Plausible deniability? [70 Years After Nuremberg]

Nuremberg Palace

On the 15th of July, the defense for Funk continued his summation for the Court, having begun the previous week.  Dr. Sauter, the defense counsel, stressed the point that even as President of the Reichsbank, he would have no direct knowledge of the specific deposits, either value or content, made by any depositor–regardless of the depositor’s position or status.

“Now, Gentlemen of the Tribunal, I turn to the last chapter of my appraisal of the Defendant Funk, of his motives and actions, and will now deal with the gold deliveries by the SS to the Reichsbank, and with the relation of the Defendant Funk to the concentration camp question.” 

Now, the essential point in this whole business is the question whether the Defendant Funk knew or saw that among the objects delivered by the SS there were unusual quantities of gold spectacle frames, gold teeth, and similar objects which had come into the hands of the SS not through legal but criminal confiscations. If-and I emphasize, Gentlemen, if-it could be proven that the Defendant Funk had seen such objects in the deposits of the SS, this would naturally have caused him some surprise. But we heard the witness Puhl say in the most positive way that the Defendant Funk had no knowledge of this and, indeed, that Vice President Puhl himself knew no further details about it. In any case Funk never saw what particular gold objects and what quantities the SS delivered.

Now, it has been said against Funk that he himself entered the vaults of the Berlin Reichsbank several times, and from this one felt entitled to draw the conclusion that he must have seen what objects had been delivered to the Reichsbank by the SS. This conclusion is obviously wrong because the evidence shows that during the entire period of the war Funk went to the vaults of the Reichsbank only a very few times for the purpose of showing these vaults and the bullion of the Reichsbank stored there to special visitors, especially foreign guests. But on those few visits to the vaults he never saw the deposits of the SS. He never observed what in particular the SS had deposited in his bank. This is established beyond doubt, not only by the sworn statement of the Defendant Funk himself, but also by the oral testimony of Vice President Puhl and Reichsbank Councillor Thoms here in this courtroom. This Prosecution witness, who is certainly free from suspicion and who by his own admission volunteered to testify, has declared here under oath that the valuables were delivered by the SS in locked trunks, boxes, and bags and were also stored away in these containers, and that Funk was never present in the vaults when the bank employees made an inventory of the contents of an individual box or trunk. The witness Thoms, who was in charge of these vaults, never saw the Defendant Funk there at all. Therefore, Funk neither knew of the proportions which the deliveries of the SS gradually assumed in the course of time, nor did he know that the deposits contained jewelry pearls, and precious stones, and also spectacle frames and gold teeth. He never saw any of those things and none of his officials ever reported to him about them either.

Now it is the opinion of the Prosecution that Funk, as President of the Reichsbank, surely must have known what was kept in the vaults of his bank; but this conclusion is also evidently mistaken and does not take into consideration actual conditions in a large central issuing bank. Funk, who was also Reich Minister of Economics, had in his capacity as President of the Reichsbank no occasion whatever to bother about the deposit of an individual customer, even if this happened to belong to the SS.  [, accessed 7/13/2016]

Sauter’s lengthy, and repetitive, statements parallel the defense offered by others in the dock. The men on trial had many responsibilities and would, of course, have little knowledge of the day to day goings on and if they had known what was truly happening, it would have been stopped immediately. In this particular case, Funk would never invade the privacy of his customers to the extent of reviewing the contents they placed within the vaults of the Reichsbank.  Despite his position as President of the Reichsbank, “He never saw any of those things and none of his officials ever reported to him about them either.”

Walter Funk testifying

The logic of the argument could lead one to ask, how could the President of the Reichsbank not know what was happening–good, bad or questionable–with the administration of the institution overseeing the fiscal operation of his country’s government and admit to no communication with his “officials” or knowledge of their actions and yet accept the responsibilities inherent in the position of President of the Reichsbank? Only time will tell if the Tribunal finds his claims of ignorance plausible.

–Owen Doremus and Betsy Pittman

[Owen Doremus, a junior at Edwin O. Smith High School, is supporting this blog series with research and writing as part of an independent study.]

The majority of the letters from Tom Dodd to his wife Grace have been published and can be found in Letters from Nuremberg, My father’s narrative of a quest for justice. Senator Christopher J. Dodd with Lary Bloom. New York: Crown Publishing, 2007.

Images available in Thomas J. Dodd Papers.

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