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-Fifth Day: Tuesday, 21st May, 1946
(Part 4 of 9)

[DR. SIEMERS begins his direct examination of Karl Severing]

[Page 249]



Q. Witness, please tell the High Tribunal what role you played up until the year 1933 in the Social Democratic Party and the principal ministerial posts you held up until the year 1933.

A. At the age of sixteen and a half I entered the labour union movement and when I was eighteen years old I entered the Social Democratic Party. As a result I held honorary positions in the party at a relatively early age.

In the year 1905 I was counsellor in the City of Bielefeld. I was member of the Reichstag from 1907 until 1912 and I again became a member of the Reichstag and at the same time a member of the Prussian Diet in 1919. I was in the Reichstag and in the Prussian Diet until 1933. I was Minister in Prussia from 1920 until 1921; then again from 1921 to 1926, and from 1930 until 1933. In the meantime from 1928 until 1930 I was Reich Minister of the Interior.

Q. When and why did you leave public life?

A. I retired from official public life in July 1932, and from political life when the Social Democratic Party was prohibited.

Q. Were you arrested because of your leaving public life in 1933, or perhaps at a later date, and, if so, at whose order?

A. I was arrested on the very same day on which the Enabling Act was scheduled to be read and passed in the Reichstag. The order for my arrest was signed by the then Minister of the Interior, Herr Goering, who at that time was also President of the Reichstag and who, if I may express an opinion, should have had the obligation, as President of the Reichstag, of ensuring the immunity of the members of the Reichstag. Under a breach of this immunity I was arrested the moment I entered the Reichstag building.

[Page 250]

Q. But you participated in the vote on the Enabling Act?

A. The Board of the Social Democratic Reichstag faction had complained to Goering about the treatment to which I was subjected, with the result that I was given leave to vote. But the voting had already come to a close. However, Reichstag President Goering still permitted me to give my "no" vote for the Enabling Act.

Q. You were arrested thereafter, but held for only a very short time?

A. On the next day I had to be present for a further interrogation. I was permitted to leave Berlin on the second day and was instructed to be ready at my home in Bielefeld for further interrogations.

Q. Despite your well-known anti-Nazi position, you were not arrested later and put in a concentration camp, if I am not mistaken.

A. I was never in a concentration camp, thanks to the respect - and I say this with all modesty - which the old Prussian officials, my previous subordinates, had for me. At the end of October, 1933, I heard from the Police Chief in Bielefeld that trouble was brewing. The police notified me that they would not be able to give me any protection and advised me, therefore, to leave Bielefeld for several months. I followed this advice, and from October, 1933 until the end of March, 1934, I lived in Berlin under a false name. I first stayed with friends, and then I went to a small Jewish sanatorium in Wannsee. I had reason to fear another arrest in August, 1944, as, according to someone whom I knew in the police, my name was on a list of people who were to be arrested summarily - men and women who were suspected of having plotted against Hitler in July, 1944.

THE PRESIDENT: Did you say '44 or '34?

DR. SIEMERS: '44. After the attempted assassination of Hitler of July, 1944.

THE WITNESS: May I continue?


Q. Please do.

A. After the attempted assassination of Hitler, orders were given to the police to arrest certain people. My name was on the Bielefeld list. Then a police official whom I knew from the past pointed out that I was close to my seventieth year and had lost my son in the war. Thus he succeeded in having my name taken from the list.

Q. Aside from the things you have just pictured to us now, did you suffer any further at the hands of the National Socialists?

A. Well, I was considerably hindered in my movements. I was not especially surprised that my mail was censored and my telephone tapped. I considered that as a matter of course. But I could not even take a trip without being followed and watched by the police.

If you don't mind, I should like to call your attention to the fact that in addition to material damages there is also moral damage (ideelle Schadigungen), and in this respect I suffered a great deal at the hands of the National Socialist Party after it assumed power. A political measure, taken in connection with the polls of 1932, was used against me, I might say, in a criminal way. They talked about me and my friend Braun as the "Thieves of millions", and this epithet was also applied to the members of my family.

THE PRESIDENT: Dr. Siemers, is this witness going to give any evidence which has relevancy to the defendant's case?


THE PRESIDENT: Well, bring him to it then as quickly as possible.

DR. SIEMERS: Very well.

[Page 251]


Q. Herr Severing, try to be as brief as possible in this connection. It is of course true that you suffered moral damage as well, but as the basis of my examination and your testimony, I would like to ascertain whether serious harm was caused to you and I would like to have you tell us, but briefly, whether National Socialism -

THE PRESIDENT: Dr. Siemers, what relevancy has this got to Raeder's case?

