Goering: Concentration Camps

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: The concentration camps?

Goering: When the need became evident for creating order first of all, and removing the most dangerous element of disorder directed against us, I decided to have the communist functionaries and leaders arrested all at once. I therefore had a list made for that purpose, and it was clear to me that even if I arrested only the most important and most dangerous of these functionaries it still would involve several thousands, for it was necessary to arrest not only the party functionaries but also those from the Red Front Organization, as the Communists also had affiliated organizations. These arrests were in accordance with reasons of State security and State necessity. It was a question of removing a danger.

Only one possibility was available here, that of protective custody--that is, whether or not one could prove that these people were involved in a traitorous act or an act hostile to the State, whether or not one could expect such an act from them, such an act must be prevented and the possibility eliminated by means of protective custody. That was nothing new and it was not a National Socialist invention. Already before this such protective custody measures had been carried out, partly against the Communists, and chiefly against us, the National Socialists. The prisons were not available for this purpose, and also I want to stress from the very beginning that this was a political act for the defense of the State. Therefore, I said that these men should first of all be gathered into camps--one to two camps were proposed at that time--because I could not tell them how long the internment of these people would be necessary nor how the number would be increased by the further exposure of the entire communist movement.

When we occupied the Karl Liebknecht House we found so many arms, material, and preparations for a civil war, that, as I said, one could not gain a general view of its extent. I have already indicated, as is obvious, that in view of such great political tension as existed between the extreme wings of these political opponents and in view of the bitterness of the opposition caused by the continuous fighting in the streets, the mutual tension, et cetera, resulting from the political struggle, the situation would conceivably not be a very pleasant one for the inmates. For this reason I gave instructions that the guard, if possible to a large extent, should consist of police forces; only where those were not adequate should auxiliary forces be called.

I have stated my opinion with regard to the question of concentration camps and I should like to point out that we did not create this name, but that it appeared in the foreign press and was then adopted. Where the name originated, is rather an historical matter. At the end of 1933 in a book, which at first appeared in, English, at the request of an English publisher, and which has already been presented by the Prosecution as evidence, I stated my views on this matter quite openly--that was at the end of 1933. I point out again that it was for foreign countries, for English-speaking countries. At that time I openly stated the following: Of course, in the beginning there were excesses; of course, the innocent were also hurt here or there; of course, there were beatings here and there and acts of brutality were committed; but compared to all that has happened in the past and to the greatness of the events, this German revolution of freedom is the least bloody and the most disciplined of all revolutions known to history.

Dr. Stahmer: Did you supervise the treatment of the prisoners?

Goering: I naturally gave instructions that such things should not happen. That they did happen and happened everywhere to a smaller or greater extent I have just stated. I always pointed out that these things ought not to happen, because it was important to me to win over some of these people for our side and to re-educate them.

Dr. Stahmer: Did you do anything about abuses of which you heard?

Goering: I took a personal interest in the concentration camps up to the spring of 1934. At that time there were two or three camps in Prussia.

Witness Korner has already mentioned the case of Thalmann. I would like to speak about it briefly, because it was the most striking case, as Thalmann was the leader of the Communist Party. I could not say today who it was who hinted to me that Thalmann had been beaten. I had him called to me in my room directly, without informing the higher authorities and questioned him very closely. He told me that he had been beaten during, and especially at the beginning, of the interrogations.

Thereupon, as the witness who was present has said already, I told Thalmann that I regretted that. At the same time I told him, "Dear Thalmann, if you had come to power, I probably would not have been beaten, but you would have chopped my head off immediately." And he agreed. Then I told him that in the future he must feel free to let me know if anything of this sort should happen to him or to others. I could not always be there, but it was not my wish that any act of brutality should be committed against them. Just to demonstrate this case, which was not an unimportant one, I want to stress that later Thalmann's wife turned to me for help and that I answered her letter immediately.

At that time I also--this I can prove by evidence--helped the families of the inmates financially so far as that was necessary. At this opportunity I should also like to speak about the unauthorized cencentration camps which have been mentioned, the purpose of which came under the heading of abolition of abuses. At first I did not know anything about them, but then I found out about one such camp near Stettin. It had been established by Karpfenstein, at that time Gauleiter of Pomerania.

I had this camp closed at once--my Defense Counsel will remember that he, independently of me, received information about this during the Trial, from an inmate whom I do not know at all--and I had the guilty persons, who had committed acts of brutality there, brought before a court and prosecuted by the state attorney, which can likewise be proved. Karpfenstein was expelled from the Party. A second camp of that kind was found in Breslau, which Heines had established. I do not remember today what happened there. At any rate, it was a camp not authorized by me. This one I likewise closed down and did away with immediately. Heines was one of the closest of Rohm's collaborators, about whom I shall speak later.

