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 5 of 9)

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

[Page 254]

DR. SIEMERS: Mr. President, I did not raise the accusation of an aggressive war; the prosecution did that, but I have to protect my client against the accusation that, in 1928, he had intentions of carrying on an aggressive war; I assert that he had no intention of that sort, that the Reich Government knew about the violations of the Treaty, that the Reich Government took the responsibility for them, and the testimony of the witness will show that these are actual facts which were challenged only yesterday.

THE PRESIDENT: Ask him some direct questions on issues of fact. Then the Tribunal will listen to them if they are relevant, but the Tribunal considers that the evidence of his speech that you have been dealing with is an utter waste of time.

DR. SIEMERS: I shall try to be brief. As a result, I shall put questions to the witness which he will answer one by one.


You just said that you demanded of Groner confidence and absolute truthfulness. Did you ask him in this connection for enlightenment on the secret budget and the violations of the Treaty of Versailles which had taken place up to that time?

A. I specifically asked him for enlightenment since, in January of 1928, the then Reich Chancellor Marx had frankly admitted that under Captain Lohmann in the Navy Department there had been misrepresentations of the budget which could not be in accordance with good bookkeeping and political decency and honesty.

Q. What did Groner reply?

A. Groner then told me that he had the intention of discussing and clarifying these matters at a cabinet meeting.

Q. Were the leaders of the Wehrmacht to be present at this meeting?

A. On 18th October, those leaders were to appear and did appear.

Q. Herr Severing, when did you meet Grand Admiral Raeder for the first time?

A. The first official contact, according to my recollection, was made at the beginning of October, 1928, probably on the day when he paid me an official visit on my assuming office.

DR. SIEMERS: As Exhibit Raeder No. 6, I submitted to the High Tribunal, as the High Tribunal will probably recall, a speech by Raeder dated 23rd January, 1928. There was a covering letter with this document. This document will now be submitted to the witness.


Q. According to this document, did your meeting with Raeder take place on 5th October, 1928, five days after the appointment of Raeder as Commander-in-Chief of the Navy?

A. This discussion probably took place on that day. May I mention -

Q. Just a moment; Herr Severing. I think it to be safer if you look at the letter. There it says: "Following our discussion of 5th October ..." May I ask you to confirm to the High Tribunal that this report made by Raeder was saved by you and that it is a true and authentic copy?

A. The letter which I put at your disposal is the original of the letter by Raeder. It is in accordance with the incidents which you just mentioned.

[Page 255]

Q. Then, on 5th October, this conversation with Raeder did take place. Were the conversations between you and Raeder basically in accordance with the ideas expressed in this speech?

A. Yes.

Q. Do you recall that in this speech, Raeder declared emphatically that a war of aggression was a crime?

A. Yes, I remember that.

Q. Did you on the occasion of this conversation tell Raeder that you had agreed with Groner that the actual violations of the Treaty of Versailles would have to be discussed and clarified and that a cabinet meeting would have to be held?

A. I do not recall this detail, but it was quite probable.

Q. Did you demand of Raeder that between yourself and him there should be absolute sincerity and truthfulness?

A. Of Raeder, too, but especially of the chiefs of the land forces.

Q. As a result of this discussion with Raeder, did you have the impression that you could work with Raeder in a satisfactory manner and that he would tell you the truth?

A. Yes, I had that impression.

Q. On October 18th, 1928, the cabinet meeting which we have already mentioned, took place. May I ask you to describe briefly that cabinet meeting, provided it is agreeable to the High Tribunal to have the witness picture this session. I believe that a description of this session would save time, rather than to have me ask single questions. Therefore, Herr Severing, be brief in telling us what happened.

A. At this session, members of the cabinet were familiarised with the details of what might be considered a concealment of the budget or violations of the Versailles Treaty. Both gentlemen, the Commander-in-Chief of the Army and the Commander-in-Chief of the Navy, spoke, if I remember rightly.

Q. Did the entire cabinet attend?

A. Yes, perhaps with the exception of one or two members who were ill, but it was a session which in general might be called a plenary session.

Q. The principal members were present?

A. Yes.

Q. Were Muller and Stresemann present?

A. I cannot tell you whether Stresemann was present. He was ill in September, and whether he had recovered by 18th October, I cannot say.

But I might add, that if Herr Stresemann was not present, certainly someone else was present as an authorized deputy from the Foreign Office.

Q. Did Admiral Raeder and General Heye at this meeting expressly give the assurance to the cabinet - as I remember, in form of an affidavit - that only those violations had occurred which were mentioned by them?

A. Whether that was proclaimed in a solemn manner by affidavit, I cannot say; but, in any event, at the request of the Reich Chancellor and especially at my own request, they said that no further violations would take place.

Q. They assured you specifically that there would be no further violations without the knowledge of the Reich Government?

A. Yes, exactly that.

Q. And over and above that, they stated that now the cabinet knew about everything?

A. Yes.

Q. A declaration to that effect was made?

A. Yes, such a declaration was made.

Q. Were important matters connected with these secret budgets or violations of the Treaty of Versailles?

A. I must admit that I was used to violations of the Versailles Treaty; what I was especially interested in was the extent of these violations, and what sum they represented. I wanted to know what I could do in my new capacity against

[Page 256]

secret and illegal organizations, and I asked what was the total sum involved. I was thereupon told - and I believe that this was put down and confirmed in writing later - that perhaps five-and-a-half to six million marks was the amount involved in these secret budgets.

Q. Herr Severing, you remember the budget figures of those days better than I do. What can we gather from these figures? Must we conclude that they were grave violations involving aggressive intentions, or may we gather that in the final analysis they were just trifles?

