Goering: France

1946 Nuremberg Tribunal: On day 82, 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: For what reason were officers interned in France again, even after the war was over?

Goering: First I would like to correct an expression in regard to this question. In France the war as such was not terminated at all. An armistice had been concluded. This armistice was a very generous one. Even the preamble of this armistice showed a tendency to coming conciliation, in contrast to that armistice which had been signed in 1918 on the same spot. When, at the time, Marshal Petain asked for an armistice, the first answer he received was that capitulation would have to be unconditional.

Later, however, we gave him to understand that quite a number of wishes concerning the fleet, certain parts of the unoccupied territory, and the respecting of the colonies would be considered. The situation was such that Germany at that moment could have insisted on an absolutely unconditional surrender, since no French forces of any consequence, or any help that might come from England, were available to prevent a complete military catastrophe in France.

No line, no French formation, could have stopped the breakthrough of German troops to the Mediterranean. No reserves were available in England. All the available forces were in the expeditionary force which had been routed in the Belgian and Northern French area and finally at Dunkirk. In this armistice those conditions were respected for which a wish had been expressed. The Fuehrer also, apart from that, had hinted at a certain generous solution, especially in regard to the question of captured officers. When, contrary to far-reaching satisfaction which we had hoped for, and which we really got at the beginning, the resistance movement within France began to develop gradually by means of propaganda from across the Channel, and the establishment there of a new center of resistance under General de Gaulle, it was perfectly understandable, from my point of view, that French officers would offer their services as patriots.

But at the same time it was just as natural for Germany, recognizing that danger and in trying to overcome it, again to take as prisoners of war those elements who would be the leaders and experts in such military resistance movements, that is to say all those officers who were still moving freely in France. That was a necessary basic condition in order to avoid the danger of a war in our back and of a renewed flare-up in France. I believe that it is quite unique, that, while war was still raging on all fronts, officers of a country with whom one had only an armistice were permitted to move around freely when war was at its height, As far as I know, that was the first time in the history of warfare that such a thing had happened.

Dr Stahmer: Can you give us specific facts to explain why the struggle in France, which was apparently carried out in a mutually honorable manner in 1940, later took on such a bitter character?

Goering: One must consider the two phases of the war with France completely separately. The first phase was the great military conflict, that is to say, the attack of the German forces against the French Army. This struggle was executed quickly. One cannot say that it was a chivalrous fight throughout, because from that period we know of several acts on the part of the French against our prisoners, which were recorded in the White Books and later presented to the International Red Cross in Geneva. But all in all, it kept within the usual bounds of a military war with the excesses that always occur here and there in such a struggle.

After that had been terminated, appeasement and quiet set in for the time being. Only later, when the struggle continued and expanded, especially when the fight against Russia was added, and, as I said before, when on the opposite side a new French center of leadership had been created, then in the countries of the West, which had been quiet until then and where no serious incidents had taken place, a definite intensification of the resistance movement became evident. There were attacks on German officers and soldiers; hand grenades and bombs were thrown into restaurants where German officers or soldiers were present. Bombs were even thrown in places where there were women, members of the Women's Auxiliary Signal Service and Red Cross nurses. Cars were attacked, communications cut, trains blown up, and this on a growing scale.

A war behind the front during a period of land warfare represented difficulty enough but when aerial warfare was added, entirely new possibilities and methods were developed. Night after night a large number of planes came and dropped a tremendous quantity of explosives and arms, instructions, et cetera for this resistance movement, in order to strengthen and enlarge it. The German counterintelligence succeeded, by means of aerial deception and code keys dropped by enemy planes, in getting into their hands a large part of these materials; but a sufficient amount was left which fell into the hands of the resistance movement. The atrocities committed in this connection were also widespread. As to this, documents can be submitted.

Dr Stahmer: Will you please continue?

