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 7 of 9)

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

[Page 262]

Q. You knew about the concentration camps. Can you still remember when you heard about them for the first time? It is important at least to determine the year.

A. No. I cannot tell you that at the present moment. I can only reply to your questions by referring to individual dates. The first murder in a concentration camp became known to me when I heard that, in the Papenburg concentration camp, the former member of the German Reichstag and Police President of Altenaar had been shot. That could have been either in 1935 or 1936, I am no longer sure when.

Q. And later, did you hear of many other such cases, or did you have personal knowledge of them?

A. I had personal knowledge which was so certain that I could give it with a clear conscience to the Tribunal in the cases I mentioned this morning.

[Page 263]

Were you told that concentration camps were places in which the political opponents of the regime were to be interned without anything worse happening to them than loss of liberty?

A. No, on the contrary, I heard that concentration camps meant to the population the very incarnation of all that is terrible.

Q. What do you mean by "population"? Do you also mean those sections of the population who had some official connection with the Party: small Party members, small SA and SS men?

A. I cannot say anything about that since I talked almost exclusively with opponents of the system.

Q. Do you believe that these opponents, with whom you talked, presented a united front against any one who wore a party emblem or a badge of office?

A. No. This question upon which you are dwelling, affects wide sections of the population, their general humanitarian feeling, and their feeling of indignation about conditions in the camps, as and when the facts became known.

Q. I asked my question with the intention of hearing whether this feeling of indignation was noticeable even in people who actually wore the emblem of the Party.

A. I assume so, but I cannot expect the Tribunal to accept this assumption as a fact.

Q. But were even these people exposed to the immense oppression which you have alluded to?

A. They probably felt that their Party membership rendered them, in a certain sense, immune.

Q. Do you believe that many people became members in order to benefit by this immunity?

A. Yes, I believe so.

Q. I heard that you yourself were a member of the NSV; is that true?

A. No.

Q. Is it true that you were arrested after 20th July, 1944?

A. I have already answered that question this morning. I was not arrested.

Q. You were never arrested at all?

A. Never, with the exception of the one case which I also mentioned this morning.

Q. Did you at any time express the opinion that the things which were being done in the German social sphere did, to a considerable extent, represent the ideal of previous governments?

A. Yes, I expressed this as follows: What was new was not good, and what was good was not new.

Q. Do you believe that any German, be he a Party member, or a member of the SS, would have any knowledge of events at Auschwitz of which you yourself knew nothing at all?

A. He would not necessarily have known of these things. I would not go as far as that. But he might, perhaps, have known of them.

Q. And what exactly do you mean by "He might, perhaps, have known of them"?

A. Through guards escorting the transport echelons. They did not always remain in the area of the concentration camps; they did eventually return.

Q. And if they were sworn to the strictest secrecy?

A. Then they could not tell anything.

Q. Do you know of cases where people were condemned for speaking of such matters?

A. No.

Q. Did you ever hear anything about the activities of the "Special Courts"?

A. No, in any case, I heard nothing in connection with these particular activities of the "Special Courts."

[Page 264]

Q. But the sentences pronounced against people who listened to foreign broadcasts and to people accused of spreading so- called false rumours, were published very often in the papers. Did you never read them?

A. No.

DR. STEINBAUER: Counsel for the defendant Seyss-Inquart.


Q. Witness, I have only one question to ask you. You told us this morning that in 1919 you were a member of the Weimar National Assembly. May I ask what the attitude of the National Assembly was, particularly of that section of the Social Democrats whom you had brought into the Assembly with you, towards the problem of the annexation (Anschluss) of Austria?

A. During the time of the sessions of the Weimar National Assembly, I was Reich and State Commissar for the Rhineland and Westphalia, and was seldom able to participate in the debates of the Weimar National Assembly. I therefore have no detailed knowledge as to how these matters were formulated or expressed. But one thing I do know, and that is that it was practically the unanimous wish of this Assembly to include a paragraph or an article in the Constitution, favouring the incorporation of Austria with Germany.

DR. STEINBAUER: Thank you. I have no further questions.

THE PRESIDENT: Does the prosecution wish to cross-examine?


