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 7 of 7)

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

[Page 183]

Q. Did you and Hitler, on this day, make efforts with Henderson to settle the conflict, and what were your proposals?

[Page 184]

A. I have already stated that the Fuehrer - I believe it was in the early afternoon - saw Henderson on the 25th and told him that he still had the intention of reaching some final understanding with England. The question of Danzig and the Corridor would have to be solved in some way and he wanted to approach England with a comprehensive offer which was not contained in the note verbal, in order to settle these things with England on a perfectly regular basis.

Q. Is it true that Hitler then put an aeroplane at Henderson's disposal so that the latter could submit these proposals to his government at once and request his government to make its promised mediation effective in regard to Poland?

A. Yes, that is true. I know that Henderson - I believe it was on the next day, the 26th-flew to England in a German plane. I do not know the details, but I know that the Fuehrer said during the meeting, "Take a plane immediately and fly to your government."

Q. What results did Ambassador Henderson bring back to Berlin on the 28th of August?

A. I should like to say in this connection, that in view of the critical situation between Poland and Germany, which, of course, was also known to the British Ambassador, Hitler expressed to me a certain disappointment that the British Ambassador had not returned more quickly with his answer, for the atmosphere was charged with electricity on that day. On the 28th, Henderson then had another discussion with the Fuehrer. I was also present. The answer brought back by Sir Neville Henderson from London appeared at first not very satisfactory to the Fuehrer. It contained various points which seemed wanting in clarity to the Fuehrer. But the main point was that England announced her readiness for a solution of the existing problems between Germany and England, on the condition that the German-Polish question could be brought to a peaceful conclusion.

In the discussion Adolf Hitler told Sir Neville Henderson that he would examine the note and would then ask him to come back. Then he . . .

Q. Is it true that in this memorandum England suggested that Germany take up direct negotiations with Poland?

A. That is true. One of the points in the note - I intended to go into that - was that the English suggested that German- Polish direct negotiations would be the most appropriate way to reach a solution and, secondly, that such negotiations should take place as soon as possible, because England had to admit that the situation, because of the frontier incidents and in every respect, was very tense. Furthermore the note stated that no matter what solution might be found - I believe this was in the note - it should be guaranteed by the great Powers.

Q. Did England offer as mediator to forward to Poland German proposals for direct negotiations?

A. Yes, that is right.

Q. What were these German proposals which, on the 29th of August, 1939, were given by Hitler to Henderson in answer to the latter's memorandum?

A. The situation was this: On the 29th Adolf Hitler again received the British Ambassador, and on this occasion told him that he was ready to take up the English suggestion of the 28th, that is to say, that despite the great tension and despite the Polish attitude, which he resented so profoundly, he was prepared to offer his hand once more for a peaceful solution of the German-Polish problems, as suggested in the British note of the 28th.

Q. What were the reasons for including in this German proposal a request that a Polish plenipotentiary be sent by the 30th of August?

A. In Adolf Hitler's communication to Ambassador Henderson for the British Government it was stated that the German Government, in view of the tense situation, would immediately set about working out proposals for a solution of the Danzig and Corridor problems. The German Government hoped to be in a position to have these proposals available by the time a Polish negotiator arrived, and he was expected by 30th August.

[Page 185]

Q. Is it correct that Hitler included this condition or this request to send a plenipotentiary within 24 hours because he was afraid that a conflict might arise due to the fact that the mobilised armies of the two countries faced each other?

A. That is absolutely true. I might say that during the meeting on the 29th, Ambassador Henderson, as I recall, asked the Fuehrer whether this was an ultimatum. The Fuehrer answered "No," that was not an ultimatum, but rather, I believe he said, a practical proposal or a proposal arising from the situation, or something of that sort. I should like to repeat that it was a fact that the situation near the frontiers of Danzig and the Corridor during the last days of August looked - one might say - as if the guns would go off on their own unless something was done pretty soon. That was the reason for the relatively short space of time which was made a condition by the Fuehrer. He feared that if more time were allowed, matters would drag out and danger of war not decrease but rather increase.

Q. Is it true that, despite this information given to Ambassador Henderson, the British Government called this proposal unreasonable?

A. I know of the British reaction from several documents that I saw later. The first reaction came during my discussion with Henderson on the 30th of August.

Q. Is it true that on the 30th of August you received a confidential communication regarding Poland's total mobilisation?

A. That is true. On the 30th Hitler awaited word from the Polish negotiator. This did not come, but, I believe, on the evening of the 30th, the news arrived that Poland had ordered, although not announced, general mobilisation. I believe it was not announced until the next morning. This, of course, further aggravated the situation enormously.

