The Techniques of Holocaust Denial: Nazi Atomic Bombs 

Writer: Jamie McCarthy

Mr. Justice Robert H. Jackson, the head of the American prosecution at the Nuremberg Trial, was cross-examining Albert Speer on June 21, 1946. Mr. Jackson was attempting to establish the Nazi committment to “total war,” the stand by Nazi leaders that the war would be fought until Germany was utterly and totally defeated. This related to one of the charges brought against the defendants, the charge of “crimes against peace.” (On this charge, incidentally, Speer would be acquitted three months later.[1] )

This context — trying to establish the facts of “total war” — becomes very important on p. 529 of the trial transcript, so the reader will have to excuse several citations from the pages leading up to that point.

For example, he asked about the proposal to withdraw from the Geneva Convention near the end of the war. Speer commented:

Speer: This proposal, as I already testified yesterday, came from Dr. Goebbels. It was made after the air attack on Dresden [February 15, 1945], but before this, from the autumn of 1944 on, Goebbels and Ley had often talked about intensifying the war effort in every possible way, so that I had the impression that Goebbels was using the attack on Dresden and the excitement it created merely as an excuse to renouce the Geneva Convention. [2]

Mr. Jackson’s next question concerned Nazi willingness to commit to using nerve gases on the field of battle:

Jackson: Now, was the proposal made at that time to resort to poison gas warfare?

Speer: I was not able to make out from my own direct observations whether gas warfare was to be started, but I knew from various associates of Ley’s and Goebbels’ that they were discussing the question of using our two new combat gases, Tabun and Sarin.[3]

The next questions concerned the rocket campaign against England, which was inefficient from a military perspective but (one assumes) good for German morale, and then Mr. Jackson returned to ask a few more questions about the nerve gases.

On p. 529 of the transcript, Mr. Jackson asked about a Nazi propaganda story which would raise the morale of the German people. We begin by quoting one question-and-answer before this propaganda story was brought up, so that the reader does not suspect this quote has been ripped from its context:

Jackson: Who was in charge of the experimentations with the gases?

Speer: As far as I know it was the research and development department of the OKH in the Army ordnance office. I cannot tell you for certain.

Jackson: And certain experiments were also conducted and certain researches conducted in atomic energy, were they not?

Speer: We had not got as far as that, unfortunately, because the finest experts we had in atomic research had emigrated to America, and this had thrown us back a great deal in our research, so that we still needed another year or two in order to achieve any results in the splitting of the atom.

Mr. Jackson paused to make an ironic comment:

Jackson: The policy of driving people out who didn’t agree with Germany hadn’t produced very good dividends, had it?

Speer: Especially in this sphere it was a great disadvantage to us.

He then returned to his line of questioning:

Jackson: Now, I have certain information, which was placed in my hands, of an experiment which was carried out near Auschwitz and I would like to ask you if you heard about it or knew about it. The purpose of the experiment was to find a quick and complete way of destroying people without the delay and trouble of shooting and gassing and burning, as it had been carried out, and this is the experiment, as I am advised. A village, a small village was provisionally erected, with temporary structures, and in it approximately 20,000 Jews were put. By means of this newly invented weapon of destruction, these 20,000 people were eradicated almost instantaneously, and in such a way that there was no trace left of them; that it developed, the explosive developed, temperatures of from 400 degrees to 500 degrees centigrade and destroyed them without leaving any trace at all.

Do you know about that experiment?

Speer: No, and I consider it utterly improbable. If we had had such a weapon under preparation, I should have known about it. But we did not have such a weapon. It is clear that in chemical warfare attempts were made on both sides to carry out research on all the weapons one could think of, because one did not know which party would start chemical warfare first.

With his next question, Mr. Jackson revealed why he inquired about this story, this “information which was placed in his hands”:

Jackson: The reports, then, of a new and secret weapon were exaggerated for the purpose of keeping the German people in the war?

Speer: That was the case mostly during the last phase of the war. From August, or rather June or July 1944 on I very often went to the front. I visited about 40 front-line divisions in their sectors and could not help seeing that the troops, just like the German people, were given hopes about a new weapon coming, new weapons and wonder-weapons which, without requiring the use of soldiers, without military forces, would guarantee victory. In this belief lies the secret why so many people in Germany offered their lives, although common sense told them that the war was over. They believed that within the near future this new weapon would arrive.

At this point it is clear that Jackson and Speer agreed that the “reports…of a new and secret weapon” were for propaganda purposes. However, again to reassure the reader of Jackson’s intentions, here is the unabridged testimony for fully another page. Speer continues:

I wrote to Hitler about it and also tried in different speeches, even before Goebbels’ propaganda leaders, to work against this belief. Both Hitler and Goebbels told me, however, that this was no propaganda of theirs but that it was a belief which had grown up amongst the people. Only in the dock here in Nuremberg, I was told by Fritzsche that this propaganda was spread systematically among the people through some channels or other, and that SS Standartenführer Berg was responsible for it. Many things have become clear to me since, because this man Berg, as a representative of the Ministry of Propaganda, had often taken part in meetings, in big sessions of my Ministry, as he was writing articles about these sessions. There he heard of our future plans and then used this knowledge to tell the people about them with more imagination than truth.

Jackson: When did it become apparent that the war was lost? I take it that your attitude was that you felt some responsibility for getting the German people out of it with as little destruction as possible. Is that a fair statement of your position?

Speer: Yes, but I did not only have that feeling with regard to the German people. I knew quite well that one should equally avoid destruction taking place in the occupied territories. That was just as important to me from a realistic ponit of view, for I said to myself that after the war the responsibility for all these destructions would no longer fall on us, but on the next German Government, and the coming German generations.

Jackson: Where you differed with the people who wanted to continue the war to the bitter end, was that you wanted to see Germany have a chance to restore her life. Is that not a fact? Whereas Hitler took the position that if he couldn’t survive, he didn’t care whether Germany survived or not?

Speer: That is true, and I would never had the courage to make this statement before this Tribunal if I had not been able to prove it with the help of some documents, because such a statement is so monstrous. But the letter which I wrote to Hitler on 29 March, in which I confirmed this, shows that he said so himself.

Jackson: Well, if I may comment, it was not a new idea to us that that was his viewpoint. I think it was expressed in most of the other countries that that was his viewpoint.

Now, were you present with Hitler at the time he received the telegram from Göring, suggesting that Göring take over power? [4]

At this point, Jackson has obtained the statements he was looking for: that Hitler and other Nazi leaders were committed to total war.

A page later, Jackson would describe the situation as: “You have 80 million sane and sensible people facing destruction; you have a dozen people driving them on to destruction and they are unable to stop it.” And, on the page after that: “Well, now — Hitler is dead; I assume you accept that — and we ought to give the devil his due. […] …let us take the Number 2 man, who has told us that he was in favor of fighting to the very finish.” [5]

Hitler, being dead, was not present to stand trial for the charge of crimes against peace and waging aggressive war. But that Number 2 man, Göring, was. Göring was convicted on all charges. [6