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

The Trial of German Major War Criminals

Sitting at Nuremberg, Germany
4th April to 15th April, 1946

One Hundred and First Day: Saturday, 6th April, 1946
(Part 2 of 6)

[GENERAL RUDENKO continues his cross examination of Wilhelm Bodewin Johann Gustav Keitel]

[Page 73]

Q. You shared it. Very well. I shall now present you with the original copy of Canaris's report, containing your decision.

Mr. President, I shall now present the document containing his decision to the defendant. This decision was not read into the record in Court, and I shall also present the text of his final decision to the Tribunal.

THE PRESIDENT: Have you the original?

GENERAL RUDENKO: Yes, I gave it to the defendant.


Q. And now, defendant Keitel, will you please follow?

A. I know the document with the marginal notes.

Q. Listen to me and follow the text of the decision. This is Canaris's document, which you consider a just one. The following are the contents of your decision:

"These objections arise from the military conception of chivalrous warfare. We are dealing here with the destruction of a world philosophy and, therefore, I approve such measures and I sanction them. Signed: Keitel."

[Page 74]

Is this your resolution?

A. Yes, I wrote that after it had been submitted to the Fuehrer for decision. I wrote it then.

Q. It is not written there that the Fuehrer said so; it is said "I sanction them" - meaning Keitel.

A. And I state this on oath, and I said it even before I read it.

Q. This means that you acknowledge the decision. I will now draw your attention to another document. I draw your attention to Page 2 of this document. Please observe that the text of Canaris's report mentions the following:

"The separation of civilian personnel and prisoners of war who are politically undesirable and decisions to be made in regard to their fate are to be effected by operations squads (Einsatzkommando) belonging to the Security Police and the S.D., in accordance with directives not known to the Wehrmacht establishments and execution of which cannot be checked by the latter."
Canaris writes this. Your decision, defendant Keitel, is written in the margin, and reads, "Highly expedient." Is that correct?

A. Please repeat the last question. The last words I heard were "Canaris writes."

Q. Yes, and I am now mentioning the fact that your decision "Highly expedient" appears in the margin, opposite that paragraph, and written by your own hand. Have you found this decision?

A. Yes. The word "expedient" refers to the fact that the army agencies had nothing to do with these Einsatzkommandos and knew nothing about them. It states that they are not known to the Wehrmacht.

Q. And did you consider it highly expedient that the Security Police and the S.D. should wreak vengeance on civilians and prisoners of war?

A. No, I thought it expedient that the activities of these commandos should be unknown to the Armed Forces. That is what I meant. That appears here and I underlined "unknown."

Q. I am asking you, defendant Keitel, known as a Field Marshal and one who, before this Tribunal, has repeatedly referred to yourself as a soldier, whether you, in your own bloodthirsty decision of September, 1941, confirmed and sanctioned the murder of the unarmed soldiers whom you had captured? Is that right?

A. I signed both decrees and I, therefore, bear the responsibility within the sphere of my office; I assume the responsibility.

Q. That is quite clear. In this connection I would like to ask you - since you have repeatedly mentioned it before the Tribunal - about the duty of the soldier.

I want to ask you: Is it in accordance with the concept of a "soldier's duty" and the "honour of an officer" to promulgate such orders for reprisals on prisoners of war and on peaceful citizens?

A. Yes, as far as the reprisals during August and September are concerned, in view of what happened to German prisoners of war whom we found on the field of battle, and in Lemberg (Lvov) where we found hundreds of them murdered.

Q. Defendant Keitel, do you again wish to follow the path to which you resorted once before, and revive the question of the alleged butchery of German prisoners of war? You and I agreed yesterday that as far back as May, 1941, prior to the beginning of the war, you had signed a directive on the shooting of political and military workers in the Red Army.

A. Yes, I also signed the orders before the war but they did not contain the word "murder."

Q. I am not going to argue with you since this means arguing against documents; and documents speak for themselves.

I have a few brief questions to ask you: You informed the Tribunal that the generals of the German Army were only blindly carrying out Hitler's orders.

A. I have stated that I do not know if any generals raised objections or who

[Page 75]

they were, and I said that it did not happen in my presence when Hitler proclaimed the principles of an ideological war and ordered them to be put into practice.Q. And do you know that the generals, on their own initiative, promulgated orders for atrocities and the violation of the laws and customs of war, and that these orders were approved by Hitler? Do you know such facts?

A. I know that, as regards jurisdiction, of the March decree and other measures. For example, high authorities in the Army issued orders altering, modifying and even cancelling them in part, because they discussed it with me.

Q. You do not understand me. I did not ask about modifications, but if the generals, on their own initiative, ever promulgated orders inciting to the violation of the laws and customs of war ...

A. I do not know of that. I do not know.

Q. You do not know?

A. I do not know.

Q. I shall merely refer to ...

A. I do not know what order you are referring to, General. At the moment I cannot say that I know that.

Q. I shall refer to one order only, namely that of General Field Marshal Reichenau, governing the conduct of troops in the East. This document, Mr. President, was presented by the Soviet prosecution as Exhibit USSR 13, and I shall read into the record one quotation from this order, governing the conduct of troops in the East: "Feeding the inhabitants and prisoners of war is mistaken kindness."

A. I know the order. It was shown to me during a preliminary interrogation.

Q. This order, issued on Reichenau's initiative and approved by Hitler, was distributed, as a model order, among all the army commanders.

