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

The Trial of German Major War Criminals

Sitting at Nuremberg, Germany
14th May to 24th May, 1946

One Hundred and Thirty-Fourth Day: Monday, 20th May, 1946
(Part 12 of 13)

[SIR DAVID MAXWELL FYFE continues his cross examination of Erich Raeder]

[Page 227]

Q. Now, do you remember that one example which we have discussed a great deal in this trial, which you must have listened to, was the case of naval men coming in with a two- man torpedo, trying to sink the Tirpitz. Do you remember that case? Surely you can answer that, "Yes" or "No," because either, you remember or you do not. We have discussed it about six times.

A. Yes, I remember. If I remember I will say "Yes." The contrary does not have to be assumed.

Q. Do you know that during the time that you were Inspector General, or Admiral Inspector of the German Navy, that there was started a " Kommando der Kleinkampfuerbande," under Vice- Admiral Helmut Heer, which included in its command one-man torpedoes, one-man U-boats, and explosive motor boats, and had personnel, starting at about 5,000 and rising, I think, as far as 16,000? Did you know that there was that Kommando in the Navy, "Kommando der Kleinkampfuerbande"? Did you know that?

A. Yes, I knew that, of course, and that it operated quite openly on the French coast and later on, I believe, also on the North coast.

Q. Would you have approved if the Allies had shot any one of your thousands of personnel in that Kommando that was dealing with one-man and two-man torpedoes and explosive motor boats? Would you have approved if we had shot them out of hand?

A. First, I cannot give any information about what I would have done in a particular case with which I had nothing to do any more. Secondly, here it is -

Q. All right, if you do not want to answer, it is good enough for me. I will point it out in due course to the Tribunal with -

A. But you interrupted again. I should like to make a second point: these units fought quite openly, just below the coast, and had no civilians on board and also no murderous instruments or instruments for sabotage with them, so they were fighters just like the fighters in a submarine. I know -

Q. That is exactly the point that I have put with our commandos, so I will not argue.

I want to pass to one other point. Was it under your orders that the log on the Athenia was falsified? Was it by your direct order?

A. No, not at all. I explained the other day here that my order was: "Firstly: absolute secrecy upon the order of the Fuehrer. Secondly: politically it will be dealt with by the OKM. Thirdly" (there was a third point; I will find it in a second): "I do not intend to punish the commander because he acted in good faith and committed an error." That is what I ordered. I did not order anything further concerning that.

Q. Well, do you know under whose orders the log was falsified? I am very anxious to know. The log was falsified. I have asked the defendant Donitz. He cannot tell me. He has put in an affidavit that the matter was to be left to you, and now I am asking you whether you can tell me. I think the commander is dead, as far as I remember, so he cannot tell me. Do you say that you cannot

[Page 228]

tell me under whose orders the log of the submarine U-30, that sank the Athenia, was falsified?

A. I have already said that I had nothing to do with it, because God knows I did not have anything to do with such details. I did not order such details. The other day - I do not know whether Admiral Wagner said it - it was discussed who did it. I assumed that it was within the flotilla.

Q. Tell me just this about the Athenia. You told us the other day that you gave these orders, and then washed your hands of the matter. Nearly a month later -

A. I have already said I had nothing further to do with it, for you know -

Q. You had nothing to do with it. Nearly a month later the Propaganda Ministry put out the suggestion - I think you said on Hitler's orders - that the Athenia had been sunk by Churchill. Did you not feel that it was your duty as Grand Admiral and Head of the German Navy to make any protests against this disgraceful, lying suggestion, that the First Lord of the British Admiralty had deliberately sent to their deaths a lot of British and American subjects? Did you not think it was your duty to do that?

A. I spoke to Hitler about it, but it happened without our having any idea about it. I was extremely sorry about it when the First Lord of the Admiralty was attacked in that undignified way, but I could not change anything and Hitler did not admit that he -

Q. So you did not bother about that, as I understand it, you did not bother at all -

A. Yes, I had misgivings about it, and I was very indignant about it. Please do not keep twisting what I say -

Q. Did you translate your indignation into action? That is what I am asking.

A. Into what kind of action?

Q. Any action.

A. That Hitler should get Goebbels to contradict that article? Hitler would not have agreed to that if he himself had been the author of the article.

