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

Ninety-Ninth Day: Thursday, 4th April, 1946
(Part 2 of 7)

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

[Page 5 ]

Q. Did you know that England actually attempted to act as intermediary?

A. No, I knew nothing of these matters. A thing which was very surprising to me was that on one of those days which have been discussed here repeatedly, namely on 24th or 25th August, only a few days after the conference at Obersalzberg, I was suddenly called to Hitler at the Reich Chancellery and his only words were "Stop everything at once, fetch Brauchitsch immediately. I need time for negotiations." I believe that after these few words I was dismissed.

Q. What followed?

A. I at once rang up the Commander-in-Chief of the Army, Brauchitsch, and passed on the order, and he was called to the Fuehrer. Everything was stopped and all decisions on possible military action were suspended, first without any time limit, but on the following day for a certain limited period. I think, from what we can calculate today, the period was five days.

Q. Did you know of the so-called minimum demands on Poland?

A. I believe that I read them in the Reich Chancellery, that Hitler himself showed them to me and that I received a copy.

Q. As you saw them, I would like to ask whether you considered these demands to be serious?

A. At that time I was never in the Reich Chancellery for more than a few minutes, and as a soldier I naturally believed that these were perfectly serious demands.

Q. Was there any talk at that time of border incidents?

A. No. This question of border incidents was, too, extensively discussed with me here in my interrogations, but in the few discussions we had at the Reich Chancellery in those days there was no discussion at all of this question.

Q. I now show you Document 795-PS, which consists of notes dealing with the Polish uniforms for Heydrich.

A. May I add ...

Q. Please do.

A. ... namely, that on 30th August, the day for the attack was again postponed for twenty-four hours. For this reason Brauchitsch and I were again called to the Reich Chancellery and to my recollection the reason given was that a Polish plenipotentiary was expected. Everything was to be postponed for twenty-four hours. Then there were further changes in the military instructions.

This document deals with Polish uniforms for border incidents or for some sort of illegal actions. It has been shown to me. It concerns subsequent notes made by Canaris of a conversation he had with me. He told me at that time that he

[Page 6]

was to make available a few Polish uniforms. This order had been communicated to him by the Fuehrer through an adjutant. I asked: "For what purpose?" We both agreed that this was intended for some illegal action. If I remember rightly I told him at that time that I did not expect much from it and that he had better have nothing to do with it. We then had a short discussion about Dirschau, which was also to be taken by a surprise attack by the Wehrmacht. That is all I heard of it. I believe I told Canaris he could dodge the issue by saying that he had no Polish uniforms - he could simply say he had none - and the matter would be settled.

Q. You know, of course, that this matter was connected with the subsequent attack on the radio station at Gleiwitz. Do you know anything of this incident?

A. This incident, this action has for the first time come to my knowledge here through the testimony of witnesses. I never found out who was charged to carry out such things and I knew nothing of the raid on the radio station at Gleiwitz until I heard the statements made here before this Tribunal. Neither do I recall having heard at that time that such an incident had occurred.

Q. Did you know of America's and Italy's efforts after 1st September, 1939, to end the war in one way or another?

A. I knew nothing at all of the political discussions that took place in those days from 24th August to the end of that month or the beginning of September. I never knew anything about the visit of one Mr. Dahlerus. I knew nothing of London's intervention. I only remember that, whilst in the Reich Chancellery for a short while, I met Hitler and he said, "Do not disturb me now, I am writing a letter to Daladier."

This must have been in the first days of September. Neither I nor, to my knowledge, any of the other generals ever knew anything about the matters I heard of here and of the further steps that were taken after 1st September. Nothing at all.

Q. What did you say in the Fuehrer's train to Canaris and Lahousen on 14th September, that is shortly before the attack on Warsaw, with regard to the so-termed political "Flurbereinigung" (House cleaning)?

A. I have been interrogated here about this point, but I could not recall this visit at all. However, it appeared, from Lahousen's testimony, that I had repeated what Hitler had said and had passed on these orders in his words. I know that the Commander-in-Chief of the Army who then directed the military operations in Poland had, at the daily conferences, already complained about attacks by police in occupied Polish territory. I can only say that I apparently repeated what had been said about these things in my presence by Hitler and Brauchitsch. I can make no statements regarding details.

