The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)
Nuremberg, war crimes, crimes against humanity

The Trial of German Major War Criminals

Sitting at Nuremberg, Germany
5th April to 15th April, 1946

One Hundredth Day: Friday, 5th April, 1946
(Part 2 of 9)

[DR. NELTE continues his direct examination of Wilhelm Bodewin Johann Gustav Keitel]

[Page 37]

DR. NELTE: Mr. President, I shall submit the affidavit of the witness which has been received, at the appropriate time.

Q. We now turn to the case of Sagan. The prosecution originally accused you of giving the order for the killing of fifty Royal Air Force officers who escaped from Stalag Luft 3 at Sagan.

I am no longer clear as to whether the prosecution still maintains this grave accusation, since Reich Marshal Goering and the witness Westhoff have been interrogated - the latter outside the court room. I have the report of Westhoff's interrogation before me and I have submitted it to you. I would like to ask you now to amplify the statement made by Westhoff during the preliminary phase of the proceedings and those which he will no doubt make in this court

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room in future, and to say what you yourself know about this extremely grave incident.

A. The facts are that one morning it was reported to me that the escape had taken place. At the same time I received the information that about fifteen of the escaped officers had been apprehended in the vicinity of the camp. I did not intend to report the case at the noon conference on the military situation held in Berchtesgaden, or rather, at the Berghof, as it was highly unpleasant, being the third mass- escape in a very short period. As it had only happened ten or twelve hours before, I hoped that in the course of the day the majority of them would be caught and that in this way the matter might be settled satisfactorily.

While I was making my report Himmler appeared. I think that it was towards the end of my report that he reported the incident in my presence, as he had already started the usual general search for the escaped prisoners. There was an extremely heated discussion, a serious clash between Hitler and myself, since he immediately made the most outrageous accusations against me on account of this incident.

Things are sometimes incorrectly represented in Westhoff's account, and that is why I am making a detailed statement.

During this clash the Fuehrer stated in great excitement, "These prisoners are not to be sent back to the Armed Forces; they are to stay with the Police." I immediately objected. I said that this procedure was impossible. The general excitement led to Hitler's declaring again and with considerable emphasis: "I am ordering you to retain them, Himmler; you are not to give them up."

I put up a fight for the men who had already come back to camp, and who would, according to the original order, be brought out again and handed over to the police. I did that, but I could not do anything more.

After that very grave clash -

Q. Will you tell me, please, who was present during that scene?

A. As far as I remember, Colonel General Jodl was certainly present, at least for part of the time, and heard some of it, though perhaps not every word, since he was in the adjoining room at first. At any rate, Jodl and I returned to our quarters together. We discussed the case and talked about the extremely unpleasant consequences which the whole matter would have. On returning to my quarters I immediately ordered General von Gravenitz to report to me the following morning.

In this connection I must explain that Reich Marshal Goering was not present. If I was a little uncertain about that during my interrogation it was because I was told that witnesses had already stated that Goering was present. But right from the beginning I thought it improbable and doubtful. It is also incorrect, therefore, that Goering raised any accusations against me at the time. There had not been a conference in Berlin either. These are mistakes which I think I can explain by saying that Gravenitz (who came with Westhoff and saw me for the first time) was present during the report and witnessed a scene of a kind unusual in military life, because of the violence of my remarks in connection with the incident.

Do you want me to say anything more about the discussion with Gravenitz?

Q. The only thing which interests me in this connection is, whether you repeated to Gravenitz the order previously given by Hitler in such a way that both Gravenitz and Westhoff, who was also present, might form the impression that you yourself had issued the order for the shooting of the escaped officers.

