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

The Trial of German Major War Criminals

Sitting at Nuremberg, Germany
16th July to 27th July 1946

One Hundred and Eighty-Fourth Day: Tuesday, 23rd July, 1946
(Part 9 of 12)

[Page 269]

DR. VON LUDINGHAUSEN: Your Lordship, your Honours. "Never before has war impressed me as quite so abominable."

This is what Napoleon Bonaparte wrote to the Directorate in Paris in the year 1799, after the victorious capture of Jaffa, where he had ordered the shooting of 2,000 captured Turks. This statement by one of the most outstanding warriors of all nations stood for unqualified condemnation, not merely of war as such, but also of all means for the conduct of war still considered as unavoidable but permitted at that time. The perception which this word reflects and its ethical condemnation of war were not uttered in vain. As early as the middle of the last century, morally and ethically high-minded personalities made efforts tending to ameliorate and eliminate at least some of the horrors of war. The founding of the Red Cross in Geneva was the first far-reaching result of such endeavours, the first fruits of Napoleon's word. But I dare to say this word is, so to speak, also the actual impetus which gave birth to this present trial. It, too, was caused and dictated by the endeavour, not only to restrict war as regards the manner in which it is waged, the independence of selection of means and actions, but beyond that to find means and ways to eliminate war altogether as a political measure from the relations of peoples. It strives for a high goal, to create an International Law to govern all peoples of all States, as they live alongside one another and together with one another, a law to which all States and peoples will submit, if they wish to rank as civilised States, and by which they will be forced to abide in the same manner as the individual national of a State must abide by the law his State has established for the common existence of its people. And if you, your Honours, and if the entire world will learn to understand how infinitely painful it is for us Germans that it is just our State and our people who have furnished cause for the creation of such International Law by a war in which we were engaged, yet my client, the defendant von Neurath, and I cannot help but welcome the attempt inherent in this trial, because the highest effort during the entire official activity of my client, from his first day in office to the last, was the endeavour to avoid war and to serve peace. And I do not hesitate to emphasize this, although it is because of an entirely new principle of law that my client is facing this Tribunal today. Because for the first time in history the idea is to be carried into practice according to which this or these statesmen of a nation are to be held personally responsible and are to be punished for the wars of aggression caused by them, and the inhuman and cruel means applied therein. This idea, which this International Tribunal is about to carry into practice as a principle of law, is an absolute novelty in the history of International Law. But if the present Court Trial and the Charter on which it is based is to be more than a single procedure worked out and intended for this one case, in other words for this war just ended; if it arose not merely from the thought of vengeance because of harm and damage done to the victorious nations and is intended to atone for them; if it really was brought forth by the will and the decision to eliminate war in itself for good, through the stipulation of the personal responsibility of the statesmen of the nations, then this constitutes a deed which every peace-loving person will sincerely welcome. It furthermore

[Page 270]

contains two elements apparently suited to revolutionise all that was heretofore known in this world for handling and directing the foreign policy of States, and to raise it on to a new and undoubtedly higher ethical basis.

It has been an ancient established postulate for the policy of a statesman and his rating before history - which has been so since the famous speech made by Pericles and since Plato's State doctrines, making it the foremost, I would almost say the only postulate - to exert every endeavour to obtain for his people, for the State under his stewardship, the highest possible level. of existence, of maintenance, and improvement of standard of living, of position among the nations, irrespective of the means required for accomplishment. Every nation on earth includes in its history statesmen who, seen in this light, are being extolled and honoured as shining examples, and who went down in history as such merely because they were successful, and without examining whether the means used by them to obtain success were in harmony or not with the ethical principles, not only of the Christian but of all leading moral philosophies. To this maxim the Charter of this High Tribunal opposes a new maxim in that it plainly stipulates that every war of aggression places culpability on the person responsible for the war, regardless of whether the war was won or lost. However, this means nothing else but subjection to the moral law - which rejects application of force of any kind as a means of policy - of every State stewardship, even the most successful and the most victorious.

