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Volume 19, Fall 2006
Nuremberg Trials 60th Anniversary
Revealing Testimonies of Other Trial Defendants

Section 1
Background and Preparation for the Nuremberg Trials
Section 2
Chief Prosecutors
Highlights of the Military Tribunal
Examination of Goering
Verdicts and Sentences
The Executions
Section 3
Twelve Subsequent Trials

While many hours of the trial were consumed with procedural matters, observers were intrigued by testimonies of the defendants which offered justifications for perpetrators’ actions. For the most part the defendants showed no remorse for their involvement with the Third Reich because they emphasized that they had been carrying out the orders of their leader and doing what was right for the Reich.

Wilhelm Kietel

Telford Taylor provides insights into the character of Wilhelm Keitel, ranking officer of the German army and an International Military Trial defendant, whose counsel was Dr. Otto Nelte. Initially, in his testimony, Keitel fully admitted that he carried out the orders that led to violations of the laws of war and deviated from international law. Keitel also professed that what he did was what any good military officer would do.

Keitel: As I soldier I must say that the term “War of Aggression” as used here is meaningless as far as I am concerned. . . .According to my own personal feelings, the concept “war of aggression” is a purely political concept and not a military one. . . . I think I can summarize my views by saying that military officers should not have authority to decide this question and are not in a position to do so; and that these decisions are not the task of the soldier, but solely that of the statesman.....

Nelte: But you are not only a soldier, you are also an individual with a life of your own. When facts brought to your notice in your professional capacity seemed to reveal that a projected operation was unjust, did you not give it consideration?

Keitel: I believe I can truthfully say that throughout the whole of my military career I was brought up, so to speak, in the old traditional concept that we never discussed this question. Naturally, one as one’s own opinion and a life of one’s own, but in the exercise of one’s professional functions as a soldier and an officer, one has given this life away, yielded it up. Therefore, I could not say either at that time or later that I had misgivings about questions of a purely political discretion, for I took the stand that a soldier has the right to have confidence in his state leadership, and accordingly he is obliged to do his duty and to obey.

Ernst Kaltenbrunner and his defense witness Rudolf Hoess

Dr. Kurt Kauffmann was the counsel for Ernst Kaltenbrunner, who has served as Chief of Reich Security in the Third Reich and who was one of the defendants at the International Military Tribunal. Part of Kaltenbrunner’s defense had been that he had very little awareness of what took place in the concentration camps and he was not involved with the forced labor program. Interestingly enough, Kauffmann called Rudolf Hoess, the former Commandant of Auschwitz, to testify on behalf of Kaltenbrunner. Hoess testified that Kaltenbrunner had never visited Auschwitz and he had met with Kaltenbrunner only after he had left Auschwitz. During the cross-examination of Hoess, Colonel Amen read Hoess’s affidavit in which he claimed three million had died at Auschwitz. What most astonished witnesses of the International Military Tribunal during Hoess’s testimony was his matter of fact response to questions. He seemed totally indifferent to the fact that he had been involved in the process of mass murder. When asked about his apathy, Hoess responded:

Don’t you see, we SS men were not supposed to think about these things; it never even occurred to us. And besides, it was something already taken for granted that the Jews were to blame for everything. . . . It was not just newspapers like Stürmer but it was everything we ever heard. Even our military and ideological training took for granted that we had to protect Germany from the Jews.

..... We were all so trained to obey orders without even thinking that the thought of disobeying an order would never have occurred to anybody.

Hans Frank

Hans Frank who had served as the Governor General of Poland during the war was a particularly interesting defendant.

Hans Frank

When he was captured at the end of the war he turned over the entire forty-three volumes of his diary. He said that he needed to do this since it was his duty to inform the world of what he had done under Hitler’s direction. The diary clearly implicated Frank in taking part in the forced labor program, atrocities against Poles and other victims in Poland, and the formation of ghettoes. Nevertheless, he emphasized that there were limits on his authority since he was subservient to Hitler and Heinrich Himmler, head of the SS. Frank also stressed that it was only during the International Military Trial proceedings that he learned the full extent of the “Final Solution.” Early in his testimony Frank admitted his complicity but stressed he had no idea of the full implications of the extermination process.

Dr. Seidl: [Frank’s counsel] Witness, What you have to say with regard to the accusations which have been brought against you in the Indictment.

Frank: I, myself, speaking from the depths of my feelings and having lived through the five months of this trial, want to say that now after I have gained full insight into all the horrible atrocities which have been committed, I am possessed by a deep sense of guilt.

Seidl: Did you ever participate in the annihilation of the Jews?

Frank: I say “yes,” and the reason why I say “Yes,” is because, having lived through the five months of the trial, and particularly after having heard the testimony of the witness Hoess, my conscience does not allow me to throw the responsibility solely on these minor people. I myself never installed an extermination camp for Jews, or promoted the existence of such camps, but if Adolf Hitler personally has laid that dreadful responsibility on his people, then it is mine too, for we have fought against Jewry for years, and we have been indulged in the most terrible utterances—my own diary bears witness against me. Therefore, it is no more than my duty to answer your question with “yes.” A thousand years will pass and still this guilt of Germany will not have been erased.

When the prosecution cited passages from Hans Frank’s diary as demonstration of his involvement in the atrocities against the Jews, Frank said that it was misleading to pick out phrases out of context of the entire diary. Moreover, he pointed out that it was a “wild and stormy period filled with many passions and when a whole country is on fire and a life and death struggle is going on, such words may easily be used.”

Dimensions Online
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Using Testimonies for Researching and Teaching about the Holocaust-- Part I

Volume 16, No. 1, Fall 2002
Remembrance and Commemoration of Two Catastrophes: September 11th and the Holocaust

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