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

The Trial of German Major War Criminals

Sitting at Nuremberg, Germany
9th August to 21st August 1946

One Hundred and Ninety-Ninth Day: Friday, 9th August, 1946
(Part 7 of 11)

[DR. LATERNSER continues his direct examination of Walter von Brauchitsch]

[Page 27]

Q. Who issued, later on, the plan to attack?

A. On 27th September, 1939, Hitler announced his decision to attack in the West. He ordered the necessary preparations to be made, which would have to be concluded by 12th November.

Q. What position did you and the OKH take with reference to this plan?

A. Britain and France had declared war on Germany. Neither power had taken advantage of Germany's moment of greatest weakness in September. Therefore, it was questionable to me whether they would assemble for a winter offensive now, at a time when the Western Front was daily being strengthened. Beyond that, I personally was in much doubt whether these two powers seriously desired to wage war. I believed, in view of the reception which Chamberlain had in London and Daladier in Paris, after the Munich Agreement, that their people would not be inclined to wage a war.

I believed that the breaches of neutrality which had been committed by the Allies up to that time would not weigh so heavily in the eyes of the world. Since the year 1914 I fully appreciated the consequences of violating neutrality, and this had been seared into my memory. In my opinion, this would apply again in this case to the one that would be the first really to cross the border with strong ground forces. We had looked into the question very carefully in the OKH of whether the crossing of the border for reasons of ground operations

[Page 28]

would be necessary as the first step. We had reached the conviction that this did not apply, but that we, if it was necessary at all, could do so later.

Q. Did you call Hitler's attention to the fact that in the event of an offensive in the West, the countries of Holland; Belgium and Luxembourg would be drawn into hostile activities?

A. I took the very next opportunity at which I could talk with Hitler alone after 27th September, 1939, to tell him my opinion. However, he was not open to any discussion and remained steadfast in his well-known opinion.

Q. Did you try to prevent the Western offensive from being started?

A. Before as well as afterwards, I was convinced that it would have to be possible to eliminate politically this entire war once and for all. I considered it madness that, Europe once more would have to tear herself to pieces instead of promoting development by peacefully working at the common task.

The Wehrmacht, according to the principle, Si vis pacem, para bellum, was in line with this. German soldiers of every rank had been trained to defend and protect their homeland. They did not think about wars of conquest, or the expansion of German domination over other peoples.

It was quite clear to me that the entire question could be cleared up only by political means, if a sincere will to this end existed. But any political developments, of course, need time; and I was only concerned with providing this time for these political negotiations, matters upon which I had no influence, however. Therefore, I asked, on 5th November, 1939, to be granted an audience with the Fuehrer. As I could no longer put political reasons before him, I had to give purely military reasons, and as such I used the condition of the Army.

Hitler listened at first to my statements quietly. Then he flew into a rage so that any further conversation was impossible. So I left. On the evening of the same day the order was issued to attack on 12th November, an order which was rescinded on 7th November.

Q. Did you not even use the bad weather as a pretext to gain time and to postpone matters?

A. I pointed out the fact that if we were to march in at all, on account of the extremely difficult terrain, this would only be possible if we had an extended period of good weather. But above all the use of the Luftwaffe was dependent on a long period of good weather.

Q. And after the address of Hitler to the generals on 23rd November, 1939, which has been discussed here quite frequently, you offered your resignation? How did that happen?

A. In the evening of 23rd November, once more I was ordered to appear before the Fuehrer. In a lengthy discussion with him alone, he once more raised all the accusations against the Army. In the course of this conversation I offered my resignation, which he. rejected, by saying that I had to do my duty and obligation just like every other soldier. Through these incidents a breach had occurred which was closed but was never completely mended.

Q. To what extent, in your capacity as Commander-in-Chief of the Army, did you participate in the decision to occupy Norway and Denmark?

A. In no way at all.

Q. Did you participate in its preparation and execution?

A. No.

Q. Then the campaign in the West started. At that time, what was your relationship with Hitler?

A. As I have already mentioned before, it was difficult. In the course of the campaign in the West there were a series of smaller and larger differences. I should like to cite but one. This concerned the stopping of the German Panzers before Dunkirk, a matter which brought about a serious conflict. It was as a result of that that the mass of the personnel of the British Expeditionary Force escaped to England across the Channel.

