Originally written for Prof. Robert H. Keyserlingk
in context of HIS 4344, Nazis
offered Winter 1987
at the University of Ottawa


It is too easy to judge without sufficient knowledge of circumstances. Many times, called upon to understand difficult conjunctures, men of the legal profession and the judiciary have been unable to overcome prejudice, either racial or social, and to apply the exact rules they would wish for themselves upon others under their scrutiny.

So we find to the case of Constantin Freiherr von Neurath, nobleman, career diplomat and servant of the German state who, by his attachment to his ideals and the obligations of righteousness required of one of his class and age, found himself not only unjustly accused before the International Military Tribunal at Nürnberg, but also guilty and punished for having had a sense of duty to his compatriots.

We shall demonstrate, within the pages that follow, that Neurath was neither the criminal the trial found him to be, nor the weak, compliant servant of Hitler as he is often depicted by historians.1 We shall demonstrate also that much, if indeed not all of Neurath's behaviour is consistently rooted in his conservatism and his class allegiance and that he does not belong to the group that supported the aims of Nazism. Indeed, these aims were abhorrent to him and the associations made by the Tribunal must have been very painful for a man of his convictions. Our conclusion will be that the Tribunal did not understand the case of the defendant, to the extent needed to bring judgement upon his actions, and also that they chose to ignore important testimony in order to obtain a conviction.

Our method is simple. We shall begin with the end, that is, the judgement, from there proceed back to the indictments to determine if, in each matter, the tribunal was aware of the situation of civil servants during the Nazi régime, and then analyse each accusation as it refers to the judgement. Finally, we shall review the sentence, in the light of our findings.


On October 1, 1946, the International Military Tribunal of War Criminals, in assizes at Nürnberg, found Neurath guilty under all four counts of a) Conspiracy, b) Crimes against peace, c) War Crimes and d) Crimes against humanity on the basis that he had served the Third Reich as Foreign Minister, Minister without portfolio, President of the Secret Cabinet Council, Member of the Reich Defence Council, and eventually Reichsprotector for Bohemia and Moravia.

He had committed crimes against peace, the Tribunal found, by pursuing a Foreign policy determined to the breaking of treaties and the institution of military rearmament for Germany during his years as Foreign Minister. Moreover, he was present at the Hossbach Conference of 5 November, 1937, where Hitler outlined his plan for waging war. He was therefore seen as a willing participant in this policy, as he returned to serve Hitler during the Anschluss of Austria, as Foreign Minister pro-tem.2

Further, he was found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity during his term as Reichsprotector of Bohemia and Moravia, and was perceived as plenipotentiary leader and chief German official of the Protectorate "knowing that war crimes and crimes against humanity were being committed under his authority".3

The prosecution brought forth as evidence a number of signed documents. In their summation, the honourable judges appear to have relied heavily upon the accusatory testimony of people whose word, in any respectable society, would be unacceptable, over the favourable testimony of other Germans who knew and liked the accused and had no ties to Nazism. They never sought to refute this favourable testimony but rather chose to ignore it in drafting the final judgement. This phenomenon is not limited to Neurath and also applies to some of the other defendants. This important aspect of the decision-making process with respect to the verdict makes the findings suspect. The rules of evidence and discovery had been suspended, although the trial was largely run by the Americans and the British who favoured such procedure by virtue of their legal traditions, and many of the aspects of the decisions came more from the political than the judicial processes.

In their deliberations, the honourable judges had also made a number of political compromises with respect to Neurath's case. The German occupation of Czechoslovakia was found to have been accepted by Hacha under duress, and that he could not have been construed as having invited the partition and annexation of Czechoslovakia into the Third Reich. Had the opposite been found to have been the case, it would, by virtue of precedent, place the entire occupation of Germany, and the powers granted to the occupying armies, in jeopardy. As Germany had surrendered unconditionally, the rules of war, as stated in the Hague Convention, no longer applied. If a similar situation had been found to exist with respect to Czechoslovakia, the war crimes which were committed there were not prosecutable by virtue of any international treaty. Or conversely, all war crimes would be prosecutable. Therefore, it was necessary for the honourable judges to ignore the similarities that might exist between the situation of Germany and that of Czechoslovakia in order to protect their position of power.4 Neurath's guilt on war crimes and crimes against humanity is therefore arrived at, to some extent, as a political expedient.

Furthermore, the verdict of guilty on all four counts was arrived at through negotiations that would ensure a light sentence for Neurath. Those who held out on the issue of conspiracy opposed those who favoured a maximum sentence. In order to procure for the accused a favourable sentence, he would be found guilty on all four counts. In other words, there was no consensus of opinion, and guilt is largely based not so much on facts as it is on the need for the judges to arrive at a compromise. It would seem then that the case against him could only be accepted after he had been found guilty, and not as an integral part of the process of applying difficult and often unclear international conventions.5


To begin, we shall list the accusations levelled at Neurath and comment upon them briefly. The large part of this text will be concerned with an understanding of Neurath's position within Hitler's administration, and establishing whether he actually possessed power within this administration and whether Hitler actually allowed him a margin of manoeuvrability, or not. To arrive at this conclusion, we will study the facts surrounding each accusation and evaluate whether or not it reflects the situation of an individual within the Third Reich.

