Goering: Seizure of Power
March 13, 1946 Nuremberg Tribunal: On day 80, defendant Hermann Goering is given vast latitude by the Tribunal to tell his life story. He will be at it for the next few days. No other defendant will be given so much virtually uninterrupted time.
Dr Stahmer: What was your position in the Party during the period from 1928 until the seizure of power?
Goering: I had no office in the Party. I was never a political leader in the Party--that is perhaps strange--either in the Reich Party Directorate or elsewhere. I was first of all, as I said, a member of the Reichstag and thereby a member of the Reichstag faction of the Party. At the same time I was the Party speaker, that is, I traveled from city to city and tried to do whatever I could to extend the Party, to strengthen it, to recruit and convince new members, and especially to win over to our side Communist and Marxist adherents in order to create a broad base among the people and not to have Rightist circles only, which were nationalist of themselves.
From the middle of 1932 on, after we had weathered countless elections and for all of these elections had had to participate in the campaigns by holding speeches, for example, often three in one evening, often the whole night long; I, as a member of the Party, or better said, because our Party had the strongest representation in the Reichstag, was chosen President of the Reichstag and thereby took over a generally political task.
Shortly before, at the end of 1931, when I saw that the Party had grown to an extraordinary extent and was gaining, the Fuehrer said to me that he would very much like to have a direct representative who was independent of a Party office and who could carry out political negotiations. This person was not to be tied down to any particular Party office. He asked me whether I would take over this function, especially as I was living in the capital of the Reich anyway. I took over this commission--it was not an office, but rather a commission of a general nature. In a few sentences he gave me the liberty to negotiate with all parties from the Communists to the extreme Rightists, in order, let us say, to undertake specific joint action in the Reichstag, or other suitable political steps. Naturally also I was given in this connection, the task of effecting the dissemination and the penetration of our ideals in all circles. To these circles belonged, as has already been mentioned, the industrial and intellectual groups.
Since I had connections with and access to all these circles, it was quite natural that the Fuehrer considered me specially suited for this task, as he could depend upon me absolutely in this respect and knew that I would use all my powers to advance our ideas. When I became President of the Reichstag my task in this capacity was greatly eased, for now I was, so to speak, legally authorized and even obliged to participate in political events. If, for instance, a government resigned in the Reichstag or fell through a vote of no confidence, it was my duty as President of the Reichstag, to suggest to the Reich President, after having negotiated with the parties, what the possibilities were in my opinion for a new coalition government. Thus the Reich President was always bound to receive me in this capacity with regard to these matters. So I was able to create a rather close connection between the Reich President and myself. But I should like to emphasize that this connection had already existed before; it was a matter of course that Field Marshal Von Hindenburg, if I requested it, would always receive me, because he had known me in the first World War.
Dr Stahmer: What part did you play in the appointment of Hitler as Reich Chancellor?
Goering: I should just like to explain first that when I said that I held no office in the Party, no political office, my position had nevertheless naturally become stronger and stronger, especially since the end of 1931, from which time on I worked more and more closely with the Fuehrer and was considered his special exponent but only on the basis of normal and natural authority which increased greatly after the seizure of power.
As to my part in the appointment of Hitler: If I am to explain this to the Tribunal I must first describe the situation briefly. The balance among the parliamentary parties had been disturbed as early as the end of 1931 or the beginning of 1932. Things were going badly in Germany and no proper enduring parliamentary majority could actually be procured, and already the Enabling Act then in force had come into play to the exclusion, in part, of the Constitution. I call to mind the [Heinrich] Brüning cabinet which had to work to a large extent with the Enabling Act and which at the time was also greatly concerned with Article 48 of the Reich Constitution. Then there followed the Cabinet of von Papen, which also could not put itself on a parliamentary basis, on a more lasting or firmer basis. Herr von Papen at that time tried to make that possible and, in order to get a parliamentary basis, he asked the National Socialists, the strongest party at that time, to establish such a basis together with the other parties.
