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

The Trial of German Major War Criminals

Two Hundred and Fifteenth Day: Friday, 30th August, 1946
(Part 5 of 15)

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M. CHAMPETIER DE RIBES: Mr. President, your Honours:

We have asked you to condemn the leaders responsible for the drama which has bathed the world in blood. Today, when we ask you to declare as criminal the organizations which served as instruments for their designs, we seek from your justice the moral condemnation of an entire, coherent system, which has brought civilization into the gravest danger it has known since the collapse of the Roman world.

We attach as much importance to the sentence which we are asking for today as to the one which we requested yesterday.

For, if we believe it necessary that the guilty should be punished, we think it no less salutary solemnly to remind those in power today, and who will be in power tomorrow, of the dictates of a moral law without which neither order nor peace can rule in the universe.

Who does not see, in fact, that in the times in which we are living, when man's folly has made use of the prodigious progress of science and technology for the work of death, and when, as a philosopher has said, "our civilization has equipped itself for suicide," the problems confronting the agony of the world are, above all, moral problems?

"Humanity," says our great Bergson, "groans, half crushed by the weight of the progress it has made .... The ever-growing body awaits the addition of a soul, and the machine requires a mystic faith."

We, know what it is, this mystic faith of which Bergson was thinking. It was there at the zenith of the Graeco-Roman civilization, when Cato the Elder, the wisest of the wise, wrote in his treatise on political economy: "One must know the right time to sell one's old oxen and one's old slaves," and introduced these two ideas of the individual person and human brotherhood into the world, which, violently disturbed it.

The person, that is to say, the spiritualized individual, no longer the isolated man, the mere cipher in the political order, the cog in the economic order, but the whole man, body and soul, soul incarnate, no doubt, but, above all, a soul for the flowering of which society has been fashioned; the social man, who finds his full development only in fraternal communion with his neighbour, the man whose calling confers upon him a dignity which gives him the right to escape from every attempt at bondage or monopoly.

It is this mystic faith which, in the realm of politics, has inspired all the written or traditional constitutions of all civilized nations ever since Great Britain, the mother of democracies, guaranteed to every free man, by virtue of Magna Charta and the act of Habeas Corpus, that he should be "neither arrested nor imprisoned, except by the judgment of his peers delivered by the due process of the law."

It is this faith which inspired the American Declaration of 1776:

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men have been endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights."
It is that which inspired the French Declaration of 1791:
"The representatives of the French, people, constituting a Nation Assembly, considering that ignorance, forgetfulness or contempt for the rights of man are the sole causes of common misfortunes and the corruption of governments, have resolved to set forth in a solemn declaration the natural, inalienable and sacred rights of man. Consequently, the National Assembly recognizes and declares, in the presence and under the protection of the Supreme Being, the following rights of the man and of the citizen."
Does not the idea of the high dignity of the human individuality also inspire the Constitution of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, which, in Chapter X, proclaims "the fundamental rights and duties of citizens of the USSR .... without distinction as to nationality or race."

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Finally, does, not the Charter of the United Nations, signed on 26th June, 1945, at San Francisco by fifty-one nations, begin. with this solemn declaration:
"We, the peoples of the United Nations, are resolved to preserve future generations from the scourge of war, which twice within the span of human life has inflicted indescribable sufferings on humanity, and to proclaim our faith in the fundamental rights of man, in the dignity and value of the human individual, in the equality of rights of men and women; as well as of nations; large and small .... "
Certain among, us have been able to secularize this mystic faith as much as they desired. All of us recognize that it is Christianity's chief contribution to the world, and that extending its conquests slowly, in the course of centuries, it has laid the foundations of world-wide civilization.

It was against this mystical faith that Hitler, in the middle of the twentieth century, attempted a violent reaction, by opposing to it his barbarous ideology of racialism, his primitive conception of social life regulated by biological laws alone.

For he not only envisaged establishing the military domination of Germany in Europe, but his ambition was to impose on the world his "culture," a culture which would destroy all the moral and intellectual foundations upon which the civilized world has rested ever since the dawn of the Christian era.

For him the biological laws which govern animal communities are equally applicable to human communities, and, first of all, those of natural selection and the struggle for existence.