The question that may be asked at this point is the following: was Hitler in absolute control of the Third Reich or was he merely an agent of the forces at work within German society? This last school of thought seeks a terrible indictment on all German national throughout the Third Reich, and even after. It is our contention, however, that such social nihilism is facile, especially when considering the structure of power within the Third Reich with respect to policy-making. Hitler's power was absolute from 4 February 1938 on, when he began to implement his expansionist policies.

Although the Charter of the Tribunal did not permit a defence based upon diminished responsibility from the receipt of orders received by a superior authority,6 such a provision denied some very important aspects of human nature. Within the scope of our subject, however, it does not appear that Neurath sought to be absolved as much as he wished to be understood, placed within his own frame of reference.7 This, the trial denies him by forcing him to be considered alongside Göring, Streicher and the other defendants.

The accusations brought against Neurath were divided into five clearly distinct parts by the prosecution, and read by Sir Maxwell-Fyfe on 24 January, 1946.8 They are summarised as follows:

1. Accepting positions and honours within the Reich

- member of the Nazi Party, 1937/01/30
- awarded Golden Party Badge, 1937/01/30 -- SS Gruppenführer, 1937/09/--
- SS Obergruppenführer, 1943/06/21
- Reichminister of Foreign Affairs to 19388/02/04
- Reichminister without Portfolio, 1938/022/04
- President, Secret Cabinet Council, 1938//02/04
- member, Reich Defence Council, 1938/02/004
- Reichsprotector for Bohemia and Moravia<
- appointed by Hitler, 1939/03/18 to 1943//08/25
- awarded Adler Order on appointment as Reeichsprotector

2. In assuming the position of Minister of Foreign Affairs in Hitler's Cabinet, he also assumed charge for a foreign policy committed to the breach of treaties.

3. In his capacity as Minister of Foreign Affairs, he directed the international aspects of the first phase of the Nazi conspiracy, the consolidation of control in preparation for war.

4. Both as Minister of Foreign Affairs and as one of the inner circle of the Führer's advisers on foreign political matters, he participated in the political planning and preparation for acts of aggression against Austria, Czechoslovakia and other nations.

5. By accepting and occupying the position of Reichsprotector of Bohemia and Moravia, he personally adhered to the aggression against Czechoslovakia and the world. He further actively participated actively in the conspiracy of world aggression and he assumed a position of leadership in the execution of policies involving violating the laws of war and the commission of crimes against humanity.

These accusations were brought against him largely at the request of the French and the Russians. As late as 4 October 1945, Neurath's position on the slate of defendants was still uncertain and some questioned his being included among the accused.9

The information brought to bear against him was largely circumstantial. Neurath's defence, however, was weakened by his counsel, Otto von Lüdinghausen, whom he had chosen in a moment of depression immediately following his arrest, because they were both conservative Germans. Dr. Lüdinghausen proved ineffective in defending Neurath, and spent much of the time irking the judges with his peculiar behaviour. Neurath was largely left to create his own defence, not a mean task for a man of 73, with the help of Baroness von Ritter and her daughter.10 Without the assistance of his defence counsel, it is no surprise that Neurath's case was not well received by the Tribunal.


During the trial, however, Neurath was able to answer many of the charges brought against him, and to demonstrate that they were largely based on a misunderstanding of his functions.

Except for the position of Foreign Minister and that of Reichsprotector of Bohemia and Moravia, Neurath had never wished nor agreed to accept any honours or gratuities from the Nazi régime.11 The Order, Party Badge,12 and SS rank had been thrust upon him by Hitler and he had not refused them only on the understanding that they involved no Party functions or commitments of any kind on his part. Indeed, this understanding was never broken and, when he became Reichsprotector, Neurath had no control over the SS that were supposedly his inferiors, nor did it ever facilitate communications with Himmler.

The positions of Minister without portfolio, President of the Secret Cabinet Council and member of the Reich Defence Council were never invoked by Hitler nor were any specific functions ever associated with them in reality. Indeed, Göring, who was also a member of the Secret Cabinet Council is quoted as saying that: "There was, to be sure, no such cabinet in existence... I declare under oath that this Secret Cabinet Council never met at all, not even for a minute."13

These accusations, it must be noted, were well handled by the defence and the Tribunal did not invoke them in its judgement. However, all accusations, whether founded or not, have the effect of putting the word of an accused in doubt forever. So, although the matter of honours and positions was fairly well handled, the Tribunal was nonetheless left with the impression that they were dealing here with a sycophant. If nothing else, the prosecution succeeded here in promoting doubt and put the rest of the defence in jeopardy.

