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 10 of 11)

[Page 40]

THE PRESIDENT: Now, Dr. Laternser.

DR. LATERNSER: As my second witness I am going to call Field- Marshal von Mannstein.

ERICH VON MANNSTEIN, a witness, took the stand and testified as follows:


Q. Will you state your full name, please?

A. Erich von Mannstein.

Q. Will you repeat this oath after me:

I swear by God, the Almighty and Omniscient, that I will speak the pure truth and will withhold and add nothing.

(The witness repeated the oath.)

THE PRESIDENT: You may sit down.



Q. Field-Marshal, what was the last position you held?

A. My last appointment was Commander-in-Chief of Army Group South.

Q. How did you achieve that position?

A. I was given that position in November, 1942, on the strength of an order from Hitler.

Q. The other Commanders-in-Chief were appointed in a similar way, were they not?

A. Yes.

Q. For many years you have held important positions in the General Staff. In which capacity?

A. In the last war I was in the General Staff with Troops. Then in 1929 I joined the Reichswehr Ministry, and was appointed to the First Division of the Troops Department.

Q. Was the General Staff an elite, which set the standard in the armed forces?

[Page 41]

A. The General Staff officers were an elite as far as they were selected on the basis of their tactical abilities and also on the strength of their character. They did not set the tone in the Army as their views were exactly the same as the views of all other officers. As to the General Staff setting the tone of the armed forces, there really cannot be any question of that. The Navy did not have a General Staff. As for the Air Force, as far as I can judge, the General Staff officers may have played a smaller part than "outsiders" like Milch, Udet, and so forth, but to begin with the Wehrmacht (armed forces as a whole) did not have a Wehrmacht General Staff. Therefore one can hardly speak of the General Staff dictating the tone within the armed forces.

Q. Did the General Staff have authoritative influence on all military plans? And was it, shall we say, the spiritual centre of the Army?

A. At its headquarters, that is, in the Reich Ministry for the Armed Forces, the General Staff in its various departments did deal with certain general questions as far as they concerned the leading and employment of troops. On the other hand, all other matters were in the hands of the various departments or of the Army Inspectorates. These offices worked in conjunction with the General Staff and as far as the material existence of the troops was concerned, that was dealt with in these departments.

Q. But then surely the General Staff passed an opinion?

A. The General Staff could, of course, express itself on the questions dealt with by the departments, training and armament, for instance. But the chiefs of the other departments were on exactly the same level as the chiefs of the Troops Department, and important personnel questions, in particular, were dealt with entirely outside the General Staff.

Q. Was the Chief of the General Staff Hitler's adviser, or was it the Commander-in-Chief of the Army or of the Air Force, as the case may be? Who was it?

A. One cannot possibly say that the Chief of the General Staff was Hitler's adviser. The position of Chief of the General Staff in the Wehrmacht of the Third Reich differed entirely from the position held by the Chief of the General Staff at the time of the Kaiser. In those days the Chief of the General Staff was immediately subordinate to the Kaiser, that is to say, he could report directly to him.

In the Wehrmacht (armed forces) of the Third Reich on the other hand, and even of the Weimar Republic, that was entirely different. The Chief of the General Staff of the Army, for instance, was nothing more than the adviser of the Commander-in-Chief of the Army regarding matters of military leadership. Between him and Hitler there was, first of all, the Commander-in-Chief of the Army and then, as long as we had a Minister of War, in the shape of Blomberg, there was the Reich Minister of War, too. Thus, there was no question at all of the Chief of the General Staff advising Hitler. But, as regards advising the Commander-in-Chief of the Army, he shared his work, in peace time at least, with the chiefs of the departments, that is to say, the Personnel Department, the Armament Department and the Defence Department, who were all on his own level.

Q. Was there a special service channel for the General Staff?

A. A special service channel for the General Staff did not exist. On the contrary, that was strictly tabooed. Towards the end of the First World War something similar was developed when Ludendorff in practice had gained control of military matters and always communicated with the General Staff Chiefs who were his subordinates instead of addressing himself to the Commanders-in-Chief themselves. This deterioration, as I might call it, of military leadership was radically done away with by Generaloberst von Seeckt and a special service channel for the General Staff, as is meant here, therefore, did not exist.