Goering: I believe that the statement which I am about to make will fulfill those conditions which Justice Jackson has requested; namely, I do not in any way deny that things happened which may be hotly debatable as far as international law is concerned. Also other things occurred which under any circumstances must be considered as excesses. I wanted only to explain how it happened, not from the point of view of international law as regards reprisals, but considering it only from the feeling of the threatened soldier, who was constantly hindered in the execution of his task, not by regular troops in open combat, but by partisans at his back.

Out of all those things which I need not go into any further, this animosity arose which led spontaneously 00 or in certain cases was ordered as a necessity in a national emergency--to these partial excesses committed here and there by the troops. One must go back to that period of stormy battles. Today, after the lapse of years, in a quiet discussion of the legal basis, these things sound very difficult and even incomprehensible. Expressions made at a bitter moment, today, without an understanding of that situation, sound quite different. It was solely my intention to depict to the Tribunal for just one moment that atmosphere in which and out of which such actions, even if they could not always be excused, would appear understandable, and in a like situation were also carried out by others.

That was and is my answer to the question why the conditions in France necessitated two entirely different phases of war--the first, that of the regular fighting, with which I have finished; the second, that of the fighting which was not carried out by regular troops, but by those coming out of hiding, from the underground, which always will and at all times has entailed cruelties and excesses quite different to those of regular military fighting. It often happens here that single actions occur, be it by individuals or by troop units, which the Supreme Command cannot always control or possibly keep in hand.

Dr Stahmer: What measures were taken by the German occupational authorities in France to help French agriculture during the occupation?

Goering: I can reply very briefly, and I refer to the testimony of the witness Korner, which I can only confirm. By that I mean that in France agriculture was tremendously promoted and increased during the period of occupation. A large number of tracts of fallow land or those which had not been put to good agricultural use were turned to profitable cultivation; other tracts, through intensified use of fertilizers or other means of cultivation, were made considerably more productive. I am unable to give specific explanations as to just what was done and I am not conversant with the figures showing the increase in agricultural production in the course of the occupation years, which could be given only by the responsible experts.

Dr Stahmer: What were the reasons leading to the introduction of Reichskreditkasse notes in the occupied countries?

Goering: A measure which would probably be introduced by every occupying power to regulate money circulation, to keep it in its proper limits, and to keep the country's currency at a certain level, similar to the procedure which today takes place in all occupied zones of Germany.

Dr Stahmer: Document Number 141-PS is a decree of yours issued 15 November 1940 in which you effected a regulation regarding art objects brought to the Louvre. Are you familiar with this decree or shall I hand it to you?

Goering: I remember this document very distinctly as it has played an important part here. These art objects were taken at first to the Louvre and later to the exhibition hall called, I believe, "Salle du Jeu de Paume." This concerned art objects which were confiscated, being Jewish property, that is ownerless property as their owners had left the country. This order was not issued by me, I was not familiar with it; it was a Fuehrer decree. Then, when I was in Paris I heard of this, and heard also that it was intended that most of these art objects would--as far as they had museum value--be put into a Linz museum which the Fuehrer contemplated building. Personally, I admit this openly, I was interested that not everything should go to southern Germany. I decided quite sometime before, and informed the Finance Minister about it, that after the war, or at some other time which seemed opportune to me, I would found an art gallery containing the objects of art which I already had in my possession before the war, either through purchase, through gifts, or through inheritance, and give it to the German people.

Indeed it was my plan that this gallery should be arranged on quite different lines from those usually followed in museums. The plans for the construction of this gallery, which was to be erected as an annex to Karinhall in the big forest of the Schorfheide, and in which the art objects were to be exhibited according to their historical background and age in the proper atmosphere, were ready, only not executed because of the outbreak of war. Paintings, sculptures, tapestries, handicraft, were to be exhibited according to period. Then, when I saw the things in the Salle du Jeu de Paume and heard that the greater part were to go to Linz, that these objects which were considered to be of museum value were to serve only a minor purpose, then, I do admit, my collector's passion got the better of me; and I said that if these things were confiscated and were to remain so, I would at least like to acquire a small part of them, so that I might include them in this North German gallery to be erected by me.

