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 11 of 12)

[COLONEL POKROVSKY continues his cross examination of Karl Donitz]

[Page 305]

Q. On the 8th of May, 1946, at sixteen hours thirty-five minutes, in this room you mentioned: "As an officer I had not the slightest influence on how the political leadership thought fit to treat this or that neutral." On the 10th of May, at twelve hours thirty-five minutes, here, you said, when the question of submarine warfare was taken up: "All this concerns political aims, but I, as an officer was engaged in military problems." Is that not so?

A. Yes, it is quite correct. I said that, before the 1st of May, 1945, I was purely a fighting man. As soon as I became the head of the State I relinquished the supreme command of the Navy because I became the Chief of State and therefore a political personality.

Q. Sir David Maxwell Fyfe, about fifteen minutes ago, addressed you also and referred to two documents, and in particular to Exhibit GB 186, Document 640-D, and he cited one sentence from this, one sentence which grossly contradicts what you said just now. You remember this sentence, "idle chatter"?

A. Yes, I know exactly what you mean.

Q. I want to ask you: How can you reconcile these two extremely contradictory statements, the statement about idle chatter, about the fact that the officer is not a politician. This statement took place on the 15th of February, 1944, at the time when you were not the supreme head of the State. Is that not so?

A. If a soldier during the war stands firmly behind his nation and his government, that doesn't make him a politician; that is said in that sentence and that was meant by that sentence.

Q. All right. We will be more exact about it, whether this is really the fact. Several times, in a very definite manner, you testified here before the Tribunal that for many years before the war, and during the war, you were indoctrinating the Navy in the spirit of pure idealism and firm respect for the customs and laws of war. Is that so?

A. Right, yes.

Q. In particular, on the 9th of May, yesterday, at twelve hours fifty-four minutes, you said, "I indoctrinated the submarine fleet in the pure idealism and I continued such indoctrination during the war. It was necessary for me in order

[Page 306]

to achieve high fighting morale." Five minutes after, on the same day, you said, when speaking about the Navy: "I never could tolerate giving orders to these people which would be contradictory to such morale and, of course, it is beyond all question that I myself could give such an order." You acknowledge that those were your words, or approximately your words, allowing for the possible inexactness of translation; is that not so?

A. Of course, that is what I said.

Q. I would like you to take a look at the document which is in your possession now, the document presented by your defence Counsel, Document Donitz 91. In this document, your defence Counsel presents an excerpt from the testimony, sworn testimony - an affidavit made by Dr. Joachim Rudolphi. In order not to waste time, I would like you to tell us briefly in one word, "yes" or "no." whether Rudolphi is correct in his testimony; that you always strongly opposed the introduction into the German armed forces of the so- called "People's Military Courts." Did you understand me?

A. I was against handing over legal cases from the Navy to other courts. I said that if one bears the responsibility for a branch of the armed forces, one also must have the court martial jurisdiction. That is what it says.

Q. And you are familiar with Rudolphi's affidavit?

A. Yes, I know it.

Q. You remember, on the first page of that excerpt, which has been presented to the Tribunal, it says:-

"Early in the summer of 1943, the first threatening attempt to undermine the non-political jurisdiction of the armed forces was made."
Is Rudolphi correct in explaining this question and is it true that you were against this attempt to introduce special political courts into the Navy and armed forces? Is that correct?

A. According to my recollection, my resistance began in the summer, 1943. It may be that already in the spring the jurisdiction of the armed forces was threatened. That may be, but I did not learn of it.

Q. Do you acknowledge, Donitz, or not, that the introduction of this so-called People's Court meant, as Rudolphi puts it, a threatening attempt against the non-political jurisdiction of the armed forces? That is his sentence which you can find on the first page of Document 91-D.

A. As I have already stated, my point of view was the following: I wanted to keep my sailors under my own jurisdiction. I could not judge proceedings outside of the Navy, because I did not know the legal procedure. My point was that my sailors should remain with me and be sentenced by me.

Q. For all kinds of crimes, including political crimes; is that not so? Did I understand you correctly?

A. Yes, of course, I meant that; I have stated that I was of the opinion that they should remain under naval jurisdiction.

Q. Will you deny, Donitz, that you were always preaching about, and always encouraging in every way, the murder of defenceless people by members of the German armed forces for purely political reasons; and you always looked upon such murders as acts of military valour and heroism?