So, there could be no question of the autonomy of the human individual. Like the ant in the antheap, the individual exists only by and for the whole. The State is not made for the individual but the individual for the State.

So, also, there could be no question of pity, nor of brotherly love. Christianity, the religion of the degenerate and the sick would be replaced by the new religion, which recognizes no law but that of might, no duty but that of domination.

This animal conception of human life, this "culture," this religion, is not the work of a philosopher propounding a new theory in the field of intellectual speculation, it is the work of a realist who puts it into practice.

In the sphere of internal policy it will order the purging of the German people of the elements which contaminate it, and the improvement of the race of blond Aryans. So Jews will be driven out or exterminated. The abnormal, the sick, the weak, will be eliminated or at least sterilized. Youth, snatched at an early age from family life, will be trained by the State for its mission, which is "to make the world tremble." "I want," Hitler said to Rauschnigg, "I want to see in its eyes the gleam which one sees in the eyes of a stag." But by this he slanders the stag, which kills, no doubt, because it is hungry, because it is afraid, or because it is in rut, but which is not versed in the sadism of refined tortures.

This conception of life is applied by Hitler to international relations. "A stronger race," he writes in Mein Kampf, "will drive out the weaker ones, for the vital urge in its ultimate form will break down the absurd barriers of the so-called humanity of individuals, to make way for the humanity of Nature, which destroys the weak to give their place to the strong."

We know what crimes have been committed in the name of this new religion, how many dead the realization of this sham doctrine of life has cost; the concentration camps, the gas chambers and the crematorium ovens, the inoculations with viruses, the sterilizations, the vivisection practised on prisoners and deportees, the enslavement of peoples considered assimilable, and above all the methodical extermination of those alleged to be inferior; in short "genocide" - all this is the monstrous fruit of the Hitlerite ideology.

M. de Menthon was right when he said that the sin against the spirit is the fundamental vice of National Socialism and the source of all the crimes committed in its name. And had not Louis Veuillet the gift of prophecy when he wrote in his Parfum de Rome in 1871:

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"Germany, Germany, to whom heaven had given so much! When thou shalt see the ghost of an emperor reappear, who will not wield the sword to protect justice and defend the ancient law, but who will call himself the emperor of the people and the sword of the new law ... then will be the hour of great expiation."
We have shown who those were who were principally guilty of all the crimes of National Socialism. But to realize their diabolical plan of universal domination, not only of territories but of men's consciences, they needed collaborators inspired with the same faith, trained in the same school, and that is why the leaders, the "Fuehrers," conceived and brought into being, little by little, this complicated and coherent system of leadership, coercion and control, which constitutes the whole of the organizations of the State and of the National Socialist Party.

Executive bodies were necessary, from which emanated, by virtue of the Fuehrerprinzip, general orders and directives; these were the Reich Cabinet and the Leadership Corps of the Nazi Party.

Instruments were needed for control, for propaganda, for police and for the execution of orders; these were the Gestapo, the SA, the SD, and the SS.

Finally, it was necessary for the Army to be at the service of Party policy, and this was the work of the General Staff and the High Command, purged of all elements which were insufficiently Nazified.

It is possible that the members of these organizations, these groups or these services were more or less the fanatics of the regime, and the Tribunal will recall the plausible distinction made in the course of Ribbentrop's examination between the "pure Nazis" and those who were only hybrid. All had at least accepted the Party doctrine and the material advantages which the regime lavished upon them. Because certain of them made mental reservations, are they less contemptible and less guilty?

That all these organizations, these groups or these services contributed to the work of universal domination by every means has been abundantly proved in the course of these proceedings.

Have not the defence counsels of the organizations constantly intervened during the interrogations of the individual defendants, and were not all of these defendants, in various capacities, members of one and often of several of these organizations, so that the close co-operation between the collective organizations and the men who are now in the dock has been established indisputably?

After these proceedings, which have been so thorough, and after the presentations of my eminent colleagues of the American and British prosecution, I shall refrain from recalling once more the innumerable atrocities in which the groups or organizations enumerated in the indictment have participated by ordering them, by committing them, or by permitting them.

I should only like to reply briefly to two of the arguments to which the defence counsel, and particularly those for the Gestapo, the SD and the High Command, appear to attach the greatest importance.