Q. Herr Severing, you have told the Tribunal that in 1928 the defendant Raeder assured you solemnly, that there would be no further violations of the Treaty of Versailles without the knowledge of the Reich Cabinet. Did Raeder fulfil that assurance?

A. I have already stated this morning that I cannot answer that in any positive sense. I can only state that violations of the agreement of the 18th October, 11928, by the Naval Command did not come to my knowledge.

Q. Did you know, for instance, of the construction in Cadiz, in Spain, under German direction, of a 750-ton U-boat, between the years 1927 and 1931?

A. No, no.

MAJOR ELWYN JONES: My Lord, the authority for that statement of fact is Document D-854.


Q. And, Herr Severing, did you know that after its completion in 1931, that U-boat carried out trial runs under German direction and with German personnel?

A. No, I did not know anything about that either.

THE PRESIDENT: I think he said he didn't know of any violations.


Q. I am putting to you certain matters, and I suggest to you, Herr Severing, that it may well be that you were being deceived during this time. Do you agree with me about that?

A. I would not deny the possibility of deception, but I must very definitely declare that I did not know anything of the construction of a submarine.

Q. I want you to look at Document C-156. This is anew extract from Captain Schusler's "Fight of the Navy against Versailles." The entry is on Pages 43 and 44 of that book.

"In 1930, Bartenbach arranged, in Finland also, for the construction of a U-boat corresponding to the military demands of the German Navy. The Naval Chief of Staff, Admiral Raeder, decided, as a result of the reports of the Chief of the General Naval Office, Rear Admiral Heussinger von Waldegg, and of Captain Bartenbach, to supply the means required for the construction of this vessel in Finland. It was to be a 250-ton boat, so the amount of R.M. 1,500,000 was sufficient for carrying out the project.

[Page 265]

"The fundamental intention was to create a type of boat which would permit the inconspicuous preparation of the largest possible number of units which could be assembled at shortest possible notice."
Herr Severing, did you know that the above sum was spent in 1930 on the construction of this U-boat?

A. I have stated this morning that I was Minister in the Reich Ministry of the Interior from 1928 to 1930. I consider it necessary to determine these dates a bit more precisely. I resigned on 30th March, 1930. If the year 1930 is mentioned in a general way, then it is not impossible that everything mentioned here was carried out after my resignation.

Q. You have said that the rearmament that went on when you were connected with the Government of Germany was purely defensive. When did you realize that the Nazi Government's rearmament was not defensive but aggressive? At what date did you come to that conclusion?

A. From 30th January, 1933, on. That both the choice and the appointment of Hitler as Chancellor of the Reich meant war, was not in the least doubted by me and my political friends.

Q. So that you realised from the first day of Nazi power that the Nazi Government intended to use force or the threat of force to achieve its political aims; is that right?

A. I do not know if knowledge and conviction are identical. I was convinced of it, and so were my political friends.

Q. I want to ask you one or two questions about the defendant Papen.

Did Papen use force in carrying out the Putsch which brought him to power in July 1932?

A . Von Papen did not personally exercise such force, but he did order it. When, on the morning of 20th July, 1932, I refused to surrender voluntarily the office of the Prussian Ministry of the Interior to the man who had been appointed by von Papen as my successor, I explained to him that I had no intention of so doing. And so, in order to make my protest more emphatic, I explained that I would only give way to force. Force was actually used in the evening of 20th July, when the newly appointed Police President of Berlin appeared in my office, accompanied by two police officers. I asked these gentlemen whether they were authorized by the President of the Reich or by the Reich Chancellor to carry out this mission. When they answered "yes," I stated that I would leave my office rather than risk the shedding of blood.

Q. Did the defendant Papen, when he secured power, purge the police and the government of anti-Nazis?

A. Yes. There are numerous indications that the intention existed to purge the police of all republican elements and to replace them with men who were first devoted to von Papen and later to the National Socialists.

Q. I want to ask you one or two questions about the defendant Goering.

Goering has stated that the institution of protective custody existed in Germany before the Nazis came into power. Is that true?