If, however, this is to have a practical meaning and is to be successful, then there follows the subjection of every State stewardship to the test and judgement of all other civilised States in the world. On that principle of the Charter established by this High Tribunal it would call for the examining and possible judgement of all inner political measures which, in retrospect, might be seen as actions of preparation for this war. To discuss consequences resulting from this would lead too far; this must rather be left to the discussion by scholars of State law and to further developments, and I wish therefore to confine myself to pointing to one consequence only, the consequence that the statesmen involved in the war of aggression will be subject to such judgement of a future International World Court and will be liable to punishment, even in the event of that war of aggression ending in victory. Perhaps this is the main point, reflecting the highest ethics of the stipulations and principles established in the Charter.

If I particularly stress these points it is not because my client or I doubt that the authors of this Charter failed to be fully aware of these consequences too. But in the fact that this new tenet of International Law is to find application for the first time before the World Forum and by the Allied Governments, not through a power dictate but through a court procedure equipped with all reservations for objectivity and impartiality, in this fact my client and I see proof that this court procedure was born and is being motivated by the ideal aspiration of mankind to free it from the scourge of war.

And even if my client and I myself in no way fail to recognize the important issue in this trial as based on the Charter, namely that, in sharp contrast to the principles of law of all democratic States, of every democratic-liberal principle of law, it proposes to pass judgement on and inflict punishment for many actions for which, at the time they were committed, there undeniably did not exist a law or a precedence governing them, my client and I nevertheless are confident, because of our conviction that this High Tribunal will not base the establishment of its verdict on individual and incoherently joined actions, on single bare facts, but that it will scrutinize and examine with particular care the motives and aspirations which moved each individual defendant. If then you, your Honours, will establish, as I am convinced you will, that from the first to the last day of his official activity as Reich Foreign Minister or as Reich Protector, my client was moved by one desire only, that all his deeds and actions were governed by one aspiration, to prevent a war and its cruelties, to maintain peace, and that the very

[Page 271]

reason for his remaining in office was to prevent war and its inhumanity through his influence; and that he did not withdraw from his post until he was forced to conclude that all his efforts were in vain, and that the will and determination to wage war of the highest ruler of the State, Hitler, were more powerful than he; in that case the fact of his membership and continuance of office in the Reich Government until that moment cannot possibly be construed as approval, much less as assistance and co-partnership in the planning, preparing, or waging of war, thereby placing upon him joint responsibility for the war, or even for cruelties and atrocities committed during its course.

The very fact of the application - an application made for the first time in this trial, at least in International Law and in Democratic States - of the legal doctrine that an action already committed can subsequently be made punishable by law, results in the imperative demand that the question of the subjective guilt of the defendant - in other words the consciousness, not only of the amorality and the presumed criminality of the deed in question, but also the intent to commit the deed or at least to offer active assistance despite such awareness - be examined and answered before a verdict is arrived at. Disregard of this postulate would not only rob this trial of its high ethical importance, but would open wide every door and gate to arbitrariness, making such court procedure appear before the world, not as a real procedure of justice within its truest and profoundest meaning, but making it a power dictate wearing the robe of Justice.

An extraordinary responsibility is thus placed upon your shoulders, greater than has ever been placed before on the shoulders of any Court in the world. Carrying out the will and the vision of the father of this trial, President Roosevelt, who passed away far too soon, it is your task, your Honours, to lay the first cornerstone for the temple of peace of the nations of the earth. You are to lay the foundation for the attainment of the ideal he envisaged, perpetual peace. Coming generations are to continue to build on your judgement. You are to give the directives according to which those who come after us must continue to aspire to this high goal. It is not a precedent you are to establish, not individual cases you are to judge and then punish the guilty men according to your judgement; but you are to lay down the fundamental principles of a new International Law which is to govern the world in the future. This alone, this task assigned to you, establishes the meaning of this Tribunal, its justification and its high ethical inspiration, to which we yield. At the same time, however, this also includes the recognition that the verdict to be established by you in regard to these defendants is not a verdict in the ordinary meaning of the word; it is not merely a judge's sentence pronounced on behalf of individual defendants and their deeds, but it is the new fundamental law itself, the source from which all future Courts are to draw, in accordance with which your verdict is to be established.