A. I have not the figures as they apply to the budget plans of the Navy and the Army. I cannot quote them from memory. But the impression I gained from the reports of the two Wehrmacht leaders was that only trifles were involved. It was this impression which caused me to assume a certain political responsibility for these things, and especially in view of the fact that we were assured that further concealment of budget items or other violations were not to occur.

Q. Do you remember that Groner at this session declared that the small infringements of the Treaty dealt purely with defence measures, with anti-aircraft guns, coastal fortifications, etc.?

A. I cannot give you the details to-day, but I might remind you that all the speeches which Groner made at the time when he was Defence Minister, were along these general lines. In all of his speeches in the Reichstag, Herr Groner expressly declared that he was an advocate of sound pacifism. My reply to your question is that Groner's statements, and also my own, were based on defence and defensive measures.

Q. In other words, at the end of this session, the Reich Government expressly took the responsibility for the infringements and the small secret budget items?

A. To the extent that we have mentioned.

Q. Did Raeder then adhere to the clear directives of the Reich Government?

A. I cannot answer that in a positive manner, but I can say that I did not observe any violations on the part of the Navy in respect to the agreements during my term of office as Minister of the Interior.

Q. Are you personally of the opinion, since you know Raeder sufficiently well, that lie kept the promise he made to you not to resort to secret violations?

A. Raeder gave me the impression that he was a decent person. I believed that he would keep his word.

Q. Just one more question, Herr Severing. Of course, you cannot remember the details, but do you perhaps recall that on the occasion of the cabinet meeting of 18th October, there was a discussion about a Dutch firm which was constructing U-boats?

A. No. I cannot give you details on this question, but I do know that at the time, there was much talk - either in another cabinet meeting, or by a subcommittee of the Reichstag, or by a different parliamentarian body of experimental stations which had been established for the Army and the Navy in Russia, Sweden and Holland.

Q. Purely experimental stations?

A. I can say only that there was talk to this effect. Whether these experimental stations had been established I cannot tell you from my own experience.

Q. Herr Severing, could Germany, in consideration of governmental discussions going on at the time, hope that some day, despite the Versailles Treaty, she would be permitted to build U-boats?

A. The leading statesmen -

THE PRESIDENT: Dr. Siemers, how can he answer that there was a hope that they would be allowed to build U-boats? That is what your question was, was it not; was there a hope?

[Page 257]

DR. SIEMERS: I know, Mr. President, these questions were dealt with in the government which obtained through the years 1928 to 1932, and I believe that Stresemann carried on these discussions. Since Stresemann is no longer alive, I would like to ask Herr Severing on this point.

THE PRESIDENT: It seems to the Tribunal that it is mere political gossip.


Q. Herr Severing, on whom did it depend what was brought up in the Reichstag? Raeder is accused of acting behind the back of the Reichstag. Who submitted this to the Reichstag? Did Raeder do that?

A. I do not quite follow you. Who submitted the budget, you mean?

Q. Yes.

A. The budget went through the hands of the experts of the various ministries to the entire cabinet, and from the cabinet the budget went to the Reichstag.

Q. The matter of dealing with the budget before the Reichstag was a matter for the Reich Government and not for the Commander-in-Chief of the Navy, is that right?

A. Inasmuch as a budget item was submitted to the Reichstag, the competent Reich Minister took care of it in the main committee and the plenary session of the Reichstag, but the political responsibility was assumed by the entire Reich Cabinet.

THE PRESIDENT: It was never alleged as to the defendant Raeder that he had submitted the budget to the Reichstag; it was never put to him.

DR. SIEMERS: Mr. President, yesterday it was asserted -

THE PRESIDENT: Do not argue! Go on with any other questions.


Q. Do you recall whether at the end of 1929 you talked with a member of the government with regard to the various leading personalities in the Wehrmacht, and that you made a comment which subsequently became known concerning certain personalities?

A. Yes, it is correct that on one occasion I had been asked to give a personal evaluation of certain military personalities, and I included Groner and Raeder in this connection.

Q. Herr Severing, how many concentration camps do you know of?

A. How many do I know of now?

Q. I am sorry; not now. How many did you know of before the collapse of Germany?

A. Perhaps six to eight.

Q. Herr Severing, did you know before the collapse of Germany or rather did you know by 1944 about the mass murders which have been dealt with so frequently in this proceeding?

A. I gained knowledge of concentration camps when murder, if I may say so, became commonplace, and when I heard of a few cases which affected me personally very deeply. First of all, I was told that the police president of Altona, a member of the Reichstag and a Social Democrat of the right wing of the Party, had been murdered in the concentration camp at Papenburg. Another friend of mine, the chairman of the Miners' Union, Fritz Hesemann, was said to have been murdered shortly after his being committed to the same concentration camp. Another friend of mine, Ernst Heimann, according to the reports received by his family, was beaten to death in the Oranienburg camp.

Dachau was known even in the north of Germany as a concentration' camp. Some Jewish inmates returned from Buchenwald in the spring of 1939, and in that way I learned of this camp. Columbia House at Berlin, I figured to be a concentration camp also.

[Page 258]

That was my only knowledge of camps and their horrors up until the time the London radio started to report about them. I perhaps might mention another case. In 1944, a friend of mine, a member of the Reichstag, Stefan Meier, who had served three years in the penitentiary, was put into a concentration camp in or near Linz. After a brief stay there, he was murdered, according to reports received by his family.

Q. Herr Severing, you just heard of these and similar individual cases?

A. Yes.

Q. You were not familiar with the fact that thousands were murdered every, day in gas chambers or otherwise in the East?

A. I feel I should tell the High Tribunal only of those cases which were, so to say, authentically reported to me. Everything I learned of later was through indirect reports, from my friend Seger or from the book of the now General Intendant Langhoff, but I had no possibility of checking up on their accuracy.

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