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-Fifth Day: Wednesday, 24th July, 1946
(Part 4 of 11)


[Page 302]

One has to admit that it was in no way sure, or in any case highly problematical whether the guaranteeing powers, England and Italy, would under those circumstances consider the case in point as one in which the guarantee applied and would actively assist Germany against a French attack, or whether they would not rather prefer to stay neutral. That this possibility actually existed, also from the legal point of view of the treaty, was already shown in the German note of 25th May, 1935, about the Franco-Russian pact - Document Book III, No. 105 - and was emphasized again in the German memorandum to the signatory powers of the Locarno Treaty of 7th March, 1936 - Document Book IV, No. 109.

As I have already said, this possibility, this danger, became even greater and more imminent as a result of the events leading up to the ratification of the Franco-Russian pact by the French Chamber and as a result of the ratification itself. It was therefore an imperative and manifest act of self-defence and self-preservation, when the German Government, in the realization of this tremendous danger, took the minimum steps necessary to meet this danger, namely, when it restored the armed sovereignty of the Reich in 1935, when, one year later, it reoccupied the demilitarised zone, an ideal basis for any French attack, and thus the defence line against any attack from the West forward to the border of the Reich.

With all due respect to the rights and rightful interests of other nations, the very highest overriding duty of every government, and of all responsible statesmen, was, is now and always will be, to maintain and safeguard the existence and life of their own State and nation. A statesman who neglects this duty commits a sin against his nation. The re- establishment of armed sovereignty, rearmament, and the reoccupation of the Rhineland were the natural reactions, the dutiful answer of the German statesmen, and of the defendant von Neurath, to the policy of the French Government, in which, after all that had gone before, they had to see, and saw, a threat to Germany.

[Page 303]

Far be it from me - and I wish to state this quite emphatically - to reproach the French Government here, morally or otherwise, for its policy as I have described it. I am, in fact - together with the defendant von Neurath - firmly convinced and I recognize fully, that the French policy was dictated solely by France's interests, and that the French statesmen surely did only what they believed was right from the French point of view. And if they proceeded thereby from an incorrect premise according to German conviction, namely, the premise that a Germany which had regained its strength constituted a danger and a threat to France, and that the German people had always regarded the French people with blind rage, hatred and enmity and were animated only by a passion for aggression and a craving for revenge, then my client and I can only sincerely deplore this, but we cannot condemn it.

But, on the other hand, I too must claim for the German statesmen, for the defendant von Neurath, the right that their deeds and actions be judged on the basis of their reasons, on the basis of the needs and circumstances of the time and from the viewpoint of German interests; and that these men be not accused of motives which in themselves are more than improbable and were in any case far from their minds.

Politics, diplomacy, are history come to life. Like the entire universe, like everything that lives and moves in it, this living history, too, is subject to an unchangeable fundamental law, the law of causality. And I believe, gentlemen of the Tribunal, that I have been able to produce clear evidence that the two actions with which the defendant is charged by the prosecution, and which are said to incriminate him in particular because they constituted treaty violations in preparation for war, namely, the re- establishment of the armed sovereignty of the Reich and the remilitarization of the Rhineland, were the logical and inevitable sequence of the events and of the political development during the years of my client's activity as Foreign Minister, that they were the certain result of the politics of the Western Powers, and that neither he nor Hitler consciously, intentionally, or according to a preconceived plan, brought them about, but that they were the unavoidable outcome of French policy. They therefore cannot only not have an aggressive character or tendency and cannot indicate preparations for war, as the prosecution asserts in its retrospective consideration of these things, but on the contrary, they served only the defensive purpose of warding off a possible attack, and have a decidedly defensive and therefore peaceful character. That they cannot therefore be viewed as actions preparatory for a future war of aggression on the part of Germany, I need hardly emphasize.

The assertion of the prosecution proves only that it is absolutely inappropriate and quite absurd to view retrospectively and draw conclusions from single historical actions and events torn out of their context and roughly and incoherently put together. This way of thinking is useless for the purpose of investigating and finding historical truth, which is surely the first condition and duty of this High Tribunal not only for the forming of its judgement, but also for its task of laying the foundation for a new international law controlled by ethical principles.

But a critical examination of the two steps charged against the defendants as breaches of international treaties does not, upon closer scrutiny of the circumstances, prove the charges sound. For the Treaty of Versailles as well as the Treaty of Locarno had, in the course of time and events, not only lost their significance and therewith their justification, but both of them had long since been broken by French policy and therefore, in law, annulled: the Treaty of Versailles had been broken by the obstinate refusal to carry out the disarmament obligations imposed upon France as well as upon the other contracting nations in return for Germany's disarmament; and the Treaty of Locarno had been broken by the conclusion of the agreement with Russia which was incompatible with the Locarno Treaty. History, as often before, had passed over them too, and had thus shown the absurdity of applying rigidly the dogma "Pacta servanda sunt", as France tried to

[Page 304]

do with regard to Germany. This fact cannot be altered by the League of Nations resolution of 19th March, 1936, which had been proposed by France and which in itself was not astonishing in view of France's dominating position in the League of Nations; this resolution found that by reoccupying the Rhineland, Germany had violated Article 43 of the Treaty of Versailles. But history passed over that also.