A. According to the record of Westhoff's interrogation, which I have seen, I can explain it, I think, as follows:

First of all, I made serious accusations - I myself was extraordinarily agitated, for I must say that even the order that the prisoners were to be retained by the police caused me extreme anxiety regarding their fate. I frankly admit that the possibility of their being shot while trying to escape remained in my subconscious mind. I certainly spoke in extreme agitation at the time and did not weigh my

[Page 39]

words carefully. And I certainly repeated Hitler's words, which were, "We must set an example," since I was afraid of some further serious interference with the Prisoner of War Organisation in other ways, apart from this single case of the prisoners not being returned to the Armed Forces. On reading the interrogation report I saw the statement by Gravenitz, or, rather, Westhoff, to the effect that I had said "They will be shot, and most of them must be dead already," I probably said something like: "You will see what a bad business this is; some of them may have been shot already."

I did not know, however, that they had already been shot; and I must confess that in my presence Hitler never said a word about anybody being shot. He only said: "Himmler, you will keep them; you will not hand them over." I did not find out until several days later that they had been shot. I saw among other papers an official report from the British Government stating that not until the 31st - the escape took place on the 25th - that not until the 31st were they actually shot.

Westhoff is also wrong in thinking orders had already been issued that an announcement was to be made in the camp saying that certain people had been shot or had not returned and that lists of names were to be put up. That order did not come until later, and I remember it. I remember it because of the following story:

A few days afterwards - I think on or about the 31st - one of the adjutants told me that a report had been received that some had been shot. I requested a discussion alone with Hitler, and told him that I had heard that people had been shot by the police. All he said was that he had heard it too - naturally, since it was his report. In extreme disgust I told him my opinion of it. At that time he told me that it was to be published in the camp as a warning to the others. The order to make this announcement in the camps did not appear until later. In any case, Westhoff's recollection of some of the facts which he has sworn to is not quite accurate, even if such expressions as those used by him and explained by me here may have occurred. We shall hear his own account of that.

Q. Did Hitler ever tell you that he had ordered those men to be shot?

A. No, he never told me that. I never heard it from him. I heard it very much later, as far as I can remember, from Reich Marshal Goering, with whom the whole incident was, of course, repeatedly discussed, especially as an Air Force camp was involved.

Q. I should like to say in conclusion: Are you stating under oath here that you yourself neither ordered these Air Force officers to be shot, nor did you receive and pass on such an order, nor did you yourself learn who gave the order?

A. That is correct. I neither received that order nor did I know or hear of it; nor did I pass on such an order. I can repeat this under oath.

Q. We now turn to deportations: What the prosecution refers to as deportation of workers is the removal of citizens of the occupied territories to Germany or other occupied territories for the purpose of using them for slave labour, on defence work or other tasks connected with warfare. That is the accusation which I have just read to you.

The prosecution has repeatedly coupled your name with these accusations and has said that you - i.e. the O.K.W. - had co- operated in supplying workers for German war economy. You know that in fact the defendant Sauckel was the Plenipotentiary in that sphere. I should like to ask you whether workers had been taken from the occupied territories and brought to Germany before Plenipotentiary Sauckel was appointed.

A. As far as I know, workers were transferred from occupied territories, especially those in the West: Belgium, Holland - I do not know about Holland, but certainly France - to Germany. According to what I heard, I understood at the time that it was done by recruiting volunteers. I think I remember that General von Stuelpnagel, the military commander of Paris, told me in Berlin once during a

[Page 40]

meeting that more than two hundred thousand had volunteered, but I cannot remember exactly when that was.

Q. Was the O.K.W. the competent authority on these matters?

A. No, the O.K.W. had nothing to do with it. These questions were handled through the usual channels - the O.K.H., the military commanders in France, and in Belgium and Northern France the competent central authorities of the Reich. The O.K.W. never had anything to do with it.

Q. What happened in occupied territories with civilian administration?

A. In occupied territories with civilian administration, the Armed Forces were excluded from any executive powers in the administration, so that in these territories the Armed Forces and their departments had certainly nothing to do with it. Only in those territories which were still operational areas for the Army were executive powers given to military troops, supreme commanders, army commanders, etc. The O.K.W. did not come into the official procedure here either.

