The Nuremberg Interviews

The Nuremberg Interviews by Leon Goldensohn

I started reading this book on March 24th, and didn’t finish it until May 15th.  This was a “heavy” book to read, and often very disturbing.  I found that I generally could only take so much of it at a time.  Then I read 2 or 3 novels during the same time that I was reading this book.  But now that I have finished it I want to document my impressions:

First, some notes about Hans Fritzsche – senior official in Joseph Goebbels’ Ministry of Propaganda.  He speaks of “the democracy which shows up in the United States and in England [as not being] an ideal democracy, because the will of the people is under the pressure of property, which is in the hands of the wealthy capitalists.”  He goes on to try to show how becoming a Nazi might be understood and justified when all things are taken into consideration.  And later Fritzsche, in relation to the Nuremberg Trials, says that “I hope that a least after the trial they will be objective enough to investigate [relating to outside factors that influenced the things that happened in Germany and the start of the war]. I hope for it in the interest of my people, but God knows I hope for it in the interest of humanity.  Because I want to make an end to all this tragedy.  If one places the guilt of these tragic six years of war upon the wrong place, there will be always the terms of repetition, which will be kept alive, and perhaps another tragedy will befall mankind.” 

CHILLING WORDS.  (I note that Fritzsche was found Not Guilty in the Nuremberg Trials.)

Hjalmar Schacht, president of the Reichsbank (and also found Not Guilty at Nuremberg), talks about how “there was only the choice between Communism and Hitler,” and that the reason that Hitler won was that “people will not give up religion, rights, freedom of personality, [and] the opportunity to develop by individual effort – which includes private property. …Just as every single individual needs and must have self-respect, just as every family is proud of decent traditions, so every nation wants to maintain her individual manner, culture, language, and customs.  It was in these respects that Communism failed.”  And then Hitler came along and “he affirmed [the] things which Communism denied.”  When asked if he thought that the morals of Germans had suffered as the result of National Socialism (Nazism), Schacht replies that he thinks “Bolshevism is much more dangerous [to morals] than Nazism.”  Then he says that he knows that “the Bolsheviks have never exterminated 5 million people, but aside from that… the Red idea is immoral because of its contempt for private enterprise” and goes on to explain that “if you do away with the institution of private property, the fundamental element of social life is undermined.”  He says he is “in favor of allowing everyone to become wealthy.  But to take the property of another man is criminal.  This was introduced by the Bolsheviks and by the Versailles Treaty.”  Then, he says that “the only big power which tried to build up a foreign policy based on morals has been the Americans for the past thirty years.” 

INTERESTING.  Schacht then concludes his interview by saying, “I have never believed in war.  It is a crime against humanity whether you win or lose.  I just read an article in this magazine… that one day the moon will fall on the earth, but it is my feeling that until then, we should try to make the world a better place to live in.”

I certainly have learned a lot of history by reading these books lately, and I’ve gained some different perspectives about the nature of people and governments and politics.  Each of the interviewees in this book had their own take on how things conspired to create Hitler and the Nazi regime.

Paul O. Schmidt, who was Hitler’s interpreter in the war, and who had much knowledge about diplomacy and international affairs through his work as translator in several different international arenas, speaks of his opposition to Germany’s breach of the terms of the Versailles Treaty.  He speaks about the League of Nations and how if they had succeeded in putting through the oil sanctions, the Abyssinian war would have been avoided:  “it all depended on oil.  If that one thing had succeeded, war would have been averted.  The oil sanctions would have served peace and would have been a warning to the people who later made trouble.”  How much of the time do things happen or not happen because of money?  How many wars could’ve been avoided if just one little thing happened to go a different way?

It is interesting to hear what went on in the minds of these Nazis.  And I think it is important to realize that things are never clearly black or white.  While the Nazis unquestionably perpetrated inhuman and hard to conceive of atrocities against fellow human beings, the German people, including some who actually worked for the Nazis, were not much different than anyone else.  There are always reasons and repercussions for how things happen, inexcusable and evil or not.  But in order to prevent things from recurring, it is important to understand all sides. 

Most of the Nazis interviewed in this book were understandably trying very hard to prove their own innocence and pass the blame for any atrocities onto someone else, in general Hitler or Himmler or some of the others who were most conveniently already dead.  That is, of course, only a human tendency.  Many of these guys were found guilty and executed (as they probably rightly should have been, as much as I hesitate to condone capital punishment).

