Constantin Von Neurath
A. POSITIONS AND HONORS HELD BY VON NEURATH.
He was a member of the Nazi Party from 30 January 1937 until 1945, and vas awarded the Golden Party Badge on 30 January 1937.
He was General in the SS. He was personally appointed Gruppenfuehrer by Hitler in September 1937, and was promoted to Obergruppenfuehrer on 21 June 1943.
He was Reich Minister of Foreign Affairs under the Chancellorship of von Papen from 2 June 1932, and under the Chancellorship of Hitler from 30 January 1933 until he was replaced by von Ribbentrop on 4 February 1938.
He was Reich Minister from 4 February 1938 until May 1945.
He was President of the Secret Cabinet Council, to which he was appointed on 4 February 1938.
He was a member of the Reich Defense Council.
He was Reichs Protector for Bohemia and Moravia from 18 March 1939 until he was replaced by Frick on 25 August 1943.
He was awarded the Adlerorden by Hitler at the time of his appointment as Reich Protector. Ribbentrop was the only other German to receive this decoration.
These facts are collected in a document signed by von Neurath and his counsel (2972-PS). Von Neurath comments on certain of these matters. He says that the award of the Golden Party Badge was made on 30 January 1937 against his will and without his being asked. Yet he not only refrained from repudiating
the allegedly unwanted honor, but after receiving it attended meetings at which wars of aggression were planned, actively participated in the forcible annexation of Austria, and tyrannized over Bohemia and Moravia.
He also contends that his appointment as SS Gruppenfuehrer was also against his will and without his being asked. But in this connection, his wearing of the SS uniform, his receipt of the further promotion to Obergruppenfuehrer, and the actions against Bohemia and Moravia must be considered. In addition, von Neurath says that his appointment as Foreign Minister was by Reichspresident von Hindenburg. Yet President von Hindenburg died in 1934, and von Neurath continued as Foreign Minister until 1938, under the chancellorship first of von Papen and then of Hitler. He further claims that he was an inactive Minister from 4 February 1938 until May 1945. His activities in this connection will be mentioned below, particularly with regard to Bohemia and Moravia.
Von Neurath next alleges that the Secret Cabinet Council never sat or conferred. This Council, of which von Neurath was president, has been authoritatively described as a select committee of the Cabinet for the deliberation of foreign affairs, directly subordinated to the Fuehrer for counsel and assistance (1774-PS):
"A Privy Cabinet Council, to advise the Fuehrer in the basic problems of foreign policy, has been created by the decree of 4 February 1938 *** This Privy Cabinet Council is under the direction of Reich-Minister v. Neurath, and includes the Foreign Minister, the Air Minister, the Deputy Commander for the Fuehrer, the Propaganda Minister, the Chief of the Reich- Chancellery, the Commanders-in-Chief of the Army and Navy and the Chief of the Supreme Command of the Armed Forces. The Privy Cabinet Council constitutes a select staff of collaborators of the Fuehrer which consists exclusively of members of the Government of the Reich; thus, it represents a select committee of the Reich Government for the deliberation on foreign affairs." (1774-PS)
The formal composition of this body is shown in 201-PS. Von Neurath held himself out as a member of this body by communicating with the British Ambassador on Secret Cabinet Council stationery. (3287-PS)
Von Neurath, finally, objects that he was not a member of the Reich Defense Council. This Council was set up soon after Hitler's accession to power, on 4 April 1933 (2261- PS). In an affidavit by Frick (2986-PS), this Council is described as follows:
The membership of this Council included the Minister for Foreign Affairs, who was then von Neurath. This is shown by a document giving the composition of the Reich Defense Council, and including among permanent members the Minister for Foreign Affairs (EC-177). That document is dated "Berlin, 22 May 1933," which was during von Neurath's tenure of that office.