Q. Now, I just want to get it clear. You did nothing when you knew that von Blomberg and von Fritsch, who were old friends and comrades of yours, had been framed by sections of these Nazi plotters; you did nothing about that? You did nothing to protest against the treatment meted out to von Blomberg or von Fritsch? You did nothing, did you?

A. No, but at that time I did not know anything about the background, as you yourself said this morning. I knew nothing about the background. Later, when I was informed further, I put the whole picture together. At that time I was not in a position to assume that such methods would be at all possible.

Q. Well, I put to you your own statement that you made a year ago. I just want to get it quite clear that the first time in your life that you were moved to protest was, I think, in March 1945, when you saw the actual marks of torture on the hands of your friend, Herr Gessler, and at that time the Soviet troops were over the Oder and the Allies were over the Rhine, and that was the first time that you made any protest when you took off your Party Golden Emblem, was it not? That was the first protest you ever made in your naval, military, political career; is that right?

A. Not a bit of it. I did not really know what was going on.

Q. Well, then - I put it again. In March 1945 you took off the Party Golden Emblem, when you saw the marks of torture on your friend Gessler's hands. Is not that right?

A. When Dr. Gessler, who in spite of my objections had been kept for several months in a concentration camp, returned from the concentration camp and informed me, he was in a pitiful condition, and in spite of my request in August, when he was sent to the concentration camp and when I had asked the Fuehrer,

[Page 229]

through Admiral Wagner, to arrange for Dr. Gessler to be questioned immediately because he was certainly innocent in connection with the assassination attempt, so that he could be released as soon as possible, then -

Q. Well, my question is, was it then that you took off the Party Emblem. You can answer that. You can give your explanation later.

A. Yes, but wait a moment.

Q. But up to then you did not make any protest against anything that Hitler did, except the purely military one on the invasion of the Soviet Union?

A. I always made serious protests, and that I have proved here. Schmundt said to me, "You will be most successful if you try to influence the Fuehrer personally when you are alone with him and tell him quite openly what you think." This is important enough to mention and I must say it.

Well, Gessler came back from the concentration camp and told me that during his first interrogation - at that time I had not had a chance to intervene - he had been tortured. That was the first time that I heard that anywhere in Germany anybody was tortured. There is a letter from Dr. Gessler about that, which mentions that I told him immediately, "I am going to the Fuehrer at once to tell him about this, because I cannot imagine that he knows about that." Gessler begged me - when he confirmed that letter - not on any account to go to the Fuehrer then, because that would endanger his, Gessler's life. I said I would answer for it that nothing would happen to him, and that I would still try to approach the Fuehrer.

During the whole of the ensuing period I attempted to do that, but he was not at Headquarters. When I was informed in April that he was in Berlin, which was under heavy attack, I tried to approach him day after day by calling Admiral Voss over the telephone. That was no longer possible, and after I received that information I went, together with my wife, to the lake which was behind our house and tore off my Party Emblem and threw it into the lake. I told that to Admiral Voss, but unfortunately I could not tell the Fuehrer. That can be seen from the letter which Dr. Gessler wrote, and I would have liked to have him as a witness, but his state of health did not permit it.

Q. That was your first protest.

A. It was not my first protest. That is twisting my words.

SIR DAVID MAXWELL FYFE: Thank you, my Lord.

THE PRESIDENT: Is there any other cross-examination?


Q. On 18th May, during the morning session of the Tribunal, you testified that during your service as Commander-in-Chief of the Navy you twice made application to resign. The first time you tried to resign was in November 1938, when you were dealing with construction of the Navy, and Hitler was not pleased with your plans, and the second time was when Hitler, without your knowledge, permitted his adjutant, who was a naval officer, to marry a certain woman. Is that not so?

A. Yes, but I put in further applications for resignation which were not so sensational, once in 1937, and I believe also in 1935, when I was not feeling in good health. But these were two typical examples which show how things were.