The accusations of conspiracy and crimes against peace are by far the most serious of all, as they lay the groundwork for the two subsequent counts. And, as we have seen above, the prosecution was unable to convince all the judges that there was basis in fact for these indictments. However, be that as it may, von Neurath was found guilty of these indictments.

It is necessary here to establish precisely what were the main points of Hitler's foreign policy before going on to assess Neurath's role in its implementation, if any.

Frend proposes that there were two periods in German foreign policy, and that the dividing line occurs with the Hossbach Conference of 5 November, 1937. The first movement was characterised by the voicing of autodetermination for Germans and the removal of the Treaties of Versailles and St. Germain. After the Hossbach Conference, the policy became directed to securing and preserving the racial community, lebensraum, and therefore the need for war.14 Bloch holds a similar view with respect to the first movement and states that the involvement of the conservative factions in the early days of the Reich is a result of their approval of this policy.

On comprend ainsi que les milieux qui mirent Hitler en selle plaçaient en lui de grandes espérances dans le domaine extérieur. Ses initiatives étaient conformes à leurs désirs et se rattachaient, sur plusieurs points importants, à certaines traditions de l'Empire de Guillaume II. Plusieurs de ses ennemis intérieurs approuvaient au début sa politique extérieure. Quatorze ans de propagande ininterrompue contre le Traité de Versailles y avaient préparé les esprits.15

It would appear therefore that, until 1938, German nationalist policy was being co-opted by Hitler, by adopting a platform that would not clash with the aspirations of the conservatives. Hitler, although he was a doctrinaire with respect to his goals, was sufficiently opportunistic when it came to the means of achieving these goals to take advantage of the völkisch movement and use its main driving force for his ambitious realizations.16 The accusation, therefore, that Germans "could not have been unaware"17 of Hitler's plans to bring about war is clearly a misunderstanding of German foreign policy since, as Neurath points out, there was never any mention of war until the Hossbach Conference.18

Neurath's own program of foreign policy, which he exposed on 7 April, 1933, was based on a secret memorandum by von Bülow, and was directed towards the ascendance of Germany within Europe by peaceful means.19 Neurath asked diplomats to serve the new government as they had served previous governments, obviously in order to retain their control on foreign policy, which would eventually cause the downfall of the old Auswärtiges Amt, with its strong attachment to conservative values.

For the early years of the Reich, the divisions in foreign policy were between Bülow, Neurath and Hassel. It was in the priorities of the foreign policy, rather than their overall formulation, that these individuals differed, Bülow preferring the immediate establishment of good relations with Russia, Neurath with England, and Hassel with Italy.20

Accused of having caused the withdrawal of Germany from the Disarmament Conference and the League of Nations, Neurath replied that there had been no equal treatment of Germany within these bodies and that, as a diplomatic protest, Germany had no choice but to withdraw to make its displeasure known. Negotiations had already been suspended over and above the objections of himself and von Papen previous to their withdrawal.21 Neurath further explains that withdrawal from the League of Nations followed shortly but that there was no policy excluding negotiations with Western powers.22

With respect to the accusation that he was a member of Hitler's entourage, he explained that his role within the government was to offer counsel on matters of foreign policy, and that, at the beginning, Hitler seemed to value his contributions. But he was gradually replaced in his position of influence by Ribbentrop. He was bitterly opposed to the ingérence of the Party within the area of government affairs, and especially to the interference of Ribbentrop who would develop foreign policy and by-pass the Wilhelmstrasse by going directly to Hitler. This had been the situation for some time as Hitler had, early on, taken to entrusting special diplomatic missions to Göring and Ribbentrop, without reference to the Wilhelmstrasse.23

As far as his behaviour is concerned, Neurath remains, during this whole period, the quintessential German conservative civil servant, dedicated to his task as an instrument of the German state. What matter to him that this upstart Hitler is the head of state? The state shall endure and convert him to its cause. Neurath's responsibility, in these matters, is to have acted as he saw best, to the interest of Germany. Moreover, the foreign policy Hitler espoused was very much to the benefit of Germany, and caused no real problems abroad.

When informed that he had been charged with having known of Hitler's aggressive foreign policy, based on the Party program,24 Neurath replied that he differentiated between demand for self-determination, which he saw as a basic condition in the modern state, recognised by international law, and aggressively military statements. He failed to see where there was any mention of aggression in the statement from the Party.25 The foreign policy pursued by Neurath as Minister of Foreign Affairs was consistent with the aspirations of the conservative faction, was formulated by them and approved by Hitler.

