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

The Trial of German Major War Criminals

Sitting at Nuremberg, Germany
2nd May to 13th May, 1946

One Hundred and Twenty-Fifth Day: Thursday, 9th May, 1946
(Part 5 of 9)

[DR. KRANZBUHLER continues his direct examination of Karl Donitz]

[Page 240]

Q. The decisive point of the entire letter seems to be in (3); I shall read that to you:-
"A directive to take action against lifeboats of sunken vessels and their crews drifting in the sea would, for psychological reasons, hardly be acceptable to U-boat crews, since it would be contrary to the innermost feelings of all seamen. Such a directive could only be considered if by it a decisive naval success could be achieved."
Admiral, you yourself have repeatedly spoken about the austerity of war. Are you, nevertheless, of the opinion that psychologically the U-boat crews could not be expected to carry out such an order? If so, why?

[Page 241]

A. We U-boat men knew that we had to fight a very hard war against the great sea-powers. Germany had at her disposal for this naval warfare nothing but the U-boats. Therefore, from the beginning - even in peacetime - I trained the submarine crews in the spirit of pure idealism and patriotism.

That was necessary, and I continued that training throughout the war and supported it by very close personal contacts with the men at the bases. It was necessary to achieve very high morale, very high fighting spirit, because otherwise the severe struggle and the enormous losses, which were shown on the diagram, would have been morally impossible to bear. But in spite of these high losses we continued the fight, because it had to be; and we made up for our losses and again and again replenished our forces with volunteers full of enthusiasm and full of moral strength, exactly because the morale was so high. And I would never, even at the time of our most serious losses, have allowed these men to be given an order which was unethical or which would damage their fighting morale, for I placed my whole confidence in that high fighting morale, and endeavoured to maintain it.

Q. You said the U-boat forces were replenished with volunteers, did you?

A. We had practically only volunteers.

Q. Even when losses were at their highest?

A. Yes, even then when everyone knew that he took part in an average of two actions and then was lost.

Q. How high were your losses?

A. According to my recollection, our total losses were between 640 and 670.

Q. And crews?

A. Altogether, we had 40,000 men in the submarine forces. Of these 40,000 men 30,000 did not return, and of these 30,000, 25,000 were killed and only 5,000 were taken prisoner.

Most of the submarines were destroyed from the air in the vast areas of the Atlantic, where rescue was out of the question.

DR. KRANZBUHLER: Mr. President, I come now to a new subject. Would this be a suitable time to take a recess?

(A recess was taken until 1400 hours.)


Q. I am turning now to the theme of the so-called conspiracy. The prosecution is accusing you of participating since 1932, on the basis of your close connections with the Party, in a conspiracy to promote aggressive wars and commit war crimes. Where were you during the weeks of the seizure of power by the National Socialists in the early part of 1933?

A. Immediately after the 30th of January, 1933, I believe it was the 1st of February, I went on leave to the Dutch East Indies and Ceylon, a journey which lasted well into the summer of 1933. This leave journey had been granted me at Grand Admiral Raeder's recommendation by President Hindenburg.

Q. After that, you became the Commander of a large cruiser?

A. In the autumn of 1934 I went as Commander of the cruiser Emden through the Atlantic, around Africa and into the Indian Ocean and then back.

Q. Before this sojourn abroad or after your return in 1935 and until you were appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Navy in the year 1943, were you politically active in any way?

A. I was not active politically until 1st May, 1945, when I became the head of the State, not before then.

Q. The prosecution has submitted a document, namely, an, affidavit by Consul-General Messersmith. It is Exhibit USA 57 and I have the pertinent

[Page 242]

extracts in my Document Book, Volume II, Page 100. In this affidavit Messersmith says that from 1930 until the spring of 1934 he acted as Consul-General for the United States in Berlin. Then until July, 1937, he was in Vienna and from there he went to Washington. He gives an opinion about you which begins with the remark:
"Among the people whom I saw frequently and to whom my statements refer, were the following ..."
Then your name is mentioned. From what he said one gets the impression that at this time you were active in political circles in Berlin or Vienna. Is that correct?

A. No. At that time I was Lieutenant Commander and from the end of 1934 on I was Commander.

Q. With the permission of the Tribunal I sent an interrogatory to Ambassador Messersmith in order to determine upon what facts he was basing his opinion. This interrogatory was answered and I am submitting it as Exhibit Donitz 45. The answers will be found on Page 102 of the document book and I quote:

"During my residence in Berlin, and during my later frequent visits there as stated in my previous affidavits, I saw Admiral Karl Donitz and spoke to him on several occasions. However, I kept no diary and I am unable to state with accuracy when and where the meetings occurred, the capacity in which Admiral Donitz appeared there, or the topic or topics of our conversation. My judgement on Donitz expressed in my previous affidavit is based on personal knowledge, and on the general knowledge which I obtained from the various sources described in my previous affidavits."
Did you, Grand Admiral, see and speak with Ambassador Messersmith anywhere and at any time?