The functioning of the Reich Defense Council, with a representative of von Neurath's ministry, von Beulow, present, is shown by the minutes of the 12th meeting on 14 May 1936 (EC-407). Under the secret law of 4 September 1938 von Neurath was a member of the Reich Defense Council by virtue of his presidency of the Secret Cabinet Council. This fact is shown by the enclosure of a copy of that law in a letter addressed to von Neurath as Reich Protector for Bohemia and Moravia on 6 September 1939 (2194-PS). It is curious that the Reich Protector for Bohemia and Moravia denies his membership in the Council when the letter enclosing the law is one addressed to him. This law describes the tasks of the Council as follows:
The law also lists the permanent members of the Council, and the seventh one is the President of the Secret Cabinet Council, who was von Neurath.
B. VON NEURATH'S PART, AS FOREIGN MINISTER, IN THE CONSPIRACY FOR THE BREACH OF TREATY OBLIGATIONS.
In assuming the position of Minister of Foreign Affairs in Hitler's Cabinet, von Neurath assumed charge of a foreign policy committed to breach of treaties.
The Nazi Party had repeatedly and for many years made known its intention to overthrow Germany's international commitments, even at the risk of war. Sections 1 and 2 of the Party Program (1708-PS), which was published year after year, declared:
An even clearer statement of these goals is contained in Hitler's speech at Munich on 15 March 1939, in which he said:
If it is "futile nonsense" for foreigners to raise that point, it would be still more futile for Hitler's Foreign Minister to suggest that he was ignorant of the aggressive designs of Nazi policy. The acceptance of force as a means of solving international problems and achieving the objectives of Hitler's foreign policy must have been known to anyone as closely in touch with Hitler as was von Neurath. This doctrine, for example, is constantly reiterated in Mein Kampf (D-660). (See Section 6 of Chapter IX on Aggression as a Basic Nazi Idea.)
Hence, by the acceptance and implementation of this foreign policy, von-Neurath assisted and promoted the realization of the illegal aims of the Nazi Party.
C. VON NEURATH'S PART, AS FOREIGN MINISTER, IN THE CONSPIRACY TO CONSOLIDATE NAZI CONTROL OVER GERMANY IN PREPARATION FOR AGGRESSIVE WAR.
In his capacity as Minister of Foreign Affairs von Neurath directed the international aspects of the first phase of the Nazi conspiracy, the consolidation of control in preparation for war.
From his close connection with Hitler von Neurath must have known the cardinal points of Hitler's policy leading up to the outbreak of World War II, as outlined in retrospect by Hitler in his speech to his military leaders on 23 November 1939 (789-PS). This policy had two facets: internally, the establishment of rigid control; externally, the program to release Germany from its international commitments. The external program had four points:
These points were set out in Hitler's address of 23 November 1939, after the invasion of Poland:
Hitler thus summarized his pre-war foreign policy in four points. Von Neurath participated directly and personally in accomplishing each of these four points, at the same time officially proclaiming that these measures did not constitute steps toward aggression. The first is a matter of history. When Germany left the disarmament conference von Neurath sent telegrams, dated 14 October 1933, to the President of the Conference announcing Germany's withdrawal (Documents of German Politics, 1933, vol. I, p. 94). Similarly, von Neurath made the announcement of Germany's withdrawal from the League of Nations on 21 October 1933. (Documents of German Politics, 1933, vol. I). At the same time, the German government was undertaking far-reaching military preparation (C-140; C-153).
The second point regarding German rearmament: When von Neurath was Foreign Minister, on 10 March 1935, the German Government officially announced the establishment of the German air force (TC-44). On 21 May 1935, Hitler announced a purported unilateral repudiation of the Naval, Military, and Air clauses of the Treaty of Versailles and the Treaty for the Restoration of Friendly Relations with the United States (2288-PS). On the same day the Reich Cabinet, of which von Neurath was a member, enacted the secret Reich Defense Law creating the office of Plenipotentiary General for War Economy (2261-PS), afterwards described by the Wehrmacht armament expert as "the cornerstone of German rearmament" (2353-PS):
The third point is the introduction of compulsory military service. On 16 March 1935 von Neurath signed the law for the organization of the armed forces, which provided for universal military service and anticipated a vastly expanded German army (Reichsgesetzblatt, 1935, I, p. 369) (1654-PS). This was described by Keitel as the real start of the large- scale rearmament program which followed.