DR. SIEMERS: Mr. President, my intention is to show that Herr Severing, after a brief description of his life during Nazism, can, without bias, give entirely objective answers in reference to Raeder. Since he had no advantages but rather disadvantages at the hands of the Nazis and on the other side -

THE PRESIDENT: Well, you have dealt sufficiently with the disadvantages now. Go to the matter which relates to Raeder. He has given us, from 1933 to 1944, a fairly general account of his life and that ought to be sufficient.

DR. SIEMERS: The prosecution accuses the defendant Raeder, that in his capacity as Commander-in-Chief of the Navy he violated the Treaty of Versailles, with the intention of carrying on aggressive wars; and that behind the back of the Reich Government. In order to shorten the testimony, I would like to mention that it is an undisputed historical fact that Germany, in developing her Navy, transgressed the stipulations of the Versailles Treaty. All that is known to the Tribunal. Even before this time, the government demanded the construction of armoured cruiser "A" within the compass of the Versailles Treaty. A great political conflict arose over the construction of this cruiser and, in connection with a debate before the Reichstag on the matter, the witness made a speech. I have a brief excerpt from this speech which I should like to submit to you. It will be Exhibit Raeder 5, and is in Document Book I, Page 13. This is an extract from a speech by the former Reichsminister, Karl Severing, to the German Reichstag on 20th January, 1928.


Q. Witness, at this period of time, you were not a minister, but you made this speech as a member of the Reichstag - representative of the Social Democratic Party?

A. Yes, that is correct.

Q. The extract reads:

"Now the armoured cruiser. The fact that a government, which knows precisely what gigantic sums we must raise during the coming year, should make such demands, is, to say the least, quite surprising. It says, the Peace Treaty permits it - yes, but the Peace Treaty also decrees the payment of reparations. The 93 million marks demanded for this year will play their decisive part only in the consequences entailed which would require the raising of several hundred million marks, which, during the next few years, seems to me absolutely impossible. Considering the development of weapons for naval warfare, I am not convinced of the military value of armoured cruisers. It may be that they are the backbone of the defence at sea, as the government says. But, to form an active fighting unit (Gefechtskorper), a backbone must also be made up of other vertebrae, of U- boats and airplanes, and as long as we are not allowed to build these, armoured cruisers are of very little value even for defence."
Is that extract from the speech correct?

A. Yes, that extract is reproduced correctly.

Q. Is it right to conclude here that the Social Democrats and you, personally, at that time were of the opinion that the army granted Germany by the Versailles Treaty might not be sufficient even for a defensive war?

A. That is correct.

[Page 252]

Q. Will you please comment on that a little more extensively.

A. That the 100,000 army granted to Germany was not sufficient even for a defensive war was and is known possibly to everyone in Germany concerned with political affairs. Germany had arrived at a very bad situation with regard to her Eastern neighbours since the establishment of the Corridor. The insular position of East Prussia forced Germany even at that time to take measures which I reluctantly helped carry out; but the population of East Prussia had a right to be protected against attacks which were threatening from the East. I am not speaking about an aggressive war, and I am not speaking of any plans of the Polish Government, but I would like to refer you to the fact that in the years 1919, 1920 and 1921, there were aggressive groups in Poland who set foot on German soil, possibly with the idea of -

THE PRESIDENT: Dr. Siemers, this evidence is all a matter of argument. Not only is it a matter of argument, but we have had it over and over again from nearly all the defendants and a good many of their witnesses, and, surely, it is not assisting the Tribunal in the very least to know what this witness said in 1928, or what view he took in 1928.

DR. SIEMERS: May it please the High Tribunal, I believe that what follows will, on the contrary, assist the Tribunal. Herr Severing ' was a member of the government that held this cabinet meeting of 18th October, 1928. I agree with the High Tribunal that this matter has been discussed frequently - but I should like to point out that Sir David, even yesterday, in cross-examination, accused the defendant that, against the will of the Reich Government and against the wish of the organizations and despite the testimony of Raeder, he had violated the Treaty of Versailles. If, therefore, despite the testimony of Raeder, the prosecution persists in its opinion, the only way in which I can prove the incorrectness of this opinion is by questioning a witness who -

THE PRESIDENT: The question whether the Treaty of Versailles was violated is a question of fact and, of course, upon that you can give evidence and you did give evidence through the defendant Raeder; but this witness is not talking about the question of fact. He is arguing that Germany was entitled to defend herself in violation of the Treaty of Versailles. That is what I understood his evidence to be and that is a question of argument, not a question of fact.

