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

The Trial of German Major War Criminals

Two Hundred and Twelfth Day: Tuesday, 27th August, 1946
(Part 9 of 11)

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Thus, the Army High Command sharply opposed Hitler's plans. There were serious clashes between Hitler and his generals, and, finally, the Commander-in-Chief of the Army asked for his release. What else could have been expected of the generals? Should they have decided upon mutiny in the face of the enemy? Even such an action would have failed completely to produce any effect, owing to the strong position which the victorious Hitler occupied at that time in the German nation. Beyond that, the Army High Command, still hoping that there might be possibility of peace, delayed the beginning of the attack until the spring of 1940. Although from the legal point of view the advance through Belgium and Holland constitutes an objective violation of neutrality, the military leaders were bound to

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consider this action as necessitated by the requirements of war and justified by the information which they had received concerning the threat of violation of neutrality the on the part of the Allies. This was all the more true because they had no general knowledge of the political situation and no influence at all on the decisions to invade these countries.

The reasons which led to the German action against Yugoslavia and Greece have been sufficiently clarified in the evidence obtained from Goering, Keitel, and Jodl. The war against Greece was a logical consequence of the action which Italy had taken on her own; the war against Yugoslavia was a result of the sudden coup d'etat at Belgrade. As to the military leaders, they did not even consider a war in the Balkans, much less assume the responsibility for it.

The military leaders had not contemplated the possibility of an entanglement with Soviet Russia in any way at the beginning of the war; nor did they make any preparations for such an eventuality. The Army High Command did not even possess the necessary maps! When Hitler, subsequently, induced them to make such plans, he justified this by the necessity to forestall a threatened intervention by Russia. Russia's action against Finland, the Baltic States, and Bessarabia appeared to confirm the correctness of this opinion. Reliable information about strong Russian troop concentrations were to them a further indication of a threatening danger. The evidence given by Field-Marshal von Rundstedt and General Winter shows that the German attack ran into strong Russian preparations for deployment, which contributed substantially to confirming in the minds of the military leaders the conviction that Hitler had been right in saying that they were engaged in a genuine preventive war.

The ground organization of the Soviet Air Force had been advanced so close to the frontier that this fact alone necessarily led to the conclusion that it was Russia's intention to attack. 10,000 Soviet tanks, 1150 Soviet divisions, and an increase from 20 to 100 airfields in Eastern Poland alone were reported at the time. If the military leaders considered, under these circumstances, that Hitler's decision to wage a preventive war was justified from the military point of view, then their participation in this war in the execution of their duties as soldiers was never a crime.

The military plan known under the code word "Barbarossa," which the prosecution considers as the planning of a war of aggression, had been contemplated until the last moment merely as a possibility; as a precautionary measure in case the Soviet Union should change her attitude. Even after February, 1941 - apart from the high-ranking officers of the armed forces, High Command (OKW), the Army High Command (OKH) and the Commander-in-Chief of the Air Force - only eighteen out of the 129 indicted military leaders had heard of this plan at all, and then only as a plan to be used if the need arose. The Commander-in-Chief of the Army, Field- Marshal von Brauchitsch, had warned Hitler in regard to this possibility, by referring to serious military objections; but the majority of the officers concerned only learned of it immediately before the beginning of the war, when the die had already been cast, through the orders given them.

How could the eighteen officers who heard of this plan have effectively and successfully opposed Hitler's intentions? The reasons indicated by Hitler justified the war. To wait until the Soviet threat became a real attack would necessarily have led to the destruction of the Reich, as far as could be judged from the military point of view. The other military leaders had no possibility at all of rejecting Hitler's decision.

The beginning of the war against the United States has also been discussed. War was declared without previously obtaining the opinion of the supreme military leaders. If even the Army High Command (OKH) was confronted with the accomplished fact, how could the other military leaders have had any knowledge of Hitler's intention to begin this war? As regards the Navy, which could only play a part in waging this war as long as the land or air forces of the United

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States did not intervene in Europe or Africa, it is a fact that hostilities had practically been opened before the declaration of war, by Roosevelt's order to fire, although the German forces strictly respected the 300-mile limit, which was not justified under International Law. Evidence in the case of Raeder and Doenitz had clearly shown that all directives emanating from the High Command of the Navy were intended to avoid a conflict with the United States under all circumstances.

I am now coming to the conclusion of this chapter: What responsibility have the 129 indicted officers as a group in the extension of the war?

I believe that they have no other responsibility than that which is borne by every soldier who fights in a war for his country on the spot where he is ordered to fight.

THE PRESIDENT: The Tribunal will adjourn for ten minutes only.

DR. LATERNSER: I now come to the chapter, "Crimes Against the Rules of War and Against Humanity." The accusation that the military leaders concerned took part in (1) the planning, (2) the execution of a criminal, total war, in particular also in crimes against enemy armies and against prisoners of war as well as against the population in the occupied territories, affects the German generals with particular severity. These generals are not concerned with minimizing any possible guilt of their own, but with establishing the historic truth. If we wish to form a just opinion of the terrible events of the last world war, we must realize that actions and deeds of individuals and nations are not merely the outcome of a free will or of bad or good faith. They are the result, on the contrary, of the mental and spiritual forces at work in our epoch, and no one can avoid these influences.