The fourth point was the remilitarization of the Rhineland. The Rhineland was reoccupied on 7 March 1936. This action was announced by Hitler (2289-PS), who had also previously given the order for "Operation Schulung," directing the military action which was to be taken if necessary (C-139). These were acts for which von Neurath shared responsibility from his position and from the steps which he took. Some time later he summed up his views on the actions detailed above in a speech to Germans abroad, on 29 August 1937:
D. VON NEURATH'S PART, AS FOREIGN MINISTER AND ADVISOR TO THE FUEHRER, IN THE PLANNING OF WARS OF AGGRESSION.
Both as Minister of Foreign Affairs and as one of the inner circle of the Fuehrer's advisors on foreign political matters, von Neurath participated in the political planning and preparation for acts of aggression against Austria, Czechoslovakia, and other nations.
(1) The von Neurath technique. If von Neurath's policy may be described in a sentence it may be summarized as breaking one treaty only at a time. He himself put it slightly more pompously but to the same effect in a speech before the Academy of German Law on 30 October 1937:
The only countries whose interests von Neurath failed to mention in that speech are the other parties to the various treaties that were dealt with in that way. The working out of that policy can be seen from a brief summary of the actions of von Neurath when he was Foreign Minister, and those of his immediate-successor when von Neurath still purported to have influence.
In 1935 action was directed against the Western Powers, in the form of the rearmament of Germany. When that was going on another country had to be reassured. At that time it was Austria, which still had -- up to 1935 -- the support of Italy. Hence, the fraudulent and clearly false assurance, the essence of the technique in that case, given by Hitler, on 21 May 1935. (TC-26)
Then, in 1936, action was again taken against the Western Powers in the occupation of the Rhineland. Another fraudulent assurance was made to Austria in the Treaty of 11 July of that year, (TC-22) the deceitful nature of which is shown by letters from von Papen. (2246-PS;
Then, in 1937 and 1938, the Nazis moved on a step and action was directed against Austria. That action was absorption, finally planned, at the latest, at the meeting on 5 November 1937 (386-PS). The action was taken on 11 March 1938. Reassurance had to be given to the Western Powers; hence the assurance to Belgium on 13 October 1937. (TC-34)
Less than a year later the object of the aggressive action was Czechoslovakia. The Sudetenland was obtained in September 1938, and the whole of Bohemia and Moravia was absorbed on 15 March 1939. At that time it was necessary to reassure Poland; so an assurance to Poland was given by Hitler on 20 February 1938 (2357-PS), and repeated up to 26 September 1938 (2358-PS). The falsity of that assurance is shown in Section 8 of Chapter IX on Aggression Against Poland.
Finally, when the Nazis decided to take action for the conquest of Poland in the next year, assurance had to be given to Russia. Hence, a non-aggression pact was entered into with the USSR. on 23 August 1939. (TC-25)
With regard to the foregoing summary, the Latin tag, res ipsa loquitur is apposite. But a frank statement from von Neurath with regard to the earlier part of it is found in the account of his conversation with the United States Ambassador, Mr. Bullitt, on 18 May 1936 (L-150):
The conversation between von Papen as Ambassador and Mr. Messersmith is much to the same effect. (1760-PS)
(2) Austria. At the time of the aggression against Austria von Neurath was Foreign Minister. This included the preliminary stages, during the early Nazi plottings against Austria in 1934. In this period occurred the Nazi murder of Chancellor Dolfuss and the ancillary acts which were afterwards so strongly approved by the German Government. (See Section 3 of Chapter IX on Aggression Against Austria.) Von Neurath was also Foreign Minister when the false assurance was given to Austria on 21 May 1935 (TC-26) and the fraudulent treaty was made on 11 July 1936 (TC-22). And von Neurath was Foreign Minister when his ambassador to Austria, von Papen, was carrying on his subterranean intrigue in the period from 1935 to 1937. (2247-PS; 2246-PS)
Von Neurath was present when Hitler declared, in a highly confidential circle, on 5 November 1937, that the German question could only be solved by force, and that his plans were to conquer Austria and Czechoslovakia (386-PS). Hitler expressed his designs on Austria as follows:
It is impossible for von Neurath, after that meeting, to say that he was not acting except with his eyes completely open and with complete comprehension as to what was intended.