There was some talk--von Papen's name had been given to the President as a nominee for Reich Chancellor--that Hitler should become the Vice Chancellor in this Cabinet. I remember that I told Herr von Papen (above) at that time that Hitler could become any number of things, but never Vice. If he were to be made anything, he would naturally have to be in the highest position and it would be completely unbearable and unthinkable to place our Fuehrer in any sort of second position. We would then have had to play the role of governing, but possibly not all according to our lights, and Hitler as a representative of the strongest party would have had to be responsible for these things. This we declined categorically. I do not emphasize that because Herr von Papen is in the dock with me. He knows that we always respected him personally, but I told him then, after this gesture had come to naught, that we would not only not support him, but would also oppose his Cabinet in the Reichstag to the utmost, just as we would consistently fight every succeeding cabinet which did not give us a leading influence in the Chancellery.
There came then--I do not remember exactly for how many months Herr von Papen held the reins--the well-known clash between him and me, he as Reich Chancellor, I as the President of the Reichstag, in which it was my intention to bring about the fall of his government, and I knew there was to be a motion of "no confidence" by the Communists, in which practically everybody would participate. It was necessary for this vote of "no confidence" to be expressed under all circumstances in order to show the Reich President that one could not govern with such cabinets without some sort of strong reserve. I saw the "red portfolio" and knew that the order for dissolution was in it, but let the voting be carried through first. Thirty-two votes were for von Papen and about five hundred were against him. The Cabinet of von Papen resigned.
Up to that point all the parties had drawn up cabinets, apart from the few small fragmentary parties. All men who were available had already been presented to the people at some time. Towards the end, Reich Defense Minister von Schleicher, the political figure behind the scenes, had played an increasingly important part. There were therefore only two possibilities: Either the actual proportion of power would be taken into account and the leader of the strongest party, as is generally customary, would be brought into conferences and entrusted with the power, or else the man who was operating behind the scenes, the only possibility that was left, would be brought forward. And this happened. Herr von Schleicher himself took over as Chancellor in conjunction with--and this is important--the office of Reich Defense Minister.
It was clear to us, not only to us but also to the other parties, that as Herr von Schleicher had far fewer personal sympathizers than Herr von Papen and could not bring about a majority, a military dictatorship was finally aimed at by von Schleicher. I had discussions with Herr von Schleicher and told him that at this moment it was even possible to form a parliamentary majority. Through conferences I had succeeded in bringing together the German Nationals, National Socialists, Center, German People's Party and smaller supporting groups, to form a majority. It was clear to me that such a majority could be only temporary because the conflicting interests were too great. But it was a matter of indifference to me whether I brought our Party to power this way or that--if by means of parliamentary negotiations, very good; if by the Reich President's summons, all the better.
Herr von Schleicher turned down these negotiations because he knew that he would then not be able to remain chancellor. Then again there were Emergency Laws and Enabling Acts. Parliament had thus been more or less excluded even before our seizure of power. I immediately issued the same challenge to Herr von Schleicher in the Reichstag, much more emphatically than previously to Herr von Papen. In the meantime the presidential election had taken place and after that a Reichstag election, in which, after the dissolution of von Papen's Cabinet we lost several seats. We were reduced from 232 to 196 seats. Then in January there were further elections, which showed an extraordinary rise in favor of our Party and proved that the short crisis had been surmounted and that the Party was on the upgrade more strongly than ever before.
On Sunday, the 22nd of January 1933--the 30th was a Monday--I was in Dresden at a large political meeting, when I was summoned in the morning by the Fuehrer to motor to Berlin immediately. I arrived that afternoon, and he told me, which I already knew, that the Reich President was no longer satisfied with von Schleicher and saw that political matters could not continue in this way; nothing was ever accomplished; the Reich President had independently arrived at the conclusion that somehow some responsibility must now be given to the strongest Party.
Before that time, in a very clever way, a wrong personal impression of the Fuehrer had been created in the old gentleman's mind and he was prejudiced--he probably took offense at the word socialism, because he understood that in a different way. Briefly, Hitler revealed to me that day, that that evening I was to speak to the Field Marshal's son at the home of Herr von Ribbentrop. I believe Herr von Papen was to be present also and--I am not sure about this--Meissner, who was the State Secretary of the Reich President. The Field Marshal's son wanted to inquire on behalf of his father what the possibilities were of Hitler as chancellor and the inclusion of the Party in responsibility. In a rather lengthy conversation I declared to the son that he should tell his father that, one way or another, Von Schleicher would lead to shipwreck.