Remilitarization and the reoccupation of the Rhineland were not policies which had their source in Nazi ideology. These had been some of the aims of the Hindenburg government, and of the Streseman government before it. The revision of the Treaty of Versailles, which kept Germany in a secondary position in Europe, was considered an essential part of a new development policy for Germany. spite of the limitations of the Versailles Treaty, which were felt to be unbearable, German foreign policy in and after 1919 had a greater choice of possibilities open to it than it had hitherto had in Wilhelmine Germany or the era of Bismarck. For, backed up by an economy in structural working order, politicians responsible for foreign affairs in the Weimar Republic were for the first time able to shift and tack relatively freely between England and Russia, and could develop strategies which were meant to bring about a revision of the dictated peace of Versailles and Germany's rejoining the international community of Great Powers.26

By charging the Nazi régime with the invention of these ideas, the prosecution team was confusing administrations and holding the previous German governments responsible for excesses which they had neither foreseen nor wanted.

Neurath, when faced with the inevitable policy of war that Hitler exposed to those present at the Hossbach Conference, chose to resign his post as Foreign Minister, rather than pursue such a course of action. In this respect, his choice is consistent with the behaviour of a conservative German.

Here we have the crux of the problem. The conservative elite saw Hitler as a regenerator of Germanness, and could not condemn him for pursuing a policy they favoured. However, When Hitler's aggressive policies came to the fore, it was too late to do anything serious to prevent their realization. Can they be blamed for not having known? No. Did the Tribunal understand this difficulty? Some did, some not. In fact, the split vote of the honourable judges on the issue of counts 1 and 2 of the indictments for Neurath, indicates that some (the American Biddle and the French Donnedieu de Vabres) had thought about this matter and found Neurath's defence to be the stronger argument. However, the results differ from the opinions, inasmuch as any benefit to Neurath was lost in the compromise to obtain for him a lighter sentence.

For Hitler, the problem of Austria was one of internal German policy and as such did not come under the Wilhelmstrasse. He considered it so from the beginning and would not accept the counsel of his Foreign Affairs department.27 One could assume he held the same view for the Sudetenland, where there was also a large German population. It follows therefore that no foreign policy could be developed within the Third Reich to deal with these two areas and their annexation. The Greater Germany (Grossdeutsch Reich) that Hitler envisioned early on included the regermanification of these areas.

Neurath generally favoured Anschluss. It had been a policy of the Streseman government and was being held over by Hitler as part of his expansionist program.

As early as 1926, Streseman had expressed the government's official policy supporting Anschluss, even if the international situation at that time meant that "we cannot loudly agitate for it". Neurath agreed; he had long warned that a public acknowledgement of such aspirations must first await a more favorable foreign atmosphere and restoration of Germany's economy.28 Austria was therefore a part of domestic policy from the early years of the Weimar republic. It was merely intensified by Hitler into a realisable program that could only be supported by the conservatives as they saw in it the realization of the Greater Germany they sought to restore.

As far as Czechoslovakia is concerned, the matter is somewhat more difficult. The new Czech republic was only 15 years old when Hitler took power and a considerable number of Germans had found themselves isolated from their country by the Versailles peacemakers.29 Neurath's policy towards Czechoslovakia and other smaller eastern nations was one of severing their ties with France and "encouraging the dissolution of their mutual co-operation through German economic penetration".30 Neurath was determined to break French control and promote the expansion of German influence through diplomatic means. It was, after all, his profession, and the posturing required of the various parties is all part of a long game.

In the early days of the Nazi régime, Neurath supported the Sudeten-Germans by creating funds for them, without the prompting or support of the Chancellery or the Party, but withheld from developing an overall policy with respect to Czechoslovakia until the matters opposing Germany and Poland in territorial conflict had been settled.31

Both expansionist policies that were considered to be the crux of Hitler's aggressive foreign policy, and upon which the Tribunal based its judgement of the Nazi government had, in fact, been espoused by previous governments that were not present in the dock.

Neurath's role, during the time of his mandate as Minister of Foreign Affairs, was to pursue a foreign policy consistent with the aims of the governments under which he had served as diplomat, mainly the Weimar republic. That Hitler took this policy to be that of his government as well is no reflection on Neurath or his professional diplomats, who for some time were able to pursue their own views. Furthermore, Neurath went out of favour with Hitler after 1936 and from that time on had no further effect on foreign policy.32

This aspect of Pre-Nazi German policy seems to have eluded the Tribunal as they eventually find Neurath guilty of having promoted Nazi aggressive foreign policy.

Neurath was also accused of having returned to the service of the Reich after having quit. This action had the effect of making him conspicuous to the prosecution.

