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

The Trial of German Major War Criminals

Sitting at Nuremberg, Germany
2nd July to 15th July 1946

One Hundred and Seventy-Third Day: Monday, 8th July, 1946
(Part 9 of 12)

[Page 188]

DR. NELTE, Continued:

These three mobilization plans taken all together form the basis of your decision. You may see from them whether the prosecution is right in its assumption of a total planning for aggressive war, or whether the defendant Keitel was right when he stated during his hearing:

"What has been discussed and planned here is what every country is entitled to do, and what the responsible agencies are bound to do if they do not wish to violate their most sacred duty, namely, the safeguarding of the security of their country."
The decision of 4th February, 1938, was fateful for General Keitel as well as for the German Wehrmacht: For Keitel who could not yet form an opinion of the newly-created office of the "Supreme Command of the Wehrmacht" (OKW); for the Wehrmacht which lost on that day its relative independence.

Hitler broke down the last barriers between himself and the Wehrmacht - the nation in arms - by removing both the Commander-in-Chief of the Wehrmacht and the constitutionally responsible Reich Minister of War. This truly portentous

[Page 189]

decision became fatal for Keitel and the German nation, though at the time of its occurrence this was not realised by the participants. That they may be blamed for not realising it is easy to say now in retrospect. At the time, everybody who was not an inveterate sceptic or pessimist had to base his judgement on the development of things in general and on the strength of the personalities involved.

Neither the one nor the other could be clearly perceived on 4th February, 1938.

It was no personal decision for the defendant Keitel, who did not know Hitler personally in these days and who met him for the first time man to man in the preliminary discussions. Hitler assigned him to the newly created office of Supreme Commander of the Wehrmacht and Keitel accepted it. Even if we disregard entirely the human emotions connected with such a brilliant promotion, there was no reasonable ground for the then Chief of the Wehrmacht Office in the Reich Ministry of War to decline the offer, since von Blomberg himself had suggested him.

Hitler's ideas about this office could not be discerned by Keitel.

Now I shall pass on to the next page; and shall quote out of my manuscript the following from the statements made by Dr. Lammers and from the affidavit deposed by Blomberg, on Page 59, I quote the penultimate paragraph:

"In the future, I shall not have any Minister of War; neither will I have in the future a Supreme Commander of the Wehrmacht to stand between me, as the highest commander, and the other high commanders of the Wehrmacht."
On Page 60, from Blomberg's affidavit in answer to question 24, I quote the second half:
"He asked for a suggestion for the assignment of a 'Chef du Bureau' who would direct and carry out current affairs under him and thus under Hitler's responsibility."
In answer to question 27:
"I proposed Keitel as 'Chef du Bureau', believing that I had put him in the right job."
Question 29:
"Was it not Hitler's intention to create a tool for himself in the person of Keitel, whose capacity for organization and hard work seemed to him valuable as an executive organ for his decisions and orders?"
"This question is emphatically confirmed by me. Hitler's original intention at that time was most certainly to have at his disposal a trustworthy subordinate organ and in no way an adviser endowed with some responsibility."
The decree of 4th February, 1938, regarding leadership in the Wehrmacht is known to the Tribunal. Therefore, I do not need to read it to you. One sees from this and from the hearing of witnesses that, regarding the position of the defendant Keitel, and thus the questions of his competence and responsibility:

(1) Hitler did not want either a responsible ministry of war or any other person but himself to exercise the commanding authority over the entire Wehrmacht. He united in his own person both of these institutions by declaring that in regard to the commanding authority he would from now on exercise it directly and personally, as well as the functions of the Reich Ministry of War which were to be administered by Keitel under his instructions.

(2) Hitler thus created a military staff for a military- technical programme. He designated it as the High Command of the Wehrmacht. This "Oberkommando der Wehrmacht" was therefore nothing more - and I may add no less - than the military chancellery of the Fuehrer and Supreme Commander. Such chancelleries already existed as Reich Chancellery, Chancellery of the Reich President, and Party Chancellery. The defendant Keitel was assigned to the post of Chief of the Military Chancellery with the title of Chief of Staff of the High Command of the Wehrmacht (for short, Chief OKW).

(3) Hence, it follows that the OKW was not intended to be an intermediary agency between the Supreme Commander of the Wehrmacht and the three

[Page 190]

Wehrmacht sections. The contrary assumption of the prosecution, which is connected with a graphic representation, is founded upon an erroneous judgement.