I explained to him the new basic conditions for forming a new government, and how I had heard now of the Field Marshals willingness to entrust Hitler with the position of Chancellor, thereby regarding the Party as a main basis for a future government majority if Adolf Hitler were also able to succeed on this occasion in drawing in the German Nationals and the Stahlhelm--for he wanted to see a definite national basis. The Stahlhelm was not a parliamentary party but it had many followers. The German Nationals under Hugenberg were a parliamentary party. We did not discuss very much more that evening. I told Von Hindenberg’s son that he could tell his father that I would undoubtedly bring that about, and the Fuehrer gave me orders to undertake negotiations during the coming week with these parties on the one hand and with the Reich President on the other. There were difficulties here and there. I found that our conceding ...
The President: I think we will break off now. (A recess was taken)
Dr Stahmer: You were dealing with the question of your participation in the appointment of Hitler as Reich Chancellor. Would you continue?
Goering: I had arrived at the last decisive period. The negotiations had become somewhat difficult. The Field Marshal, Reich President von Hindenburg, who, until then, had come to know the Fuehrer personally only through two conversations and who had not yet overcome his distrust of him--a distrust which had been instilled and nourished for many years by a variety of influences, simply because he did not know him--had at that time demanded some severe restrictions, so that we, the strongest and now the leading party, which would have to be responsible to the nation for future measures, would be relatively very restricted and, in comparison with our strength, weakly represented in the government.
One must not forget that at this moment Germany had arrived at the lowest point of her downward trend. There were 8 million unemployed; all programs had failed; confidence in the parties existed no more; there was a very strong rise on the part of the revolutionary Leftist side; and political insecurity. Therefore those measures were necessary which the people would expect of us, if we were in the government, and for which we had to stand. So it was a very heavy burden to take over such a responsibility with such severe political conditions imposed.
First condition: The Reich President wanted, under all circumstances, that Herr von Papen should become Vice Chancellor in this Cabinet. Apart from his sympathetic personality Herr von Papen did not bring us anything, because there was no party behind him. But the Reich President demanded, beyond that, that Herr von Papen should attend the presentation of the reports which the Fuehrer, after being appointed Reich Chancellor, would have to make to the Reich President. But this was abandoned very quickly, and by the Reich President himself.
Secondly, the Reich President desired that the Foreign Office, independent of all parties, should be in the hands of Herr von Neurath. Herr von Neurath also brought us nothing in the way of political power, apart from his knowledge and ability.
Thirdly, the position of Prussian Prime Minister which, next to that of the Reich Chancellor was always the most important in Germany during the period after the World War, was likewise to be filled by the person of Herr von Papen. Before the World War, as it is known, the offices of Reich Chancellor and Prussian Prime Minister were for these reasons always combined in one person.
Fourthly, the Reich President demanded that the office of Reich Defense Minister should also be in the hands of an independent person, a soldier; and he himself chose him, without our having anything to do with it, namely, General von Blomberg, who at that time was at the Disarmament Conference in Geneva. Herr von Blomberg was not known personally either to the Fuehrer or to me at that time. Even though the essential and definitely most important posts in the Cabinet were thus already filled by persons in whose choice we had had no influence, still further demands developed in the course of the week.
It was demanded that the Finance Ministry should be in the hands of Count Schwerin von Krosigk, again a man backed by no political party. The Ministry of Transportation was to be under Herr von Eltz, to whom the same applied. The leader of the Stahlhelm, Seldte, was to be taken into the Cabinet. Certainly the Stahlhelm was a large and extensive movement, but not politically, and it was not represented by a single delegate in the Reichstag. There was left, as a really political party, only the German National Party, with 36 seats--our only parliamentary ally, so to speak. Here too, extraordinary demands were made, which were in no correct proportion to the smallness of that party.