Q. Is it true that the British Government then practically withdrew its offer to mediate by suggesting that Germany take immediate and direct steps to prepare negotiations between Germany and Poland?

A. You mean on the 30th?

Q. Yes, on the 30th.

A. That is so. As I said before, we had waited all day on the 30th, but the Polish negotiator had not arrived. In the meantime, Hitler had prepared the proposals which he wanted to hand to a Polish negotiator who - as he had expressly promised Sir Neville Henderson - would be able to negotiate with Germany on the basis of complete equality. Not until shortly before midnight, or at least in the late evening, did a call come through saying that the British Ambassador wanted to transmit a communication from his government. This meeting, I believe, was then postponed once more; at any rate at midnight on the 30th of August the well-known conversation between Henderson and me took place.

Q. You heard yesterday Ambassador Schmidt's description of this meeting. Do you have anything to add to his description of it?

A. I should like to add the following about this conversation. It is perfectly clear that at that moment all of us were nervous. That is true. The British Ambassador was nervous and so was I. I should like to and must mention here the fact that the British Ambassador had had on the day before a minor scene with the Fuehrer which might have ended seriously. I succeeded in changing the subject. Consequentially there was a certain tension between the British Ambassador and me also. However, I intentionally received the British Ambassador composedly and calmly, and accepted his communication. I hoped that this communication would at the last moment contain his announcement of a Polish negotiator.

However, this did not happen. Rather, Sir Neville Henderson told me (1) that his government could not recommend this mode of procedure, despite the tense situation, which had been aggravated still more by the Polish total mobilisation, rather the British Government recommended the German Government to use diplomatic channels; and (2) that, if the German Government would put the

[Page 186]

same proposals at the disposal of the British Government, the British Government would be ready to exert its influence in Warsaw in order to find a solution as far as these suggestions appeared to be reasonable. In view of what had happened this was a very difficult answer, because, as I said, the situation was extremely tense and the Fuehrer had been waiting since the day before for a Polish emissary. I, in turn, feared that the guns would go off by themselves unless a solution came quickly, as I have said. I then read to Henderson the proposals given me by the Fuehrer. I should like to state here once more under oath that the Fuehrer had expressly forbidden me to let these proposals out of my hands. He told me that I might communicate only the substance of them, if I thought it advisable, to the British Ambassador. I did a little more than that; I read all the proposals, from the beginning to the end, to the British Ambassador. I did this because I still hoped that the British Government wanted to exert its influence in Warsaw and assist in a solution. But here too I must state frankly that from my talk with the British Ambassador on the 30th of August, from his whole attitude, which Ambassador Schmidt also described to a certain extent yesterday, as well as from the substance of the communication of the British Government, I got the impression that England at this moment was not quite prepared to live up to the situation and, let us say, to do her utmost to bring about a peaceful solution.

Q. What did the German Government do after the contents of the note were made known to Ambassador Henderson?

A. After my conversation with the British Ambassador I reported to the Fuehrer. I told him it had been a serious conversation. I told him also that in pursuance of his instructions I had not handed the memorandum to Sir Neville Henderson, despite the latter's request, but that I had the impression that the situation was serious and was convinced that the British guarantee to Poland was in force. That had been my very definite impression from this conversation. Then, in the course of the 31st, the Fuehrer waited the whole day to see whether or not some sort of Polish negotiator would come or whether a new communication would come from the British Government. We have heard here about Reich Marshal Goering's intervention, how he informed Dahlerus of the contents of this note in every detail. There can thus be no doubt that during the course of that night, at the latest in the morning of the 31st, the precise proposals of the Reich Government were in the hands of both the London Government and the Warsaw Government. On the 31st the Fuehrer waited the whole day and I am convinced - and I want to state it very clearly here - that he hoped that something would be done by England. Then in the course of the 31st the Polish Ambassador came to see me. But it is known that he had no authority to do anything, neither to enter into negotiations nor even to receive proposals of any sort. I do not know whether the Fuehrer would have authorised me on the 31st to hand proposals of this sort to him, though I think it is possible that he would. But the Polish Ambassador was not authorised to receive them, as he expressly told me. I might point out briefly that regarding the attitude in Warsaw the witness Dahlerus has already given additional testimony.

Q. It is correct that England did not forward the German proposals to Warsaw until the evening of the 31st of August?

A. Please repeat the question.

Q. Is it correct that the German proposals which had been submitted by you on the preceding evening of the 30th to Ambassador Sir Neville Henderson were not forwarded to Warsaw until the evening of the 31st of August?