In the matter of the Anschluss, his co-operation with the Hitler régime is very tenuous. 1Neurath was requested by Göring to come to Berlin in order to draft diplomatic notes for him in his (Göring's) capacity as Reichschancellor during Hitler's absence, as Göring himself explained:

...Foreign Minister Von Ribbentrop was not present. Since the Führer had delegated the representation of the Reich to me, I had asked him to ask Herr Von Neurath to put his experience in foreign affairs at my disposal during this time... It was to the effect that, if I needed it and requested it, he was to advise me on matters of foreign policy since the Foreign Minister was not present and I had no experience in answering diplomatic notes... Herr Von Neurath was only my adviser in such matters of foreign policy as were expected to come up in the Austrian case.33

In the matter of the Munich Conference, Neurath had proposed the conference to Hitler as a means of averting war after the Anschluss, and participated as a counterbalance to Ribbentrop whom he felt had gained too much power.34 On 28 September 1938, Neurath informed Hitler that Chamberlain would return to the negotiations. As he knew the foreign representatives, Neurath was able to convince Hitler that he should also be present at the Conference to serve as go-between and avoid unnecessary explosions.

When the matter of Czechoslovakia was brought up by Neurath to Daladier, he was told by the Frenchman that Czechoslovakia would have to look after itself.35 It can hardly come as a surprise then when Hitler assumes that no one will oppose his annexation of the Sudetenland or his creation of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. In this matter, the Tribunal failed to understand Germany's position, or rejected understanding, on the grounds that it might embarrass one of the partners in the trial.

Neurath, for his part, tried to make the best of what he considered to be a bad situation, and to avoid the necessity of resorting to arms. In this matter, the testimony of François-Poncet, French ambassador to Germany in the '30's, is a strong indication of how Neurath was viewed as a peace-maker by his colleagues.

M. Von Neurath n'a jamais aiguisé les différends mais, bien au contraire, s'est efforcé d'aboutir à des solutions pacifiques et conciliatrices. Il s'est efforcé de faciliter la tâche des représentants étrangers dans la capitale allemande, et moi parmi eux. Il mérite notre gratitude. Je ne doute pas qu'il a souvent attiré l'attention du chancelier Hitler sur les dangers auxquels l'Allemagne était exposée, de par les excès de son gouvernement, et qu'il lui a fait entendre la voix de la prudence et de la modération.36

Therefore, the accusation that Neurath had promoted aggressive war and the armed interventions in Austria and Czechoslovakia is not borne out by facts. In truth, Neurath, in conservative fashion, sought to avoid armed conflicts. The judgement of the Tribunal in this matter shows a lack of understanding of the diplomatic situation within Europe at that time.

The prosecution's best hour came from the accusation that Neurath had abused his role as Reichsprotector of Bohemia and Moravia. This was listed under the indictments of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Neurath was never involved in the takeover of the Sudetenland or even the promulgation of the act creating the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. He learnt of it by radio, "like every other German."37 When called upon by Hitler to assume the role of Reichsprotector, he was rather nonplussed, as his behaviour at the Munich Conference had displeased the Chancellor and he had since been relegated to an official limbo. Hitler convinced him to accept the position by first suggesting that he wished to prove to the other nations that he had no aggressive intentions towards Czechoslovakia, and that he would give Neurath full powers in order to prevent the excesses of the Sudeten Germans.38 However, the argument that finally convinced Neurath to accept was when Hitler told him:

If you don't accept, then I will have to turn the matter over to Ribbentrop, and you know what that will mean. You will bear the full responsibility for whatever happens. I am offering the post to you because you will create peace and order there. That and that alone is what I need.39

Under the circumstances, Neurath's behaviour in accepting the position is understandable. His sense of duty and his hatred of Ribbentrop40 combined to make his acceptance a matter of honour, no matter how difficult the choice might be. When his daughter asked him how he could accept after all the terrible things Hitler had done to him, he replied:

You are right. He has treated me shamefully! But we cannot turn down positions because of personal considerations. Duty comes first. I must do my duty. Ribbentrop is incompetent and no one knows where he is driving Germany. I must go to Prague in order to prevent at least that situation from erupting into war.41

The articles of the Act creating the Protectorate provided Neurath with certain discretionary powers, such as confirmation of members of the Protectorate government, entitlement to information on measures taken and to give advice, right of veto on promulgation of laws and ordinances and the execution of administrative measures.42 Had such powers been in fact implemented, the accusations brought before the tribunal might have been justified. But in reality, the powers were never given to Neurath. The person who was in actual charge of Czechoslovakia was SS Gruppenführer Karl Hermann Frank, a Sudeten German who worked for Himmler.43

Although Frank was nominally Secretary of State to the Protectorate Government, he was in fact the only effective official in Bohemia and Moravia. He received his orders directly from Berlin and Hitler never overrode Himmler in favour of Neurath. Neurath complained bitterly on many occasions that he was never informed by Frank of police and SS activities in the Protectorate, and that the news he did receive came from the Czech government or individuals. He was given assurances that Frank would be controlled (something Hitler had stated he wanted in his original understanding), but that never happened.44

Frank himself was on record as having stated that neither he nor the Reichsprotector were informed of the activities of the police and that orders came from Hitler, Himmler, or the RSHA directly to the Gestapo in Prague, without going through the office of the Reichsprotector.45