In the end we, as the strongest party at that time with 232 seats, were given only the following, as far as I remember: The office of Reich Chancellor of course; then Dr. Frick as Reich Minister of the Interior, in the Cabinet; and I third in the Reich Cabinet, with an assignment as Reich Commissioner for Aviation, a very small subordinate division, an insignificant branch of a small Aviation Department in the Ministry of Transport, but no department otherwise. But then I succeeded in becoming, without conditions attached, Prussian Minister of the Interior and thereby a political minister of the largest German state, for in the end Prussia was actually the place where the rise to internal power started. It was so far an extraordinarily difficult affair. At the last moment the forming of the Cabinet threatened to fail because of two factors. The Fuehrer had made the unconditional demand that shortly after the appointment of the new Cabinet a new Reichstag election should take place, knowing correctly that the Party would be greatly strengthened thereby and possibly could represent a majority by itself, and thus be in a position to form the government platform by parliamentary means.
Hugenberg, as leader of the German National Party, absolutely opposed this, knowing that his party would probably disappear more or less in this election. Even 5 minutes before the meeting of the Cabinet there was still danger that it would break up because of this. It was pure chance that at this moment the Reich President undertook to administer the oath to the new ministers; and so the Cabinet was formed. The second danger threatened from Schleicher who, through his confidant, on the Sunday made the following offer to the Fuehrer and me: He wanted to emphasize that the Reich President was not a sure factor as far as the new government was concerned; it would serve the purpose better if he--even though he had withdrawn the day before--were to join us to form a government now quite definitely not on a parliamentary basis of any kind, but rather on the basis of an entirely new situation, a coalition of the Reichswehr and the NSDAP. The Fuehrer refused, recognizing that this would be impossible and that the intentions were not honest.
When Herr von Blomberg arrived at the railroad station from Geneva on the Monday morning, he was given two orders, one from Herr von Hammerstein, Chief of the Army Command and his superior, to come to him immediately; the other from Hindenburg, his commander-in-chief, to come to him immediately. There was at that time, known only to a few, the threat of a Putsch by Schleicher and Hammerstein with the Potsdam Garrison. On the Sunday evening I mentioned that to Reich President von Hindenburg, and that is the reason why, 2 hours before the rest of the Cabinet, Herr von Blomberg was appointed Minister of War, or at that time Reich Defense Minister, in order to prevent any wrong move by the Reichswehr. At 11 o'clock on the morning of the 30th the Cabinet was formed and Hitler appointed Reich Chancellor.
Dr Stahmer: Had the Party come to power in a legal way, in your opinion?
Goering: Of course the Party had come to power in an entirely legal way, because the Party had been called upon by the Reich President according to the Constitution, and according to the principles in force the Party should have been called upon much earlier than that. The Party gained strength and came to power only by way of normal elections and the franchise law then valid.
Dr Stahmer: What measures were now taken to strengthen this power after Hitler's appointment?
Goering: It was a matter of course for us that once we had come into power we were determined to keep that power under all circumstances. We did not want power and governmental authority for power's sake, but we needed power and governmental authority in order to make Germany free and great. We did not want to leave this any longer to chance, to elections, and parliamentary majorities, but we wanted to carry out the task to which we considered ourselves called.
In order to consolidate this power now, it was necessary to reorganize the political relationship of power. That was carried out in such a manner that, shortly after the seizure of governmental authority in the Reich and in Prussia, the other states followed automatically and more or less strong National Socialist governments were formed everywhere. Secondly, the so-called political officials who according to the Reich Constitution could be recalled at any time, or could be dismissed, would naturally have to be replaced now, according to custom, by people from the strongest party. As far as legality, that is, the opinion that we came to power legally, is concerned, I should like to emphasize two considerations in particular.
Firstly: in the years 1925 to 1932 no fewer than 30 Reichstag, Landtag, and presidential elections took place in Germany. The very fact that 37 parties had candidates in one Reichstag election alone gives a clear picture of how it happened that one strong coalition formed the so-called government majority, and another strong grouping formed the opposition, each with an entirely different point of view. Just think of an opposition formed in common by Communists and National Socialists for example, and the fact that one small party which had eight representatives altogether was now the decisive factor, and in two readings of a law, especially of a decisive law--every law had to have three readings--voted against the government and then secured sufficient political and material advantages to force the law through for the government at its third, final reading. This may give a picture of the conditions.