A. I never saw him, and I hear his name here for the first time. Also, at the time in question I was not in Berlin. I was in Wilhelmshaven on the North Sea Coast or in the Indian Ocean. If he alleges that he spoke to me it would have had to be in Wilhelmshaven or in the Indian Ocean. Since neither is the case, I believe that he is mistaken and that he must have confused me with somebody else.

Q. Were you a member of the NSDAP?

A. On the 30th of January, 1944, I received from the Fuehrer as a decoration the Golden Party Emblem, and I assume that I thereby became an honorary member of the Party.

Q. When did you become acquainted with Adolf Hitler and how often did you see him before you I were appointed Commander- in -Chief of the Navy?

A. I saw Adolf Hitler for the first time when in the presence of Grand Admiral Raeder in the autumn of 1934 I informed him of my departure for foreign parts as Commander of the cruiser Emden. I saw him again on my return with the Emden a year later. From the autumn of 1934 until the outbreak of war in 1939, in these five years I saw him four times in all, including the two occasions when I reported to him as already mentioned.

Q. And what were the other two occasions, were they naval or political occasions?

A. One was when he was watching a review of the fleet in the Baltic Sea, and I stood next to him on the bridge of the flagship in order to give the necessary explanations while two U-boats showed attack manoeuvres.

The other occasion was an invitation to all the high ranking army and naval officers when the new Reich Chancellery in Vosstrasse was completed. That was in 1938 or 1939. I saw him there but I did not speak with him.

Q. How many times during the war, until your appointment as Commander-in-Chief, did you see the Fuehrer?

[Page 243]

A. In the years 1939 to 1943 I saw the Fuehrer four times, each time when short reports about U-boat warfare were being made, and always in the presence of large groups.

Q. Until that time had you had any discussion which went beyond purely naval matters?

A. No, none at all.

Q. When were you appointed as Commander-in-Chief of the Navy as successor to Grand Admiral Raeder?

A. On the 30th of January, 1943.

Q. Was the war, which Germany was waging, at that time at an offensive or defensive stage?

A. At a decidedly defensive stage.

Q. In your eyes was the position of Commander-in-Chief, which was offered to you, a political or a naval position?

A. It was self-evidently a purely naval position, namely that of the first officer at the head of the Navy. My appointment to this position also came about because of purely operational reasons, reasons which motivated Grand Admiral Raeder to propose my name for this position. Purely strategic considerations were the decisive ones in respect to this appointment.

Q. You know, Grand Admiral, that the prosecution draws very far-reaching conclusions from your acceptance of this appointment as Commander-in-Chief of the Navy, especially with reference to the conspiracy. The prosecution contends that through your acceptance of this position you ratified the previous happenings, all the workings of the Party since 1920 or 1922, and the entire German policy, domestic and foreign, at least since 1933. Were you aware of the significance of this foreign policy? Did you take this into consideration at all?

A. The idea never entered my head. I do not believe either that there is a soldier who, when he receives a military command, would entertain such thoughts, or be conscious of such considerations. My position as Commander-in-Chief of the Navy represented for me a command which I, of course, had to obey, just as I had to obey every other naval command, unless for reasons of health I was not able to do so. Since I was in good health and believed that I could be of use to the Navy, I also, naturally, accepted this command with a clear conscience. Anything else would have been desertion or disobedience.

Q. Then as Commander-in-Chief of the Navy you came into very close contact with Adolf Hitler. You know, also, just what conclusions the prosecution draws from this relationship. Please tell me just what this relationship was and on what it was based?

A. In order to be brief, I might perhaps explain the matter as follows:-

This relationship was based on three bonds. First of all, I accepted and agreed to the national and social ideas of National Socialism: the national ideas which found expressions in the honour and dignity of the nation, its freedom and its equality among nations and its security; and the social tenets which had perhaps as their basis: No class struggle, but human and social respect of each person, regardless of his class, profession or economic position, and on the other band, subordination of each and every one to the interests of the common weal. Naturally I regarded Adolf Hitler's high authority with admiration and joyfully acknowledged it, when, in time of peace he succeeded so quickly and without bloodshed in realising his national and social objectives.

The second bond was my oath. Hitler had, in a legal and lawful way, become the Commander-in-Chief of the Wehrmacht, to whom the Wehrmacht had sworn its oath of allegiance. That this oath was sacred to me is self-evident and I believe that decency in this world will everywhere be on the side of him who keeps his oath.