Neurath contends that war crimes and crimes against humanity were perpetrated on orders from beyond his sphere of influence but that he was able to interfere with arrests and executions when he was informed of them ahead of time. By appealing to Hitler and Himmler, he was able to obtain the release of 800 students arrested during demonstrations in November 1939. He had personally issued orders not to interfere with the student demonstrations but was absent from Prague at the time and, upon his return, found that 1200 had been arrested and nine hanged. The document authorising the arrests and hangings had been circulated by Frank with Neurath's forged signature.46

Neurath questioned Frank and received the answer that the order came from Hitler. He learned later that Frank had often signed his name to documents. It was however on the basis of this forged signature that Neurath earned the title of "Hangman of Prague". Unjustly deserved though it was, these matters were taken at face value by the Tribunal and Neurath was found guilty of crimes against humanity.

On other matters of the Reichsprotectorate, Neurath was able to prevent further massive arrests during his term, and to delay the implementation of Jewish laws47, and prevent the construction of concentration camps in his jurisdiction. He did whatever he could to thwart the SS by undertaking investigations of individuals arrested and obtaining their release when he was able.

Neurath's policy towards Czechoslovakia was not modified. However, he opposed its used for the purpose of German expansionism and preferred, in typical German conservative racist fashion, progressive assimilation of the Czechs into the German population.48

In the matter of an edict on sabotage, Neurath explained that this could not be considered a criminal act as no state would tolerate sabotage. It was, he felt, normal under the circumstances, and that he only wished to defuse provocation. In support of this, he stated that no specific punishment had been provided for in the edict, and that it had been intended as a general warning only.49

It would appear that the Tribunal was not convinced by Neurath's defence as the verdict on counts 3 and 4 were shared by all. But there is evidence to demonstrate that Neurath's position, as he explained it, was not unique, and is therefore credible. Furthermore, none of the actions which Neurath claims to have undertaken while Reichsprotector of Bohemia and Moravia are in any way inconsistent with his ideology. Were we dealing here with a former SA or SS officer, the matter would appear different and the claims of innocence received with extreme suspicion. But, with Neurath, that is not the case.

Neurath was removed from his functions by Hitler of 24 September 1941 and replaced with Reinhard Heydrich. Hitler had come to the conclusion that the Czechs regarded Neurath as "an affable old gentleman and mistook his good heart and leniency for weakness and stupidity."50

Neurath refused to remain on in his position as an underling to Heydrich who served the hated Himmler. He withdrew under cover of ill health and remained on his estate until the end of the war. Although certain titles and functions were still attached to him, these were never called upon. Hitler accepted Neurath's resignation as Reichsprotector only on 25 August 1943, after his 70th birthday.


How well did the Tribunal understand the position occupied by Constantin Freiherr von Neurath during the Nazi régime? We believe we have shown reasonable doubt in the matter of the judgement. It would therefore seem that that the old gentleman was a victim of circumstances and had been placed in the hands of a vengeful mob.

In fact, the Tribunal took pains to understand the plight of some of the defendants, even though it held little sympathy for them. However, their limited understanding of German foreign policy is not surprising as this is usually a matter kept secret from the eyes of foreigners. Their mistake was to assume that policies carried out by the Hitler government had been invented then and had no root in history.

On the issue of Neurath's service as Reichsprotector, it is difficult to believe that he could have avoided being found guilty, as there was little documentary evidence to support his claims of innocence. But Heinemann concludes:

With a tenacity not hitherto recognised, Neurath had fought for and won protection for the people and the area entrusted to him, preserving peaceful and stable conditions at least through the end of 1940. Unlike other occupied nations, the Czechs had not been subjected to rampant terror and abuse. Indeed, the exile government in London worried constantly about the absence of provocation. While Neurath was in charge, he administered a basically decent government which sought to protect, not destroy, the Czechs, and to ease them into a "realistic" relationship with Germany. He never sought to cause unrest, displacements of population, or bloodshed. As long as he was allowed to do his job, he kept this part of the Reich free from the general brutality and madness which seemed to reign both in Germany and in the world.51

It must also be noted that Neurath decreed six wage increases between January 1940 and April 1941 for Protectorate workers.52 These are not the actions of a criminal.

So we come to our conclusion, that an upright servant of the German state was taken for a bandit because of what is nothing more than a misinterpretation of the distribution of powers within the Third Reich. Constantin Freiherr von Neurath was found guilty on all four counts of Conspiracy, Crimes against peace, War crimes, and Crimes against humanity. He was sentenced to 15 years in Spandau prison.

He was released after nine years and six months, on 5 November 1954, at the age of 81, after countless intercessions by his daughter to the authorities.53 Throughout his imprisonment, Neurath had suffered many heart attacks but had survived them all because, as he put it, he wished to die at home.