The second point which I want to emphasize especially in regard to the legality of our coming to power, is the following: Had the democratic election system of England or the United States of America existed in Germany, then the National Socialist German Workers Party would, at the end of 1931 already, have legally possessed all seats in the Reichstag, without exception. For in every electoral district in Germany at that time, or at the beginning of 1932 at the latest, in every one--I emphasize this once more--the NSDAP was the strongest party; that is to say, given an electoral system as it is in Great Britain or in the United States all these weaker parties would have failed to gain any seats and from this time on we would have had only National Socialists in the Reich, in a perfectly legal way according to the democratic principles of these two great democracies.
For the further seizure of power the main political offices were now filled by new holders, as is the case in other lands when there has been a change-over of power among the political parties. Besides the ministers there were first of all--taking Prussia as an example--the administrative heads of the provinces, the official heads of administrative districts, the police commissioners, county heads (Landrat). In addition there was a certain further grade--I believe down to ministerial directors--who were considered political officials. District attorneys were considered political officials. This on the whole describes the range of offices which were filled anew when a shift in political power took place and had previously been bargained out among the parties having the majority. It did not go so far as in other countries--all the way down to the letter carrier. There was a change of office holders, but only of the most important posts.
In spite of that we did very little in this direction at first. First of all, I requested Herr von Papen to relinquish to me the position of Prussian Prime Minister, as he, having no party, behind him, could not very well undertake this re-shuffling, but rather I, that is, one of us, should undertake it. We agreed at once. Thereupon I filled some, a relatively small part, of the highest administrative Prussian offices with National Socialists. At the same time I generously allowed Social Democrats to remain in these posts for many weeks. I filled a few important provincial offices with leading Catholic persons who were much closer to the Center Party than to us. But slowly, by degrees, in the course of time these offices, to the extent that they were key administrative positions, were, of course, filled with National Socialists--it could hardly be otherwise in the further course of the change-over, since these offices at the same time corresponded to the political districts. Even until the very end district heads remained in part National Socialists, in part, however, simply officials.
The same was true of the Landrat. In the case of police commissioners, I should like to emphasize for the information of the Tribunal that the police commissioners at first had nothing to do with the Gestapo. A police commissioner in the bigger cities had the same function as a Landrat in the country, in part at least. These police commissioner posts had always been filled by the largest political parties until the seizure of power. Thus I found Social Democrats in these positions who could not, with the best of intentions, remain, as they had always been our opponents up to that date. That would have been absurd. I filled these police commissioner posts partly with National Socialists but partly, however, with people who had nothing to do with the Party. I remember that to the most important police commissioner post in the whole German Reich, the one in Berlin, I appointed Admiral von Levetzow, retired, who was not a member of the Party. In some of these offices I put former SA leaders.
For the purpose of consolidation of power, which seemed very important not only to me but all of us because that was to form the basic condition for our further work, a still stronger influence came into the Reich Cabinet. New National Socialists received positions as ministers. New ministries were created. In addition came a number of new basic laws. It was indeed clear to everyone who had concerned himself with German conditions, either abroad or especially in Germany, that we would put an end to the Communist Party as quickly as possible. It was an absolutely necessary consequence that it should be prohibited. We were convinced that if the Communist Party, which was the strongest next to us, had succeeded in coming to power, it would certainly not have taken any National Socialists into its cabinet or tolerated them elsewhere. We were aware that we would have been eliminated in an entirely different manner.
A further point in the consolidation of power was to eliminate to a certain extent the Reichstag as a parliament, at least for a period of time during the reorganization, because its influence was increasing until then. That, however, had happened owing to the fact that we had an absolute majority in the Reichstag after the new election. In some cases we suggested to the former parties that they should dissolve themselves, because they no longer had any purpose, and those which could not dissolve themselves were dissolved by us. I was speaking of the Communist Party and the Social, Democratic Party. Beyond that, we wanted finally to fulfill an old, old longing of the German people and now not only appear to have the structure of a Reich, but at last, really become a unified German Reich. This purpose was served by firmly establishing the Reich idea and the Reich's power throughout the countless states and provinces.
If it had been difficult for a fervent German patriot before the first World War to get along with a heap of petty princes, it was even worse with those who took their places, for in the place of one, small will there now appeared the most various, party-bound officials. In the Reich there was a majority based on one thing; in Prussia, on another; in Bavaria, on yet another; and in Hesse, on something quite different. It was impossible in this manner to establish Reich sovereignty and a Reich which could be great again.