As far as I can remember--I cannot name the place exactly anymore--close to Berlin another unauthorized concentration camp had been secretly established by Ernst, the SA leader in Berlin, whom I had always suspected of acts of brutality. That also, was closed. Ernst belonged to those evil figures who were eliminated in the Rohm Putsch. It is possible to question persons who were inmates of these camps at that time, 1933 and the beginning of 1934, as to whether during that time anything happened which even approached that which happened later.

Dr. Stahmer: Did you, after a consolidation of power had taken place, ever free inmates to any great extent and at what time did you do so?

Goering: At Christmas of 1933 I gave orders for the release of the lighter cases, that is the less dangerous cases, and those cases of which one had the impression the people had resigned themselves to the situation; that was about 5,000 people. I repeated that once more in November 1934 for 2,000 inmates. I stress again that that refers only to Prussia. At that time, as far as I remember--I cannot say exactly--one camp was dissolved or at least closed temporarily. That was at a time when nobody thought that it would ever be the subject of an investigation before such an international tribunal."

1946 Nuremberg Tribunal: On day 207, defendant Hermann Goering gives testimony concerning his knowledge of medical experiments on concentration camp prisoners.

Sir David Maxwell-Fyfe (UK Deputy Chief Prosecutor): Two months later there was a Fuehrer Decree, and one of your officers was to be Chief of Staff of this Coordination Staff. Are you telling the Tribunal that you did not know about the Fuehrer Decree and that your officer was so appointed?

Goering: Before giving my answer, may I have a look at the decree?

Sir David Maxwell-Fyfe: Would you like ... ?

Goering: Yes, I should like to see it.

Sir David Maxwell-Fyfe: I have only the English copy. [document is handed to the witness]

Goering: Yes, that is just what I wanted to find out. This decree has nothing whatsoever to do with experiments. It begins with the following--I shall translate it freely, I do not know the language so well.

A planned co-ordination is necessary for the personnel and material in the field of health and in the whole Medical Inspectorate. I therefore decree as follows ...

The decree created the post of the chief of the medical department--I no longer know the exact designation-in order to solve the shortage of medical officers and of medical supplies-that is especially emphasized here--and, of course, if necessary, to carry out joint research work. What we did in the field of research, especially during the war, is of course quite clear. Since the Army was providing the bulk of the medical officers and was receiving the largest amount of medicines and material, the Sanitary Inspector was put at the head of the department. Since the Air Force was the second largest branch of the Wehrmacht, the Chief of Staff was chosen from the ranks of the Luftwaffe. That is quite understandable.

Sir David Maxwell-Fyfe: The point that I am putting to you, and I think you have gathered it, is that on 28 July 1942 there was this additional interest in medical matters and research which made Hitler assemble this coordinating staff. Now, I want you just to remember how that interest in medical matters was shown in your service. A month later, on 31 August 1942, your second man Milch was writing to Himmler. My Lord, this is Document Number 343-PS, the Exhibit USA-463.

Dear Herr Himmler: I thank you very much for your letter of 25 August. I have read with great interest the reports of Dr. Rascher and Dr. Romberg. I am informed about the current experiments. I shall ask the two gentlemen to give a lecture combined with the showing of motion pictures to my men in the near future.

Now, assume that Milch is telling the truth for the purpose of this question, and that that letter was put in front of him by the head of your medical department for his signature; assume that, if you like. There is no reason to suppose that the head of your medical department was telling lies in the letter he put before Milch; no reason to assume that that letter is untrue, and if, in your service, lectures were given on these experiments with motion pictures to the men, are you still telling the Tribunal that you, as the head of the service, knew nothing about these experiments for your service that were going on?

Goering: I am telling the Tribunal only the truth. First, this letter need not by any means have been submitted to Milch by the Sanitary Inspectorate just because it was a direct letter between Himmler and Milch. Secondly, while he was in the witness stand here, Milch ...

Sir David Maxwell-Fyfe: Excuse me for interrupting you. I am only quoting Milch's evidence. I was asking you to assume for the moment that Milch's evidence is true. It was suggested to Milch that his evidence wasn't true, and the truth was that you said it was his own letter. I am asking you to assume that Milch is telling the truth; this is the letter put before him by the sanitary department. That is why I put it that way. Now, continue your answer.

Goering: I am afraid I did not understand you quite clearly. Did you read me a letter from Field Marshal Milch or did you read the testimony that Milch gave here? The translation did not make that quite clear.

Sir David Maxwell-Fyfe: I read to you a quotation from a letter of Field Marshal Milch to Himmler. And I informed you, in case you didn't remember, that Field Marshal Milch--that your medical department put that letter in front of him and that he signed it blindly. That was Milch's evidence. I asked you to assume that Milch was telling the truth. I don't mean that for the moment. I am asking you, as head of your service, if, these experiments were the subject of lectures and motion pictures shown to your own men serving under your command? Are you still telling the Tribunal that you knew nothing about them?