I do not think that further comments are needed upon this resolution and the statements and parleys between the participating nations which preceded and followed it; they came to nothing, in the course of events, and Europe finally made the best of the accomplished facts.

But even on the supposition that this resolution were correct, a breach of an international treaty is punishable according to the Charter of this High Tribunal only if it served the preparation of a war of aggression, and during this trial one of the gentlemen of the American prosecution expressly stated that it was absolutely legal and justifiable to bring about the revision or annulment of treaties by peaceful means. And German foreign policy did nothing else. The military action of the reoccupation of the Rhineland was, in view of the small force of troops used - only one division, and the Luftwaffe did not take part in it at all - in reality only a symbolic act for the restoration of the sovereignty of the Reich; that was already evident from the fact that, as early as 12th March, 1936, the German Government through a statement of its ambassador in London contained in my Document Book IV, No. 113, made the proposal that in the case of reciprocity it would not reinforce its troops and would not order them to advance closer to the borders. The proposal was rejected by France. German policy has throughout and in every respect remained true to its principle of peace for which it had stood consistently, for many years, and in reality it only desired to serve and did serve peace and its maintenance in Europe. Both steps, the restoration of armed sovereignty and the reoccupation of the Rhineland were, and I especially want to emphasize this here, nothing else but the visible expression and outlet of the full and unrestricted sovereignty of the Reich. This sovereignty had already been recognized by the Western Powers in the often mentioned Five-Power Agreement of 11th December, 1932, containing the recognition of Germany's right of equality. More conclusive evidence can hardly be found for the love of peace and the clear policy of peace of the defendant von Neurath than the fact that he waited for years for the realization of this recognition, in order to avoid complications which in view of the earlier attitude of the French and their policy might possibly arise; he waited for years up to the moment when, in consequence of the changed balance of power this realization became an unquestionable necessity for the security of the Reich, a necessity for self-defence. And German foreign policy continued unchanged in practice to follow this peaceful tendency, even after and in spite of this resolution. In the German memorandum of 31st March, 1936, Document Book IV, No. 116 - the German Foreign Office, on behalf of the Reich Government, once more submitted to the powers a new great peace plan for a quarter of a century of peace in Europe, by means of which, as is stated at the end, it wanted to make its contribution to the building of a new Europe on the basis of mutual respect. This again was clear and unmistakable evidence of its unalterable will for peace. It was not Germany's fault that this German peace plan - and its absolute honesty and sincerity has been affirmed here upon oath by the defendant - was also not successful, and did not lead to the building of a new and peaceful Europe.

The same peaceful tendencies and intentions continued to be uppermost in the defendant's policy during the years 1936- 1937, in spite of all disappointments. Evidence of this is, above all, the treaty between the German Reich and Austria which was concluded on 11th July, 1936, as the result of negotiations which had been conducted for some time by the defendant von Papen. Not only the defendant's own testimony, but also the testimony of the witnesses Kopke and Diekhoff proves beyond doubt that the view on the Austrian question which from the very beginning the defendant consistently held and supported was this: closer co-

[Page 305]

operation between the two countries - both in the political and particularly in the economic field - must indeed be aimed at, but Austria's independence must, under all circumstances, be respected and remain intact.

For that reason the defendant was a decided and fierce opponent of any German attempts to interfere in the internal politics of Austria and of the attempts of the Party to support the Austrian National Socialists in their fight against the Austrian Governments of Dollfuss and Schuschnigg; and he again and again protested to Hitler against them, not without success. That he, this Christian and honourable man, abhorred and condemned the murder of Dollfuss from the bottom of his heart, I need not emphasize. And exactly from that point of view he welcomed the agreement of 11th July, 1936, since it so fully corresponded to his own opinions. This alone refutes the assertion of the prosecution that the agreement was concluded with intent to defraud, that is, with the intention to lull the Austrian Government into security and thereby to prepare and facilitate for the future the real intention, already existing at that time, namely, to incorporate Austria by force into the German Reich.

The absolute sincerity and honesty of the defendant during the conclusion of the agreement is confirmed by the sworn testimony of the then Austrian Foreign Minister Dr. Guido Schmidt. And that the defendant von Neurath had no reason to doubt Hitler's honesty and sincerity with regard to this treaty was shown quite irrefutably by the witness Kopke who confirmed Hitler's statements to the British Foreign Secretary Simon during his visit to Berlin in March, 1935; the defendant himself gave evidence that immediately after the conclusion of the agreement Hitler told the leaders of the Austrian National Socialists Rainer and Globotschnigg that it was their duty and the duty of the Austrian Nazis to adhere strictly to this agreement. And so, from his viewpoint, the defendant considered this agreement as another step on the road towards peace in Europe, since the recognition of Austria's independence which he had pronounced in the agreement eliminated the European danger point inherent in the Austrian problem.