[Page 29]

Q. On the part of the OKH, after the conclusion of the campaign in the West, were measures for demobilization worked on, or were they suggested?

A. At that time two measures were taken. A commission for demobilization was established, and secondly a number of generals were asked whether they wished to remain in the Army after the conclusion of peace.

Q. And what was your collaboration in the decision to intervene in Greece and Yugoslavia?

A. I did not participate in any way in these decisions. When, with the Chief of the General Staff, Generaloberst Halder, I was ordered by the Fuehrer to appear before him, he received us with the words, "I have decided to destroy Yugoslavia." And then he stated the reasons for his decision. I believe they are well known here already.

Q. At that time, was there a plan for any interference in Yugoslavia or Greece?

A. No, neither a plan nor any preparation existed. We did not even have maps.

Q. And where were you to get these divisions from? From all parts of Germany?

A. The divisions had to be brought in from all parts of Germany and the occupied territories.

Q. Is the assertion of Field-Marshal Paulus true that the occupation of the Balkans was one of the prerequisites of the campaign against the Soviet Union?

A. That is a mistake on the part of Field-Marshal Paulus. The Yugoslavian question was the direct consequence of the overthrow there. Shortly before that time Yugoslavia had joined the Tripartite Pact, and this question was the result of the British landing in Greece and the catastrophic position of the Italians in Albania.

Q. Now, let us turn to the Eastern campaign. What was your attitude with reference to the Trade Agreement with the Soviet Union?

A. The Trade Agreement with the Soviet Union was concluded in September, 1939, and we had hailed it joyfully. In this step we saw the prerequisite to the fact that from then on a period of mistrust was ended, and that, above and beyond that, Germany would be able to take up once more the position of a bridge, according to her situation in the heart of Europe.

Q. Did any military leader suggest the thought of attacking the Soviet Union?

A. No, never.

Q. When did Hitler tell you for the very first time that the possibility of war with the Soviet Union would be considered?

A. In August of 1940 he made a remark to me to the effect that he was worried, that the attitude of Russia might change. Thereupon, I talked with the Chief of the General Staff and told him that we would have to collect the data required, for in this connection we had not done anything up to that time.

Q. Were there any maps in existence?

A. Neither maps nor anything else. In the month of September Hitler ordered that the question of Russia would have to be investigated. In my opinion, no decision to put the plan into effect was in existence; in any event, it was not mentioned. All the work which was done was work for the General Staff, consisting of the preparatory and precautionary measures that are universally taken in such a case.

Q. Did the transfer of some of the divisions into the territory of the Government

General, which you ordered after the conclusion of the Western campaign, have any connection with the start of the Eastern campaign, or what were the reasons for this transfer of divisions?

A. The transfer of the divisions had already started. The reasons for it were quite different ones. The guarding of the Russian-German demarcation line in Poland was mainly carried out by the Zolldienst (Customs service). Border crossings had been ascertained in innumerable cases. The Zollgrenzschutz

[Page 30]

(Frontier Guard) was urgently needed at other places. The SS intended to take over the border work of the Zolldienst (Customs service) and for that reason they wanted to create new units. But that I wanted to prevent, and, therefore, Hitler was requested to have divisions transferred from the West to the East. In addition to that, we wanted to relieve France of the burden of the many divisions which were stationed in France.

Q. Did the OKH, in the conference of 3rd February, 1941, have any misgivings about a war with the Soviet Union?

DR. LATERNSER: I refer to Document 872-PS, Exhibit USA 134, my Lord.

A. According to the statement made by Hitler in the case of Russia, we were concerned with the fact that if a war had to arise at all, it was to be a preventive war. In the conference I limited myself to the purely military misgivings. General Halder and I reported on three points. Point one was the size of the Russian area which even today cannot be bridged by motor vehicles alone. The second point was the size of the population, and the large number of picked reserves which were at their disposal, and the quite different level of education and enlightenment of the Russian population as compared with the years 1914-1918, matters which I could see for myself when I was a guest of the Red Army in the year 1931. Point three was the high armaments potential of Russia. According to our estimate, Russia at that time had at her command approximately 10,000 tanks. Hitler must have given some thought to these problems, for he answered immediately and refuted the first two points; namely, by saying that the domination of the Soviets was so much in disfavour among the Russian population that the system would collapse. Everything would depend only on the decisiveness of the first successes. As far as the third point was concerned, the point of armament, he mentioned, on the basis of detailed figures that he had, as always, at his finger-tips, that the armament of Russia could not be at the level which we imagined it to be. Exact proof, however, we did not have at our disposal.