It is therefore your task, your Honours, to interpret the provisions of the Charter according to their principles, and to establish in practice and for all time to come the rules and principles of the Charter. The responsibility which you thereby assume before history puts two questions to you, the answer to which is all the more complicated because the legal concept of conspiracy incorporated in the Charter and forming the legal foundation of the Indictment is a concept foreign not only to the majority of peoples, especially the European peoples, but also because in one or the other country it owed its existence to its previous application to the fight against common crimes and offences against the legal provisions governing domestic affairs and against those alone. The postulate necessarily follows that the modus of interpretation and application of this legal concept in International Law can and must never be the same as employed in the fight against common bands of gangsters, guilty of a breach of the social order of a particular country and of the laws promulgated for its protection. The latter ordinarily involves individuals of a more or less amoral disposition, who act for reasons of selfishness, lust for money or other unethical instincts, placing them-

[Page 272]

selves outside the existing social order. In the last analysis, however, and particularly when wars of aggression are involved, International Law does not deal with individual statesmen but much rather with whole peoples. The age of absolutism, where the will of the ruler determined alone the destiny and acts of a people, has definitely passed. In this age it may be said that one cannot imagine any avowed dictator or omnipotent despot who can rule without or against the will, or at least the tacit approval of the nation, at least its majority. And so - it is necessary to make this known to the world-invisible behind the defendants, there sits also in the prisoners' dock our poor beaten and tortured German people, because it placed upon a pedestal and selected as leader a man who led it to its doom. From this follows of necessity the inescapable demand that, contrary to the concept of a conspiracy applied in regard to ordinary criminals, application of the concept of conspiracy applied in International Law must firstly proceed to investigate and examine how it happened - how it could happen - that an intellectually high-ranking people, a people who gave so much to the world in terms of cultural and spiritual gifts as the German people did, could hail a man such as Hitler, follow him into the bloodiest of all wars, giving him its last and best. Not until you, your Honours, have incorporated this in the field of your considerations and examined this question, will you be able to establish a just verdict in regard to the individual defendants themselves, with due consideration for their dissimilarity, a judgement which will stand the test of history. Because of such reasoning, and not merely by reason of my right as defence counsel of the defendant, Freiherr von Neurath, but also because of my duty as a German, I deemed it necessary to explain in mere outline the fact of Nazi domination which the world outside Germany cannot grasp; to make you visualize how it happened as a result of the effects of the Versailles Treaty and finally, because of the manner of its application, how it was bound to happen, true to historical necessity.

In view of the short amount of time made available to me through decision of the Tribunal, I must refrain from reading that part of my final pleading, and express my definite hope that the Tribunal will subsequently go to the trouble of reading it itself and that it will consider its arguments when establishing its verdict. I now continue with Page 44 (a) of my final pleading, and should first of all like to give you a brief description of the personality and of the thoughts and feelings of that man who is today before you as a prisoner.

THE PRESIDENT: Dr. von Ludinghausen, probably that would be a convenient time to break off.

(A recess was taken.)

DR. VON LUDINGHAUSEN: Born as a scion of an old family which gave its small home State, Wurttemberg, so many loyal high government officials, the defendant von Neurath grew up with a simple and strict education in a parental home filled not only with a real Christian spirit and true love for mankind, but also with an ardent, devoted love for the German people and Fatherland. From his tenderest age and during his entire life his thoughts and actions had implanted in him the desire and will, the holy duty, to place all his powers, all his ability, all his gifts and capacities at the service of the welfare of his people, to subordinate and even sacrifice all his personal interests to this. But, and this must certainly be emphasized in this place, apart from this aspiration there was alive in him and woven into his being to an equally strong degree a deep religious feeling, love of the truth and love of mankind that made him from the beginning adverse to the use of any form of violence against his fellow-men not only in his private life, in his relations with his fellow-men, but which ruled to the same extent his entire official activity, even after the Treaty of Versailles. His acts bore the stamp of this feeling and it became the law governing his official dealings as a representative of the Reich in other countries, as well as Foreign Minister and lastly as Reich Protector of Bohemia and Moravia.