Goering: I already said quite clearly and plainly that I myself knew nothing about them. I did not say that Meld Marshal Milch had made an untruthful statement. After all he must know whether the letter was submitted to him by the inspectorate or not; as far as I recall his testimony here on the witness stand, he cleared up this matter completely and emphasized that he made no report whatever to me about the details of these experiments. But, Sir David, may I once more direct your attention to this decree. I have meanwhile glanced through the whole of it. It has nothing at all to do with these experiments but, as I said earlier, Part I deals with the medical departments of the three Wehrmacht branches, and Part 2 deals with the relation of the army and civil medical health services from a purely organizational and administrative point of view.

Sir David Maxwell-Fyfe: Witness, I just passed the decree, you know. I want your answer. Do you say that you did not know that lectures and motion pictures were shown to the men under your command, dealing with these experiments? I just want your answer quite clearly yes or no. Did you or did you not know?

Goering: No, I knew nothing about that. May I ask you once more to take into consideration that the Ministry was an administration of its own, whereas I, at headquarters, dealt rather with strategic and tactical matters. I would certainly have objected to such experiments; even though the Russian Prosecution, I believe, at one time distorted this, I maintain this. In 1934 1 strictly forbade experiments and tortures to be carried out on living animals; kindly do not expect me to have permitted them to be carried out on human beings.

Sir David Maxwell-Fyfe: It is not for me to comment. Plenty of people have standards with regard to animals which they do not apply to fellow men. But this is a matter of comment and I do not wish to pursue it. Now, in November 1942-you referred to it in giving your evidence-Dr. Rascher was transferred soon after that from the Air Force to the SS. Before he was transferred, Himmler wrote to Milch on that subject after describing the experiments on the behavior of the human organism at great heights, in prolonged cooling, and similar problems. I quote Himmler's words, which are of vital importance to the Air Force in particular:

These researches which deal with the behavior of the human organism at great heights, as well as with manifestations caused by prolonged cooling of the human body in cold water, and similar problems which are of vital importance to the Air Force in particular.

Then he says:

Unfortunately you had no time recently when Dr. Rascher wanted to report on the experiments at the Ministry for Air. I had put great hopes in that report because I believe that in this way the difficulties, based mainly on religious objections, which obstructed Dr. Rascher's experiments for which I have assumed responsibility, could be eliminated. The difficulties now are still the same as before. In these Christian medical circles the standpoint is being taken that it goes without saying that a young German aviator should be allowed to risk his life, but that the life of a criminal who is not drafted into military service is too sacred for this purpose and one should not burden oneself with this guilt.

Then Himmler goes on to say that in view of the importance to the Air Force and also to the Waffen-SS, "however, in this connection, I suggest that in view of the liaison between you and Wolff," that is, Milch and Wolff, "a non-Christian physician should be in charge who would, at the same time, be informed of the results." Are you saying, Defendant, that you never heard, although Hitler had heard, that Christian medical circles were protesting against these experiments?

Goering: I think you mean Himmler, not Hitler.

Sir David Maxwell-Fyfe: Himmler, I am sorry. Although Himmler knew, you say you did not know that Christian medical circles were apparently, according to this letter, publicly and insistently protesting against these experiments? Did you not know that?

Goering: No, and they did not protest publicly. But I am very grateful to you for having brought up this letter which I no longer remembered among the many documents which have been submitted to me. It underlines clearly and unmistakably what I said before and I am happy that by the Christian medical officers who are mentioned here, the inspectorate of my Luftwaffe is apparently meant, because only the inspectorate could raise protests. And that is also the reason why this Rascher had apparently to leave the Air Force as his co-operation with the inspectorate no longer satisfied Herr Himmler; and therefore he transferred him to the SS. That emphasizes exactly what I said.

Sir David Maxwell-Fyfe: I want you--again, I want you to apply your mind to this: You and Himmler were still on good terms in 1942, weren't you?

Goering: Until the end, Himmler always adopted a very polite attitude towards me, as befitted him.

Sir David Maxwell-Fyfe: You were more than that. Within a few days of this letter you sent him an attaché-case of crocodile leather, a box of cigars, and a notebook for Christmas. This means that you were on good terms with Himmler at this time. Do you mean to say that you never heard, that Himmler never said to you, that Milch never told you, that your medical officer never said to you, that these experiments were being carried on and were causing protest in Christian medical circles? Did everyone conspire, Defendant, to keep you in ignorance of every matter that might be embarrassing to you? Now, is that the answer?

Goering: The experiments and knowledge of them have nothing to do with the crocodile attaché-case and the notebook. These were Christmas presents in return for a present which Himmler always gave me for Christmas on behalf of the SS, and I always wanted to respond to this gesture. Secondly, no attempts were made to hide anything from me intentionally, but the various spheres of activity were divided; there were important matters, very important matters, and routine matters that were treated by certain departments. The Medical Inspectorate was one of them. It was impossible to bring everything to my knowledge. Apart from that, I wish to emphasize again that I never heard of a public protest by Christian circles or doctors in Germany against such experiments during the war; such a protest would not, in fact, have been possible.
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