Therefore I suggested to the Fuehrer that the state parliaments should be dissolved and done away with as a matter of principle. In Prussia I began with the elimination of state parliaments, which I considered entirely superfluous, for the simple reason that the principle "Reich dominion, not state authority" was already in force. I saw no reason why so many different authorities should exist which, with their unnecessary frictions and discussions merely hindered constructive work. Yet, however much I wanted to see and make the Reich structurally unified, I, and the Fuehrer above all, always supported the idea that within the German states and provinces cultural life should remain many-sided and bound to local traditions; that is to say, all the old centers of culture, which, as is well known, had formed around Munich, Dresden, Weimar, and so on, should continue to exist in that way and be supported.
For the further consolidation of power those laws were created which would first of all eliminate any further obstacle to progress, that is to say, on the basis of Paragraph 48, the law did away with the so-called freedoms. The conception of these freedoms is a matter of controversy. The "Law for the Protection of People and State" was created, a law which was most urgently needed. In the past years much had been prohibited which could have stimulated patriotic activity, yet a senseless defamation had been allowed of the German people, its history, the German State, and those symbols and objects which are, after all, very holy things to a patriot; and they were not protected in any way.
It is a matter of course that in connection with the concept of "conformity" which arose at this time, very many unnecessary and excessive things were done, for after the seizure of power the whole movement developed along revolutionary lines, although not in the way of revolutions as they had been known in history until then, such as the French Revolution, or the great Bolshevist Revolution--that is to say, not by way of great conflicts and cruel changes, revolutionary tribunals that executed people by the hundreds of thousands--but still with a strong revolutionary aim in the direction of unity of State, Party, and National Socialism as the basis of leadership and of ideology. This "conformity" which I have just mentioned was then effected in detail; but, as I have said, on the occasion of such drastic political transformations people will always overstep the mark here and there. Personally I did not consider it necessary that every organization should now become National Socialist or that--if I am to express myself quite drastically--every club or similar organization should absolutely have to have a National Socialist chairman. But in decisive political matters, and in matters of principle, our ideas and our ideology had to be recognized more and more; for that was the basic condition for the rebuilding, establishing, and strengthening of the Reich.
An additional strengthening, which occurred only after the death of Reich President Von Hindenburg in 1934, was the confirmation of the head of the state and the Reich Chancellor in one person. To this I should like to add that on this occasion I had a long conversation with the Fuehrer. Right from the beginning we had discussed whether Hitler would and should take over the position of head of the State, and whether I should take over as Chancellor. In view of the Fuehrer's temperament and attitude it was unthinkable that the Fuehrer, sitting on a throne above the political clouds, so to speak, should appear only as head of the State. He was definitely a political leader and hence a leader of the government. Also the thought of putting in some other person as a puppet head of the State we considered unworthy of the situation.
The Fuehrer told me then that the simplest thing to do would be to take as example the United States of America, where the head of the state is at the same time also the head of the government. Thus, following the example of the United States, we combined the position of the head of the State with the head of the government, and he called himself "Fuehrer of the German People and Reich Chancellor of the German Reich." That he thereby automatically became also the Commander-in-Chief of the German Armed Forces followed as a matter of course, according to the Constitution, and also according to the previous Constitution, just as is the case in other countries also. That was the position, broadly speaking, apart from a number of other developments which probably will have to be mentioned later in my testimony--as, for instance, the establishment of police power, the basic element of the consolidation of power, and so on.
In conclusion I wish to say: 1) It is correct that I--and I can speak only for myself--have done everything which was at all within my personal power to strengthen the National Socialist movement, to increase it, and have worked unceasingly to bring it to power under all circumstances and as the one and only authority. 2) 1 have done everything to secure for the Fuehrer the place as Reich Chancellor which rightfully belonged to him. 3) When I look back, I believe I have not failed to do anything to consolidate our power to such an extent that it would not have to yield to the chances of the political game or to violent actions but would rather in the further course of reconstruction, become the only factor of power, which would lead the Reich and lead it--as we hoped--to a great development.
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