I might add that, to my recollection, the Commander-in-Chief of the Army at that time often stated that as long as he had the executive power in the occupied territories he would under no circumstances tolerate any other authority in those territories; and at his own request he was relieved of his responsibility for Poland in October. I therefore believe that the statements the witness made from memory or on the strength of notes are not quite correct.

Q. We come now to the question of Norway. Did you know that in October, 1939, Germany had given an assurance of neutrality to Denmark and Norway?

A. Yes, I knew that.

Q. Were you and the O.K.W., or were you, personally, consulted about declarations of neutrality in this or other cases?

A. No.

Q. Were you informed of them?

A. No, we were not informed either. These were discussions referring to foreign policy of which we soldiers were not informed.

Q. You mean you were not informed officially. But you, as one who read newspapers, knew of them?

[Page 7]

A. Yes.

Q. Good. Before our discussion about the problem of aggressive war I asked you a question which, in order to save time, I would rather not have to repeat. However, it seems to me that the question I put to you in order to get your opinion on aggressive war, must be asked again in this connection because an attack on a neutral country, a country which had been given a guarantee, was bound to cause particular scruples on the part of people who have to do with this - the waging of war. Therefore, I put this question to you again, in this particular connection, and ask you to say what was your and the soldiers' reaction to it.

A. In this connection, I must say we were already at war. There was a state of war between England and France and Germany. It would not be right for me to say that I interfered in the least with these matters, but I regarded them rather as political matters and, as a soldier, I held the opinion that preparations for a military action against Norway and Denmark did not yet mean the real thing, that these preparations would very obviously take months if such an action was to materialise at all, and that, in the meantime, the situation might change. It was this train of thought which caused me not to take any steps in this matter. I considered it impossible to make strategic preparations at that time, and I therefore took no stand on the question of intervention in Norway and Denmark, and left these things to those who were concerned with political matters. I cannot put it any other way.

Q. When did the preparations for this action start?

A. I think the first discussion took place as early as October, 1939, but the first directives were issued only in January 1940, that is to say, several months later. In connection with the discussions before this Tribunal and with the information given by Reich Marshal Goering in his statements, I also remember that one day I was ordered to summon Grand Admiral Raeder to the Fuehrer, who wanted to discuss with him questions regarding sea warfare in the Bay of Heligoland and in the Atlantic Ocean and the dangers we would encounter in waging war in this area.

Then Hitler ordered me to call together a special staff which was to study all these problems from the viewpoint of sea, air and land warfare - I remembered this also upon seeing the documents produced here. This special staff dispensed with my personal assistance. Hitler said at the time that he himself would furnish tasks for this staff. These were, I believe, the military considerations in the months from 1939 to the beginning of 1940.

Q. In this connection I should only like to know one further thing, and that is whether you had any conversation with Quisling at this stage of the preliminary measures?

A. No, I saw Quisling neither before nor after the Norway campaign; I saw him for the first time approximately one or two years later. There were no connections between us, not even any kind of transmission of information. I already stated in a preliminary interrogation that by order of Hitler I sent an officer, I believe it was Colonel Pieckenboeck, to Copenhagen for conferences with the Norwegians. I did not know Quisling.

Q. As to the war in the West, there is once more in the foreground the question of violation of neutrality, in the case of Luxembourg, Belgium and Holland. Did you know that these three countries bad been given assurances regarding the inviolability of their neutrality?

A. Yes, I knew and also was told that at that time.

Q. I do not want to ask the same questions as in the case of Norway and Denmark, but I should like to ask: Did you consider these assurances by Hitler to be honest?

A. When I remember the situation as it was then, I did at that time believe, when I learned of these things, that there was no intention of bringing any other State into the war. At any rate, I had no reason, no justification to assume the opposite, namely that this was intended as a deception.

[Page 8]

Q. After the conclusion of the Polish campaign did you still believe that there was any possibility of terminating or localising the war?

A. Yes, I did believe this. My view was strengthened by the Reichstag speech after the Polish war, in which allusions were made which convinced me that political discussions about this question were going on, above all, with England, and because Hitler had said to me time and again, whenever these questions were brought up, "The West is actually not interested in these Eastern problems of Germany." This was the phrase he always used to calm people, namely that the Western Powers were not interested in these problems.