A. I would say that the institution of protective custody did exist, theoretically, and it was last formulated in the Prussian Police Administrative Law, in paragraph 15. During my term of office, protective custody was never applied in normal civilian life. The regulations in paragraph 15 of the Police Administrative Law stipulated quite definitely that, if anybody was taken into protective custody, the Police Administration was obliged to bring him before the Courts within 24 hours. This procedure is in no way identical with that other method of protective custody, the threat of which, for decades, remained suspended over the peaceful citizens of the State.

Q. And, of course, there were no concentration camps in pre- Nazi Germany, I take it?

A. Never.

[Page 266]

How many of your political associates and colleagues of the Social Democratic Party were murdered in concentration camps while Goering was still Chief of the Gestapo?

A. It is very difficult to make an estimate. You might say 500, you might say 2,000. Reliable information is now being collected. My estimate is that at least 1,500 Social Democrats, or trade union officials, or editors were murdered.

Q. And how many Communist leaders do you think were murdered during Goering's period of power over the Gestapo?

A. I would assume that, if you include among the Communist leaders such trade union officials as considered themselves members of the Communist Party, then approximately the same figure would be reached.

Q. Did Goering personally have any knowledge of these murders?

A. That I cannot say. If I were to answer that question, then I should have to ask myself what I would have done in case it had been one of my functions to administer camps in which the fate of tens of thousands was being decided.

I am not sure whether this is of any interest to the Tribunal if I were to give you one or two examples from my own experience.

In 19Z5 I had to create a camp for refugees from Poland.

Q. You need not trouble to go into that, Herr Severing.

A. No? At any rate, I would have considered it my first and foremost task to inquire whether, in the camps which I had installed, the principles of humanitarianism were being adhered to. I was under the impression that this was not being done. I always reminded my police officials that they were servants of the people, and that everyone in those camps should be humanely treated. I told them that never again should the call resound in Germany, "Help against the police" ("Schulz vor Schutzleuten"). I myself demanded punishment for police or other officials when I was under the impression that defenceless prisoners were being ill- treated by them.

Q. As Minister of the Interior, did you become familiar with the organized terror of the SA against the non-Nazi population of Germany in the years after 1921?

A. Oh yes. Keeping an eye on the so-called armed organizations, during my term of office in Prussia, was one of my most important tasks. The roughest of all the armed organizations proved to be the SA. They sang songs such as: "Clear the streets for the Brown Battalions," and with the same arrogance with which they sang these songs, they forcibly became masters of the streets, wherever they encountered no adversary worth mentioning. Another rowdy song of theirs seemingly illustrated their programme: "Hang the Jews and shoot the big-wigs." Wherever the SA could exercise terror unhindered, they raged and blustered in such style. They waged beer-hall battles with people of different opinion. These were not the customary skirmishes between political opponents during election fights. No, this was organized terror. During the first Jewish boycott in 1933; they stood on guard to frighten the usual customers from buying in Jewish shops. As the Tribunal already knows, they organized the terror actions of 8th November, 1938. In 1930 they also damaged numerous Jewish shops in Berlin, possibly as a worthy prelude to the convening of the Reichstag, into which 107 National Socialists entered at that time, as we know.

Q. Finally, I want to ask you one or two questions about the defendant Schacht.

When did you first hear of Schacht's relations with the Nazi leaders?

A. In 1931 I received information from the Police Administration in Berlin, that interviews had been taking place between Dr. Schacht and the leaders of the National Socialist German Workers' Party.

Q. Did you have any connections with Schacht in 1944?

A. If the matter is of any interest here to anybody, I actually refused these connections. Schacht, in political matters - although I held him in high esteem as an economic expert - was known to me as a wavering provincial. By joining the Harzburg Front, Schacht betrayed the cause of democracy. This was not

[Page 267]

only an act of ingratitude, for it was only through the Democrats that he ever reached the post of President of the Reichsbank, but it was also a great mistake, since he and others of the same social standing, by joining the Harzburg Front, first made the National Socialists - so to speak - socially acceptable.

I could not, for this very reason, agree to any co-operation with Schacht on 20th July, 1932, and when in March 1943 I was asked to join a Government which was to overthrow Hitler, I categorically refused to do so, giving Schacht's machinations and sundry other circumstances as my excuse.

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