With the passing of time, Neurath's position within the Third Reich has become better known. His obituary, in the Deutsche Zeitung, somewhat unfairly, summarised it thus:

...his career is a perfect example that, in political life, good intentions, vague conceptions, and a willingness to compromise differences, sometimes do not suffice; in fact they may be fatal.54


Bloch, Charles, "L'influence réciproque entre la politique intérieure et la politique extérieure nationales-socialistes", Relations internationales, 4 (1975): 91-109.

Bloch, Charles, "Les principes directeurs de la politique allemande sous Hitler", Relations internationales, 21 (1980): 71-84.

Broszat, Martin, The Hitler State, London, Longman, 1981.

Fest, Joachim, The Face of the Third Reich, New York, Pantheon, 1970.

Frend, W.H.C., "Hitler and his Foreign Ministry", History, 42 (1957): 118-129.

Gilbert, G.M., Nuremberg Diary, Scarborough, Signet, 1961.

International Military Tribunal, Trial of the Major War Criminals, Nuremberg, Secretariat of the Tribunal, 1947-1948.

Heinemann, J., Hitler's First Foreign Minister: Constantine von Neurath, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1976.

Hildebrand, Klaus, The Foreign Policy of the Third Reich, London, B.T. Batsford Ltd., 1973.

Mastny, V., The Czechs under Nazi Rule, New York, Columbia University Press, 1971.

Miale, Florence R., & M. Selzer, The Nuremberg Mind: the Psychology of the Nazi Leaders, New York, Quadrangle, 1977.

Procès des grands criminels de guerre devant le tribunal militaire international, Nuremberg, Secrétariat du Tribunal, 1947-1948.

Smith, Bradley F., Reaching Judgment at Nuremberg, New York, Basic Books, 1977.

Taylor, A.J.P., The Origins of the Second World War, Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1961.

Weinberg, Gerhard, The Foreign Policy of Hitler's Germany: Starting World War II, 1937-1939, Chicago, Chicago University Press, 1980.


1 This image of Neurath is common: Shirer often depicts Neurath as such in his Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, probably the single largest influence on popular perception of the ramifications of the Nazi state in the years since the end of the war (see also V. Mastny, The Czechs under Nazi Rule, pp. 52-53). This description of Neurath as being indolent, lacking character, is based, it would appear, on Rauschning's description: " Hitler's presence, the big, corpulent man became painfully like a smart young subordinate on pins to make himself useful..." (quoted in Mastny, op. cit.). Miale and Selzer, in their Nuremberg Mind, describe Neurath as opportunistic and emotionally repressed, but recognized that he showed impressive independence of judgment when called upon to conform to Nazi ideology (pp. 151-153). Gilbert, in his trial notes (Nuremberg Diary), seems to like Neurath and considers him an affable old gentleman, to the extent that he brings him a gift of cigars on his birthday. The only historian to take a sympathetic approach to Neurath is John L. Heineman, in Hitler's First Foreign Minister.

2 International Military Tribunal (I.M.T.), vol. XXII, pp. 579-580. With respect to the "Hossbach Conference", Neurath was so shaken by Hitler's plan for war that he suffered a series of heart attacks, as attested at the trial by Baroness von Ritter (I.M.T., vol. XVI, p. 640).

3 I.M.T., vol. XXII, pp. 581-582.

4 Bradley F. Smith, Reaching Judgment at Nuremberg, pp. 226-227.

5 Smith, op. cit., p. 228.

6 Smith, op. cit., p. 156.

7 We do not consider it necessary to elaborate here upon the characterization of the conservative noble class of Germans. Suffice it to say that their objectives differed greatly from those of Hitler's rabble régime, and that the ideas promoted by Hitler were the antithesis of what men like Neurath saw as the basis of an orderly society. It would seem that much of German conservative behaviour is seen through Papen, whom we do not consider a proper representative of the group. In fact, of the two, Neurath more closely espouses classical conservatism. On the conservative relationship to Nazism, see Joachim Fest, The Face of the Third Reich, pp. 151-162, keeping in mind the caveat herein.

8 I.M.T., vol. VI, pp. 98-118.

9 Smith, op. cit., p. 71.

10 The whole matter of Dr. Lüdinghausen's incompetent defense is covered in detail in John L. Heineman, op. cit., p. 222ff. Heineman describes how Neurath was manipulated by Lüdinghausen into giving testimony that was of little interest to the court, and that the man ignored an important document, the Strölin-Rommel conversations, which would have demonstrated that Neurath recognized the evils of Hitler's régime and had offered to assist in hastening the leader's demise. This would have assured the Tribunal of his anti-Nazi claims. Baroness von Ritter described Lüdinghausen as a "Baltic baron, aesthetic and withdrawn. He never really understood Neurath, and did not try very hard to do so. From the beginning, we had trouble with him. He had no animation, he did not understand the court system and did not put any backbone into the case. I am sorry to say, but Neurath was not served well by Herr von Lüdinghausen" (quoted in Heineman, p. 222).