The third bond was my personal relationship. Before I became Commander-in-Chief of the Navy, I believe Hitler had no definite conception of me or my personality. He had seen me too few times and always when I was merely one of

[Page 244]

a large group of people. What our relationship would be was therefore a completely open question when I became Commander- in-Chief of the Navy. My start in this high post was very unfavourable. It was made difficult, first, by the imminent and then the actual collapse of U-boat warfare, secondly, by my refusal, just as Grand Admiral Raeder had already refused, to scrap the large ships, which in Hitler's opinion had no fighting value in view of the overwhelming superiority of the enemy. I, as well as Grand Admiral Raeder, had opposed the scrapping of these ships, and only after a quarrel did Hitler finally agree. However, I noticed very soon that in naval matters he had confidence in me, and in other respects as well treated me with decided respect.

Adolf Hitler always saw in me only the Supreme Commander of the Navy. He never asked for my advice in military matters, which did not concern the Navy, either in regard to the Army or the Air Force, nor did I ever express my opinion about such matters because, basically, I had not sufficient knowledge of them. He never consulted me on political matters of a domestic or a foreign nature.

Q. You said, Grand Admiral, that he never asked you for advice on political matters. But those matters might have come up in connection with naval questions. Did you not participate when this occurred?

A. If by "political" you mean for instance, consultations of the commanders with the so-called National Socialist high political officers, then, of course, I participated, because this came within the sphere of the Navy, a navy concern.

Q. Beyond those questions, did not Hitler ever consider you a general adviser, as the prosecution claims and as they concluded from the long list of meetings which you have had with Hitler since 1943 at his headquarters?

A. First of all, as a matter of principle, there can be no question of a general consultation with the Fuehrer; as I have already said, the Fuehrer asked for and received advice from me only in matters concerning the Navy and the conduct of naval warfare, matters exclusively and absolutely restricted to my sphere of activity.

Q. According to the table submitted, you were, between 1943 and 1945, called sometimes once and sometimes twice a month to the Fuehrer's Headquarters. Please describe to the Tribunal, just what happened, as far as you were concerned, on a day like that at the Fuehrer's headquarters.

A. Up to two or three months before the collapse, when the Fuehrer was in Berlin, I flew to his Headquarters about every two or three weeks, but only if I had some concrete operational matter on which I needed his decision. On those occasions I participated in the midday discussion of the general military situation, that is, the report which the Fuehrer's staff made to him about what had taken place on the fighting fronts within the last 24 hours. At these military discussions, the Army and Air Force situation was of primary importance, and I spoke only when my naval expert was reporting the naval situation, and he needed me to supplement his report. Then at a given moment, which was fixed by the Adjutant's Office, I gave my naval report, which was the purpose of my journey. When rendering this report, only those were present whom these matters concerned that is, for the most part, when it was a question of reinforcements, etc., Field Marshal Keitel or General Jodl.

When I went to his headquarters every two or three weeks - later in 1944, there was once an interval of six weeks - the Fuehrer invited me to lunch. These invitations ceased completely after 20th July, 1944, the day of the attempted assassination.

I never received from the Fuehrer an order which in any way violated the ethics of war. Neither I nor anyone in the Navy - and this is my conviction - knew anything about the mass extermination of people, of which I am accused in the Indictment, or the concentration camps, until after the capitulation in May, 1945.

In Hitler, I saw a powerful personality, who had extraordinary intelligence and energy, and a practically universal knowledge, from whom strength seemed to emanate, and who was possessed of a remarkable power of suggestion. On

[Page 245]

the other hand, I purposely went very seldom to his headquarters, for I had the feeling that I would thus best preserve my power of initiative, and also because, after several days, say two or three days at the headquarters, I always had the feeling that I had to disengage myself from his power of suggestion. I am telling you this, because in this connection, I was doubtless more fortunate than his staff, who were constantly exposed to this power and his personality.

Q. You said just now, Grand Admiral, that you never received an order which was in violation of military ethics. You know the Commando Order of the autumn of 1942. Did you not receive that order?

A. I was informed of that order after it was issued, while I was still Commander of the U-boats. For the soldiers at the front this order was unequivocal. I had the feeling that it was a very grave matter, but under Point 1 of this order, it was clearly and unequivocally expressed that members of the enemy forces, because of their behaviour, because of the killing of prisoners, had placed themselves outside the Geneva Convention, and that therefore the Fuehrer had ordered reprisal measures, and that these in addition, had been published in the Wehrmacht report.

Q. Therefore, the soldier who received this order had no right, no possibility, and no authority to demand a justification or an investigation. As Commander of the U- boats, did you have anything to do with the execution of this order?

A. No, not in the slightest.

Q. As far as you remember, did you, as Commander-in-Chief of the Navy, have anything to do with the carrying out of this order?

A. As far as I remember, as Commander-in-Chief of the Navy, I was never concerned with this order. One should not forget, first, that this decree excludes expressly those taken prisoner in battles at sea, and, secondly, that the Navy had no territorial authority on land, and for this latter reason, found itself less often in the position of having to carry out any part of this order.

[ 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.