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 3 of 7)

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

[Page 9]

Q. What was the motive of Hitler's speech to the Commanders- in-Chief on 23rd November, 1939, in the Reich Chancellery?

A. I can say that this was very closely connected with the crisis between Hitler and the generals which I have just discussed. He called a meeting of the generals on that occasion to present and substantiate his views, and we knew it was his intention to bring about a change in their attitude. In the notes on this speech, we see that individual persons were more than once directly and sharply rebuked. Those who had spoken against this attack in the West repeated their reasons for so doing.

Moreover, he wanted to state his irrevocable intention to carry out this aggressive action in the West that very winter, because this - in his view - was the only strategic solution, as every moment's delay was to the enemy's advantage. In other words, at that time, he no longer counted on any other solution than resort to force of arms.

Q. When, then, was the decision made to advance through Belgium and Holland?

A. The preparations for such a march through and attack on Belgium and Holland had already been made, but Hitler delayed his decision actually to carry out such a big attack or to violate the neutrality of these countries, and remained undecided until the spring of 1940. This delay was, obviously, caused by all

[Page 10]

sorts of political reasons, and perhaps also because he thought that the problem might be solved automatically if the enemy invaded Belgium or if the mobile French troops crossed the frontier. I can only state that the decision for the carrying out of this plan was withheld until the very last moment and the order was given only just before it was to be executed. I believe that there was also one other factor in this, a factor which I have already mentioned, namely the relationship between the royal houses of Italy and Belgium. Hitler always surrounded his decisions with secrecy, for he was obviously afraid that they might become known through this relationship.

(A recess was taken.)

THE PRESIDENT: Dr. Nelte, the Tribunal will be glad if, when you refer to Czechoslovakia or any other State you will refer to it by its proper name - you and the defendants and other witnesses.

DR. NELTE: Mr. President, the defendant Keitel wishes to make a slight correction in the statement which he made earlier in answer to my question regarding the occupation in the West during the Polish campaign.


WITNESS: I said earlier that in the West during the war against Poland, there were five divisions. I must rectify that statement. I had mixed that up with the year 1938. In 1939 there were approximately twenty divisions, including the reserves in the Rhineland and in the West districts behind the lines. Therefore, the statement I made was made inadvertently and was a mistake.

Q. Now we come to the Balkans wars. The prosecution, with reference to the war against Greece and Yugoslavia, has accused you of having co-operated in the preparation, planning and above all in the carrying out of those wars. What is your attitude to this?

A. We were rushed into the war against Greece and against Yugoslavia in the spring of 1941 to our complete surprise and without having made any plans. This applies especially to Greece. I accompanied Hitler during his journey through France for the meetings with Marshal Petain and with Franco on the Spanish border, and during that journey we had our first news regarding the intention of Italy to attack Greece. The journey to Florence was immediately decided upon, and upon arrival in Florence, we received Mussolini's statement, which has already been mentioned by Reich Marshal Goering; namely, that the attack against Greece had already begun.

I can say from my own personal knowledge that Hitler was extremely disgusted with this development and the dragging of the Balkans into the war, and that only the fact that Italy was an ally prevented a break with Mussolini. I never knew of any intentions to wage war against Greece.

Q. Was there any necessity for Germany to enter into that war or how did that come about?

A. At first, the necessity did not exist, but during the early months - October-November - of that campaign, it soon became clear that the Italian position in this war had become extremely precarious. Therefore, as early as November or December, there were calls on the part of Mussolini for help, calls to assist him in some form or other.

Apart from that, seen from the military point of view, it was clear, of course, that for the entire military position in the war, the defeat of Italy in the Balkans would have had considerable and very serious consequences. Therefore, assistance of some sort had to be improvised. I think a mountain division was to be brought in, but that was technically impossible, since there were no unloading facilities. Then another solution was attempted by means of air transport.

Q. At the time, however, when improvisations ceased, we come to the operation presented by the prosecution, and called "Marita." When was that operation conceived?

[Page 11]

A. The war in Greece and Albania had begun to reach a state of stagnation because of winter conditions. During that time, plans were conceived to avoid a catastrophe for Italy, by bringing in against Greece certain forces from the North for an attack to relieve the pressure, for such I must call it. That would, of course, and did, take several months.

May I just explain that at that time the idea of a march through Yugoslavia, or even the suggestion that forces should be brought in through that country was definitely turned down by Hitler, although the Army particularly had proposed that possibility as the most suitable way of bringing in troops.

