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 8 of 9)

[MAJOR ELWYN JONES continues his cross examination of Karl Severing]

[Page 267]

Q. What was your reason for that?

A. I have just indicated these reasons. My friend Leuchtner, who was hanged, together with other young Social Democrats - von Harnack, Weber, Mass - my friend Leuchtner and I discussed the composition of such a government. Leuchtner informed me that a general would probably be the President of the Reich, and another general would be the Minister for War. I pointed out that Schacht in all probability would become financial or economic dictator, since Schacht's suitability for such a post had already been proved, through his actual or alleged connections with American business circles. But these connections between Schacht and - in National Socialist parlance - between plutocracy and militarism, these connections, I say, appeared to me so compromising to the cause of democracy, especially to the cause of Social Democracy, that I was under no circumstances prepared to become a member of any cabinet in which Schacht would be the financial dictator.


THE PRESIDENT Do you want to re-examine?



Q. Herr Severing, the prosecutor has just talked about the construction of a U-boat in Finland, and of a U-boat in Cadiz. With regard to the construction of the U-boat in Cadiz, he has referred to D-854, I presume that this document is unknown to you.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, Dr. Siemers, the witness said he knew nothing about either of those instances.

DR. SIEMERS: Thank you.


Q. Do you not remember that during that discussion, Grand Admiral Raeder and Reichswehrminister Groner mentioned the Finland U-boat?

A. I do not remember.

Q. You do not know about it? And now - a leading question: is it true that the agreement made on 18th October, 1928, stipulated that the Chief of the Naval Command Staff was bound to keep the Minister of the Reichswehr informed and the Minister of the Reichswehr, in his turn, would inform the other ministers of the Cabinet?

A. As far as I can remember, the agreement or the promise of the two Chiefs of the Army Command was that the Cabinet should, generally speaking, be kept informed about all questions. That was technically possible only in the manner to which you have just indicated, that is to say, that the Minister of the Armed forces would be the first to be informed and that he, in turn, would pass this information on to the Cabinet.

Q. So that there was no obligation, on Raeder's part, currently to report to you or to appear before the Cabinet?

A. That would have been quite an unusual measure, just as the meeting of 18th October was in itself unusual; the members of the Cabinet consisted either of the ministers or of their official representatives.

[Page 268]

Q. So that the further management of the matter would technically be handled by the Minister of the Reichswehr?

A. Technically by the Minister of the Reichswehr and politically by the Cabinet.

DR. SIEMERS: Thank you very much. I have no further questions to ask the witness.

BY DR. KUBUSCHOK (Counsel for defendant von Papen):

Q. On what legal regulation was your exemption from the duties of Minister of the Interior in Prussia, on 20th July, 1932, based?

A. The release from my duties?

Q. Yes. The release from your duties.

A. It was based on Article 48.

Q. Who, on the strength of Article 48, issued emergency decrees?

A. This emergency decree was issued by the Reich President, who alone was entitled to do so.

Q. Was the fact that you, on 20th July, under the circumstances which you have just described, were removed from office, based on the fact that von Papen, and Hindenburg, who issued the decree, were of the opinion that the emergency decree was legal, whereas it was your point of view that the legal basis for the emergency decree did not exist, and that, in consequence, you remained in your office?

A. I was of the opinion, and it was later confirmed by the Supreme Court (Reichsgericht), that the President of the Reich was authorized, on the strength of Article 48, to issue directives for the maintenance of peace and order; and if he did not see in the Prussian Ministers, and particularly in myself as Minister of Police, sufficient guarantee that this peace and order would be ensured in Prussia, he had the right to relieve us of our police functions, and especially to exclude us from all other executive measures. But he did not have the right to discharge us as ministers.

Q. Is it known to you that the highest court in Germany, the State Court of Justice, on 25th October, 1932, issued a statement to the effect that the decree of the Reich President of 20th July, 1932, was compatible with the Constitution of the State in so far as it had appointed the Reich Chancellor as Reich Commissar for Prussia, and authorized him temporarily to deprive Prussian Ministers of their official functions, and to assume those functions himself?

A. I have just quoted that decision.

Q. One more question: Did von Papen, then Reich Commissar and carrying out certain changes in personnel, bring National Socialists into the Police Force?

A. I cannot say. The political character of the police officials was not outwardly recognizable. That might be the case with administrative heads, Government presidents and police presidents, but not with every simple police official.

Q. Is it true that von Papen gave the key position of Police President in Berlin to the former Police President of Essen, Melcher?

A. That is correct.

DR. KUBUSCHOK: Thank you.

THE PRESIDENT: The witness can now retire and the Tribunal will adjourn.

How many more witnesses have you got?

DR. SIEMERS: I now have the witnesses Freiherr von Weiszacker and Vice-Admiral Schulte-Monting, the Chief of Staff. The examination of Schulte-Monting will take up some time, whereas I shall be through with Freiherr von Weiszacker in a short while.


(A recess was taken.)

[Page 269]

DR. SIEMERS: If it please your Honours, may the witness, Freiherr von Weiszacker, be called.

ERNST VON WEISZACKER, a witness, took the stand and testified as follows:


Q. Will you state your full name, please?

A. Ernst von Weiszacker.

Q. Will you repeat this oath after me:

I swear by God, the Almighty and Omniscient, that I will speak the pure truth and will withhold and add nothing.

(The witness repeated the oath.)

THE PRESIDENT: You may sit down.



