Nuremberg Trials




The Fuehrerprinzip

In every Nuremberg trial, an invisible figure appears in the defendants' dock. At each session in this Palace of Justice, he has entered the door and quietly moved to his place among the other defendants. For over two years he has been making his entrances and exits. He never takes the witness stand, he never speaks, but he dominates every piece of evidence, his shadow falls over every document.

Some of the accused are ready to charge this sinister shadow with responsibility for their every reverse and misfortune. But were he to cast off the cloak of invisibility and appear as he was, the animadversions of the other occupants of the defendants' box might not be so audible, because he knows them well. He was no sudden interloper in Germany's destiny. He did not appear in a flash and order his present companions into action. Had it happened that way, the story of physical and moral duress they recounted from the witness stand would not be so incongruous. But, of their own free will, they threw in their lot with that of the specter's, and in their own respective functions enthusiastically carried out the shadow's orders, who was then not a shadow but a fire-breathing reality.

In explanation of their willingness to follow him in those days, they explain they had no reason to doubt him. He had been so successful. But the very successes they cheered most were usually this man's greatest crimes. Each defendant has claimed that the propaganda of the day assured them that Germany was always fighting a defensive war, but these men were not outsiders, nor were they children. They were part of the government, they belonged to the regime. It is incredible they should belive that Germany was being attacked by Denmark, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, Greece, Belgium and even little Luxembourg. Indubitably they revelled in these successes. On of the Defense Counsel declared that the defendants could well believe of Hitler that "here was a man whom no power could resist."

- 125 -

And indeed never did a man wield so much power and never was a living man so ignominiously and stupidly obeyed by other men. Never did living beings, made in the image of man, so pusillanimously grovel at feet of clay. But it is not true that no one could resist him. There were people who could resist him, or at least refused to be a party to his monstrous criminality. Some voluntarily left Germany rather that acknowledge him as their spiritual leader. Others opposed him and ended up in concentration camps. It is a mistake to say or assume that all the German people approved of Nazism and the crimes it fostered and committed. Had that been true, there would have been no need of Stormtroopers in the early days of the Party, and there would have been no need for concentration camps or the Gestapo, both of which institutions were inaugurated as soon as the Nazis gained control of the German state.

But against those who looked with alarm and foreboding on the violences of Nazism, there were those who could not resist the glory, pomp and circumstance of war, nor the greed of unbridled domination. They accepted Hitler with fervor and passion because they believed Hitler could lead them to a gratification of their bloated vanity and lust for power, position and luxurious living.

Nor have all forsaken their "successful" leader. Several of the defendants in this case have expressed their continuing belief in the Fuehrer. One could not bring himself to blame Hitler for any of the illegal deaths under discussion. Another regarded him a great leader, if not a great statesman. Still another, when asked if he would have been satisfied if Hitler had succeeded in his aims, replied with a categorical affirmative. The defendant Klingelhoefer stated that he would have been happy if Hitler had won the war, even at the expense of Germany in ruins, with two million Germans killed and the entirety of Europe devastated. One other defendant told of his adoration for Hitler which apparently had not changed since 1945. The expression of such adoration offers convincing testimony on the mental attitude of the defendant at the

- 126 -

time he received and executed the Fuehrer-Order.

That Hitler was a man of extraordinary capacities can not be doubted, but his capabilities for harm would have been nil had he not had willing, enthusiastic collaborators like the defendants who accepted his mad out-pourings and hysterical maledictions against defenseless minorities, as if his pronouncements were the apostrophies of a semi-divinity.

These defendants were among those who made it possible for a megalomaniac to achieve his ambition of putting the world beneath his heel or to bring it crashing in ruins abut his head. Some of these defendants, in following Hitler, may have believed that, in executing his will, they were serving their country. Their sense of justice staggering from the intoxication of command, their normal reactions drugged by the opiate of their blind fealty, their human impulses twisted by the passion of their ambitions, they made themselves believe that they were advancing the cause of Germany. But Germany would have fared better without such patriotism. When Samuel Johnson uttered his cynical line that patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel, he could well have had in mind a Hitlerian patriotism.