As for some examples of Nazis who were found Guilty at Nuremberg and hung, Dr. Goldensohn, the psychiatrist who conducted the interviews contained in this book, writes of Kurt Daluege, an SS General during the war, as follows:  “Emotionally, he seems callous, affectless, unimaginative, and there is evidence of obsessive character.  …He presents himself as being just an officeholder, the son of an officeholder; knows nothing about atrocities and so forth… improbable to get much emotional response out of this man.  There is a long-conditioned hardness, an outer shell which has been worn and used so long, probably nothing exists beneath it.  Having dealt with force, violence, and easy dispositions of the lives of others, it is questionable as to how much value he puts on life in general, including his own in particular.  …Getting a sincere or emotionally meaningful answer from him is like trying to bail water from a long-dry well.”  What could have made someone this way?  How did the Nazis get so callous, so inhuman and monstrous, to have been capable of doing the things they did?

Albert Kesselring, who was general field marshal of the air force in the war, and who was ultimately released from prison in 1952 after being given a life imprisonment sentence, mentioned in an interview that “one of the troubles with the Nazis was that at too early an age children were taken away from their families. …One of the first things to do is give children back to their families. Particularly the fifteen- to sixteen-year-olds ones.”  He says, “It was not …only the influence of the Labor Service, but the taking of the children on Sundays and evenings, instead of having children educated by parents.”  I noticed that many of the Nazi officers interviewed at Nuremberg whose interviews are in this book, mention leaving home and joining the military at anywhere from 14 to 17 years of age I don’t doubt that this is significant in terms of how these men ultimately turned out. 

I was astounded at how these men somehow were able to turn a blind eye to such evil things taking place right before their eyes and how they ended up being able to deny their culpability, by saying they personally did nothing wrong.  That they were only following orders, that they did not have the responsibility or the power, or, in fact, even the choice of doing anything any differently.  Very few seemed to fail to at least acknowledge that what was done by the Nazis was wrong.  But very few also were able to take upon themselves any blame or responsibility for – or even claim any knowledge of – such wrongdoing.

I find this article enlightening to try to understand this: Religion, Superstition, Language and the Holocaust: The Reframing of Evil into The Final Solution

Most of these men were demonstratively very intelligent.  Some of them, however, were very obviously a bit deranged from the beginning and were simply drawn to Hitler by their very fanaticism and derangement.  Extremism always draws disturbed fanatics, without doubt.

I found this interesting:  in terms of “intelligence,” there was a discussion in this book between the interviewer, Dr. Goldensohn, and Ewald von Kleist, general field marshal, wherein Kleist says that he believes that “intelligence is not an entity but a composite of various adaptabilities.  I think that lawyers in general are sharp but not extraordinarily intelligent because they think in certain prescribed lines, and are, therefore, not very adaptable.”  I really like this statement and believe there is a lot of truth to this!

But even if most of these Nazis were highly intelligent, there is also mention of a lot of superstition in “Nazi high places”Hermann Goering, Reichsmarschall (committed suicide the night before he was to be hanged) talks about Rudolf Hess (deputy leader of the Nazi Party), having “a pendulum in his office, which he used to detect whether the letters he received were worthy of answering or not – whether the writer was a friend or an enemy.”  Goering says that he also knew “a great surgeon who believed in a similar pendulum, using it the same way Hess did [and that] apparently it’s a common superstition.”

Then, in an interview with Walter Schellenberg (ultimately, was head of secret military intelligence services), Schellenberg states that he “wanted to work with Himmler [Heinrich Himmler, head of the Gestapo; committed suicide on 5/23/45] against Hitler as a means to an end.”  He said that he “began to use astrology with Himmler, using the horoscope to predict certain events …as an instrument to get more influence with Himmler because he [Himmler] believed in astrology.”  He says that “Himmler was inclined to believe this horoscope business because he was a weak character and superstitious.”

Finally, I found it interesting to find references to events that I had recently read about in the books I read which were first-hand accounts of personal experiences in the war (“All But My Life” and “Sala’s Gift.”)  Reading about all of this seems sometimes so surreal, it is hard to believe that it actually happened.  But indeed it did.  And let us all hope that nothing like it ever, ever happens again. 

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