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-Sixth Day: Friday, 10th May, 1946
(Part 10 of 12)

[SIR DAVID MAXWELL FYFE continues his cross examination of Karl Donitz]

[Page 301]

Q. Yes, and, of course, for two and a half of these years that the submarine commanders have been shooting up survivors, you're not likely to get many cases, are you? I just want to ask you one other point -

A. Submarine commanders, with the exception of the case of Eck, have never shot up shipwrecked persons. There is not a single instance. That is not true.

Q. That is what you say.

A. In no case is that proved. On the contrary, they made the utmost efforts to rescue. No order to proceed against shipwrecked people has ever been given by the U-boat arm, with the exception of the case of Eck, and for that there was a definite reason. That is a fact.

Q. Well, now, tell me this: Did you know that the log of the Athenia was faked, after she came in?

A. No, it was not faked, but there was a clear order that the case of the Athenia should be kept secret for political reasons, and, as a result, the log had to be changed.

Q. I see. You do not like the word "faked." Well, I'll use the word "changed"; that a page was cut out of the log and a false page had been put in. Did you know about that?

A. I cannot tell you that today. It is possible. Probably Captain Lemm received the order either from me or my staff: "The case is to be kept a secret." And following that, he or the flotilla took the log, which went to ten different departments of the Navy, and altered it. What else could he do; he could not do otherwise.

Q. I want to know, was it your order and with your knowledge that that log was altered from, I suppose, the truth into the falsity in which it exists today? That is a simple question. Can you answer it?

A. Yes. Either it was done by my order, or, if it had not been done, then I would have ordered it, because the political instructions existed "it must be kept secret." The fighting men had no other choice, therefore, but to alter the log. The U-boat commanders never received the order to make a false entry, but in the particular case of the Athenia, where it was ordered afterwards that it must be kept secret, it was not noted in the log.

Q. Well, now, I have only one other point to deal with and I can deal with it quite shortly. You were a firm adherent of ideological education for service personnel, were you not?

A. Yes, I have explained my reasons.

Q. Well, I just want to get this, and then you can explain your reasons afterwards. You thought it nonsense that a soldier should have no politics, did you not? If you want to -

[Page 302]

A. Of course. The soldier had nothing to do with politics, but, on the other hand, he naturally had to stand by his country during the war.

Q. And you wanted your commanders to indoctrinate the Navy with Nazi ideology, didn't you?

A. I wanted the commanders of crews to tell them that the unity of the German people as it existed then, was a source of strength for our conduct of the war, and that consequently since, we enjoyed the advantages of this unity, we also should see to it that the unity should continue, because during the World War, we had had some very bad experiences precisely because of that. Any lack of unity among the people would have necessarily affected the conduct of the war.

Q. Look at Page 7 in the English Document Book. I think it puts it almost exactly as in my question.

A. Page seven?

Q. Yes, seven. The last sentence from the very start.

"The whole of the officers' corps must be indoctrinated that it feels itself co-responsible for the National Socialist State in its entirety. The officer is the exponent of the State. The idle chatter that the officer is non-political is sheer nonsense."
That is your view, it is not?

A. I said that. But you have also got to read from the beginning, where it says that our discipline and our fighting strength is miles above that of 1918, and the reason is because the people as a whole are behind us, and if that had not been the case then our troops would have become disintegrated long ago, and that is the reason why I said that.

Q. Tell me, how many men were you attempting to apply this to, or how many men had you got in the Navy on the 15th of February, 1944? I want to see what body you were trying to affect. How many? A quarter of a million?

A. 600,000 or 700,000.

Q. Now, I would just like you to turn to the next page, Page 8 in the British Document Book, which gives your speech on Heroes' Day, the 12th of March, 1944, You say this:

"What would have become of our country today if the Fuehrer had not united us under National Socialism. Split by parties, beset with the spreading poison of Jewry and vulnerable to it, because we lacked the defence of our present uncompromising ideology, we would long since have succumbed under the burden of this war, and delivered ourselves up to the enemy who would have mercilessly destroyed us."
What did you mean by the "spreading poison of Jewry"?

A. I meant that we were living in a state of unity and that this unity represented strength and that all elements and all forces -

Q. No, that is not what I asked. I am asking you, what did you mean by the "spreading poison of Jewry"? It's your phrase, and you tell us what you meant by it.

A. I could imagine that it would be very difficult for the population in the towns to hold out under the weight of heavy bombing attacks, if such an influence was allowed to work, that is what I meant.

Q. Well, now, can you tell me again; what do you mean by the "spreading poison of Jewry"?

A. It means that it might have had a disintegrating effect on the people's power of endurance, and in this life and death struggle of our country, I, as an officer, was especially anxious about this.

Q. Well now, that is what I want to know. You were the Supreme Commander, and indoctrinated 600,000 or 700,000 men. Why were you conveying to them that Jews were a spreading poison in the party politics? Why was that? What was it that you objected to in Jews; that made you think that they had a bad effect on Germany?

[Page 303]

A. That statement was made during my memorial speech on Heroes' Day. It shows that I was of the opinion that the endurance, the power to endure of the people, could be better preserved if there were no Jewish elements in the nation.

Q. This sort of talk, "spreading poison of Jewry " produced the attitude in the mind which caused the death of five or six million Jews in these last few years. Do you say that you knew nothing about the action and the intention to do away with and exterminate the Jews?

A. Yes, of course I say that. I did not know anything at all about it, and if such a statement was made, then that does not furnish evidence that I had any idea of any murders of Jewry. That was in the year 1943.

Q. Well, what I'm putting to you is that you were joining in the hunt against this unfortunate section of your community, and leading six or seven hundred thousand of the Navy on the same hunt.

Now, just look at Page 76 of the Document Book in this last reference to you - Page 76.

