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 10 of 12)

[Page 193]

DR. NELTE, Continued: It cannot and shall not be denied that the defendant Keitel was absolutely in favour of the Fuehrer principle in the leadership of the Wehrmacht and that the essay Foundations of the Organization of the German Wehrmacht (L-21I) can be regarded as an acknowledgement in regard to the conduct of a future war; not, however, that an actual war was anticipated at that time or, that this was the reason for this essay.

What does this mean in regard to the defendant Keitel? Anyone recognising the Fuehrer principle as being militarily correct must act accordingly. Professor Jahrreiss has stated that the Fuehrer principle - like every other political system - is not absolutely good or bad, but that everything depends on the manner and methods used in carrying it out.

Keitel has a military background and favours the Fuehrer principle for the field with which he is conversant. According to this principle the responsibility lies completely with the one who has the authority to command. While the Fuehrer principle in fact hardly underwent any change in the civilian province, where it was also applied but where it amounted to no more than superficialities, this principle necessarily made itself felt much more strongly and obviously in the military sphere, particularly in the relationship between the Commanders-in-Chief and their Chiefs of the General Staff.

Formerly the Chiefs of the General Staff had been the really responsible commanders, now they became the operational assistants to the commanders. In the formulation of orders they were "collaborator-advisers" in the field of strategic operations for which these officers had been especially trained.

Keitel was - that is certain - neither a commander nor Chief of the General Staff; he was the Chief of the Military Chancellery (Militarkanzlei) under Hitler, a soldier and an administrator of war ministerial duties; therefore, a "minister", claims the prosecution.

One should not refer in this trial to distinctions which prove to be merely formal when the real functions give another picture. This is particularly important in the case of Keitel. It should be determined what he actually was and how he acted in reality.

The dual position created by the decree of 4th February, 1938, has led to an erroneous appraisal of Keitel's functions. We assume that Hitler dissolved the Reich Ministry of War because he no longer wished to have a Minister of War; in spite of the fact that on 4th February, 1938, a considerable number of functions, handled up to then by the Reich Ministry of War, had been assigned to the individual Wehrmacht branches, there were a number of functions which had to be retained and administered in the OKW.

But taking into, account the idea of an intended strict concentration of functions pertaining to the war leadership, Keitel could not attend to those on the basis of complete authority and according to his own judgement, but he had to present the demands of the Wehrmacht and co-ordinate the Wehrmacht's affairs with the duties of the other ministries.

It cannot and will not be denied that this concentration of duties in the person of Hitler was in practice unfeasible. Thus, an extensive amount of preparatory and executive work rested with Hitler's military staff, whose Chief of Staff was Keitel. Hence, the responsibility rested with it also. But not with reference to important questions, especially those of a fundamental nature. It was, of course, a matter of judgement to what extent the defendant Keitel considered matters essential and fundamental and submitted them. But the evidence showed that when in doubt about matters, after conscientious examination, Keitel was inclined to present them rather than to make his own decision about them.

The sources from which Hitler got his news were so intricate that Keitel had no way of knowing whether Hitler had the news that seemed to him to be important, through his adjutants, through Himmler and Bormann, or in some other way. To avoid unnecessary discussion afterwards with Hitler who, being distrustful of everyone, always took it for granted that people would intentionally conceal things

[Page 194]

from him, Keitel was anxious not to leave himself open to the reproach of having omitted something. A characteristic example is the case of the mass escape of eighty R.A.F. officers from Sagan camp.

There the point is simply to show that Keitel, in his capacity as guardian of the actual war functions which still remained in the OKW, held no position as a Minister. Here, too, he was the "Chef du Bureau", the head of the military chancellery, a position which is also held by the chief of a ministerial office, or even a State secretary. I wish to refer in this connection to Dr. Lammers's statement, already referred to by me, and to the affidavits of Admirals Raeder and Donitz which I have already mentioned repeatedly.

The text of the Fuehrer decree of 4th February, 1938, shows that Hitler also wished to make this clear. If Hitler had not had the definite desire to exclude every third person from a responsible and perhaps uncomfortable function in the highest military sector, he might have given Keitel at least the authority to take part in Cabinet meetings. In the Fuehrer decree in which the Commanders-in-Chief of the Army and Navy as well as Keitel had been given the "rank" of a Reich Minister, it was explicitly ordered that both Commanders-in-Chief should be entitled to take part in Cabinet meetings. The fact that this was decreed simultaneously is a convincing argumentume contrario. It proves that Hitler did not wish that his Chief of Staff of the OKW should perhaps have an opportunity of presenting his own opinions and possible doubts before the Cabinet. Hitler gave the defendant Keitel the "rank" of a Reich Minister for the purpose of enabling him to carry on direct negotiations with the departmental ministers. Had Keitel not had the rank of a Reich Minister, he would have been limited to conferences with State secretaries and suchlike and thus be very handicapped in carrying out the Fuehrer's orders and tasks.