Q. Therefore, Hitler did not listen to any of the misgivings which you had?

A. He would not enter into any further discussion.

Q. When did you tell the Commanders-in-Chief of the army groups and armies under your command about the plans with regard to Russia?

A. On 18th December, 1940, the OKW issued the order and subsequently, the end of December, the first directives went to the army groups.

Q. What was your relationship with Hitler during the Russian campaign?

A. During the Russian campaign the difficulties increased more and more. should like to mention only two of the very numerous incidents that occurred. The Army had, in the areas occupied by it, restored the churches to public use as far as this was desired by the population. German chaplains had frequently given their ministrations at the request of the population. However, Hitler prohibited this, and now the remarkable picture was offered by the chaplains of the Roumanian, Hungarian, Italian and other divisions officiating while the Germans could not do so. The second point, a weighty one, was the question of the operational conduct of the war. Once you had started the war, the measures for the continuance of the war in the following year had to be taken then and there, and in my opinion and that of the High Command, the area around Moscow - not the city itself - played a decisive role. It is the traffic centre of the whole country, and accordingly was the required site for the setting up and distribution of the main reserves. There were numerous armament installations which made it possible to carry out the equipment of .the new formations. The OKH, therefore, was of the opinion that after the Dnieper-Smolensk-Lake Peipus line had been reached, one would then have to come into possession of the entire Moscow region. Hitler was of a different opinion. He put the decisive importance on Leningrad and then he demanded the offensive at Kiev. It was he who took the decision in this matter. And then afterwards it was too late.

[Page 31]

The offensive in the Moscow region was doomed to fail because of weather conditions.

Q. Regarding the Eastern campaign, I should like to clear up certain matters of subordination. Do you know of an agreement between the Quartermaster-General of the Army, General Wagner, and Heydrich concerning the use of the Einsatz groups?

A. It was reported to me that a conference between General Wagner and the Chief of the SS Hauptamt, Heydrich, did take place. According to an order of the High Command this conference was to settle those questions which were necessary to regulate the commitment of the Einsatz units in the operational region of the Army, as ordered by Hitler.

It was reported to me that the problems involved were things such as the matter of boundary violations, the questions of economic supply and the right of way on the roads. Nothing else was reported to me, and whether anything else was discussed I do not know, but the only thing that might .have been of concern was that perhaps the question was discussed that if detachments of that nature in front areas were sent into action in the battle zone, then they would come under the command of the local military commander. All directives for these detachments were issued through the usual channels by the Reichsfuehrer SS. At the request of the Army, army groups and armies were given liaison detachments. They had only the task of informing these units about the objective, etc., of the operations as far as it applied to them. In this order of the OKW it says, regarding the purpose and the task of these detachments:

"It is intended that the occupied territories, as soon as possible, shall be made into political States. In order to prepare the measures, these Einsatzkommandos are to be used. This was the only information received by the OKH."
Did General Wagner report to you that through these Einsatz groups mass exterminations would be carried out?

A. No.

Q. The witness SS Fuehrer Schellenberg was interrogated here, and he stated that he was of the conviction that the OKH knew of mass exterminations and had reported this to the Commanders-in-Chief through official channels. Is this right?

A. He is speaking of a conviction, not of a certainty, and this conviction is not right.

Q. To whom were these units subordinated?

A. The subordination of the Einsatzkommandos, as I have mentioned, was set up in such a way that all orders emanated solely from the Reichsfuehrer SS. They were not subordinated to the Army in any way.

Q. How about supply? Were they subordinated to the Army in that way?

A. No, not even in that way. They were instructed to obtain their supplies from the Army for there was no other way of supplying rations or fuel.

Q. Did you receive official reports from these Einsatz groups?

A. No.

Q. Now, the subordination of the Waffen SS will have to be cleared up as well. Just what was the subordination of a Waffen SS division to the Army?

A. The Waffen SS was subordinated to the Army only for tactical purposes. It was subordinated to the Army neither for discipline nor for judicial matters. The Army had no influence on promotion or demotion of people, and so forth.

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