[Page 273]

Not only by his conciliatory amiability, his skill and demeanour, so understandable in a man of his origin and education, but also primarily through the love of peace and sincerity which permeated all his actions as a diplomat and statesman, he won the unlimited and sincere respect and sympathy of all people with whom he came into contact the world over, even of his political opponents. As unequivocal proof of this fact, the truth of which, your Honours, may be confirmed by your own diplomats, it will suffice to refer to the fact that, as you know from the sworn affidavit of my client, no less persons than King George V and King Edward VIII of England received the defendant in private audiences on the occasions of his presence in London in 1933 and 1935; that the British Government in the summer of 1937 and again in 1938, when he was no longer Foreign Minister, invited him to visit England for political discussions, and finally, that on his 65th birthday on and February, 1938, the entire diplomatic corps called on him to congratulate him and to express through Monsignore Orsenigo, who at that time was its doyen, its thanks and its appreciation for the reasonable and understanding manner in which he always discharged all his duties. Do you, your Honours, credit your own diplomats and statesmen with so little knowledge of human nature, so little experience and knowledge of the world that in the course of the defendant's six years' activity they would not have found out, if the assertion of the prosecution were true, that Herr von Neurath had knowingly let himself and his good reputation be used as a covering shield by the Nazis, and that all his statements and assurances as Foreign Minister were mere camouflage, that is to say, a deliberate deceiving of the whole world?

In this connection, it may well be pointed out as quite obvious that such old and experienced democracies as England, America, France, as well as the Vatican, had delegated to the post of Ambassador in Berlin, the most important post at that time, their cleverest and most experienced diplomats. And I am tempted to assume that the prosecution possibly did not realize quite clearly what a dubious compliment it paid to its own diplomats by its assertion about the defendant, while it produces in proof of this assertion only the highly fantastic report of the American Consul Messersmith. I am moreover unshakeably convinced that you, your Honours, based on the very reason of your long judicial experience, have far too much knowledge of human nature not to see at first glance that my client, by his entire personality, is absolutely incapable of such a perfidious and untruthful way of acting, let alone capable of play-acting to such an extent that for six long years he could have fooled the ablest and most experienced diplomats in the whole world. A man like the defendant, who for 60 years has led an honourable and absolutely decent life, would never in the world at the end of such a life have lent himself to such a disavowal and negation of all that he had so far held highest. That would be contrary to anybody's personal experience.

And on the same level stands the prosecution's assertion that the defendant von Neurath, by joining and remaining in Hitler's Cabinet, served as a fifth columnist in the conservative circles of Germany, for the express purpose of winning them over to National Socialism. This slandering of the defendant, which, moreover, was brought forward without any attempt at proving it, is contradicted by the sworn statements of all witnesses and the affidavits submitted, which unanimously state that the resignation of the defendant from the office of Foreign Minister was viewed in just these circles with the greatest dismay and concern, because these circles considered that this withdrawal of the defendant from the Government was in itself a sign that from then on his pronounced peace policy would be replaced by another, more belligerent tendency in foreign policy, which was quite rightly considered as a national calamity. For, like everybody else, they shared the conviction of Reich President von Hindenburg, that Herr von Neurath was the exponent of the peaceful foreign policy of the Reich and the guarantor of a consistent continuation of this peace policy against any possible, undesired aggressive experiments by Hitler and the Nazi Party and that for this reason the

[Page 274]

Reich President stipulated that the defendant should remain in the Cabinet as Foreign Minister when Hitler was called to the Reich Chancellery.

This fact is confirmed beyond doubt by the sworn statements of all the witnesses heard, as well as by the carbon copy submitted by me of the letter of the witness Dr. Koepke of 2nd June, 1932, to Ambassador Ruemelin, Document Book 1, No. 8, and the affidavit of Baroness Ritter, Document Book 1, No. 3.

But the latter proves also at the same time how unwillingly, and after how long a struggle, the defendant finally decided to accept this call and, therefore, supports the defendant's own sworn statement that he only decided to do so after the Reich President, whom he so highly venerated, appealed to his love for his country and reminded him of the promise he had made two years before not to leave him in the lurch whenever he, the Reich President, needed him.

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