Hitler struck the match, but the fire would have died a quick death had it not been for his fellow arsonists, big and little, who continued to supply the fuel until they, themselves, were scorched by the flame they had been so enthusiastically tending. If history has taught anything it has demonstrated with devastating finality that most of the evils of the world have been due to craven subservience by sub-chiefs upon a man who through boundless ambition unrestrained by conscience has formulated plans which proposed by anyone else, would be rejected as mad.

Dictatorship in government can only lead to disaster because whatever benefits derive from centralized control are lost in the infinite damage which inevitably follows lack of responsibility. That unlimited authority and power are poisons which destroy judgment and reason is a demonstrable fact as conclusively established

- 128 -

as any chemical formula tried and tested in a laboratory. The genius of true democratic government is that no one person is allowed to take the nations with its millions of people into the valley of decisive action without the advise, counsel and approval of those who are to be subjected to the hazards, hardships and potentially fatal consequences of the decision.

The defendants must have found themselves repeatedly at cross-roads where and when there was still the opportunity to turn in the direction of the ideals which they had once known, but the willful determination to follow the trail of blood prints of their voluntarily accepted leader could only take them to the goal they had never intended. It is possible that currently the defendants realize the mistake which they made. Though most of them have sought to rationalize their deeds, though they attempted to explain that every executioner's rifle was aimed at a national peril, it is possible they now grasp the disservice they have done not only to humanity but to their own fatherland. It may even be that through this trial with its sobering revelations they will have demonstrated what are the inevitable consequences of any plan which stems from hatred and intolerance; and here they may have proved what has never been disproved: There is only on Fuehrer, and that is Truth.

Alfred Rosenberg, the acknowledged master philosopher of Nazism wrote on "The Myth of Blood:"

"A new faith is arising today: The myth of the blood, the faith, to defend with the blood the divine essence of man. The faith, embodied in clearest knowledge that the Nordic blood represents that mysterium which has replaced and overcome the old sacraments."

What does this mean? No one has yet deciphered its cadenced incoherence, but as Rosenberg himself claimed in it conclusive proof of the master race, others were willing to assume in this torturing abstruseness the authority of a revealed writing. Beneath the meaningless phrases went the subtle theme of a race of men so different from, so superior to, other men that it required an

- 128 -

occult language, whose alphabet was understood only by the elect, to carry the wisdom of this ineffable superiority. From it could be proved everything and nothing. From it the Nazi hierarchists drew their meretricious inspiration which led to their licentious and profligate deeds.

There have been Alfred Rosenbergs in other eras as well, and they also have confirmed the rulers of nations, states and tribes in their superiority over other nations, states and tribes, but the results have invariably been the same. The theme of might against right has, through the centuries, led to consequences which were catastrophic to the assumed stronger. Through the pauseless sweep of the centuries, despots and tyrants have ever and again appealed to the weakness of their followers, the weakness of supposed strength, and have utilized this primitive vanity and arrogance of the little man in the accomplishment of their monumental horrors. Over and over, this monotonous and savage drama has appeared on the stage of history, but never was it played with such totality, fury and brutality as it was with the Nazis in the title role.

That so much man-made misery should have happened in the twentieth century, which could well have been the fruition of all the aspirations and hopes of the centuries which went before, makes the spectacle almost unsupportable in its unutterable tragedy and sadness. Amid the wreckage on the six continents, amid the shattered hearts of the world, amid the sufferings of those who have borne the cross of disillusionment and despair, mankind pleads for an understanding which will prevent anything like this happening again. That understanding goes back to the words spoken 1900 years ago, words which had they been honored in the observance rather than in the breach would have made the events narrated in this trial impossible --

"Therefore, all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye so to them."

- 129 -

Musmanno, Michael A., U.S.N.R, Military Tribunal II, Case 9: Opinion and Judgment of the Tribunal. Nuremberg: Palace of Justice. 8 April 1948. pp. 125 - 129 (original mimeographed copy)

Search: Enter keywords... logo

In Association with

[Home] [ Index]

Ken Lewis
May 18, 1998
Rev. 1.1