David Maxwell Fyfe’s cross examination of Hermann Goering

“Then rose to cross examine Hermann Goering the British Prosecutor, Sir David Maxwell Fyfe…Fyfe’s skills in cross examination alone saved the reputation of the court”

This week sees the 75th anniversary of David Maxwell Fyfe’s cross examination of Hermann Goering, Hitler’s deputy and head of the air force in Nazi Germany, at the Nuremberg Trials. Chatham House has called it “one of the most noted interrogations in history.” To mark it, we publish an excerpt from the transcript of the Trials.

“Then rose to cross examine Hermann Goering the British Prosecutor, Sir David Maxwell Fyfe, his dark hair receding, his heavy face stern, his massive body impressive, his voice steady and controlled.  Ruthless as an entomologist he pinned the squirming wriggling German decisively to every point he strove to evade reducing his sudden spasms of legal quibbling, his spots of rhetoric to the hollow shams they were.  Fyfe’s skills in cross examination alone saved the reputation of the court”

Guy Ramsay, The Daily Mail 1946

FYFE (at the stand)   I want to ask you first some questions about the matter of the British Air Force officers who escaped from Stalag Luft III.  Do you remember that you said in giving your evidence that you knew this incident very completely and very minutely?  Do you remember saying that?

GOERING      No – that I had received accurate knowledge;  not that I had accurate knowledge – but that I received it.

FYFE           Let me quote your own words, as they were taken down, “I know this incident very completely, very minutely, but it came to my attention, unfortunately, at a later period of time.”  That is what you said the other day, is that right?

GOERING      Yes, that is what I meant;   that I know about the incident exactly, but only heard of it 2 days later.

FYFE           You told the Tribunal that you were on leave at this time, in the last period of March 1944, is that right?

GOERING       Yes, as far as I remember I was on leave in March until a few days before Easter.

FYFE           And you said, “As I can prove.”  I want you to tell the Tribunal the dates of your leave.

GOERING       I say again, that this refers to the whole of March – I remember it well – and for proof I would like to mention the people who were with me on this leave.

FYFE         What I want to know is, where you were on leave.

GOERING       Here, in the vicinity of Nuremberg.

FYFE           So you were within easy reach of the telephone from the Air Ministry or, indeed, from Breslau, if you were wanted?

GOERING       I would have been easily accessible by phone if someone wanted to communicate with me.

FYFE           I want you to help me with regard to one or two other dates of which you have spoken.  You say: “I heard 1 or 2 days later about this escape.”  Do you, understand, Witness, that it is about the escape I am asking you, not about the shooting, for the moment;  I want to make it quite clear.

GOERING      It is clear to me.

FYFE           Did you mean by that, that you heard about the actual escape 1 or 2 days after it happened?

GOERING       Yes.

FYFE           Did you hear about it from the office of your adjutant or from your director of operations?

GOERING       I always heard these things through my adjutant.

FYFE    You said the other day that you could prove when you were on leave. Am I to take it that you haven’t taken the trouble to look up what your leave dates were?

GOERING       I have already said that I was on leave during March. Whether I returned on the 26th or the 28th or the 29th of March I cannot tell you. For proof of that you would have to ask the people who accompanied me, who perhaps can fix this date more definitely.  I know only that I was there in March.

FYFE           Witness, will it be perfectly fair to you if I take the latest of your dates, the 29th of March, to work on?

GOERING       It would be more expedient if you would tell me when Easter was that year, because I do not recall it.  Then it will be easier for me to specify the dates, because I know that a few days before Easter I returned to Berchtesgaden in order to pass these holidays with my family.

FYFE           Well, I can’t give you Easter offhand, but I happen to remember Whitsuntide was the 28th of May, so that Easter would be early, somewhere about the 5th of April. So that your leave would finish somewhere about the end of March, maybe the 26th or the 29th;  that is right, isn’t it?

Now, these shootings of these officers went on from the 25th of March to the 13th of April; do you know that?

GOERING      I do not know that exactly.

FYFE           You may take that from me, because there is an official report of the shooting, and I want to be quite fair with you. Only 49 of these officers were shot on the 6th of April, as far as we can be sure, and one was shot either on the 13th of April or later.  But the critical period is the end of March, and we may take it that you were back from leave by about the 29th of March.

I just want you to tell the Tribunal, this was a matter of great importance, wasn’t it?  Considered a matter of great importance?

GOERING      It was a very important matter.

To mark the 75th anniversary of the Nuremberg Trials, the USHMM has made full sound recordings of the trials available online for the first time. You can hear the cross examination, newly mastered here.

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