The Fuehrer agreed to this with one reservation, that he himself, should at least see the photographs of those objects which I intended to acquire. In many cases, of course, it so happened that he wished to earmark those particular objects for himself, that is, not for himself but for his museum in Linz, and I had to give them back. From the beginning, however, I wanted to have a clear distinction made, as I meant to pay for those objects which I wanted to have for the gallery I was going to build. Therefore I ordered an art expert, and not a German but a Frenchman--it was some professor whose name I do not recall and to whom I never talked--to value those things. I would then decide whether the price was too high for me, whether I was no longer interested, or whether I was willing to pay the price. One part, the first part, was settled that way, but then the whole thing stopped because some of the objects were sent back and forth; that is, they went back to the Fuehrer and they did not remain with me, and not until the matter was decided could the payment be made.

In this decree, which I called a "preliminary decree" and which the Fuehrer would have had to approve, I emphasized that part of the things were to be paid for by me, and those things which were not of museum value were to be sold by auction to French or German dealers, or to whomever was present at the sale; that the proceeds of this, as far as the things were not confiscated but were paid for, was to go to the families of French war victims. I repeatedly inquired where I was to send this money and said that in collaboration with the French authorities a bank account would have to be opened. We were always referring to the opening of such an account. The amount of money was always available in my bank until the end.

One day, when I inquired again, I received a surprising answer. The answer was the Reich Treasurer of the Party did not want to have this money paid. I at once answered, and my secretary can verify this on oath, that I could not at all understand what the Reich Treasurer of the Party had to do with this matter and that I wanted to know to which French account I could have this amount transferred. In this case, the Party, that is, the Reich Treasurer, could have no authority to exempt me from paying or not, because I myself had wished to make the payment. Even after France had been occupied again, I once again requested to know the account to which I could remit the amount reserved for it.

In summarizing and concluding, I wish to state that according to a decree I considered these things as confiscated for the Reich. Therefore I believed myself to be justified in acquiring some of these objects, especially as I never made a secret of the fact--either to the Reich Minister for Finance or to anybody else--that these art objects of museum value, as well as the ones I previously mentioned as already in my possession, were being collected for the gallery which I described before.

As far as exchange was concerned, I would like to put this matter straight also. Among the confiscated paintings there were some of the most modern sort, paintings which I personally would not accept and never did, which, however, as I was told, were in demand in the French art trade. Thereupon I said that as far as I was concerned these pictures could also be valued and acquired, in order that they might be exchanged against old masters, in which I am interested. I never exerted any pressure in that direction. I was concerned only as to whether the price asked of me was too high; if so I would not enter into negotiations, but as in every art deal if the offer was suitable I would inquire into the authenticity of what was offered. This much about the exchange; under no circumstances did I exert any pressure.

Later, after I had acquired these objects, I naturally used some of them as well as some of my own for general trading with museums. In other words, if a certain museum was interested in one of those pictures and I was interested, for my gallery, in a picture which was in the possession of that museum, we would make an exchange. This exchange also took place with art dealers from. abroad. This did not concern exclusively pictures and art objects of these acquisitions, but also those which I had acquired in the open market, in Germany, Italy, or in other countries or which were earlier in my possession. At this point, I would like to add that independent of these acquisitions--and I am referring to the Salle du Jeu de Paume, where these confiscated objects were located--I, of course, had acquired works of art in the open market in France as in other countries before and after the war, or rather during the war.

I might add that usually if I came to Rome, or Florence, Paris, or Holland, as if people had known in advance that I was coming, I would always have in the shortest time a pile of written offers, from all sorts of quarters, art dealers, and private people. And even though most were not genuine, some of the things offered were interesting and good, and I acquired a number of art objects in the open market. Private persons especially made me very frequent offers in the beginning. I should like to emphasize that, especially in Paris, I was rather deceived. As soon as it was known that it was for me the price was raised 50 to 100 percent. That is all I have to say briefly and in conclusion in regard to this matter.

Dr Stahmer: Did you make provisions for the protection of French art galleries and monuments?