A. Nobody amongst my men thought of using violence against Jews, not one of them, and nobody can draw that conclusion from that sentence.

Q. Well, now, just look at Page 76. This is where you are dealing with the promotion of under-officers, and men who have shown themselves to be personalities in warfare. You, first of all say:-

"I want the leaders of units responsible for ratings, and the flotilla commanders and other commanders superior to them to interest themselves more in the promotion of those petty-officers and men who have shown in special situations in the war that, thanks to their inner attitude and firmness, their energetic and inner drive, in short, owing to their personal qualities, they are capable of taking right decisions independently, and of carrying them out without wavering in their aim and with willing acceptance of responsibility.

"An example: In a prison camp of the auxiliary cruiser Cormorau in Australia, a warrant officer, acting as camp senior officer, had all Communists, who made themselves noticeable among the inmates of the camps, systematically done away with in such a way that the guards did not notice. This petty officer is sure of my full recognition for his decision and its execution, and, after his return, I shall do everything I can to promote him, as he has shown he is fitted to be a leader."

Was that your idea of leadership in this National Socialist indoctrinated Navy that he should murder political opponents in a way that would not be found out by the guards?

A. No, it was not so. It had been reported to me that there was an informer there who, when new crews were brought in, was smuggled into the camp, and after listening, passed information on to the enemy. The result was that on the strength of that information, U-boats were lost. And it was then that the senior man in the camp, a petty officer, decided to remove that man as a traitor. That is what was reported to me, and what I shall prove by means of a witness. In my opinion, and every nation will recognize that, the man acted like anyone else who finds himself in an extremely difficult situation, and he had to -

Q. Why did you not say that, defendant? If you had stated that this man had killed a spy, who, by the spreading of information was dangerous, I would not have put this to you. But what you say is that it was communists who made themselves noticeable, and this man had killed them without knowledge of the guard. Why do you put communists in your order if you mean a spy?

A. I think this is an order from a Baltic station. I had been told that it concerned a spy, and it's something that a witness will prove. If there were reasons - perhaps intelligence reasons for not divulging that -

Q. Are you putting the responsibility for this order on one of your junior officers? Are you saying it was one of your junior officers who put the order out like this? It was not what you meant at all; is that what you are saying?

[Page 304]

A. I have merely said how the order came about; up to now, not once have I shifted the responsibility.


THE PRESIDENT: The Tribunal will adjourn.

(A recess was taken.)

THE PRESIDENT: Is there any further cross-examination?

COLONEL POKROVSKY: My Lord, the Soviet prosecution has several questions to ask of the defendant Donitz.


Q. Defendant Donitz, your address to the German people, and your order to the armed forces in connection with Hitler's death, were composed by you on the 30th of April, 1945, is that not so?

A. Yes.

Q. In these documents you informed the people that Hitler's successor, appointed by Hitler himself, was you. That is correct, is it not?

A. Yes.

Q. Did you ask yourself then for what particular reason Hitler selected you?

A. Yes, I put that question to myself when I received that telegram, and came to the conclusion that after the Reichmarschal had been removed, I was the senior officer of an independent branch of the armed forces, and that that was the reason.

Q. In your address to the Army and to the people, you demanded the continuation of military operations, and all those who were opposed to resistance were called traitors and cowards, is that not so?

A. Yes.

Q. A few days afterwards, you gave an order to Keitel to capitulate unconditionally, is that not right?

A. Yes. I said quite clearly in the first order that I would fight in the East until troops and refugees could be rescued from the East and brought to the West, and that I would not fight one moment longer. That was my intention, and that is also clearly expressed in that order.

Q. By the way, it is not clearly stated in this order, but it is not so important - do you agree that on the 30th of April -

A. I -

Q. First listen to my question and then answer. Do you agree with the fact that on the 30th of April also, right on the day when you published the two documents that we are talking about now, it was absolutely clear that further resistance of Hitlerite Germany was absolutely aimless and useless? Do you understand my question? Do you agree with that?

A. Yes, I understood the question. May I say the following:-

I had to continue fighting in the East in order to rescue the refugees who were moving to the West. That is certainly very clearly stated. I said that we would only continue to fight in the East until the hundreds of thousands of families from the German eastern area could be safely transferred to the West.

Q. Still, you did not answer my question, Donitz, did you, even though it was very clearly put. I repeat it once again so that you can manage to understand it. Do you agree with the fact that already on the 30th of April, it was absolutely clear that further resistance of Hitlerite Germany was absolutely aimless and useless? Answer me, "yes" or "no."

A. No, that was not clear. From the military point of view, the war was absolutely lost, and there was then only the problem of saving as many human beings as possible, and therefore we had to continue resistance in the East. That resistance in the East had a purpose.

[Page 305]

Q. Very well, I understand you, but will you deny that your order, which called for a continuation of the war, led to further bloodshed?

A. That was extremely small, compared to the one or two millions which otherwise would have been lost. Q. One moment please, will you wait. Don't try and make any comparisons. First answer and then explain. That is the order that we have to follow here all the time. First "yes" or "no" and then an explanation, please.

A. Of course, in the fighting in the East during those few days there would be further losses, but they were necessary in order to save hundreds of thousands of refugees.

Q. You didn't answer my question. I shall repeat it for the third time.

THE PRESIDENT: He did answer; his answer means "Yes, that bloodshed would be caused." That is an answer to your question.



Q. I would like you to explain exactly the question of whether you look upon yourself, first and foremost as a politician or do you look upon yourself as an officer who obeyed direct orders of his own superiors without any analysis of the political meaning and content of such orders?

A. I don't understand that question completely. As chief of the State, from the 1st of May on, I was a political man.

Q. And before that time?

A. Purely a fighting man.

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