Regarding the operation "Marita," perhaps not much more can be said than to mention the march through Bulgaria, which had been prepared and discussed diplomatically with that country.

Q. I would like to ask just one more question on that subject. The prosecution has stated that even before the fall of the Yugoslav Government - that is to say, at the end of March, 1941 - negotiations were conducted with Hungary as to the possibility of an attack on Yugoslavia. Were you or the O.K.W. informed of this, or did you participate?

A. No. I have no recollection at all of any military discussion on the part of the O.K.W. with Hungary regarding military action in the case of Yugoslavia. That is completely unknown to me. On the contrary, everything that happened later on - I shall have to say a few words about Yugoslavia later - was merely improvised. Nothing had been prepared, at any rate, not with the knowledge of the O.K.W.

Q. But it is known to you, is it not, that military discussions with Hungary had taken place during that period? I assume that you merely want to say that they did not refer to Yugoslavia.

A. Of course, it was known to me that several discussions had taken place with the Hungarian General Staff.

Q. You said you wanted to say something else about the case of Yugoslavia. Reich Marshal Goering has here made statements upon that subject. Can you add anything new? Otherwise, I have no further questions with regard to that subject.

A. I should merely like to confirm once more that the decision to attack Yugoslavia meant completely upsetting all military movements and arrangements made up to that time. "Marita" had to be completely readjusted. Also new forces had to be brought through Hungary from the North. All that was completely improvised.

Q. We come now to the plan "Barbarossa." The Soviet Prosecution, particularly, have revealed that the Supreme Command of the Armed Forces and you as Chief of Staff, as early as the summer of 1940, had occupied themselves with a plan of attack against the Soviet Union. When did Hitler for the first time talk to you about the possibility of a conflict, of an armed conflict with the Soviet Union?

A. As far as I recollect, that was at the beginning of August, 1940, on the occasion of a discussion of the situation at Berchtesgaden, or rather at his house, the Berghof. That was the first time that the possibility of an armed conflict with the Soviet Union was discussed.

Q. What reasons did Hitler give at that time for thinking that a war with the Soviet Union was possible?

A. I think I can refer to what Reich Marshal Goering has said on this subject.

According to our conception, there were considerable troop concentrations in Bessarabia and Bukowina. The Foreign Minister, too, had mentioned figures, which I can't recall - and there was the anxiety which had been repeatedly voiced by Hitler at that time that something further might arise in the Roumanian theatre which would endanger our source of petroleum, the fuel supply for the conduct of the war, which for the most part came from that country. Apart from that, I think he talked about strong and obvious troop concentrations in the Baltic provinces.

[Page 12]

Q. Were any directives given by you at that time or by those branches off the Armed Forces which were affected?

A. No. As far as I can recollect this was confined firstly to increased activities of the intelligence or espionage service against Russia and, secondly, to certain investigations regarding the possibility of transferring troops from the West, from France, as quickly as possible to the South-east areas or to East Prussia. Certain return transports of troops from the Eastern army corps districts had already taken place at the end of July. Apart from that no instructions were given at that time.

Q. How was the line of demarcation occupied?

A. There had been continual reports from that demarcation line, of frontier incidents, of firing, and particularly of frequent crossings of that line by aircraft of the Soviet Union. This led to the exchange of notes. There were small but fierce frontier actions, particularly in the South, and we received information through our frontier troops that from time to time new Russian troop units appeared opposite them, I think that was all.

Q. Do you know how many divisions of the German Wehrmacht were stationed there at the time?

A. During the Western campaign there were - I do not think I am wrong this time - seven divisions; seven divisions from East Prussia to the Carpathians, two of which, during the Western campaign, had even been transported to the West but were later on transported back again.

Q. The prosecution stated that at the end of July, 1940, Colonel General Jodl had given general instructions in a conference to certain officers of the Armed Forces Operations Staff to occupy themselves with the Russian problem, and particularly to examine railway transport conditions. Since you said a little earlier that not until August did you hear for the first time from Hitler what the situation was, I am now asking you whether you were informed about these conferences of Colonel General Jodl.

A. No. I did not hear that such a conference took place in Berchtesgaden at the end of July or beginning of August until I came here. This was due to the fact that I was absent from Berchtesgaden. I did not know of this conference, and I think General Jodl probably forgot to tell me about it at the time.