Goering: I should like to refer at first to the state art treasures of France, that is, those in the possession of the state museums. I did not confiscate a single object, or in any way remove anything from the state museums, with the exception of two contracts for an exchange with the Louvre on an entirely voluntary basis. I traded a statue which is known in the history of art as La Belle Allemande, a carved wood statue which originally came from Germany, for another German wood statue which I had had in my possession for many years before the war, and two pictures--an exchange such as I used to make before the war with other museums here, and as is customary among museums.

Moreover I have always instructed all authorities to do their utmost to protect art objects against destruction by bombs or other war damage. I remember that when the directors of the Louvre told me that most of the things had just been put into the rooms of the so-called Loire castles, I said that I would be willing at their request, and if it seemed necessary with the increased bombing attacks, to help them put these objects into safekeeping at places determined by them, as they complained of not having transportation facilities. Now I wish to refer to art monuments, which I would call the buildings, churches, and other monuments--anything of a stationary character.

Here I can say that perhaps sometimes I issued an order which stood in contradiction to my strictly military duties, because I strongly emphasized to my fliers that the magnificent Gothic cathedrals of the French cities were, under all circumstances, to be protected and not to be attacked, even if it were a question of troop concentrations in those places; and that if attacks had to be made, precision bombing Stukas were to be used primarily. Every Frenchman who was present at the time will confirm this, that the peculiar situation arose, be it in Amiens, Rouen, Chartres or in other cities, that the cathedrals--those art monuments of such great importance and beauty were saved and purposely so, in contrast to what later happened in Germany. There was of course some broken glass in the cathedrals, caused by bomb detonations, but the most precious windows had been previously removed, thank God. As far as I remember, the small cathedral in Beauvais had fallen victim to bombing attacks on the neighboring houses, the large cathedral still is standing. The French Government repeatedly acknowledged recognition of this fact to me. I have no other comment on that point.

Dr Stahmer: What reasons made you put Colonel Veltjens in charge of centralizing the black market in France?

Goering: Colonel Veltjens was a retired colonel. He was a flier in the first World War. He then had entered business. Therefore, he was not sent there in his capacity as colonel, but as an economist. He was not only in charge of the black market in France, but also of that in Holland and Belgium. It came about in the following manner: After a certain period during the occupation, it was reported to me that various items, in which I was particularly interested for reasons of war economy, could be obtained only in the black market. It was then, for the first time, that I became familiar with the black market, that is that copper, tin, and other vital materials were still available, but that some of them lay buried in the canals of Holland, and had also been carefully hidden in other countries. However, if the necessary money were paid, these articles would come out of hiding, while, on the basis of the confiscation order, we would receive only very little of the raw materials necessary for the conduct of the war.

At that time, as during the entire war, I was guided only by intentions and ideas leading toward the ultimate war aim, the winning of victory. It was more important to me to procure copper and tin, just to cite one example, to get them in any case, no matter how high the price might be than not to get them merely because I did not consider such high prices justified. I therefore told Veltjens in rather general terms, "You know in what things German war economy is interested. Where and how you get these things is immaterial to me. If you get them by means of confiscation, that is all the better. If we have to pay a great deal of money to get them, then we shall have to do that too."

The unpleasant thing was that other departments, first without my knowing it--as the French Prosecution has shown here quite correctly--also tried in the same way to get the same things, in which they also were interested. The thought of now having internal competition as well was too much for me. So, then I gave Veltjens the sole authority to be the one and only office in control as far as the civilian dealers were concerned who insisted they could procure these things only in that other way, and to be the only purchasing office for these articles and, with my authority, to eliminate other offices.

The difficulty of combating the black market is the result of many factors. Afterwards, at the special request of Premier Laval, I absolutely prohibited the black market for Veltjens and his organization as well. But in spite of this it was not thereby eliminated, and the statement of the French Prosecution confirms my opinion that the black market lasted even beyond the war. And as far as I know it is again flourishing here in Germany today to the widest extent. These are symptoms which always arise during and after a war when there is on the one hand a tremendous scarcity and holding back and hiding of merchandise and on the other hand the desire to procure these things.
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