During the Anschluss von Neurath received a note from the British Ambassador dated 11 March 1938 (045-PS). In reply von Neurath uttered two obvious untruths. The first:
According to the German ultimatum, Schuschnigg had to appoint a proposed candidate as Chancellor and form a Cabinet conforming to the proposals of the German Government. Otherwise the invasion of Austria by German troops was held in prospect. (See Section 3 of Chapter IX on Aggression Against Austria.) The second untruth:
As to the inspired nature of the Austrian telegram, see Section 3 of Chapter IX on Aggression Against Austria.)
All that can be said is that it must have given von Neurath a certain macabre sort of humor to write that note (3287-PS) when the truth was the opposite, as shown by the report of Gauleiter Rainer to Buerckel (812-PS), the transcripts of Goering's telephone conversations with Austria (2949-PS), and the entries in Jodl's diary for 11, 13, and 14 February. (1780-PS)
According to Jodl's diary -- the entry for 10 March:
It is inconceivable when von Neurath had taken over the Foreign Office, was dealing with the matter and was co- operating with Goering to suit the susceptibilities of the Czechs, that he should have been so ignorant of the truth of events as to write that letter (3287-PS) in good faith.
Von Neurath's position is shown equally clearly by the account which is given of him in the affidavit of Messersmith (2385-PS). Von Neurath's style of activity at this crisis is described as follows:
(3) Czechoslovakia. At the time of the occupation of Austria, von Neurath gave the assurance to M. Mastny, the Ambassador of Czechoslovakia to Berlin, regarding the continued independence of Czechoslovakia (TC-27). M. Jan Masaryk, Czechoslovakian Foreign Minister, describes the circumstances as follows:
In view of von Neurath's presence at the meeting on 5 November 1937, four months previously, where he had heard Hitler's views on Czechoslovakia (386-PS), and that it was only six months before the treaty was disregarded, von Neurath's assurance is an excellent example of the technique of diplomacy developed by von Neurath.
On 28 May 1938 Hitler held a conference of important leaders, including Beck, von Brauchitsch, Raeder, Keitel, Goering, and Ribbentrop, at which Hitler affirmed that preparations should be made for military action against Czechoslovakia by October (388-PS; 2360-PS). It is believed, although not confirmed, that von Neurath attended.
On 4 September 1938 the Government of which von Neurath was a member enacted a new Secret Reich Defense Law which defined various official responsibilities, in clear anticipation of war. This law provided, as did the previous Secret Reich Defense Law, for a Reich Defense Council as a supreme policy board for war preparations (2194-PS). Then came the Munich agreement of 29 September 1938, in spite of which, on 14 March 1939, German troops marched into Czechoslovakia. (TC-50)
On 16 March 1939 the German Government, of which von Neurath was still a member, promulgated the Decree of the Fuehrer and Reich Chancellor on the Establishment of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. (TC-51) During the following week, von Ribbentrop signed a treaty with Slovakia (1439-PS), Article 2 of which reads as follows:
The ultimate objective of Hitler's policies, disclosed at the meeting at which von Neurath was present on 5 November 1937 (86-PS), is obvious from the terms of this treaty. It was the resumption of the drang for lebensraum in the East.
E. VON NEURATH'S PART, AS PROTECTOR FOR BOHEMIA AND MORAVIA, IN THE CONSPIRACY TO COMMIT WAR CRIMES AND CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY.
By accepting and occupying the position of Reich Protector of Bohemia and Moravia, von Neurath personally adhered to the aggression against Czechoslovakia. As Protector he further actively participated in the conspiracy for world aggression, and assumed a position of leadership in the execution of policies involving violations of the laws of war and the commission of crimes against humanity.