Furthermore, seen from a purely military point of view, it must be added that we soldiers had, of course, always expected an attack by the Western Powers, that is to say, France, during the Polish campaign and were very surprised that in the West, apart from some skirmishes between the Maginot Line and the Western Wall, nothing had actually happened, though we had - this I know for certain - along the whole Western front from the Dutch border to Basel only five divisions, apart from the small forces manning the fortifications of the Western Wall. Thus, from a purely military point of view, a French attack during the Polish campaign would have encountered only a military screen, not a real defence.

Since nothing of this sort happened, we soldiers thought of course that the Western Powers had no serious intentions, because they did not take advantage of the extremely favourable situation for military operations, and did not undertake anything serious against us during the three to four weeks when all the German fighting formations were employed in the East. This also strengthened our views as to what the attitude of the Western Powers would probably be in the future.

Q. What were Hitler's plans for the West?

A. I do not quite understand the question.

Q. What were Hitler's plans for the West?

A. During the last phase of the Polish campaign, he had already transferred all unnecessary forces to the West, in case that at any time something might happen there. He had, however, at the same time, told me that he intended to throw his forces as swiftly as possible from the East to the West, and if possible attack in the West in the winter of 1939-40.

Q. Did these plans include attacks on and marching through Luxembourg, Belgium, and Holland.

A. Not originally. At first, if I may speak as a soldier, the concentration of troops in the West was to be merely a security measure, that is, a thorough strengthening of the frontiers, particularly, of course, where there were only border posts. Accordingly, as early as at the end of September and the beginning of October, some troops were moved from the East to the West for security purposes only, without any particular concentration.

Q. What did the military leaders know about Belgium's and Holland's attitude?

A. Their views, naturally, changed several times, in the course of the winter. In the autumn of 1939 - I can only speak for myself, and there may be other opinions on this matter - I was convinced that Belgium wanted to keep out of the war under any circumstances, and would do anything she could to preserve her neutrality. On the other hand, we received, through close connections between the Belgium and Italian royal houses, a number of reports that sounded very threatening. I had no way of finding out whether they were true, but we learned of them and they indicated that Belgium was being submitted to strong pressure to give up her neutrality.

As for Holland, all we knew at that time was that there were general staff relations between her and England. But then of course, in the months from October to May, 1940, the situation changed considerably, and the tension varied greatly. From the purely military point of view, we knew one thing: that all the French swift units, that is motorised units, were concentrated on the Belgian-French border, and we interpreted this measure as meaning that preparations

[Page 9]

were being made for crossing through Belgium at any time with these units and for taking a stand there on the borders of the Ruhr district.

I think I should omit details here, because they are not important for the further developments, being of a purely operative and strategic nature.

Q. Were there differences of opinion between the generals and Hitler with reference to the attack in the West, which would have to take place through this neutral territory?

A. I must say that at that time one of the most serious crises in the whole war arose, because of the opinions held by a number of generals, including the Commander-in-Chief, von Brauchitsch, his Chief of General Staff, and myself. We wanted at all costs to attempt to prevent an attack in the West, but Hitler had already planned this for the winter. There were various reasons for our opinions: one was the difficulty of transporting the Eastern Army to the West; another, which I am bound to mention, was that we believed at that time, perhaps more from the political point of view, that if we did not attack, the possibility of a peaceful solution might still be feasible. We considered that between then and the spring many political changes might well take place. Then again, as soldiers, we were decidedly against the waging of a winter war, in view of the short days and long nights, always a great hindrance to military operations.

To Hitler's objection that the French motorised forces might march through Belgium at any time and then stand before the Ruhr district, we answered that we were equal to such a situation in a war of movement; we were a match for it; that was our view. I may say here that this situation led to a very serious crisis between Hitler and the Commander-in- Chief of the Army and also myself, because I held this view, one which Hitler vigorously rejected on the grounds that it was strategically wrong. In our talks he accused me in the sharpest manner, of conspiring against him with the generals of the Army and strengthening them in their opposition to his views. I must here state that I then asked to be relieved immediately of my post and given another, because I was greatly offended, and felt that under these circumstances the confidence between Hitler and myself had been completely destroyed. I may add that my relations with the Commander-in-Chief of the Army also suffered greatly in this matter, but the idea of my discharge and employment elsewhere was sharply rejected. It has already been discussed here; I need not go into it any further.

But this break in confidence was never to be mended. In the case of Norway, there was a similar conflict of views. General Jodl's diary refers to it as a "serious crisis." I shall not go into this in detail, either.

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