Q. Herr von Weiszacker, at the beginning of the way, you were Secretary of State in the Foreign Office, is that correct?

A. Yes.

Q. You will recollect that on 3rd September, 1939, i.e., on the first day of the war between Germany and England - the English passenger ship Athenia was torpedoed north-west of Scotland. There were American passengers on board. The sinking of the ship naturally caused a great sensation. Please tell the Tribunal how this matter was treated politically, that is, by you.

A. I remember this incident, but I am not certain whether it was a British or an American ship. In any case, the incident alarmed me very greatly at the time. I inquired of the SKL whether a German naval unit could have sunk the ship. After this was denied, I spoke to the American Charge d'Affaires, Mr. Alexander Kirk, to tell him that no German naval unit could have participated in the sinking of the Athenia. I asked the Charge d'Affaires to take cognizance of this fact, and to cable this information to Washington without delay, adding that it was most important in the interests of our two nations-Germany and America.

Q. Herr von Weiszacker, you had contacted the Navy before taking these steps?

A. Yes.

Q. Did you, at this first conversation, talk to Grand Admiral Raeder personally, or did you speak with some other officer?

A. That I am no longer able to say, but I did receive the definite information. I am sorry I can no longer give you full particulars on the matter. But I did receive a definite answer that no German naval unit was involved. That satisfied me.

Q. In connection with this matter, did you, on the same day or shortly after, visit Grand Admiral Raeder and discuss this matter further with him?

A. I believe I remember doing this. Yes.

Q. Did Raeder tell you on this occasion that it could not have been a German U-boat, since reports coming in from the U-boats advised that the distance from the nearest U-boat was too great, i.e., about seventy-five nautical miles?

A. Raeder informed me that no German U-boat could have been involved. He may also have mentioned details, such as the distance of the U-boats from the point where the ship went down, but I cannot today tell you about this with any certainty.

Q. During this conversation with Raeder, did you declare that everything should be done to avoid war with the United States, referring particularly to incidents like the sinking of the Lusitania in the previous war?

A. That I certainly and emphatically did, for at that time the recollections of similar past incidents still haunted my mind. I definitely drew his attention to the urgent necessity of avoiding all naval operations which might cause a spreading of the war, and decrease the number of neutral States.

[Page 270]

Q. Did Raeder share your opinion?

A. To the best of my recollection - yes.

Q. Are you convinced, Herr von Weiszacker, that Raeder gave you truthful answers in his reports about the Athenia?

A. But of course.

Q. Now U-boat No. 30 returned. from her combat mission on 27th September, 1939, i.e., about three weeks after the sinking of the Athenia, and her Commander reported that he had inadvertently sunk the Athenia. He had not noticed the fact at the time, but was apprised of the incident later by various wireless messages. Raeder heard about it at the end of September, and discussed the matter with Hitler in order to decide what attitude should be adopted. Hitler issued an order enjoining silence. All this has already been discussed here. I would like you to tell me if you were informed of the fact, subsequently established, of this sinking by a German U-boat.

A. No, certainly not.

Q. Did you hear of Hitler's order enjoining silence?

A. Neither, of course, of that.

Q. I shall now have Document 3260-PS handed to you, and I must ask you to have a look at it. It is an article entitled "Churchill Sinks the Athenia," taken from the Volkischer Beobachter of 23rd October, 1939. Do you remember this article?

A. Yes. Perhaps I may look through it.

DR. SIEMERS: Mr. President, may I inform you, in order to assist the Tribunal, that this is Exhibit GB 218 in the British Document Book, No. 10, Page 97, No. Page 99.


Q. Herr von Weiszacker, you have read this article. May I ask you to tell me whether you recall having read this article at the time of its appearance?

A. I do recall that such an article did appear at that time.

Q. Then may I ask you further what your attitude was at the time when you heard about this article?

A. I considered it a perverted phantasy.

Q. Then you condemned this article?

A. Naturally.

Q. Even though at the time you did not know that it was a German U-boat.

A. The question of whether it was a German U-boat or not could in no wise influence my opinion of the article.

Q. Then you considered this article objectionable, even if it had not been a German U-boat?

A. Of course.

Q. Now the prosecution asserts that Grand Admiral Raeder had instigated this article, and is reproaching him very gravely, on moral grounds, for this very reason, and the reproach is all the graver since, as we have seen, Raeder at this time - unlike yourself - knew that it was a German U- boat which had sunk the Athenia. Do you consider such an action possible on Raeder's part? That he could have instigated this article?

THE PRESIDENT: Wait a minute, Dr. Siemers, you can only ask the witness what he knew and what he did. You can't ask him to speculate about what Raeder has done.

DR. SIEMERS: I beg your pardon, Mr. President. I believed that, according to this morning's affidavit, it would be possible to voice an opinion; but I shall, of course, retract my question.

THE PRESIDENT: What affidavit are you talking about?

DR. SIEMERS: The affidavit in which I suggested the expunging of any expression of opinion, Dietmann's Affidavit.

[Page 271]

THE PRESIDENT: That is a perfectly different matter.

DR. SIEMERS: Herr von Weiszacker, did you at that time hear that Raeder had authorized this article?

A. No, I did not hear that; I would never have believed it. I consider it entirely out of the question that he could have instigated an article of that sort, or that he could have written it himself.

Q. To your knowledge, could this article be traced exclusively to the Propaganda Ministry?

A. I cannot answer this question positively. It could not at any rate be traced to Raeder or the Ministry for Foreign Affairs.

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