It is erroneous, therefore, if the prosecution has termed Keitel a Reich Minister, even Reich Minister "without portfolio". He was a minister, and was not a member of the Reich Cabinet. State Secretary Stuckart in a document submitted to the prosecution has listed all members of the Reichsregierung. Keitel is not among them; he is mentioned in this document only as the holder of one of the highest offices.

Now, the prosecution has not limited the term Reichsregierung to membership in the Reich Cabinet, but considered other committees as part of the Reichsregierung, too. It would seem, therefore, as if the prosecution looked upon the legal, structure based on German law as irrelevant. Pursuant to Appendix B to the indictment, the Reichsregierung is in the sense of the Indictment composed of:

(1) Members of the ordinary Cabinet after 30th January, 1933, the date Hitler became Chancellor of the German Republic. The term "ordinary Cabinet" used here means: Reich Ministers, i.e., Heads of Departments of the Central Government; Reich Ministers without portfolio; State Ministers acting as Reich Ministers and other officials entitled to take part in meetings of this Cabinet.

(2) Members of the Council of Ministers for the Defence of the Reich.

(3) Members of the Secret Cabinet Council.

Regardless of the individual responsibility of every defendant the Tribunal must examine as to whether the concept of a "Reich Cabinet" as defined by the prosecution is correct, i.e., practically speaking, whether the composition of the group seems to justify the prosecution's concept of a "Reich Cabinet". In any case it is not sufficient to accept as correct the assertion of the prosecution in this respect.

I assume that my colleague, Dr. Kubuschok, will come back to this during his case.

THE PRESIDENT: Dr. Nelte, the Tribunal feels that you are taking a very long time over this question of whether Keitel was - what his exact position was.

[Page 195]

DR. NELTE: I believe, Mr. President, that the prosecution also took a great deal of time to make clear what position Field-Marshal Keitel occupied in their opinion. He is not here as Field-Marshal but as the Chief of the OKW.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, if they have - I must confess that I have forgotten. It seems to me and the Tribunal generally that you are taking up far too long on this topic and you have got many other topics which are of very great importance to the defendant, and you have already been speaking for several hours, and you occupied a large number of pages in order to try to define what Keitel's position was. I thought you might be able to cut it down.

DR. NELTE: I shall try.

I have explained that defendant Keitel did not belong to Group 1; that is to say, that he was not a minister. Through the hearing of evidence, it was proved that, despite the Fuehrer Decree of 4th February, 1938, there never was a Secret Cabinet Council; that such council was never set up; that it never held a session; and that no persons involved ever received a commission. Thus, it is proved that the defendant was also never a member of the Secret Cabinet Council.

It is true that Keitel was a member of the Council of Ministers for the Defence of the Reich. Witness Dr. Lammers has confirmed that the fact of becoming a member of the Council of Ministers for the Defence of the Reich did not change Keitel's official position and especially did not make him a minister. In his affidavit of 25th November, 1945, co-defendant Dr. Frick says that Keitel worked in the Council of Ministers for the Defence of the Reich as "liaison man".

I pass on to the next paragraph.

In order to clarify the defendant Keitel's responsibility and competence, it is necessary to analyse the concept of OKW. I ask, Mr. President, that this speech be not considered a theoretical and, therefore, superfluous discussion. The very fact that the prosecution makes a sweeping and fundamental assertion -

THE PRESIDENT (interposing): Dr. Nelte, may I ask what you have been doing if you have not been analysing the concept of the OKW?

DR. NELTE: Up until now I have explained Keitel's position as the Chief of the OKW. In statements on Page 74 and the following pages I wanted to explain to you that the prosecution and others as well have talked about the OKW; and "OKW" is a word which has three different types of significance.

Mr. President, if you will be good enough to permit me to submit this in writing, and if you would consider it as having been presented in Court, then I am willing to leave out the pages up to 77 and submit them to you.

In any case, it appears to me to be an important part of the explanation regarding the interpretation of the word "OKW", and the fact that this is not identical with Keitel is particularly important.

I shall continue at Page 77. In order to see clearly what part Keitel played in reality and what share he had in the happenings as a whole I now wish - after investigating his legal competencies - to examine what actual influence he had upon the development and carrying out of the measures, the effects of which constitute the subject of this trial. From everyday experience we know that it does not matter so much what a person is supposed to be in a particular position, but what he has made of that position by virtue of his personality. I believe I may say that in the course of this trial the personality of no other defendant has been judged in such varying and contradictory ways as that of the defendant Keitel.