A. I do not understand you. I do not know what you mean.

Q. You did not understand my question?

A. No, I have not understood the meaning of your question at all.

Q. I can repeat it. Perhaps it will be clearer to you. I am asking you: Will you deny the fact that you preached in favour of the murder of members of the German armed forces by other members of the German armed forces and purely for political reasons? Now, is the question clear to you?

A. How do you come to ask this question?

THE PRESIDENT: The Tribunal doesn't find your question quite clear.

[Page 307]

COLONEL POKROVSKY: What I have in mind, my Lord, is the Order No. 19, for the Baltic Fleet, which in part was dealt with by Sir David Maxwell Fyfe. There is one point of this order which elucidates with absolute precision the motives for publishing and promulgating this order. One idea is expressed there in a very clear manner - and with your permission, I shall read one paragraph from this document. For instance it says in Order Number 19, last paragraph but one -

THE PRESIDENT: Which paragraph?

COLONEL POKROVSKY: The last paragraph but one of the Document 650-D, Page 4 of the English text. I beg your pardon, Page 4 of the German text, and the last paragraph on the third page of the English copy.

THE PRESIDENT: It has been read already in cross- examination.

COLONEL POKROVSKY: This particular part was not read in the cross-examination, and it is really very important for the case.

THE PRESIDENT: We have just heard this very question, this very example, read by Sir David Maxwell Fyfe, not half an hour ago.

COLONEL POKROVSKY: But Sir David Maxwell Fyfe in reading this example did not read one particular sentence which is of great importance to me, and which clarifies the whole matter, and that is the reason why I permitted myself to come back to this particular passage. It is only one sentence which interests me.

THE PRESIDENT: What sentence are you referring to?

COLONEL POKROVSKY: The first sentence in the second paragraph from the end. It is the paragraph which begins, "for example, in the prisoner-of-war camp - "

THE PRESIDENT: You are entirely wrong. He read the whole of the paragraph. Sir David Maxwell Fyfe read the whole of the paragraph.

COLONEL POKROVSKY: When, with your permission, I shall read these few words, then you will convince yourself, my Lord, that these particular words were not read.

THE PRESIDENT: Colonel Pokrovsky, I have a note in my notebook made at the time, which shows that the whole of this was read; that the defendant was cross-examined about the meaning of the word "Communist"; and that he explained it by saying that he was referring to a spy among the crew who might give away submarine secrets. The whole matter was gone into fully by Sir David Maxwell Fyfe, and the Tribunal does not wish to hear any more about it.

COLONEL POKROVSKY: It is absolutely necessary for me to read two expressions from this sentence which were not read into the record here, and I ask your permission to read these two words.

THE PRESIDENT: Which two words do you say were not read? State the two words.

COLONEL POKROVSKY: "according to plan," or "systematically." That is, according to a certain plan, and also "surreptitiously," or "without being noticed." They are not talking about one particular instance, but they are talking about the whole definite plan, about the system.

THE PRESIDENT: Yes, but that was all read, Colonel Pokrovsky. You must have missed it.

COLONEL POKROVSKY: It was not read. Of course, Sir David may have omitted that.

[Page 308]

THE PRESIDENT: That was read by Sir David Maxwell Fyfe and put to the witness, to the defendant.

COLONEL POKROVSKY: Perhaps Sir David Maxwell Fyfe might have accidentally omitted this, but it is really very important for me, because Donitz testified here, to the conversation about killing only one spy, but really what is meant here is that there was a plan to exterminate all Communists or, rather, men who were supposed to be Communists, according to the idea of a certain petty officer.

THE PRESIDENT: It is exactly what Sir David Maxwell Fyfe put to the witness. He said, "How can you say that this refers to a case of spies or one spy, when it is referring to all Communists?" It is exactly the question he put to him.

COLONEL POKROVSKY: Perhaps I didn't understand quite correctly what our interpreter translated, but in our translation this was not mentioned. Then with your permission I will go to the next question.


Q. Will you deny, Donitz, that in this order, as only one example of high military valour, that military valour which serves as the basis or the reason for extraordinary promotion of non-commissioned officers, you incited the treacherous and systematic murder of people for political reasons? Do you deny that this order was correctly understood?

