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

The Trial of German Major War Criminals

Sitting at Nuremberg, Germany
December 3 to December 14, 1945

Fourteenth Day: Thursday, 6th December, 1945
(Part 6 of 9)


I think it is unnecessary to read any more of that letter, as I have already indicated to the Tribunal. The answer was Hitler's order to his Armed Forces to invade Poland on the following morning. That Document is TC-72, Number 124, which becomes Exhibit GB 59.

I put in evidence also the next Document, TC-72, Number 126, which becomes Exhibit GB 60. This is the reply to that letter from the President of the Polish Republic, in which he accepts the offer to settle the differences by any of the peaceful methods suggested.

[Page 163]

On 25th August, no reply having been received from the German Government, President Roosevelt wrote again:-

"I have this hour received from the President of Poland a reply to the message which I addressed to your Excellency and to him last night."

The text of the Polish reply is then set out.

"Your Excellency has repeatedly publicly stated that the aims and objects sought by the German Reich were just and reasonable.

In his reply to my message the President of Poland has made it plain that the Polish Government is willing, upon the basis set forth in my message, to agree to solve the controversy which has arisen between the Republic of Poland and the German Reich, by direct negotiation or the process of conciliation.

Countless human lives can yet be saved, and hope may still be restored that the nations of the modern world may even now construct the foundation for a peaceful and happier relationship, if you and the Government of the German Reich will agree to the pacific means of settlement accepted by the Government of Poland. All the world prays that Germany, too, will accept."

But, my Lord, Germany would not accept, nor would they accept the appeals by the Pope which appear in the next document.

I am sorry - the President of Poland's reply TC-72, Number 127, becomes Exhibit GB 61.

They would not agree to those proposals, nor would they pay heed to the Pope's appeal, which is TC-72, Number 139, on the same date, the 24th August, and which becomes Exhibit GB 62. I do not think it is necessary to read that. It is an appeal in similar terms. And there is yet a further appeal from the Pope on the 31st August, TC-72, Number 4, which becomes Exhibit GB 63. It is 141; I beg your pardon. It is TC-72, Number 141. I think the printing is wrong in the Tribunal's translation:-

"The Pope is unwilling to abandon hope that pending negotiations may lead to a just pacific solution, such as the whole world continues to pray for."

I think it is unnecessary to read the remainder of that. If the Pope had realised that those negotiations, to which he referred as the "pending negotiations", in the last days of August, which we are about to deal with now, were completely bogus negotiations, bogus in so far as Germany was concerned, and put forward, as indeed they were, and as I hope to illustrate to the Tribunal in a moment, simply as an endeavour to dissuade England, either by threat or by bribe, from meeting her obligations to Poland, then, perhaps, he would have saved himself the trouble of ever addressing that last appeal.

It will be seen quite clearly that those final German offers, to which I now turn, were no offers in the accepted sense of the word at all; that there was never any intention behind them of entering into discussions, negotiation, arbitration, or any other form of peaceful settlement with Poland. They were just an attempt to make it rather easier to seize and conquer Poland than appeared likely if England and France observed the obligations that they had undertaken.

Perhaps I might, before dealing with the documents, summarise in a word those last negotiations.

[Page 164]

On the 22nd August, as we have seen, the German-Soviet Pact was signed. On the 24th August, Hitler ordered his armies to march the following morning. After those orders had been given, the news apparently reached the German Government that the British and Polish Governments had actually signed a formal pact of non-aggression and of mutual assistance. Up to that time, it will be remembered, the position was that the Prime Minister had made a statement in the House and a joint communique had been issued - I think on the 6th April- that they would in fact assist one another if either were attacked; but no formal agreement had been signed.

Now, on the 24th August, after those orders had been given by Hitler, the news came that such a formal document had been signed, and the invasion was postponed for the sole purpose of making one last effort to keep England and France out of the war - not to end the war, not to cancel the war, but to keep them out.

And to do that, on the 25th August, having postponed the invasion, Hitler issued a verbal communique to Sir Neville Henderson which, as the Tribunal will see, was a mixture of bribe and threat, with which he hoped to persuade England to keep out.

On the 28th August, Sir Neville Henderson handed to Hitler the British Government's reply to that communique. That reply stressed that the difference ought to be settled by agreement. The British Government put forward the view that Danzig should be guaranteed, and, indeed, any agreement come to should be guaranteed by other powers, a view which, of course, in any event would have been quite unacceptable to the German Reich.

As I say, one really need not consider what would have been acceptable and not acceptable, because once it had been made clear - as indeed it was in that British Government's reply of the 28th August - that England would not be prevented from assisting Poland in the event of German aggression, the German Government really had no concern with further negotiations, but were concerned only to afford themselves some kind of justification and to prevent themselves appearing too blatantly to turn down all the appeals to reason that were being put forward.