Decisive for Keitel's material responsibility is his actual position in the tug-of-war with Hitler and the group around him, his actual influence upon that group and thus on those circumstances as a whole which could be causative for the operations of Hitler's headquarters in the military field.

I shall deal with this fundamental complex when taking up the charges made by the prosecution against Keitel and other defendants on the strength of the cross-examination of Dr. Gisevius, in other words, after the presentation of evidence for Keitel has been completed.

[Page 196]

In view of the comprehensive scope of Justice Jackson's questions and the answers given thereto by Dr. Gisevius, the testimony of Dr. Gisevius has become of tremendous importance in the case of the defendant Keitel.

Were Dr. Gisevius's statements about Keitel true - i.e., statements made by him on the basis of various information, in most instances in terms of conclusive findings - the defendant Keitel would not have told the truth during the presentation of evidence. The importance of that fact becomes evident when it is considered that doubts on his truthfulness would of necessity destroy Keitel's defence, which in its essence draws on the subjective aspect of facts as a whole. In view of this fact and the importance of the testimony of Dr. Gisevius also for other defendants, it is my duty not to leave anything undone to explain the contrast between Keitel's answers and the testimony of the witness Gisevius.

Experience has taught that dead witnesses are the best witnesses because the rendering of their purported utterances cannot be directly refuted. Evidence on the strength of information belongs to another group of statements which almost defy refutation.

The testimony of Gisevius combines both possibilities in that he bases his testimony primarily on information obtained from witnesses who are dead. Justice Jackson used Dr. Gisevius as star witness in his comprehensive attack on the defendant Keitel. After the completion of the presentation of evidence against Keitel, he did not bring forward one individual circumstance but an indictment on all counts and a general judgement on Keitel's answers.

The counter-evidence is concerned, on the one hand and as far as possible, with proving the objective incorrectness of facts based upon information obtained from certain individuals, and, further, with establishing proof of the unreliability of the information. I call to mind the words which the defendant Keitel said under oath upon completion of his direct examination by me while in the witness-box:

"One may hold it against me that I was wrong and made mistakes, that my attitude toward the Fuehrer Adolf Hitler was wrong and weak, but it should not be said of me that I was a coward, that I was untruthful, and that I was disloyal."
I sum up in condensed form the charges made against the defendant Keitel, during interrogation by the prosecution, as follows:

(1) Keitel built an impenetrable ring round Hitler so that the latter could be told nothing.

(2) Keitel failed to pass on to Hitler reports he had received from Canaris whenever such reports covered atrocities, crimes and the like, or he gave orders to modify them.

(3) Keitel had a tremendous influence on the OKW and the army.

(4) Keitel threatened his subordinates, when they made political statements, that he would not protect them; he even said that he would turn them over to the Gestapo.

Dr. Gisevius says in one part of his statement that Keitel had no influence over Hitler. He exonerates Hitler by explaining that Keitel had formed a ring round Hitler in order that the latter should be told nothing. The British and American prosecution, in their indictment, called Keitel a powerful staff officer who exerted great influence over Hitler; the French prosecution described Keitel as a willing tool of Hitler; the German generals called him a "yes-man" who could not carry anything through; and now Keitel grows, according to the statement of Dr. Gisevius, into a real handyman and buffer for Hitler, who hid from the latter anything bad, who submitted to him only what he (Keitel) saw fit, and permitted no one to approach Hitler.

The prevention of access to Hitler by Keitel, as asserted, can only be maintained by somebody who did not know the conditions prevailing around Hitler. Before the war Keitel worked in Berlin in the Bendler Strasse, while Hitler was in the Wilhelmstrasse. Keitel came perhaps once a week to report, or on special order.

[Page 197]

At that time, on account of the distance, it was in fact impossible for Keitel to exert any influence as to access to the Fuehrer.

It was equally impossible when Hitler was at the Berghof near Berchtesgaden for weeks at a time whilst Keitel remained in Berlin.

At the beginning of operations Keitel was with Jodl and the Supreme General Staff at the Fuehrer's headquarters. Here also they were separated. Keitel did not sit in Hitler's ante-room, but rather in other buildings or barracks. He came from time to time with General Jodl to the conference on the situation, in which, besides Hitler, some fifteen or twenty officers of all three branches of the Wehrmacht took part. Apart from the conferences on the situation there was no personal contact. When Hitler wanted Keitel for anything he sent for him. Personally and individually there was closer contact in Berlin between Hitler and his adjutants, the Chief of the Party Chancellery, the Chief of the Reich President Chancellery, and the Chief of the Reich Chancellery.

Keitel not only could not decide who could see Hitler, he also could not possibly prevent anybody from going to Hitler.

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