him in very clear words the great seriousness of the situation and told him that things were taking a very dangerous turn.

Q. Is it true that in this phase of the crisis you made up your mind, on the

[Page 181]

basis of a suggestion made to you, to initiate negotiations with Russia, and what were your reasons for doing that?

A. Negotiations with Russia had already started sometime previously. Marshal Stalin, in March, 1939, delivered a speech in which he made certain hints of his desire to have better relations with Germany. I had submitted this speech to Adolf Hitler and asked him whether we should not try to find out whether this suggestion had something real behind it. Hitler was at first reluctant, but later on he became more receptive to the idea. Negotiations for a commercial treaty were under way, and during these negotiations, with the Fuehrer's permission, I took soundings in Moscow as to the possibility of a definite bridge between National Socialism and Bolshevism, and as to whether the interests of the two countries could not at least be made to harmonise.

Q. How did the relations taken up by the Soviet Russian commercial agency in Berlin with your Ambassador Schnurre develop?

A. The negotiations of Ambassador Schnurre gave me, within a relatively short period of time, a picture from which I could gather that Stalin had meant this speech in earnest. Then an exchange of telegrams took place with Moscow which, in the middle of August, led to Hitler sending a telegram to Stalin, whereupon Stalin, in answer to this telegram, invited a plenipotentiary to Moscow. The aim in view, which had been prepared diplomatically, was the conclusion of a non-aggression pact between the two countries.

Q. Is it true that you were sent to Moscow as plenipotentiary?

A. Yes, that is known.

Q. When did you fly to Moscow, and what negotiations did you carry on there?

A. On the evening of the 22nd of August I arrived in Moscow. The reception given me by Stalin and Molotov was very friendly. We had at first a two hour conversation. During this conversation the entire complex of Russo-German relations was discussed.

The result was, first, the mutual will of both countries to put their relations on a completely new basis. This was to be expressed in a pact of non-aggression. Secondly, the spheres of interests of the two countries were to be defined, and this was effected through a secret supplementary protocol.

Q. Which cases were dealt with in this secret supplementary protocol? What were its contents and what were the political bases?

A. I should like to say, first of all, that this secret protocol has been spoken about frequently here in this Court. I talked very frankly during the negotiations with Stalin and Molotov, and the Russians also used plain language with me. I described Hitler's desire that the two countries should reach a definitive agreement, and, of course, I also spoke of the critical situation in Europe. I told the Russians that Germany would do everything to settle the situation in Poland, and to settle the difficulties peacefully, and to reach a friendly agreement despite everything.

However, I left no doubt that the situation was serious and that it was possible that an armed conflict might break out. That was clear anyway. For both statesmen, Stalin as well as Hitler, it was a question of territories which both countries had lost after an unfortunate war. It is, therefore, wrong to look at these things from any other point of view. Just as Adolf Hitler was of the opinion which I expressed in Moscow, that in some form or other this problem would have to be solved, so also the Russian side saw clearly that this was the case.

We then discussed what should be done on the part of the Germans and on the part of the Russians in the case of an armed conflict. A line of demarcation was agreed upon, as is known, in order that in the event of intolerable Polish provocation, or in the event of war, there should be a boundary, so that the German and Russian interests in the Polish theatre could and would not clash. The well-known line was agreed upon along the line of the rivers Vistula, San, and Bug in Polish territory, and it was agreed that, in the case of conflict, the territories lying

[Page 182]

to the West of these rivers would be the German, and those to the East would be the Russian sphere of interest.

It is known that later, after the outbreak of the war, these zones were occupied on the one side by Germany and on the other side by Russian troops. I might repeat that at that time I had the impression, both from Hitler and Stalin, that the territories - that these Polish territories and also the other territories which had been marked off in these spheres of interest, about which I shall speak shortly - that these were territories which both countries had lost after an unfortunate war. And both statesmen undoubtedly held the opinion that if these territories - if, I should like to say, the last chance for a reasonable solution of this problem was exhausted - there was certainly a justification for Adolf Hitler to incorporate these territories into the German Reich by some other procedure.

Over and above that, it is also known that other spheres of interest were defined with reference to Finland, the Baltic States and Bessarabia. This was a great settlement of the interests of two great Powers providing for a peaceful solution as well as for solution by war.

Q. Is it correct that these negotiations were drawn up specifically only in the event that, on the basis of the non- aggression pact and the political settlement between Russia and Germany, it might not be possible to settle the Polish question diplomatically?

A. Please repeat the question.

Q. Is it correct that it was clearly stated that this solution was designed only to provide for the event that, despite the pact of non-aggression with Russia, the Polish conflict might not be solved by diplomatic means and that the treaty was to become effective only in this case?

