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

The Trial of German Major War Criminals

Sitting at Nuremberg, Germany
20th June to 1st July 1946

One Hundred and Sixty-Second Day: Monday, 24th June, 1946
(Part 6 of 8)

[DR. VON LUDINGHAUSEN continues his direct examination of Constantin von Neurath]

[Page 136]


Q. Then there came the famous dispute between Hitler and the President of the Czechoslovak Republic, Hacha, in the night of 14th-15th March, 1939, in

[Page 137]

Berlin. This conference has already been discussed here. I do not believe I need to go into it in much detail. Anyhow, you know of it.

I should like to ask you, did you know of these events as described, particularly as given in Document 2798-PS?

A. No, I did not know of them. I learned of them only much later. I only learned here of the notes of Mr. Hewel, but after I learned of these events, I disapproved strongly, and I would not have taken office as Reich Protector under any circumstances if I had known of these things at the time. I was completely surprised by the events in March, 1939. As I have already said, I no longer received any foreign political information beyond what I gathered from the radio and the newspapers. The preparation for attack on Czechoslovakia in 1938 I considered to have been eliminated after the Munich agreement.

I learned of Hacha's visit to Berlin like every other German, by radio and newspapers the next morning. The official statement of the taking over of protection of the remainder of Czechoslovakia seemed not improbable to me after Slovakia had become independent, and after I learned that the Czech Foreign Minister, Chvalkowsky, in the course of the winter 1938-1939 in Berlin, had said that Czechoslovakia's former policy must be completely changed and that closer connections would have to be sought with Germany. However, I was concerned about how the signatory Powers of Munich would react to this development, which was in contravention of the agreement which had been reached in Munich. My first question to Hitler when I went to Vienna at his request was whether England and France had been informed beforehand and had given their approval. When he said no, that that was quite unnecessary and that the Czech Government itself had asked us to take over the protection, I immediately realised how dangerous the situation was and said so to Hitler.

However, at the time I still believed that it had, in fact, been a free decision of the Czech Government. Hitler's request that I should take the post of Reich Protector was a complete surprise to me, the more so when I discovered that he had taken amiss my spontaneous intervention in September, 1938, which led to the Munich conference. I had misgivings about taking the office, which I also expressed to Hitler. I realised that an invasion of Czechoslovakia would, at the very least, strongly offend the signatory Powers of the Munich Agreement, even if Hacha had asked for protection voluntarily, and it was also clear to me that any aggravation of the situation through bad treatment of the Czechs would bring about an immediate danger of war. The patience of England and France must surely be exhausted. I mentioned this to Hitler, too. Hitler's answer was that that was precisely the reason why he was asking me to take over the post - to show that he did not wish to carry on a policy hostile to Czechoslovakia. I was known generally abroad as a peaceful and moderate man, and he would give me the most extensive powers to oppose all excesses, especially by the Sudeten German element. When I still hesitated and said that I did not know conditions in Czechoslovakia and that I was not an administrator, Hitler said that I should try it, that it could be changed at any time. He gave me two experienced men who knew the conditions. I did not realize at the time that it was already a fact that the police and the SS were not subordinate to any higher authority, and that this would make it impossible for me to prevent the rule by force of Himmler and his agencies.

But I cannot refrain from pointing out that great responsibility for the ensuing developments lies with the other Powers, especially the signatory Powers of Munich. Instead of making protests on paper, I had expected that they would at least recall their ambassadors. Then, perhaps, the tension might have been increased for the moment, but the German people would have realised how serious the situation was, and Hitler would have avoided taking further aggressive steps and the war could have been prevented.

Q. The charge is made that you took this office so that by misuse of your humane and diplomatic reputation the impression could be given to the world

[Page 138]

that the Czechs were to be treated moderately, while the contrary was to be the case. Will you comment briefly on this point?

A. That is absolutely wrong.

Hitler said that I was to attempt to reconcile the Czechs to the new conditions and to keep from excesses the German population, which was filled with hatred because of the years of conflict on the question of nationality and the measures of suppression which they had suffered.

