On 26 November at 10 a.m., US lawyer Sidney Alderman appeared before the prosecutor’s stand. His mission was to prove to the International Military Tribunal that Germany had planned the war long before it began. Alderman presented the tribunal with what he called the Hossbach Protocol, “one of the most striking and revealing of all the captured documents which have come to hand”. Dmitry Astashkin, a specialist in Nazi war crimes and senior researcher at the Saint Petersburg Institute for History of the Russian Academy of Sciences, contributed to the understanding of the content and importance of the document.
On 5 November 1937, Adolf Hitler held a secret conference on military industry issues in Berlin. The meeting in the Reich Chancellery was attended by only six people: top military commanders and Foreign Minister Constantin von Neurath. The minutes were not taken, but Hitler's Adjutant Colonel Friedrich Hossbach made notes in his diary during the conference. Five days later, using his notes, Hossbach drew up the minutes of the meeting.
This document confirms that Hitler prepared the generals for war, while in public speeches he assured everyone of his peacefulness. He asked that the outcome of the meeting be considered a “political testament”.
"I doubt that I will live long. The issues of solving Lebensraum [living space] should if possible be resolved while I am still alive. Future generations will not do this. In the event of my death, in the interest of long-term German politics, I ask that this exposition should be regarded as my last will and political testament" (Adolf Hitler)
At the conference, Hitler proceeded to explain that Germany was entitled to acquire “greater living space than in the case of other peoples...” at the expense of the countries in Central Europe.
“The Fuhrer planned to expand the German ‘living space’ at the expense of Austria and Czechoslovakia. Hitler believed that this action would not cause a military response from England and France”, Dmitry Astashkin said.
The participants discussed three possible plans to conquer Austria and Czechoslovakia. For Germany, the annexation of those two states would mean an acquisition of foodstuffs, shorter and better frontiers, the freeing of forces for other purposes, and the possibility of creating new armies for further aggression. Hitler admitted that such an invasion plan would likely meet resistance and lead to a major war, but he was sure it was worth the risk.
Hitler's casual acceptance of the immense risks of starting a war in Europe shocked German War Minister Werner von Blomberg and Commander-in-Chief of the German Army Werner von Fritsch who “repeatedly emphasised the necessity that Britain and France must not appear in the roles of their enemies”.
“In three months, Hitler would send von Blomberg and von Fritsch into retirement supposedly because of health reasons. In fact, their dismissal was the result of blackmail. Blomberg was threatened with bringing to light the old accusation of his wife’s prostitution, while Fritsch was threatened with a court-refuted accusation of homosexuality”, Dmitry Astashkin said. “By replacing the cautious Foreign Minister von Neurath with the loyal Nazi von Ribbentrop, Hitler gained even more power. Incidentally, Blomberg would face the war as a pensioner, Fritsch would be killed in a suburb of Warsaw on 22 September 1939, and Hossbach would go on to become a general and command an army in battles against the USSR”.
Three participants of that conference became defendants at the Nuremberg Trials: former Commander-in-Chief of the Luftwaffe, Hermann Goering, former Commander-in-Chief of the Navy, Erich Raeder, and former Foreign Minister Constantin von Neurath. Von Blomberg was compelled to give witness testimony at the trial.
The defence tried to extenuate the importance of the document. Ribbentrop's lawyer, Defence Counsel Dr Martin Horn, said: “People who knew Hitler stated that they were used to extravagant ideas from him in the form of sometimes repeating and surprising speeches and that in consideration of his peculiarities they did not take them seriously. One can present in contrast to these documents quite a number of speeches in which Hitler asserted the contrary”.
The very authenticity of the document was in doubt. The Americans were suspected of forgery.
“In 1943, Colonel Graf von Kirchbach took a copy of the Hossbach Protocol, but after the war, the Kirchbach document disappeared. This fact allowed critics to argue that Hossbach's notes presented at the trial were very different in content from the original”, Dmitry Astashkin explained. “The revisionists began accusing the American side of forgery”.
“The document comes to hand through the United States Department of State and it is authenticated by the seal of the Secretary of State of the United States”, said Alderman. “(...) While it is true that actual events unfolded themselves in a somewhat different manner than those outlined at this meeting, in essence, the purposes stated at the meeting were carried out. The document destroys any possible doubt concerning the Nazis' premeditation of their crimes against the world”.
In 1989, a copy made by Kirchbach in 1943 was found in previously inaccessible British archives. Its content was the same as that presented at the Nuremberg Trials.
Despite this, the perversion of the Hossbach Protocol is still being discussed. For example, Rudolf Ribbentrop, in a book about his father, published in Russian in 2015, wrote about the loss of Hossbach's original record, about the distortion of Hitler's words by Hossbach himself. In fact, he echoed the words of Goering, who stated during an interrogation on 14 March 1946:
“Hossbach was the adjutant of the Fuhrer, the chief adjutant. As such, he was present at the meeting and took notes. Five days later, as I have ascertained, he prepared this record on the basis of his notes. This is, therefore, a record which contains all the mistakes which easily occur in a record, which is not taken down on the spot by alternating stenographers, and which under certain circumstances contains the subjective opinions of the recorder or his own interpretations. It contains a number of points, which correspond exactly to what the Fuhrer had repeatedly said; but there are other points and expressions which I may say do not seem like the Fuhrer's words”.
Nonetheless, all of the defendants admitted the authenticity of the protocol as a whole. Hitler's plans to unleash war have been proven by many documents, but the Hossbach Protocol was one of the first, and most convincing.
‘Concentrated Political Madness’
The Hossbach Memorandum or the “Hossbach Protocol” proves that Hitler had aggressive military plans back in 1937. After reading the document, the defendants expressed amazement. Or at least they pretended to be.
Jodl: “I had no idea of it at the time”.
Seyss-Inquart: “If I had only known in 1937 that he [Hitler] had made such a statement, I certainly would have thought twice before playing along”.
Von Schirach: “This document is concentrated political madness”.
Frank: “Just wait until the German people read that and see the kind of dilettantism with which the Fuhrer sealed their fate!”
Goering: “Ach, that’s nothing! What about the grabbing of California and Texas by the Americans? That was plain warfare for territorial expansion too!”
Ribbentrop: “If only the Allies had given us half a chance on the Versailles issue, you never would have heard of Hitler”.
Fritsche: “Now I can see why there is a question of conspiracy, and I’ll have to alter my own position to the indictment”.
Frank wrote a note describing an “Apocalyptic vision” while listening to the last document. It was headed “Hitler on 22 August 1939”, and ran as follows:
“We sit opposite the court. – And silently, the train of the dead goes endlessly by. – It is unbroken. – Pale and wan, without sound, in the dim yellow-grey light of eternity, this stream of misery flows on. – All, all surge on without pause, enshrouded in dim mist, whipped by the flames of mankind’s agony – hither – thither – thither – on and on, and no end is in sight… The human beings torn from life in this war are the most gruesome booty of Death, raging in hate and destruction – youth and age, growth and existence, pride and humility… There they go – Poles, Jews, Germans, Russians, Americans, Italians – all nationalities, bleeding and wasting away. And one voice cries: ‘This war must come, for only as long as I live can it come about!’”
Source: Nuremberg Diary by Gustave Gilbert
By Daniil Sidorov