A. Yes, that is so. I stated at that time that on the German side everything would be attempted to solve the problem in a diplomatic and peaceful way.

Q. Did Russia promise you diplomatic assistance or benevolent neutrality in connection with this solution?

A. It could be seen from the Pact of Non-aggression and from all the conferences in Moscow that this was so. It was perfectly clear, and we were convinced of it, that if, due to the Polish attitude, a war broke out, Russia would assume a friendly attitude towards us.

Q. When did you fly back from Moscow, and what sort of situation did you find in Berlin?

A. The Pact of Non-aggression with the Soviet Union was concluded on the 23rd. On the 24th I flew back to Germany. I had thought at first that I would fly to the Fuehrer, to the Berghof in Berchtesgaden, but during the flight or prior to it I was asked to come to Berlin.

We flew to Berlin, and there I informed Hitler of the Moscow agreements. The situation which I found there was undoubtedly tense. On the next day I noticed this particularly.

Q. To what circumstances was this aggravation of the German- Polish situation to be attributed?

A. In the middle of August all sorts of things had happened which, as I should like to put it, charged the atmosphere with electricity; frontier incidents, difficulties between Danzig and Poland. On the one hand, Germany was accused of sending arms to Danzig, and, on the other hand, we accused the Poles of taking military measures in Danzig, and so on.

Q. Is it true that on your return from Moscow to Berlin, you were informed of the signing of the British-Polish Pact of Guarantee and what was your and Hitler's reaction to this?

A. That was on the 25th of August. On the 25th of August I was informed about the conversation which the Fuehrer had had with Ambassador Henderson during my absence from Germany, I believe in Berchtesgaden on 22nd August. This was a very serious conversation. Henderson had brought over a letter

[Page 183]

from the British Prime Minister which stated clearly that a war between Germany and Poland would draw England into the picture.

Then, early on the 25th I have ... the Fuehrer then answered this letter - I believe on the same day - and the answer was couched so as to mean that at the moment a solution by diplomatic means could not be expected. I discussed with the Fuehrer on the 25th this exchange of letters, and asked him to consider this question once more, and suggested that one more attempt with reference to England might be made.

This was the 25th of August, a very eventful day. In the morning a communication came from the Italian Government, according to which Italy, in the case of a conflict over Poland, would not stand at Germany's side. The Fuehrer decided then to receive Ambassador Henderson once more in the course of that day. This meeting took place at about noon of the 25th. I was present. The Fuehrer went into details and asked Henderson once more to bear in mind his urgent desire to reach an understanding with England. He described to him the very difficult situation with Poland and asked him, I believe, to take a plane and fly back to England in order to discuss this whole situation once more with the British Government. Ambassador Henderson agreed to this and I sent him, I believe in the course of the afternoon, a memo or a note verbal in which the Fuehrer put in writing his ideas for such an understanding, or rather what he had said during the meeting, so that the ambassador would be able to inform his government correctly.

Q. Is it correct that after the British-Polish Pact of Guarantee became known, you asked Hitler to stop the military measures which had been started in Germany?

A. Yes, that is so. I was just about to relate that. During the course of the afternoon - I heard in the course of the day that certain military measures were being taken and then in the course of the afternoon I received, I believe, a Reuter dispatch - at any rate it was a Press dispatch - saying that the Polish-British Pact of Alliance had been ratified in London.

I believe there was even a note appended that the Polish Ambassador Raczynski had been sick but had nevertheless suddenly given his signature in the Foreign Office.

Q. Was this treaty signed before or after it was known that Italy refused to sign the Italian mobilisation?

A. This treaty was undoubtedly concluded afterwards: Of course, I do not know the hour and the day, but I believe it must have been on the afternoon of the 25th of August, and Italy's refusal had already reached us by noon; I believe in other words, it had undoubtedly been definitively decided in Rome in the morning or on the day before. At any rate, I can deduce this from another fact. Perhaps I might, however, answer your other question first, namely, what I did upon receipt of this news?

Q. Yes.

A. When I received this Press dispatch, of which I was informed once more when I came to the Chancellery, I went immediately to Hitler and asked him to stop the military measures, whatever they were - I was not familiar with military matters in detail - at once, and I told him that it was perfectly clear that this meant war with England and that England could never disavow her signature. The Fuehrer reflected only a short while and then he said that was true, and immediately called his military adjutant - and I believe it was Field Marshal Keitel who came - in order to call together the generals and stop the military measures which had been started. On this occasion he made the remark that we had received two pieces of bad news on one day - the news of Italy's attitude and this news, and he thought it was possible that the report about Italy's attitude had become known in London immediately; whereupon the final ratification of this Pact had taken place. I still remember this remark of the Fuehrer's very distinctly.

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