A. You mean from London?

Q. From London.

A. I cannot tell you precisely, but this can undoubtedly be verified from official documents.

Q. What considerations then led to the final decision to take military action against Poland?

[Page 187]

A. I cannot tell you the details of this. I know only that the Fuehrer ... that the proposals which I had read to the British Ambassador on the night of the 30th were broadcast, as I believe, on the evening of the 31st. The reaction of the Warsaw radio-I remember this reaction exactly - was unfortunately such as to sound like a veritable battle-cry in answer to the German proposals which, as I heard, had been characterised by Henderson as reasonable. I believe they were characterised by the Polish radio as a piece of arrogance, and the Germans were spoken of as Huns or the like. I still remember that. At any rate, shortly after the announcement of these proposals a very sharp negative answer came from Warsaw. I assume that it was that answer which persuaded the Fuehrer, during the night of the 31st, to issue the order to march. I, for my part, can say only that I went to the Reich Chancellery, and the Fuehrer told me that he had given the order and that nothing else could be done now and that things were in motion. Thereupon I said to the Fuehrer merely, "I wish you good luck."

I might also mention that the outbreak of these hostilities was the end of years of efforts on the part of Adolf Hitler to bring about friendship with England.

Q. Did Mussolini make another proposal of mediation, and how did this proposal turn out?

A. Yes, that is true. On the 3rd of September, in the morning, such a proposal of mediation arrived in Berlin, stating that Mussolini was still in a position to bring the Polish question in some way before a representative conference, and that he would do so if the German Government agreed rapidly. It was said at the same time that the French Government had already approved this proposal. Germany also immediately agreed. But a short time later - I can not now state the time precisely - it was reported, I believe in a speech by the British Foreign Minister Halifax in the House of Commons or in some other British declaration, that this proposal had been turned down by London.

Q. Do you know whether France also turned down this proposal?

A. I have already said that we received together with the proposal - I believe through the Italian Government - the information that the French Government either was in favour of the suggestion or had already accepted it.

Q. After the conclusion of the Polish campaign, did you see possibilities of peace and pursue them?

A. After the conclusion of the Polish campaign I had some lengthy conversations with Adolf Hitler. The situation was then that, beyond a doubt, a certain lack of enthusiasm for this whole war on the part of the French was making itself felt. During these weeks military people occasionally used the expression "Potato war in the West." Hitler, as far as I can judge from everything that he told me, was not interested in bringing the war in the West to a decision, and I believe this was true of all of us members of the Government. I should like to remind you of the speech made by the Reich Marshal Goering to this effect at that time. Hitler then made a speech in Danzig, and I believe later somewhere else, perhaps in the Reichstag - I believe in the Reichstag - in which he twice told England and France in unmistakable language that he still and at any time was ready to open negotiations. We tried to find out also very cautiously by listening to diplomatic circles what was the mood in the foreign capitals. But the public replies to Adolf Hitler's speeches clearly demonstrated that there could be no thought of peace.

Q. What did you do from then on to prevent the war from becoming more extended?

A. It was - I should like to say - my most ardent endeavour, after the end of the Polish campaign, to attempt to localise the war, that is, to prevent the war from spreading in Europe. However, I was soon to find out that once a war has broken out, politics are not always, or rather not at all, the decisive factor and that in such cases the machinery of general staffs begins to operate. Everybody wants to outdo everybody else. Our diplomatic efforts were undoubtedly everywhere, in Scandinavia as well as in the Balkans and elsewhere, against an extension of the

[Page 188]

war. Nevertheless, the war did take that course. I should like to state that according to my conversations with Adolf Hitler - and I am also convinced that the German military men were of the same opinion - Hitler wished in no way to extend the war anywhere.

Q. Is it correct that you received information which pointed to the intention of the Western Powers to invade the Ruhr? A. Yes, that is true. There was quite a number of reports coming all the time. Our intelligence service was such that we had a great many channels doing intelligence work. All of these channels led to the Fuehrer. The Foreign Office had relatively little intelligence service, but relied rather on official diplomatic channels. Nevertheless, we in the Foreign Office also received reports implying that the Western Powers had the intention of advancing into the Ruhr area at the first appropriate opportunity. The situation in the West was such that the West Wall was a very strong military barrier against France and this naturally gave rise to the idea that such an attack might come through neutral territory, such as Belgium and Holland.

THE PRESIDENT: How much longer will you be, Dr. Horn?

DR. HORN: I believe an hour to an hour and a half, your Lordship.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, the Tribunal has listened with great patience to a very great deal of detail. All I can say is that this exaggerated going into detail does not, in my opinion, do the defendant's case any good. We will adjourn now.

(The Tribunal adjourned until 30th March, 1946, at 10.00 hours.)

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