Q. What assurances did Hitler give you with regard to your office?

A. He assured me that he would support me in every way and at all times in my work of settling the national conflicts justly and winning over the Czechs by a conciliatory and authoritative policy. In particular, he would protect my administration from all attacks by political radicals, above all from the SS and police and Sudeten Germans; I had pointed out this danger particularly.

Q. Were you convinced at that time that, in making these assurances of humane treatment for the Czechs, Hitler was serious and honest?

A. Yes, I definitely had that impression.

Q. Then you believed that he would keep the assurances he gave you?

A. Yes.

Q. At that time did you know of any plans or even intention for forcible Germanisation of the Czechs?

A. No, that was completely unknown to me. I would have considered that such nonsense that I would not have believed that anyone could have such an idea.

Q. Do you still believe that Hitler's assurances and intentions expressed at that time were meant honestly, and that they were only made illusory through further developments?

A. Yes, they were certainly meant honestly at that time.

DR. VON LUDINGHAUSEN: In this connection I should like to refer to a document in my Document Book 5, under No. 142, which contains an excerpt from Henderson's Failure of a Mission. I should like to ask the Tribunal to take judicial notice of that.


Q. In connection with that period, the conclusion of the German-Slovak Treaty of March, 1939, concerning the independence of Slovakia is charged against you by the prosecution.

Did you have anything at all to do with drawing up this treaty or with declaring Slovakia autonomous?

A. No. I learned of the declaration of autonomy for Slovakia, and of all these events, only after they had been made public.

Q. What were the principles of your programme for your administration in Prague?

A. It was quite clear to me that reconciliation of the Czech people with the newly created conditions could be brought about only gradually, by sparing their national feelings as far as possible, and without radical measures. Under more favourable circumstances that would have taken several generations. I therefore attempted a gradual adjustment and a diminishing of the previously hostile policies.

DR. VON LUDINGHAUSEN: In this connection I should like to refer to Document 143, in my Document Book 5. This is a reproduction of an article which Herr von Neurath published about the aims of his administration in Prague, in the European Review, at the end of March, 1939. I ask the Tribunal to take judicial notice of this.

This article shows quite clearly with what intentions and with what tendencies Herr von Neurath took up his office at that time. I ask the Tribunal to take judicial notice of it.


Q What were the conditions which you found in Prague when you took over your office in April?

[Page 139]

A. The Czechs were generally disillusioned by the attitude of their former allies in the autumn of 1938. To a large extent they seemed ready to be loyal and to co-operate. However, the influence of anti-Czech and Sudeten German circles, supported by Himmler and the SS, was considerable. This influence was personified especially in the Sudeten leader Karl Hermann Frank, who had been appointed as my State Secretary at Himmler's instigation. I had the greatest difficulty with him from the very beginning, because he represented a completely opposite policy toward the Czechs.

The office of the Reich Protector was still being built up. The head of the administration was an experienced administration official, State Secretary von Burgsdorf, who was examined here. Under him were the various departments, which were built up directly by the Berlin ministries.

In the provincial administration German "Oberlandraete" were appointed as supervisory officers for each Czech district. They were appointed by the Reich Ministry of the Interior.

Q. To whom were the police subordinate?

A. The police force was completely independent of my office. It was directly under the Reichsfuehrer SS and Chief of German Police; that is to say, Himmler.

Himmler appointed my own State Secretary Frank as Higher SS and Police Chief; he thus had a double position. Under Frank, in turn, was the Commander of the Security Police. All police measures were ordered by Frank or directly by Himmler and the Reich Security Main Office, without a request for my approval, without my even having been informed previously. From this fact resulted most of the difficulties with which I constantly had to struggle in Prague.

Q. The treatment of the position of the police is in a Czechoslovak report, submitted by the prosecution as Exhibit USSR 60. This puts the matter in a somewhat different light. Do you adhere to the description which you have just given?

A. Yes, absolutely.

Q. You were informed of police measures only afterwards, but were not asked for your approval beforehand?

A. Yes, and I was informed afterwards only in a roundabout way. I frequently learned only from the Czech Government, or through private persons, of incidents which I was not informed about by the police even afterwards; then I had to inquire of Frank.