An intermediary level between the Supreme Commander and the three high commanders of the Army, Navy, and Air Force such as existed before 4th February, 1938, with rights of its own, no longer existed. The OKW, in which the defendant Keitel was the Chief of Staff, was no independent military agency or authority, but exclusively Hitler's military- technical staff and his war ministry office. The OKW had no independent authority whatsoever, neither the power to issue orders nor the command authority. Therefore, the OKW could not issue its own orders. On the contrary, all instructions, decrees, general directions or orders issued by the OKW were the expression of the desires of the Supreme Commander of the Wehrmacht. The Commanders-in-Chief of the three Wehrmacht branches were always aware of the fact that no intermediary level existed between them and the Supreme Commander, and they never considered or recognized the OKW as such. This is confirmed by the affidavits of the co- defendants Admiral Donitz and Admiral Raeder as well as by the testimony of Reich Marshal Goering and Dr. Lammers.

The idea that the OKW or the defendant Keitel as Chief of the OKW would have had the authority to issue instructions or orders independently is therefore erroneous. All official business, oral or in writing, which went beyond an exchange of ideas with other military agencies or authorities, was subject to the exclusive decision of the Supreme Commander himself. The OKW was merely the executive staff of the Supreme Commander.

(4) Therefore, when documents issued by the Supreme Commander or by the OKW show signatures or initials of the defendant Keitel, or those of a chief of office or a section chief, one cannot draw the conclusion that their own independent authority for issuing orders existed. In each instance it was merely a case of taking notice of, forwarding or transmitting the orders of the Supreme Commander himself. Because of the heavy claims on Hitler's time in his positions as Chief of State, Reich Chancellor, Party Leader and Supreme Commander of the Wehrmacht, it was impossible to obtain always his personal signature, unless it concerned matters of particular importance or fundamental significance. It has to be noted that in all cases Hitler's personal decision or approval had to be obtained.

If, with such a state of affairs, the prosecution advances the argument that because of the signing of documents or because of the existence of initials the defendant Keitel is co-responsible for the actual contents of the documents, this cannot be accepted. It would be going by the letter of the law to infer the responsibility of the defendant Keitel as Chief of the Military Chancellery from his forwarding or signing of orders, instructions and so on, a responsibility which in my opinion can be laid only upon that person who issues or brings about the order by virtue of his authority.

A real responsibility for this could be laid upon the defendant Keitel only in case it could be proved that he wilfully and causatively participated in drawing up these orders, instructions, etc.

THE PRESIDENT: Dr. Nelte, would that be a convenient time to break off?

(A recess was taken.)

M. DUBOST: Gentlemen, counsel for the defence have presented a request to the French prosecution to have certain documents communicated to them. This request is divided into two parts.

The first part concerns the Scapini incident, which arose at the publication of a document in the course of my own statement. I am able to communicate to the defence the answer which the French Government has made to its request.

The French Government has found in the archives left behind by the German authorities the answer which was made to the protest raised at the time of the massacre of French prisoners. It is, by the way, a purely dilatory answer. The

[Page 191]

German authorities replied that the Armistice Commission was not competent; that the request must be made by the Scapini Embassy.

I have passed this document to the defence and I think that, on that side, the incident is closed.

The second part of the defence counsel's request concerns a statement made by my colleague, M. Edgar Faure, who at the beginning of his speech announced to the Tribunal that he had examined approximately 2,500 documents, of which he had retained only 200. I can, of course, not answer on behalf of M. Edgar Faure. I only know that the French Delegation has but a total of Boo documents in its archives, and has submitted them all to the Tribunal and to the defence. I therefore think that it is merely a figure of speech and that my colleague wished to allude to covering letters which were of no importance.

In any case, I said earlier to the defence counsel, Dr. Nelte, that I had all the documents of our delegation open for him to see and that he would be able to, verify that we had no other documents than those which we had published.

On the other hand, the requests which we forwarded to Paris that any complementary documents which might have been forgotten should be sent to us have not resulted in anything. We therefore conclude that we have here all the documents which we could make use of in this Trial.

DR. NELTE: Mr. President, I am grateful to the French Delegation for the explanation given now regarding the complaint I made this morning. If I had had that explanation a few days earlier, what happened this morning would not have occurred. I regret it very much indeed.