DR. SIEMERS: Mr. President, as far as I know juridically -

THE PRESIDENT: Dr. Siemers, the class of evidence which has just been given by this witness will not be listened to by the Tribunal. If you want to prove facts by him, you can prove them, but you cannot prove arguments or his views upon arguments.


Q. Could Germany with her army protect herself against Polish incursions in Silesia?

A. In the year 1920, the army would not have been able to protect Germany in East Prussia; therefore, it was necessary to protect the population of East Prussia, and this was achieved by my personally agreeing that all weapons which were found in East Prussia were to be given to the population. Under conditions which applied at that time, it was, even for purposes of inspection, very hard to pass through the Corridor by rail; so that in 1920, I had to make a tour of inspection by way of water from Stolpmuende to Buelau. I am mentioning this fact to show the difficulties of transportation through the Corridor. In 1920 and 1921, it was not possible for the German Army to prevent attacks of Polish insurgents in Upper Silesia, and, I am sorry to say, and I emphasize "I am sorry," that certain defence measures had to be taken in order to protect German life and German property.

[Page 253]

Q. Witness, were Reich Minister Groner's rearmament measures after January, 1928, as far as you know, based on defensive or offensive ideas.

A. As far as I am acquainted with Groner and his own personal way of carrying on his office, everything that he conceived and carried out was in view of defence.

Q. Then this should also apply to the armoured cruiser "A". I should like to know why the Social Democratic Party, which was interested in the idea of defence, was against the building of this cruiser.

A. In 1928 the Social Democratic Party was against the building of the cruiser, because the economic situation did not warrant expenses which were not absolutely necessary. The Social Democratic Party wanted to prove and to show that they did everything within their power to make the much discussed disarmament a reality. They did not believe that the building of an armoured cruiser would be a favourable gesture for the bringing about of appropriate negotiations.

Q. On 28th June, 1928, a new Reich Government was formed. Muller was Chancellor; Stresemann was Foreign Minister, and you were Minister of the Interior. What position did your government take to the pending problem of disarmament by all countries as stipulated in Versailles, or to the pending problem of armament by Germany?

A. I had just made a reference to this problem. We were of the opinion in the Social Democratic Party even after entering the Muller government, that we would have to use all our efforts in order to solve this very problem. In September, 1928, Chancellor Muller, replacing the Foreign Minister Stresemann, who was ill, went to Geneva in order to bring this problem before the League of Nations. Muller made a very resolute speech which, if I remember correctly, was received very coolly by Allied statesmen; so that any practical suggestions for the realization of disarmament could not be hoped for in the near future.

Q. Witness, in July, 1928, you spoke with Reich Defence Minister Groner about the budget and, specifically, about the fact that secret budgets of the Wehrmacht, on the armoured cruiser and so forth, had become known. What attitude did you take in this connection and what were the results following your agreement with Groner?

A. In order to answer this question, I would like to touch again on the extract from my speech, which you just submitted to the High Tribunal. In the same Reichstag session in which I gave this speech, the Reichswehr Minister Groner appeared for the first time as successor of Gessler. I had said a few farewell words in honour of Gessler, who was leaving. I greeted the new minister with the remark that my political friends would show him respect, but that he would have to earn our confidence first. It was probably while thinking of this remark that Groner came up to me in the first session of the Muller government and said that he was looking forward to a sincere collaboration with me. I quoted a passage from "Iphigenie" on that occasion: "May there be truth between us." Only complete sincerity would make possible fruitful co-operation, I said.

THE PRESIDENT: Dr. Siemers, the Tribunal thinks that this is an absolute waste of time, and this speech of the witness is entirely irrelevant. Why do you not ask him some questions which have some bearings on the case of Raeder?

DR. SIEMERS: Mr. President, may I remind you that the prosecution has made the accusation that the rebuilding followed by means of a secret budget, and that a secret rearmament was carried on with the idea of starting wars of aggression later on. It is not quite clear to me how I can cross-examine him in any other way than by asking him how in his government these secret budgets, which to an extent are practically identical with violations of the Versailles Treaty, were dealt with. That is exactly what I have just questioned the witness on.

THE PRESIDENT: This speech that you have drawn our attention to is simply a speech in which he said that he did not think that armoured cruisers were of any use. That is the only meaning of the speech, except in so far as it refers to the fact that reparations had not been paid. For the rest, it simply says that armoured cruisers, in his opinion, are of no use.

[Page 254]

DR. SIEMERS: Mr. President, I may not and do not wish to make a plea here. In the speech which I read, something else is said. It says there that the Social Democratic Party was against the building of this armoured cruiser, because of economic reasons, and not because of strategic reasons, and that if an armoured -

THE PRESIDENT: What has that got to do with a charge of making an aggressive war in 1939?

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