On the 29th August, in the evening at 7.15 p.m., Hitler handed to Sir Neville Henderson the German Government's answer to the British Government's reply of the 28th. And here again, in this document, it is quite clear that the whole object of it was to put forward something which was quite unacceptable. He agrees to enter into direct conversations as suggested by the British Government, but he demanded that those conversations must be based upon the return of Danzig to the Reich, and also of the whole of the Corridor.

It will be remembered that hitherto, even when he alleged that Poland had renounced the 1934 agreement, even then he had put forward as his demands the return of Danzig alone, and the arrangement for an extraterritorial autobahn and railroad running through the Corridor to East Prussia. That was unacceptable then. To make quite certain, he now demands the whole of the Corridor, no question of an autobahn or railway. The whole thing must become German.

Even so, to make doubly certain that the offer would not be accepted, he says "On those terms I am prepared to enter into discussion, but to do so, as the matter is urgent, I expect a plenipotentiary with full powers from the

[Page 165]

Polish Government to be here in Berlin by midnight tomorrow night, the 30th August."

This offer was made at 7.15 p.m. on the evening of the 29th. That offer had to be transmitted, first, to London; and from London to Warsaw; and from Warsaw the Polish Government had to give authority to their Ambassador in Berlin. So that the timing made it quite impossible to get authority to their Ambassador in Berlin, by midnight, the following night. It allowed them no kind of opportunity for discussing the matters at all. As Sir Neville Henderson described it, the offer amounted to an ultimatum.

At midnight, on the 30th August, at the time by which the Polish plenipotentiary was expected to arrive, Sir Neville Henderson saw Ribbentrop, and I shall read to you the account of that interview, in which Sir Neville Henderson handed a further message to Ribbentrop, in reply to the message that had been handed to him the previous evening, and at which Ribbentrop read out in German a two or three page document which purported to be the German proposal to be discussed at the meeting between them and the Polish Government. He read it out quickly in German. He refused to hand a copy of it to the British Ambassador. He passed no copy of it at all to the Polish Ambassador; so that there was no kind of possible chance of the Poles ever having before them the proposals which Germany was so graciously and magnanimously offering to discuss.

On the following day, the 31st August, M. Lipski saw Ribbentrop and could get no further than to be asked whether he came with full powers. When he did not - when he said he did not come with full powers, Ribbentrop said that he would put the position before the Fuehrer. But, in actual fact, it was much too late to put any position to the Fuehrer by that time, because on the 31st August - I am afraid I am unable to give you the exact time - but on the 31st August, Hitler had already issued his Directive No. 1 for the conduct of the war, in which he laid down H-hour as being a quarter to five the following morning, the 1st September. And on the evening of the 31st August, at 9 o'clock, the German radio published, broadcast, the proposals which Ribbentrop had read out to Sir Neville Henderson the night before, saying that these were the proposals which had been made for discussion, but that as no Polish Plenipotentiary had arrived to discuss them, the German Government assumed that they were turned down. That broadcast, at 9 o'clock on the evening of the 31st August, was the first that the Poles had ever heard of the proposals, and was the first, in fact, that the British Government or its representatives in Berlin knew about them, other than what had been heard when Ribbentrop had read them out and refused to give a written copy, on the evening of the 30th.

After that broadcast, at 9.15, perhaps when the broadcast was proceeding a copy of those proposals was handed to Sir Neville Henderson, for the first time.

Having thus summarised for the convenience, I hope, of the Tribunal, the timing of events during that last week, I would ask the Tribunal to refer briefly to the remaining documents in that document book.

I first put in evidence an extract from the interrogation of the defendant Goering, which was taken on the 29th August, 1945.

DR. STAHMER (Counsel for defendant Goering): As defence counsel for the defendant Goering, I object to the use of the document just announced,

[Page 166]

which is an extract of testimony given by the defendant Goering who is here in Court. An opportunity is given to call on him as a witness, at any moment.

THE PRESIDENT: Is that your objection?

DR. STAHMER: Yes, Sir.

THE PRESIDENT: The Tribunal does not understand the ground of your objection, in view of Article 15 C and Article 16 B of the Charter. Article 15 C provides that the Chief Prosecutors shall undertake, among others, the duty of the preliminary examination of all necessary witnesses and of the defendants; and Article 16 provides that in order to ensure fair trial for the defendants, the following procedure shall be followed:

During any preliminary examination of a defendant, he shall have the right to give any explanation relevant to the charges made against him; C-A preliminary examination of a defendant shall be conducted in, or translated into, a language which the defendant understands. Those provisions of the Charter, in the opinion of the Tribunal, show that the defendants may be interrogated and that their interrogations may be put in evidence.