Q. What were your personal views at that time regarding the problem which arose out of the conference with Hitler?

A. When I realised that the matter had been given really serious thought I was most surprised, and I felt it most unfortunate. I seriously considered what could be done by using military arguments to influence Hitler. At that time, as has been briefly mentioned here by the Foreign Minister, I wrote a memorandum, giving my personal views on the matter, quite independently of the views of the experts on the General Staff and the Armed Forces Operations Staff. I intended to present this memorandum to Hitler, because, as a rule, one could never get beyond the second sentence of a discussion with him. He took the words out of one's mouth and after-wards one never was able to say what one wanted to. In this connection I should like to say that I had the idea - it was the first and only time - of visiting the Foreign Minister personally, in order to ask him to support me from the political angle regarding that question. Hence the visit to Fuschl, which has already been discussed here and which the Foreign Minister von Ribbentrop confirmed during his examination the other day.

Q. Then you confirm what Herr von Ribbentrop has said, so that there is no need for me to repeat it?

A. I confirm that I went to Fuschl. I had the memorandum with me. It had been written by hand, since I did not want anybody else to see it, and I left Fuschl convinced that he wanted to try to exercise influence on Hitler to the same end. He promised me he would do so.

Q. Did you give that memorandum to Hitler?

[Page 13]

A. Yes. Some time later at the Berghof, after a report of the situation had been given, I handed him that memorandum when we were alone. I think he told me at the time that he was going to study it. He took it without giving me a chance to make any explanations.

Q. Considering its importance did you later on find an opportunity to refer to it again?

A. Yes. At first nothing at all happened. Later, therefore, I reminded him of it and asked him to discuss the problem with me. This he did, and the matter was dealt with very briefly by his saying that the military and strategic considerations put forward by me were in no way convincing. He, Hitler, considered these ideas erroneous, and turned them down. In that connection I can perhaps mention very briefly that I was again very much upset and there was another crisis when I asked to be relieved of my post, and that another man be put in my office and that I be sent to the front. That once more led to a sharp controversy as has already been described by the Reich Marshal, when he said that Hitler took the attitude that he would not tolerate that a general, whose views he did not agree with, should ask to be relieved of his post because of his disagreement. I think he said that he had every right to turn down such suggestions and ideas if he considered them wrong, and that I had not the right to make any inferences from that.

Q. Did he return that memorandum to you?

A. No, I do not think I got it back. I have always assumed that it was found among the captured Schmundt files, but apparently such is not the case. I did not get it back; he kept it.

Q. I do not wish to occupy the time of the Tribunal in this connection any further. I will leave it to you as to whether you wish to disclose the contents of that memorandum. I am not so much concerned with the military presentation, one can imagine what that was, but the question is: did you refer to the Non-Aggression Pact of 1939 in that memorandum?

A. Yes, but I must say that the main part was devoted to military considerations; the balance of forces, the requirements of the forces, and the extent to which they were dispersed - with troops in France and Norway, and the air force in Italy, so that we were tied down in the West. In that memorandum I most certainly referred to the fact that that Non-Aggression Pact existed. But the memorandum was mainly concerned with military considerations.

Q. Were any military orders given at that time?

A. No orders were given at that time except for the improvement of lines of communications from the West to the East for speeding up troop transports, particularly to the South-eastern sector; in other words, north of the Carpathians and in the East Prussian sector. Apart from that no orders of any kind were given.

Q. Had the discussion with Foreign Minister Molotov already taken place?

A. No. On the contrary, the idea of a discussion with the Russians was still pending in October. Hitler also told me at the time, and he always emphasised this, that until such a discussion had taken place he would not give any orders, since it had been proved to him by General Jodl that in any case it was technically impossible to transfer strong troop units into the threatened sectors, which I have mentioned, in the East. Accordingly, nothing was done. The visit or discussion with the Russian delegation was arranged, in which connection I would like to say that I made the suggestion at that time that Hitler should talk personally with Stalin. That was the only thing I did in the matter.

Q. During that conference were military matters discussed?

A. I didn't take any part in the discussions with M. Molotov, although in this instance also I was present at the reception and certain official functions, and on two occasions sat next to him at the table. I didn't hear any political discussion nor did I have any with, M. Molotov.

Q. What did Hitler say after these discussions had come to an end?

[Page 14]

A. He really said very little. He more or less said that he was disappointed in the discussions. I think he mentioned briefly that problems regarding the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea areas had been discussed in a general way and that he had not been able to get any positive reaction. He didn't go into details. I asked him about military matters which had a certain significance at the time - the strong forces, for instance, in the Bessarabian sector. I think Hitler evaded the question and said that was obviously connected with all these matters and that he had not gone into it too deeply, or something similar. I can't remember exactly. At any rate, there was nothing new in it for us and nothing final.

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