Q. And what about the privilege of recording varying opinions?

[Page 42]

A. In the old Army, every Chief of the General Staff had the right, if he was of an opinion that differed from that of his commander, to record that dissenting opinion, although, of course, he had to carry out the order of his commander. In the armed forces of the Third Reich on the other hand that was expressly discontinued with the agreement of the Chief of the General Staff, General Beck.

Q. Was the OKW, shall we say, the central brain of the armed forces?

A. The OKW, of course, in the form in which it is now being mentioned, only came into being in 1938 as a working staff for Hitler. Before that, Blomberg was Reich Minister of War, and his position was one which dealt with all matters affecting the armed forces, which he represented to both State and Party. In his hands, too, was the distribution of funds for the various branches of the armed forces, and for rearmament purposes. Gradually, no doubt, Blomberg was trying to achieve a more outstanding leadership of the armed forces, but in that connection he soon got into considerable difficulties, particularly with the OKH, for the reason that in the opinion of the OKH, Blomberg was too lenient with the Party. He then attempted himself to establish a sort of tactical leadership staff which later became the leadership staff of the Wehrmacht, but that was only in its beginnings. Then came his dismissal and subsequently the Wehrmachtfuehrungsstab (Armed Forces Leadership Staff) was created under Hitler. This is, however, not to be regarded as a sort of head of the three General Staffs of the armed forces or as the dome of the structure; it was nothing else than the practical Leadership Staff of the Fuehrer.

Q. Did the headquarters of the armed forces branches or the General Staff nevertheless agree with the OKW in their aims?

A. Naturally the three branches of the armed forces were in agreement with the OKW that the national element should be kept up. Furthermore, that they were there to uphold the idea of national honour, of equality, and most of all of security for Germany, which they considered their task. Apart from that, one can hardly speak of a unified determination. As an example I should like to say, for instance, that the Army had one basic thought, that under no circumstances could Germany ever again fight a war on two fronts. The Navy, in my opinion, always had the one leading thought: never again war with Britain. What Goering, as the reigning head of the Air Force, wanted personally, I cannot judge. But I do not suppose that he was interested in jeopardising the position of the Third Reich and his own position in another war.

Q. And the OKW?

A. As far as the OKW is concerned, if it had had a will of its own, it did not, in my opinion, have the opportunity seriously to bring that will into effect in opposition to Hitler.

Q. What was the significance of the Schleiffen Club and what were its aims?

A. The Schlieffen Club was generally speaking a club of elderly gentlemen who were ex-members of the General Staff. Apart from that, General Staff officers and subordinates to leaders of the young Wehrmacht were in it, too. They met once a year at an annual dinner preceded by a so-called business meeting, during which the treasurer's report was read; and that was about the principal business. Then, of course, the Schlieffen Club had a Council of Honour, which usually had to occupy itself with settling quarrels between the older members resulting from Ludendorff's attitude toward Hindenburg.

We younger ones did not go to those discussions any more; and apart from that we did not come under this Council of Honour. Any political or military aims on the part of this club did not exist. You must not consider it as being a club where intellectual schooling or training was being carried out, instead of by the General Staff.

Q. What were the connections between the 129 military leaders affected and the OKW and the General Staff?

[Page 43]

A. The bulk of them, according to their position, were in no relationship to it at all.

Q. A little more slowly, Field-Marshal.

A. Only four of them belonged to the OKW: Keitel, Jodl, Warlimont and Winter; and only the Chiefs of the General Staffs of the Luftwaffe and the Army belonged to the General Staff, although they were changed frequently. I think there are five of each of the Wehrmacht branches. All the others belonged neither to the General Staff nor to the OKW.