I continue on Page 64 to the effect that he co-operated in drawing up orders. In order to clarify this as much as possible I would like furthermore to point out the following:

The "instructions", which were of fundamental significance for the planning of military operations, are operational orders issued to the Commanders-in-Chief of the three Wehrmacht branches, by the Supreme Commander in this capacity. Before these instructions were framed, Hitler discussed the military-technical aspect of the order with the competent OKW experts and also with the defendant Keitel. The instructions, without considering the opinions manifested by the individual experts, were exclusively the expression of the Supreme Commander's. Wishes and they were not directed to the OKW but to the Commanders-in-Chief of the three Wehrmacht branches to whom they were forwarded through the OKW. The three Wehrmacht branches for their part ordered, on the basis of the general instructions, the details for carrying them out. Therefore, I shall also not refer in this connection to the Article of the Charter according to which the carrying out of orders is not accepted as a ground for exemption from punishment. For the transmission of the order was not an order issued by the OKW to the Wehrmacht branches but the forwarding of the expression of the wishes of the Supreme Commander of the Wehrmacht. The order directed to the OKW, if one wants to express it that way, referred in all cases to the elaboration of some desire expressed by the Supreme Commander, and to the purely external act of transmitting the idea without having the authority of expressing an opinion thereon. It must be assumed that the prosecution, perhaps influenced by the defendant's rank of Field-Marshal, did not recognize correctly this position of the defendant Keitel. This rank had no relationship to the real authority of the defendant to issue military orders. One is inclined to imagine that a General Field-Marshal is a military commander. However, as we have seen, the defendant Keitel had no command authority whatsoever.

Field-Marshal von Blomberg, whose testimony has been submitted to the Tribunal by the prosecution, defines the position of the defendant Keitel as "Chef du Bureau". This definition is materially correct. A "Chef du Bureau" has to see to it that the bureau which he directs operates properly; that the affairs are correctly and promptly settled by the competent officials. But he does not participate in the final decisions considered correct by his superior, in this case the

[Page 192]

Supreme Commander of the Wehrmacht. If this principle holds true in general, it is in particular true here. It is known that Hitler did not accept any advice from Keitel concerning military decisions. This has been proved through the hearing of evidence, particularly through the testimony of General Jodl.

The defendant Keitel has clearly outlined in the affidavit No. 8, called "Co-ordination in the State and in the Wehrmacht", the activity of the OKW and his activity. The affidavit gives an idea of the difficult and thankless work of the defendant Keitel. It consisted mainly of a co- ordination of the desires and needs' of the Wehrmacht branches. It consisted, furthermore, of the settlement of arising divergencies and of a struggle against Hitler's negative attitude towards any proper settlement, i.e., a settlement through the competent departments.

In any branch of the armed forces there are interests which differ from the interests of other branches and which cannot be entirely satisfied; sometimes they even oppose each other. This is true especially for the replacement of personnel but also for the supply of everything that is required for special warfare.

The point of intersection of all these factual and personal differences of opinion was the OKW.

If one desires to rate at its true value the incontestable fact that the defendant Keitel was shown hostility and was personally judged unfavourably by nearly all sides, one must note that this was the necessary result of the overlapping of factual opposing interests and personal differences of opinion which Keitel tried to settle by means of co- ordination or mediation, i.e., in nearly all cases by means of mutual compromise. No particular personal experience is needed in order to know that the objective mediator will always incur the ingratitude of both parties.

The same becomes evident in the relationship to the numerous offices which were endowed with special official authorities or which had Hitler's favour and special confidence for personal, mostly Party-political, reasons.

One must realize these differences and overlapping interests to appreciate the heavy burden of work involved in Keitel's position and, I might add, in order to judge correctly the significance of his position.

The realisation of the special relationship between the leadership of the Wehrmacht and the political sector becomes difficult because the functions of the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, of the Reich Minister of War and of the Chief of State were embodied in the person of Hitler from 4th February, 1938.

Therefore, since 4th February, 1938, complete accord existed between the political leadership and the highest leadership of the Wehrmacht because both powers rested in one and the same person.

The assumption suggests itself, and the prosecution has so assumed, that the Chief of Hitler's Military Staff was closely connected with his superior, Hitler, that he must also be responsible for the political questions, if not as the perpetrator, then in some form as provided in Article 6 of the Charter.

This assumption is erroneous.

In this connection there is no need to enter into the hierarchy of the Fuehrer State, and the forcible character of the Fuehrer order. The military hierarchy is older than the National Socialist ideology; moreover it must be stated and taken into consideration that the introduction of the absolute Fuehrer principle into the Wehrmacht signifies the final elimination of all efforts which could perhaps be regarded as democratic in a certain sense or in any case as a restraint on the dictatorial appetite of Hitler. In this connection I refer to the affidavit of Keitel, Document Book 2/9, "OKW and the General Staff." The rigid execution of the Fuehrer principle - judged retrospectively - gradually intensified the healthy military principle of obedience into immoderate militarism. This found its expression, among other things, in the prohibition of all criticism from the highest authorities to the lowest. I refer you to the speech made by Hitler in the Kroll Opera House, 1936-37, also to the rejecting marginal note, 1938 - statement of General Winter - in the decree prohibiting resignation of generals and finally in the removal of the Supreme Commander of the Wehrmacht and the War Minister.

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