Firstly, they say that it is possible that abuses were committed in the heat of the struggle, which had become pitiless in the course of the war which had become total, but it was never a question of anything but individual crimes, which might involve the responsibility of the persons who committed them, but not that of the groups which censured them.

Secondly, they say that watertight compartments separated the various organizations of the Reich. For this reason the activity of each organization should be examined separately, and this examination does not reveal a criminal intention or activity in any of them.

The first argument of the defence is as follows: In order to determine whether or not an organization is criminal, it is necessary, says the defence, to examine the essential principles of its structure. There is nothing criminal in these, it says, so that the crimes, should any have been committed, can only be attributed

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to individuals, and do not permit the conclusion to be drawn that the character of the group as a whole is criminal.

Thus the Gestapo, according to the terms of its constitution, was a State police, charged, like the police of all civilized States, with aiding in the work of justice and protecting the community against individuals who might threaten its security. It is possible that it may sometimes have received and carried out orders from above which were not directly relevant to its essential mission of protection, such as mass arrests of Jews, the extermination of Russian prisoners of war, or the murder of recaptured prisoners who had escaped. But such accidental activities did not fall within its competence as an institution. They would not alter the essential character of the organization, which had nothing criminal about it.

Thus the SD is, constitutionally, simply a service for obtaining information and sounding public opinion, a sort of Gallup poll, harmless in itself.

It is possible that members of the SD accidentally collaborated in the repressive measures of the Gestapo. It is true that members of the SD held a number of high positions and indulged in a number of questionable activities, but they were not acting then as officials of the SD and could not compromise the organization, the institutional character of which had nothing criminal about it.

Thus the High Command was charged institutionally only with the defence of the Reich, and solely with its defence. It did not deal with politics and had nothing to do with the police. It is possible that it may sometimes have overstepped its mission. It is true that it signed orders to deport to an unknown destination those who resisted, to hand over to the police for extermination the commandos and escaped prisoners, acts which were contrary to military honour, but it acted then merely as an intermediary for Hitler's or Himmler's orders. This accidental activity outside its own province could not change its essential character, which was not criminal in any way.

Thus the defence always tries to distinguish between the institutional character of the organization, which it believes it has shown to be non-criminal, and the practical activity of the group, which, it admits, is open to criticism, a distinction which is understandable in a democratic regime, where pre-established institutions limit the arbitrary nature of governments, and the autonomy of the individual and the liberty of the citizen are protected from the misuse of power, but which is incomprehensible in the Hitler regime.

Did Best, the police theorist, trouble about respecting a principle when he wrote that the methods of the police were prescribed by the enemy?

Did the decree of 28th February, 1933, trouble about principle, when it allowed the all-powerful State to ignore all legal restraints?

Did Hitler make any distinction between principle and practice when, at the conference of 23rd May, 1939, held in the Chancellery and attended by the members of the High Command, he stated:

"The principle of avoiding the solution of problems by adaptation to circumstances must be banished. Rather must circumstances be adapted to necessities .... It is no longer a question of justice or injustice, but of the existence or non-existence of 80 million people"?
In reality, under the Hitler regime there are no pre- established institutions, no legality, no limitation to arbitrariness, no excess of power possible. There is no other principle than the "Fuehrerprinzip," no other legality than the good pleasure of the chief, whose orders must be executed without any possible dissension all the way down the scale.

The concept of a so-called institution which was supposed to have presided over the constitution of the collective organizations and given them a certain character, is merely an a posteriori construction originating in the defence counsel's ingenuity.

The concrete activity of the collective organizations is the only thing which counts, and we have proved that it was criminal.

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Moreover, the defence seeks grounds for the exculpation of the collective organizations in the fact that the members of the Gestapo, the SS, or the SD, who indulged in, these criminal acts, did not perform them in the name of their original organization, but were temporarily detached from them.

Has it not been proved, on the contrary, that in the general organization of the National Socialist system these groups played the role of reserves and preparatory schools from which the leaders, for their work of domination, drew executives who were perfectly prepared for the criminal deeds entrusted to them?

And is not the fact that Hitler often conferred on his accomplices the dignity of honorary membership in one of these organizations also proof of the importance which he attached to the evidence of orthodoxy implied by membership of one or other of these groups?

Thus, whatever point of view one may take the first argument of the defence cannot be maintained.

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