Q. But who else were these military leaders?

A. They were the holders of the highest positions in the military hierarchy, as they are in every country.

Q. Did not these military leaders, according to their views, represent an entity with a uniform will?

A. Naturally, as far as the conception of their work was concerned, they agreed; that is a matter of course. Also they agreed regarding the view of the necessity of Germany's being strong because it was surrounded by three neighbours from whom one might, after all, expect anything. Over and above that, however, such a uniformity of thought cannot be spoken of. I want to say that, horizontally considered, the three branches of the armed forces were on the same level; and each branch had different military thoughts and aims which quite often worked against the other. Considered vertically, these 129 officers must be subdivided according to the military hierarchy into four steps, shall we say, in the relation of command to obedience. The highest step was the Fuehrer and his working staff, the OKW. On that level there was the entire military and political responsibility which, according to military principles, can always lie only in the hands of the highest leader.

The second step consisted of the three Commanders-in-Chief of the branches of the armed forces. They were responsible for the military tasks of that branch of the armed forces which was under their command. There, at that level of command, they, of course, had entire responsibility. They were, of course, to a certain extent Hitler's advisers too, if he asked their advice in military matters.

Step 3, which, in the shape of the 129 officers, only existed in war, were the Commanders of Army Groups. And then below that, step 4, the Commanders of Armies. The Commanders of Army Groups were responsible for the leadership of the operations which they were to carry out. The same part responsibility for their armies was in the hands of the Army Commanders below them, who also exercised territorial authority in their operational areas. The third and fourth steps were in no connection, shall we say, as far as ideas were concerned, with the Fuehrer, because in between there was the step of the Commanders-in-Chief. They received orders and had to obey them. As in all phases of military life the relationship is that of one who gives orders and one who carries them out.

Q. How could anyone responsible in the way you just described it, how could he possibly give his opinion on Hitler's plans?

A. To state one's view about Hitler's plans was quite out of the question at the third and fourth levels, because they would only learn of them when they appeared in the shape of an order. If in individual cases the Commanders-in-Chief were called to a conference with Hitler, then here again it was the announcement of a decision already arrived at, which could not be altered. These Commanders-in-Chief of the armed forces branches could, of course, when they were previously asked by Hitler, though I cannot give any instances, state their views, their opinions. How far they might have succeeded in that is entirely another question.

Q. Now, did not nearly all these military leaders come from the General Staff, and was it not for that reason that these leaders formed an entity.

A. I agree, a certain number of these leaders did come from the General Staff.

In the case of the Army, the proportion of the 94 Army officers who are supposed

[Page 44]

to belong to the so-called organization is that 74 had been General Staff officers; 20 on the other hand were not. In the case of the Air Force there were, as far as I know, only 9 out of 17 ex-members of the General Staff; and the Navy, of course, did not have any. Uniformity, let us say, as far as it existed at all, was therefore due to the fact that they had the same military training, the same military career in the General Staff, but no more.

Q. So that the conceptions of OKW and General Staff on one side and these 129 officers on the other were entirely different?

A. Yes, of course they were quite different. They were mainly the military leaders, and not the General Staff, and not the OKW; and you can neither ideally, nor materially, nor practically, nor theoretically call them one unified organization.

Q. Were certain SS leaders also amongst that group. Was not the SS the fourth branch of the armed forces?

A. No, it certainly was not a fourth branch of the armed forces. Quite certainly a large portion of the leaders of the Waffen SS, and during the war the mass of the Waffen SS units, wished to be incorporated into the Army. But, naturally, considering the opposing will of the Fuehrer, and of Himmler, it was not to be thought of. The units of the Waffen SS fought during the war very bravely as our comrades at the front; but they were not the fourth branch of the armed forces. Quite on the contrary, Himmler prohibited everything which could have exerted any influence of the armed forces on the SS. For individual leaders of the SS to have been incorporated amongst the group must be described as grotesque, considering Himmler's personality; because if there ever had been a deadly enemy of the Army, it was Himmler.

Q. Why do you say Himmler was a deadly enemy of the Army?

A. Without any doubt whatever Himmler wanted his SS to take the place of the Army; and in my opinion the generals of the Army were particularly pursued by him with his hatred and libel. I know about it myself at any rate from an entirely reliable source: I know that it was very much due to Himmler's manoeuvres, which included the use of wicked libel. As far as the other leaders are concerned, I only know that some of them had formerly been in the Reichswehr and had been dismissed from it, so that they were not exactly in favour of us, and did not feel they belonged to us, that is pretty clear.

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