In the same way the defendant worked for an improvement of the relations between Germany and the Czechoslovakian Republic. It was only with this aim in mind that he so often mentioned to the Czechoslovak Ambassador Dr. Mastny that the Czechoslovak Government must at last meet the demands of the Sudeten Germans, still very moderate at that time, which were based on a promise already given by the Czechoslovak Government in Versailles but not kept.

Nothing, however, was farther from the defendant's mind in both the Austrian and the Czechoslovak questions than the idea of a solution of these questions by force, a solution which later, after the defendant had left his position as Foreign Minister, Hitler considered right.

And his efforts to improve and further the relations between the Reich and the South-Eastern European nations also did not serve any aggressive intentions or plans to partition Czechoslovakia with the help of these nations. If in Messersmith's affidavit it is alleged that in order to secure this aim Germany had promised to the South-Eastern States and also to Poland parts of Czechoslovakia and even of Austria, then these are quite fantastic ideas which do not contain a word of truth. What the true value of these assertions is appeared clearly from the fact that the prosecution was not able to submit a single report from one of the diplomats of the Western Powers accredited in the States in question which could confirm or only indicate the accuracy of these assertions. Was only Mr. Messersmith clever enough to obtain knowledge of such plans? In reality, the defendant's efforts and his trip to Budapest, Belgrade and Sofia served only peaceful purposes, namely, the exchange and strengthening of economic relations between Germany and these States; as the testimony of the witness Kopcke showed, the defendant was particularly interested in these efforts and they even influenced his policies.

How much he opposed any policy which seemed to him even remotely out of line with his own policy of peace and international reconciliation is best proved by

[Page 306]

the fact that he rejected the negotiations with Japan, which the defendant von Ribbentrop entered into and conducted in London without his assistance and completely independent of him, on direct instructions from Hitler, and also the Anti- Comintern Pact which was finally concluded with Japan. He expressed his opposition clearly by refusing to sign this pact, and it was, as is well known, signed by Herr von Ribbentrop as Ambassador, which was a most unusual procedure. The objection of the defendant to this kind of policy could hardly find a stronger form of expression.

The defendant von Neurath adhered faithfully and unflinchingly to his consistent peace policy up to the last moment, in spite of the influences of other circles, especially Party circles, on Hitler which made themselves felt during the defendant's last years in office. He hoped until the last moment that he would be able to check these influences successfully, to eliminate them and to continue directing the policies of Germany along peaceful lines, according to his own convictions and to his promise to Hindenburg.

When Hitler's speech on 5th November, 1937, and the defendant's subsequent conversation with Hitler about it forced him in January, 1938, to the conclusion that he no longer had any influence on Hitler, that Hitler would no longer shrink back from aggressive, warlike measures, he immediately saw the consequences, and submitted his resignation, which was accepted. His task, entrusted to him by Hindenburg, had become impossible to fulfil. He would not and could not have anything to do with a policy which did not shrink from warlike measures. It was completely out of the question for him to support such a policy, it would have been the negation of his entire life-work, he would have betrayed himself and his people.

But this did not mean that the defendant, who placed the welfare of his people above everything, even above his personal interests and desires, would not make himself available again if the need arose or if he believed that he would be able to save Germany from warlike complications, for that was the danger of the policy which Hitler now directed along a line different from that of the defendant. This attitude of the defendant readily explains why when Hitler summoned him on 11th March, 1938, to inform him of the march of German troops into Austria and, because Reich Minister von Ribbentrop was away in London, to ask him to advise him and to answer the note of protest from the British Embassy, he declared himself willing to do so. If the prosecution now charges that the contents of this answer were factually incorrect, the following must be pointed out: In this letter the defendant only stated what Hitler himself had told him about the events. The defendant himself knew just as little about the actual events as the rest of the world, since after his resignation as Foreign Minister he no longer received political information of any sort. Hitler's announcement that German troops were marching in surprised him just as much as it surprised everybody else, and as the order for it had surprised even the highest commanders of the German armed forces, which Henderson himself admits in his well-known book; he adds that Hitler's decision to march in could have been taken only a few days before. There was even less reason to doubt the accuracy of the description which Hitler had given him of the preceding events because he had given it in the presence of Goering who had not contradicted it. It did not even occur to him - because of his own upright and true nature and because of his entire previous official activity under clean and honest governments - that the head of the State, Hitler, could lie to him and, at such an important moment, give him, for the purpose of answering the British note of protest, information which was bound within a very short time to prove manifestly incorrect. And whom could he really have consulted? Only very few men besides Goering had real knowledge, but those he could not approach, if only because they were not in Berlin. Goering did not contradict Hitler's description.

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