DR. VON LUDINGHAUSEN: Mr. President, I refer in this connection to the decree of 1st September, 1939, which I have submitted verbatim as No. 14.9 in my Document Book 5, and I should like to point out the following: This order is divided into two completely separate sections. Part 1 concerns the building up of the administration of the Reich Protector; and Part 2, completely separated therefrom, deals with the establishment of the German Security Police, which is directly under the Reichsfuehrer SS and Chief of German Police. Already this external form of the order, this ostentatious separation of the two administration branches, if I may put it that way, proves that the police and the police power were only under Himmler or under the Berlin authorities. This emphasized the fact that the Reich Protector could exert no influence on them. This is the great tragedy of Herr von Neurath's activities as Reich Protector. Matters are charged against him for which he never could and never did take the responsibility. The prosecution refers particularly to Paragraph 13 in this order, which mentions administrative measures according to which the Reich Protector and the Reichsfuehrer SS, in agreement with the former, can take the necessary administrative measures for the maintenance of security and public order in the Protectorate, even outside of the limits determined for this purpose.

What does this mean?

A. I do not know what this order means by "administrative measures." It seems to me to be a very general order, presumably referring to the issuing of general instructions. At any rate, as long as I was in Prague, neither I nor the

[Page 140]

Reichsfuehrer SS made any use of this power. Arrests were all made without informing me previously, on the basis of Paragraph 11 of the order which has just been read, and which does not in any way subordinate the police in the Protectorate to me.

Q. Did Hitler not assure you, in Vienna, that you were to have full executive powers in the Protectorate, and that these would include the police?

A. No; I have already mentioned that this was not the case.

Q. Did you attempt to change this situation and to receive charge of the police, or at least influence on the police, from Hitler?

A. Yes. I repeatedly made representations to Hitler in connection with the recurring violations and excesses of the police. He promised me that he would investigate these circumstances, but nothing was changed. The influence of Himmler, who considered the police throughout the Reich to be his own domain, was too powerful.

Q. The Czechoslovak report on which the Indictment is based, in addition to the Police Chief, also holds the Reich Protector, that is you, until September, 1941, responsible for the terror acts of the Gestapo. On the basis of the statements which you have just made, do you assume such responsibility to any extent?

A. No. I must deny it very emphatically. I have already explained what the real circumstances were, that I had no influence whatever.

DR. VON LUDINGHAUSEN: I should like to quote two or three sentences in this connection from Document 153 in my Document Book 5, which consist of minutes from the examination of former State Secretary Frank by the Czechoslovak delegation on 30th May, 1945. These minutes from Frank's testimony say:

"Neither the Reich Protector nor I myself were responsible for the actions of the police. The highest responsibility was with Heinrich Himmler as chief of the German police. The Gestapo received its instructions directly from Berlin, either from Himmler himself or from the Reich Security Main Office."

Q. By your presence in Prague, could you actually do anything in practice to modify at least the worst measures either by the police or the Gestapo, or to minimise the most severe effects afterwards? Will you please describe how you intervened and how you attempted to influence Frank in these matters?

A. I received continual requests from President Hacha of the Czech Government and private persons. My office was for the most part busy working on these cases. I had every request presented to me personally, and in all cases in which intervention was at all justified, I had Frank or the commander of the Security Police report to me and tried to influence them in favour of releasing the arrested person. It was an unnatural struggle with Frank and the police which was nevertheless successful in many cases. In the course of time, many hundreds of persons who had been arrested were released at my instigation. In addition, many sentences were made less severe as regards postal communication, sending of food, and so forth.

Q. Soon after you took office did you not prevent the arrest and subjection to so-called atonement measures of the members of the families, remaining in Prague, of the ministers Netsenas and Feierabend who had fled abroad?

A. Yes, that is right. Frank had ordered the arrest of the members of the families of these two ministers. When I learned about it I induced him to desist from taking this step.

DR. VON LUDINGHAUSEN: Mr. President, may I make a suggestion to break off now, because this section is finished and I come now to individual questions?

(A recess was taken.)

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