11 Upon receiving 250 000 RM from Hitler's private fund on his 70th birthday, Neurath was furious and refused to accept the sum (see Heineman, op. cit., p. 214; also I.M.T., vol. XVI, pp. 651-652).

12 With respect to this, Göring describes the event in which the Party Badges were given out to various ministers of the government as a spontaneous gesture on the part of Hitler, and that it was never assumed they held any Party significance (I.M.T., vol. IX, pp. 397-398).

13 I.M.T., vol. IX, p. 290.

14 W.H.C. Frend, "Hitler and his Foreign Ministry", p. 120.

15 Charles Bloch, "L'influence réciproque entre la politique intérieure et la politique extérieure nationales-socialistes", pp. 92-93.

16 Charles Bloch, "Les principes directeurs de la politique allemande sous Hitler", p. 73.

17 Maxwell-Fyfe, quoted in I.M.T., vol. VI, p. 102.

18 I.M.T., vol. XVI, p. 613.

19 Bloch, "L'influence...", p. 93.

20 Bloch, "L'influence...", p. 94.

21 The states which had not disarmed at the end of the war, it was clear, were not willing to do so. This made it impossible for Germany to accept the resolution as presented and it became necessary to withdraw from the Conference "as long as Germany's equal right to equal participation in the results of the Conference was not recognized". I.M.T., vol. XVI, pp. 605-606.

22 ibid.

23 Martin Broszat, The Hitler State, pp. 278-279.

24 "We demand the union of all Germans in a Greater Germany on the basis of the rights of nations to self-determination. We demand equal rights for the German people in respect to other nations, the repeal of the Treaty of Versailles and the Treaty of St. Germain." (quoted in I.M.T., vol. XVI, p. 613).

25 I.M.T., vol. XVI, pp. 613-614.

26 Klaus Hildebrand, The Foreign Policy of the Third Reich, p. 9. See also Neurath's testimony, I.M.T., vol. XVI, pp. 602-603. Neurath, furthermore, viewed remilitarization as necessary for the defense of Germany, but he never conceived of the use of the military as an aggressive tool (ibid., p. 604).

27 Bloch, "L'influence...", p. 94.

28 Heineman, op. cit., pp. 103-104.

29 See Mastny, op. cit., pp. 10-11, for a brief explanation of the problems caused by the creation of Czechoslovakia. Also, Weinberg, Gerhard L., The Foreign Policy of Hitler Germany, chapters 10 and 11.

30 Heineman, op. cit., p. 96.

31 Heinemann, op. cit., p. 97.

32 His colleague Hassel describes Neurath's position in Berlin in 1938 as "strangely idle" (Heinemann, op. cit., p. 185).

33 I.M.T., vol. IX, pp. 398-399.

34 I.M.T., vol. XVI, pp. 646-648.

35 On the matter of Czechoslovakia and the Anglo-French accord, see Taylor, A.J.P., The Origins of the Second World War, pp. 221-222.

36 Procès des grands criminels de guerre, vol. XVI, p. 673.

37 I.M.T., vol. XVI, p. 654.

38 I.M.T., vol. XVI, p. 654.

39 Quoted in Heinemann, op. cit., p. 189.

40 During the sessions with Gilbert, Neurath denounced Ribbentrop as a pathological liar and a former mental patient given to abnormal sexual practices. In Gilbert, op. cit., p. 186.

41 Quoted in Heinemann, op. cit., p. 190.

42 I.M.T., vol. VI, p. 114.

43 To understand the duplicity of the Nazi administration of Bohemia and Moravia, see Heinemann, op. cit., pp. 189-190.

44 I.M.T., vol. XVI, pp. 657-658.

45 I.M.T., vol. XVI, p. 659.

46 On this, see von Holleben's testimony, as functionary of the Protectorate government, where he states that the matter was handled "without the knowledge of Herr Von Neurath, and through misuse of his name" (in I.M.T., vol. XVI, pp. 665-666). Furthermore, Miss Irene Friedrich, Neurath's secretary, maintains that he was in Berlin when the arrests occurred and that the document authorizing these measures had been circulated without his approval before his return (in I.M.T., vol. XVI, p. 666).

47 Neurath admitted that he was in favour of the control of Jews in the areas of culture, but there is some indication that he was able to help protect some from the implementation of Jewish Laws and that he helped others emigrate (I.M.T., vol. XVI, p. 596, and Baroness von Ritter's testimony, p. 597).

48 Heinemann, op. cit., pp. 205-209.

49 I.M.T., vol. XVI, pp. 660-661.

50 Quoted in Mastny, op. cit., p. 180.

51 Heinemann, op. cit., p. 209.

52 See Table 5 in Mastny, op. cit., p. 82.

53 Heinemann, op. cit., pp. 241-245.

54 Quoted in Heinemann, op. cit., p. 246.