Von Neurath's responsibility for these crimes derives from the legal position which he assumed. Von Neurath assumed the position of Protector under a sweeping grant of powers. Article V of the act creating the Protectorate provided:
At the very outset of the Protectorate, von Neurath's supreme authority was implemented by a series of basic decrees. These established the alleged legal foundation for the policy and program which resulted, all aimed toward the systematic destruction of the national integrity of the Czechs. Among these decrees were:
(1) The decree granting "Racial Germans" in Czechoslovakia a supreme order of citizenship (2119-PS);
(2) An act concerning the representation in the Reichstag of Greater Germany of German Nationals Resident in the Protectorate (13 April 1939);
(3) An order concerning the acquisition of German citizenship by former Czechoslovakian citizens of German origin (20 April 1939)
Another series of decrees granted "Racial Germans" in Czechoslovakia a preferred status at law and in the courts:
(1) An order concerning the Exercise of Criminal Jurisdiction in the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia (14 April 1939);
(2) An order concerning the Exercise of Jurisdiction in Civil Proceedings (14 April 1939);
(3) An order concerning the Exercise of Military Jurisdiction (8 May 1939).
The Ordinance on Legislation in the Protectorate (7 June 1939) also granted to the Protector broad powers to change by decree the autonomous law of the Protectorate.
Finally, the Protector was authorized, with the Reich Leader SS and the Chief of the German Police (Himmler) "to take, if necessary, such (police) measures which go beyond the limits usually valid for police measures." It is difficult to imagine what can be police measures "beyond the limits usually valid for police measures" in view of the police measures in Germany between 1933 and 1939. (See Section 4 of Chapter VII on Purge of Political Opponents and Section 6 of Chapter XV on the Gestapo and SD.) But presumably such increase was believed to be possible, and was given to von Neurath to use for coercion of the Czechs.
The declared basic policy of the Protectorate was to destroy the identity of the Czechs as a nation and to absorb their territory into the Reich. This is borne out by a memorandum signed by Lt. Gen. of Infantry Frederici (86-PS), which is headed "The Deputy General of the Armed Forces with the Reich Protector in Bohemia and Moravia" It is marked Top Secret and dated 15 October 1940. That was practically a year before von Neurath went on leave, as he puts it, on 27 September 1941. The memorandum discusses "Basic Political Principles in the Protectorate," and copies went to Keitel and Jodl. The memorandum states:
That view of the Reich Protector was accepted and formed a basis of his policy. The result was a program of consolidating German control over Bohemia and Moravia by the systematic oppression of the Czechs through the abolishment of civil liberties, and the systematic undermining of the native political, economic, and cultural structure by a regime of terror. The only protection given by von Neurath was a protection to the perpetrators of innumerable crimes against the Czechs. (Proof of this aspect of von Neurath's responsibility was left for development by the Soviet prosecuting staff.)
Von Neurath received many honors and rewards as his worth. It even appears that Hitler showered more honors on von Neurath than on some of the leading Nazis who had been with the Party since the very beginning. His appointments-as President of the newly created Secret Cabinet Council in 1938 was in itself a new and singular distinction. On 22 September 1940 Hitler awarded him the War Merit Cross, First Class, as Reich Protector for Bohemia and Moravia. He was also awarded the Golden Badge of the Party, and was promoted by Hitler personally from the rank of Gruppenfuehrer to Obergruppenfuehrer in the SS, on 21 June 1943. Von Neurath and Ribbentrop were the only two Germans to be awarded the Adlerorden, a distinction normally reserved for foreigners. Von Neurath's seventieth birthday, 2 February 1943, was made the occasion for most of the German newspapers to praise his many years of service to the Nazi regime. This service, in the view of the prosecution, may be summed up in two ways:
(1) He was an internal fifth columnist among Conservative political circles in Germany. They had been anti-Nazi but were converted in part by seeing one of themselves, in the person of von Neurath, wholeheartedly with the Nazis.
(2) His previous reputation as a diplomat made public opinion abroad slow to believe that he would be a member of a cabinet which did not stand by its words and assurances. It was most important for Hitler that his own readiness to break every treaty or commitment should be concealed as long as possible, and for this purpose he found in von Neurath his handiest tool.
Sources: Nizkor. Nazi Conspiracy & Aggression, Volume II, Chapter XVI, pp.1014-1029. Photo Harry S. Truman Library, courtesy of the USHMM.