A. No, that is quite wrong. This order refers to one incident in a prisoner-of-war camp, and it should be considered in what serious dilemma. the senior member of the camp found himself, and that in the interests of the conduct of the war he acted in a responsible and correct manner by removing as a traitor that Communist who was at the same time an informer. It would have been easier for him if he had just let things take their course, which would have harmed the U-boats and caused losses. He knew that after his return home he would have to account for it. That is the reason why I gave this order.

Q. Perhaps you will agree that the incidents, as you explain them now, are absolutely different from what are written in your order.

THE PRESIDENT: I have already told you that the Tribunal does not wish to hear further cross-examination upon this subject. You are now continuing to do that, and I must draw your attention again clearly to the ruling of the Tribunal, that the Tribunal will not hear further cross-examination upon this subject.


Q. In the light of this document, I ask you how do you explain your statement about your alleged objections in principle to special political courts being introduced into the Navy, that is, the special political considerations which were sworn to in the affidavit by Dr. Rudolphi? How do you explain this contradiction?

A. I did not understand what you said.

Q. You say here that the document does not deal with political acts, whereas the order deals with political questions, and Dr. Rudolphi testified to the fact that you were against introducing political courts into the Army and the Navy. Obviously there is a contradiction in terms here, and I would like to have this contradiction explained.

A. I do not see any contradiction because Dr. Rudolphi says that I was against handing over legal cases to courts outside of the Navy, and because the case of the Comerau deals with an action by the senior camp member, far away in a prisoner-of-war camp in a foreign land. He decided on this action only after grave deliberation, knowing that at home he would have to answer for it before a military

[Page 309]

court. He did this, because he considered it necessary, in the interests of the conduct of the war, to stop the loss of submarines by treason. Those are two entirely different things. Here we deal with an individual case in the "Comorau" camp.

Q. What you are testifying to now is a repetition of what you said before, and, as you heard, the Tribunal does not want to listen to it any more. This is really not an answer to my question.

A. Yes. In answering your question I cannot say anything else but the truth, and this is what I have done.

Q. Of course our ideas of truth may be altogether different. I, for instance, look upon this question in an altogether different manner.

A. Excuse me, please. I am under oath here, and you do not want to accuse me of telling an untruth, do you?

Q. We are not talking about false testimony, but we are talking about a different approach to the idea of truth. I, for instance, consider that by this order you revealed yourself as a real -

A. No, I cannot agree with that.

Q. - that you revealed yourself -

THE PRESIDENT: (Interposing). Will you kindly put the question if you want to put a question?

COLONEL POKROVSKY: I want to ask him one question, my Lord, and I must explain to him why I am asking this question.


Q. I consider this order as a direct revelation of your loyalty, fanatical loyalty to Fascism, and in this connection I want to ask you whether you consider that it was because of the fact that you showed yourself to be a fanatical follower of Fascism and Fascist ideas that Hitler chose you to be his successor, because you were known to Hitler as a fanatical follower who was capable of inciting the Army to any crime in the spirit of Hitlerite conspirators, and that you would still call these crimes pure idealism. Do you understand my question?

A. Well, I can only answer to that, that I do not know. I have already explained to you that the legitimate successor would have been the Reichmarschal, but, through a regrettable misunderstanding, a few days before his appointment, he was no longer considered and I was the next senior officer in command of an independent branch of the armed forces. I believe that was the determining factor. The fact that the Fuehrer had confidence in me may also have had something to do with it.

COLONEL POKROVSKY: The Soviet prosecution, my Lord, has no more questions to ask of this defendant.

THE PRESIDENT: Dr. Kranzbuhler, do you want to re-examine?

DR. KRANZBUHLER: I should like to put a few more questions, Mr. President.



Q. Grand Admiral, during the cross-examination by Sir David you were asked about your knowledge of conditions in concentration camps; and you wanted to make an additional statement, which you could not do at the time.

What personal connections did you have with any inmates of concentration camps, or did you have any connections at all?

A. I had no connections with anybody, not with anybody who had come into a concentration camp, with the exception of Pastor Niemoller. Pastor Niemoller was a former comrade of mine from the navy. When my last son was killed he expressed his sympathy, and on that occasion I asked him how he was.

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