A. I did not know that. I heard about it here for the first time. To the best of my belief I never saw the order.

Q. Of course, you would, quite obviously, consider such orders as entirely insignificant. After all, could the fate of Soviet prisoners of war and of the civilian population be of any possible interest to the Chief of the O.K.W., since their lives were of no value whatsoever.

A. I had no contact with the commanders at the front and had no official connection with them. The Supreme Commander of the Army was the only one who had.

Q. When testifying before the Tribunal you very often referred, as did your accomplices - the defendants Goering and Ribbentrop - to the Treaty of Versailles, and I am asking you, were Vienna, Prague, Belgrade and the Crimea the property of Germany before the Treaty of Versailles?

A. No.

Q. You stated here that in 1944, after the law had been amended, you received an offer to join the Nazi Party. You accepted this offer, presented your personal credentials to the Leadership of the Party, and paid your membership fees. Tell us, did your acceptance to join the membership of the Nazi Party signify that you were in agreement with the programme, objectives and methods of the Party?

A. As I had already been in possession of the Gold Party Badge for three or four years, I thought that this request for my personal particulars was only a formal registration; and I paid the required Party membership subscription. I did both these things and have admitted doing them.

Q. In other words, before this formal offer was ever made, you already, defacto, considered yourself a member of the Nazi Party?

A. I have always thought of myself as a soldier; not as a political soldier or politician.

Q. Should we not conclude, after all that has been said here, that you were a "Hitler" General, not because duty called you but on account of your own convictions?

[Page 76]

A. I have stated here that I was a true and obedient soldier of my Fuehrer. I do not think that there are generals in Russia who do not give Marshal Stalin implicit obedience.

GENERAL RUDENKO: I have no further questions.


Q. Defendant, do you remember on the 2nd October, 1945, writing a letter to Colonel Amen, explaining your position? It was after your interrogations, and in your own time you wrote a letter explaining your point of view. Do you remember that?

A. Yes, I think I did write a letter, but I no longer remember the contents. It referred to the interrogations, however.

Q. Yes.

A. And I think it contained a request that I be given a further opportunity of thinking things over, as the questions put to me took me by surprise and I was often unable to remember at the moment.

Q. I want to remind you of one passage and ask you whether it correctly expresses your view:

"In carrying out these thankless and difficult tasks, I had to fulfil my duty under the hardest exigencies of war, often acting against the inner voice of my conscience and against my own convictions. The fulfilment of urgent tasks assigned by Hitler, to whom I was directly responsible, demanded complete self-abnegation."
A. Yes.

Q. Well, now, I just want you to tell the Tribunal what were, in your view, the worst matters in which you often acted against the inner voice of your conscience?

A. I found myself in such a situation quite frequently, but the decisive questions which conflicted most violently with my conscience and my convictions were those which were contrary to the training which I had undergone during my thirty-seven years as an officer in the German Army. That was a blow at my most intimate personal principles.

Q. Can you tell the Tribunal the three worst things you had to do which were against the inner voice of your conscience? What do you pick out as the three worst things you had to do?

A. Perhaps, to start with the last, the orders given for the conduct of the war in the East, in so far as they were contrary to the acknowledged usage of war; then something which particularly concerns the British Delegation, the question of the fifty R.A.F. officers - the question which I particularly disliked, that of the "terror flyers" - and, worst of all, the "Nacht und Nebel" decree and the actual consequences it entailed at a later stage, and about which I did not know. Those caused the worst struggles with my conscience.

Q. We will take the "Nacht und Nebel."

SIR DAVID MAXWELL FYFE: My Lord, this document and a good many to which I shall refer are in the British Document Book No. 7, Wilhelm Keitel and Alfred Jodl, and it occurs on Page 279. It is L-90; Exhibit USA 503.

Q. Defendant, I will give you the German Document Book. It is Page 279 of the British Document Book, and 289 of the German. You see, the purpose of the decree is set out a few lines from the beginning, where it is stated that in all cases where the death penalty is pronounced and not carried out within a week ". . . the accused are in future to be deported to Germany secretly, and further proceedings in connection with the offences will take place there. The deterrent effect of these measures lies in:

(a) the complete disappearance of the accused;

(b) the fact that no information is given as to their whereabouts or their fate."

[Page 77]

Both these purposes, you will agree, were extremely cruel and brutal, were they not?

A. I said both at the time and yesterday, that I personally thought that to deport individuals secretly was very much more cruel than to impose a sentence of death.

Q. Would you turn to Page 281 - 291 of the German; 281 in the British Document Book?

A. Yes, I have it.

Q. You say this in your covering letter:

"The Fuehrer is of the opinion:

In the case of offences such as these, punishment by imprisonment, even to the extent of penal servitude for life, will be considered a sign of weakness. Effective and lasting intimidation can only be achieved either by capital punishment or by measures which keep the culprit's relatives and the population generally uncertain as to his fate."

You will agree that there again these sentences of the Fuehrer which you are here transmitting were cruel and brutal, were they not? A. Yes.

Q. Now, what I -

A. May I add something?

Q. Certainly, as shortly as you can.

A. I made a statement yesterday on this subject and I drew your attention particularly to the words: "This order has been under consideration by the Fuehrer for a long time," which were intended to convey to the generals who were receiving these orders what was written between the lines.

Q. But, you know, defendant, that that was by no means the end of this series of orders. This order was unsuccessful, despite its cruelty and brutality, in achieving its purpose, was it not? This order, the "Nacht und Nebel" order, did not stop what it was designed to stop. Is that right?

A. Yes, it did not cease.

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