Q. I understood that in the first of these two cases Hitler finally persuaded you not to resign.

A. Yes.

Q. And in the second case, he did not fulfil your wish.

A. Yes.

Q. In fact, you resigned only in January 1943, is not that so?

A. In actual fact, yes. But I must add that during the war I felt I could not leave the Navy, which was already in such a difficult situation, and I believed I enjoyed its confidence to a certain extent and that I could be useful.

[Page 230]

Q. On the morning of 18th May you said here in the Court in regard to your resignation, that it seemed to you then that Hitler, at that particular moment, wanted to get rid of you. Is that so?

A. At that moment I had the impression, when he made such serious accusations and when he went back so much on his previous judgements, that maybe he wanted to get rid of me, and I therefore considered that that was a favourable moment to leave.

Q. The question of successors was solved by your naming a few people to Hitler.

A. Yes.

Q. And among them was the defendant Donitz. Did you mention his name?

A. Yes. I mentioned his name. I informed the Fuehrer of that in writing, first Karls, second, in case he wanted to concentrate on submarine warfare, Grand Admiral Donitz, who was the highest authority in that field.

Q. And does it not seem to you, after your answer to my questions, that the answer which you gave to Dr. Laternser on 18th May, when you mentioned the absolute impossibility of resigning from the General Staff, was not a proper answer? It was possible to resign, was it not?

A. Yes, but in this case, of course, there were two prerequisites. The first was that, as Hitler himself did not like me any more, and I knew it, it would not be insubordination if I threw up my post for some reason or other.

Secondly, that it had to be possible, as I pointed out in that conversation, for the change to take place under peaceful conditions so that the Navy would not suffer by it. If I had left because of a quarrel, then that would have had a very bad effect on the Navy, because it might have meant a certain split between the Navy and Hitler, and I had to preserve unity, particularly at that critical moment of the war.

Q. I would like you to understand my question correctly.

A. Yes, I understand -

Q. I am not asking you about the prerequisites which might have been required for granting an application for resignation. I am asking you a question in principle:-

Was it possible or was it not possible to resign? After all, you did resign. You resigned from your post as Commander-in- Chief of the Navy.

A. Yes, but I had been in the service for fifty years, and I could tell him, "If that is the way you yourself judge me, then there is no sense in my continuing to work with you." That was a favourable opportunity which made it permissible for me to ask him to release me. But what one could not do was to throw up the job and give the impression of being insubordinate. That had to be avoided at all costs, I would never have done that. I was too much an officer for that.

Q. I have already heard what I wanted to hear from you in reply to my question.

Now I will pass on to the next question. You maintain that all the time you were striving towards normalising relations with the Soviet Union, is that correct?

A. I am sorry; I could not understand what you said.

Q. You maintain that during your service you always strove to make the relations between Germany and the Soviet Union quite normal, is that not so?

A. I was always in favour of the Bismarck policy, that we should have a common policy with Russia.

Q. If I understood your testimony correctly, the day before yesterday and on Friday, as early as 1939 you knew that Hitler intended to attack the Soviet Union.

A. In September 1940, for the first time I heard from Hitler himself that he was thinking of a war with Russia, given certain circumstances. Even in the directive he mentioned one of these prerequisites, one of these circumstances. He did not say to me at that time that in any circumstances he wanted to wage war, but that we had to be prepared, as it says in paragraph 1, before crushing England, to have to fight against Russia. And from September on I began to make objections.

[Page 231]

Q. Was there not a case of an incident when you maintained that the explanations which had been given by official governmental organs or agencies for an attack on the Soviet Union gave you and the others the impression that it was a deliberate propaganda, and in fact they were quite repulsive in their effect? Do you remember that?

A. The propaganda made by Hitler made an impression? I did not quite get it -

Q. I believe that you once expressed in writing the view that the explanation given by the OKW and the Foreign Ministry to the German people for attacking the Soviet Union gave the impression of being deliberate propaganda, and that the total effect was repulsive. Do you not remember it?

A. Oh, you mean the broadcasts emanating from the Foreign Office when the war started? Yes, that was Hitler's propaganda to make the German people understand the reason for this war. That is right. As regards breaking the Pact -

Q. I would like you to take a look at one document. This is a document written by you, and I would like you to tell us whether this document contains the precise subject matter of my question.

A. Where is it?

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