DR. STAHMER: I was prompted by the idea that whenever it is possible in connection with the taking of evidence - to call a witness who is present, that in that instance interrogation of the witness is preferable, because the evidence thus obtained is stronger.

THE PRESIDENT: You certainly have the opportunity of summoning the defendant for whom you appear to give evidence himself, but that has nothing to do with the admissibility of his interrogation - his preliminary examination.

LIEUTENANT-COLONEL GRIFFITH-JONES: This extract is TC-90, which I put in as Exhibit GB 64. I quote from the middle of the first answer. It is at the end of the 7th line.

The defendant Goering says there: "On the day when England gave her official guarantee to Poland, the Fuehrer called me on the telephone and told me that he had stopped the planned invasion of Poland, I asked him then whether this was just temporary, or for good. He said 'No, I will have to see whether we can eliminate British intervention'".

THE PRESIDENT: Ought you not read the question before the answer?


"When the negotiations of the Polish Foreign Minister in London brought about the Anglo-Polish Treaty, at the end of March or the beginning of April, was it not fairly obvious that a peaceful solution was impossible?

A. 'Yes, it seemed impossible after my conviction.'"

I think that must be a bad translation - "according to my conviction".



But not according to the convictions of the Fuehrer. When it was mentioned to the Fuehrer that England had given her guarantee to Poland, he said that England was also guaranteeing Roumania, but then, when the Russians took Bessarabia, nothing happened; and this made a big impression on him. I made a mistake here. At this time Poland only had the promise of a guarantee. The guarantee itself was given only shortly before the beginning of the war. "On the day when England gave her official guarantee to Poland, the Fuehrer called me on the telephone and told me that he had stopped the planned invasion of Poland. I asked him then whether this was just temporary, or for good. He said, 'No, I will have to see whether we can eliminate British inter-

[Page 167]

vention.' So, then I asked him, 'Do you think that it will be any different within four or five days ?' At this same time - I do not know whether you know about that, Colonel - I was in connection with Lord Halifax by a special courier, outside the regular diplomatic channels, to do everything to stop war with England. After the guarantee, I thought an English declaration of war inevitable. I had already told him in the spring of 1939, after occupying Czechoslovakia, that from now on, if he tried to solve the Polish question, he would have to count on the enmity of England. That was in 1939, after the Protectorate.

Q. Is it not a fact that preparations for the campaign against Poland were Originally supposed to have been completed by the end of August, 1939?

A. Yes.

Q. And that the final issuance of the order for the campaign against Poland came some time between the 15th and 20th August, 1939, after the signing of the treaty with Soviet Russia? - The dates obviously are wrong there.

A. Yes, that is true.

Q. Is it not also a fact that the start of the campaign was ordered for the 25th August, but on the 24th August, in the afternoon, it was postponed until September 1st, in order to await the results of new diplomatic manoeuvres with the English Ambassador?

A. Yes."

My only comment upon that document is in respect to the second paragraph, where Goering is purporting not to want war with England. The Court will remember how it was Goering, after the famous speech on the 22nd August to his commanders-in-chief, who got up and thanked the Fuehrer for his exhortation and assured him that the armed forces would play their part.

I omit the next document in the document book, which carries the matter little further, and we go on to Hitler's verbal communique, as it is called in the British Blue Book, which he handed to Sir Neville Henderson on the 25th August, after he had heard of the signing of the Anglo-Polish agreement, and in an endeavour to keep England from meeting her obligations. He states, in the first paragraph, after hearing the British Ambassador, that he is anxious to make one more effort to save war. In the second paragraph, he asserts again that Poland's provocations were unbearable, and I quote Paragraph 2:-

"Germany was in all circumstances determined to abolish these Macedonian conditions on her Eastern frontier and, what is more, to do so in the interests of quiet and order, and also in the interests of European peace.

The problem of Danzig and the Corridor must be solved. The British Prime Minister had made a speech which was not in the least calculated to induce any change in the German attitude. At the most, the result of this speech could be a bloody and incalculable war, between Germany and Poland."

THE PRESIDENT: (interposing) And England.


"and England. Such a war would be bloodier than that of 1914 to 1918. In contrast to the last war, Germany would no longer have to fight on two fronts." One sees the threats - veiled threats - appearing in this paragraph. "Agreement with Russia was unconditional, and signified a change in the foreign

[Page 168]

policy of the Reich which would last a very long time. Russia and Germany would never again take up arms against each other. Apart from this, the agreements reached with Russia would also render Germany secure economically for the longest possible period of war.

The Fuehrer had always wanted Anglo-German understanding. War between England and Germany could at best bring some profit to Germany, but none at all to England."

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