Q. According to an interrogation report submitted here the defendant Sauckel said that you - i.e. the O.K.W. - were responsible for giving instructions to the military commanders in the occupied territories, and that he had had their support in his recruiting campaigns. What can you say about that?

A. The view held by Plenipotentiary Sauckel can obviously be explained by the fact that he knew neither the official service channels nor the functions of the Armed Forces, that he saw me at one or two discussions on the furnishing of man- power, and, thirdly, that he sometimes came to see me when he had had his interview and received his orders alone. He had probably been given orders to do so, in Hitler's usual way: "Go and see the Chief of the O.K.W.; he will do the rest." The O.K.W. had no occasion to do anything. The O.K.W. had also no right to give orders, but in Sauckel's case I did take over the job of informing the O.K.H. or the technical assistants in the General Quartermaster's office. I have never issued orders or instructions of my own to the military commanders in occupied territories. It was not one of the functions of the O.K.W.

Q. A document has been submitted here according to which Generals Stapf and Nagel had agreed to ask you to exercise pressure or coercion during the recruiting campaigns in the East. That, at any rate, is the statement made by the prosecution. Do you know of this happening?

A. I remembered it when the document was presented. It was obviously an attempt on the part of Stapf, who had worked with me in the Army for many years, to get the Fuehrer's support or assistance through my mediation. Stapf, who was the Director of the Economic Staff East at the time, and General Nagel, who was also mentioned in this connection, and who was in charge of the Economic Inspectorate Department in the East, had obviously tried to involve me in the matter. According to the document, some pressure had to be applied from higher quarters, but I took no steps at all as I had nothing to do with these things.

Q. I am now going to deal with the question of the pillage of art treasures.

THE PRESIDENT: Perhaps we might adjourn now.

(A recess was taken.)

Q. The French Prosecution has accused you, among others, of issuing directives regarding the safeguarding and confiscation of works of art, contents of libraries, etc. , Were any military orders, directives or general principles laid down before the campaign in the West or in the East, with regard to works of art, libraries and their treatment in occupied territories?

A. No, as far as I know, there was nothing at all about these matters, although provision had been made for everything else which might happen in the course of a war. I am not aware of any orders which were given with that in mind.

Q. I am going to show you three documents submitted by the French Prosecution, which mention you in connection with Rosenberg's special staff, which has already been mentioned here on various occasions. These are Documents PS-137,

[Page 41]

PS-138 and PS-140. These are documents from the Chief of the O.K.W. to the Commander-in-Chief of the Army in France, and in the Netherlands.

A. The first two documents, PS-137 and PS-138, came from Headquarters. They were dictated in part by myself and sent to departments of the Army. One says "To the Commander-in- Chief of the Army," the other one "To the Commander-in-Chief of the Army in Occupied France and the Commander of the Wehrmacht in the Netherlands." They represent answers to queries from various military departments who considered themselves responsible for the safekeeping or guarding of whatever was in the occupied territories, and also from officers who obviously were going to collect, inspect, register or otherwise investigate these art treasures, libraries, etc., and to confiscate them.

In one case I. was called up on the phone by the Commander- in-Chief of the Army - I think - who protested against this, at other times by Rosenberg. The Fuehrer directed me to instruct military departments to acquiesce in this and to state their agreement. The way in which the documents are drawn up shows in itself that they did not emanate from an O.K.W. establishment. My adjutant signed them; but I myself dictated them on the Fuehrer's orders and sent them out. These queries may have been made just because no provision had been made and no orders given. I did not know what was to be done with these art treasures, etc., but I naturally took the view that the object was to safeguard them. No mention was made of transport or confiscation or expropriation; and the question did not occur to me; I merely issued these instructions in quite a brief form and did not bother any further about the matter. I took them to be precautionary measures, and they seemed to be justified.

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