As early as at the beginning of the nineteenth century the nations had to face the problem of power in all its forms. The various doctrines, the materialistic conception which generally prevailed after the second half of the nineteenth century, and finally the excessive nationalism noticeable on all continents, were phenomena which - irrespective of whether they were good or bad - did not remain without influence on the attitude and actions of the nations. Although these ideas did not necessarily have to lead to the results with which we are faced today, they are in the last analysis the intellectual starting-point from which originated the Second World War with all its consequences. There is another aspect which must not be overlooked in any just evaluation of the general trend of events, in particular as regards the formidable sacrifices of human lives, and that is the devaluation of men, which is due to a development noticeable in all civilized nations, and which has been called "massification." The more the nations multiplied, the lower, unfortunately, sank the value of the individual man. But, above all, technical progress contributed considerably to this devaluation. If modern technology supplies man with the means of destroying tens of thousands of human lives in one blow, if air raids cause 200,000 deaths in one single night, as at Dresden, if one or two atom bombs are sufficient to kill a hundred thousand men, the value of men must necessarily sink. The same phenomenon made its appearance in the First World War, as well as in the Russian Revolution and in the Spanish Civil War. The German military leaders struggled against this development, but as children of their epoch it was just as impossible for them to avoid the influence of the spirit of that epoch as it was for the soldiers of the other countries.

The Second World War, however, was not only a purely military war, but in addition it was in its effects even predominantly an ideological war. In any clash of ideologies the struggle becomes a struggle of annihilation - a total war. Ideological wars have always demanded streams of blood and were accompanied by unimaginable atrocities. The religious wars and the sacrifices and cruelties of the great revolutions are outstanding examples. Thus, the Second World War, as a conflict of ideologies, was conducted on both sides with such vigour and perseverance that it finally led to the full utilization of human and material resources

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of every nation. In other words, it produced "total war" in the truest sense of the word. If, beyond that, the term "total war" was extended by the politicians on both sides to mean the total destruction of the enemy ideology, this shows what an ideological conflict involves.

What was the attitude of the generals to this problem? The group of generals covered by the Indictment consisted exclusively of men who had chosen a soldier's profession as their career. They were mature men, with experience of life, who had not put on a soldier's uniform only under the National Socialist regime; but it is precisely the mature man who has a stronger sense of tradition, justice and law than a younger man.

Thus, soon after the outbreak of war, it became manifest also in this instance that the military leaders did not in any way agree with Hitler's revolutionary ideas on the methods of warfare, and refused to make these ideas their own. The generals were firmly resolved to conduct the war according to the old traditions, which implied a strict observance of the rules of warfare. The reproach directed against the generals by Hitler in November, 1939, in regard to their "obsolete conception of chivalrous warfare," is quite significant. That this attitude, of the generals did not change subsequently is shown by the fact that, in the later course of the war, a great number of the indicted generals were relieved of their functions on account of this attitude in spite of their military successes.

Three field-marshals have appeared as witnesses before the Tribunal. Did anyone gain the impression that these men were criminals and had committed crimes against the rules of war and against humanity? Those officers knew from their experience during the First World War that any violation of the rules of war ultimately always turns against the soldiers of their own army. Until the last moment, they conducted the war against the armed forces of the enemy in accordance with the rules of war. The generals took the same attitude in regard to the civilian population and the administration of the occupied countries.

The military leader who is responsible for operations at the front has one primary concern, namely, that quiet and peace reign in the rear areas. This alone will induce him to avoid anything that may cause uneasiness among the population. He knows only too well that all unnecessary measures of compulsion only lead to hostile reactions and that these, in turn, bring about intensified reprisals which can only produce rebellion. If one has no faith in the soldierly honour and in the Christian mentality of the military leaders, one might at least believe that sound reason caused them to treat the population of the occupied territories in accordance with International Law, to spare their private property and to assist them as far as possible in their peaceful work.

On the other hand, it is obvious that open resistance in the rear of an army cannot be tolerated and that in such cases the military leaders must take corresponding counter- measures. The threat of severe punishment by the Allied Military Governments in the case of any rebellion or possession of arms in Germany, even now after the end of the struggle, also proves this.

As a consequence of the double aspect of the Second World War - the military on the one hand, and the ideological on the other - the conduct of the war, from the highest levels immediately below Hitler down to the lowest executive organs, was sharply separated. The armed forces (Wehrmacht) were concerned with the purely military conduct of the war, while anything connected with the parallel ideological and political struggle was entrusted to political agencies and their executive organs.

Thus, contrary to former custom, the parts of the enemy country which had been conquered by the armed forces were, as a matter of principle, withdrawn from the territorial control of the Commander-in-Chief immediately after occupation, and placed under the authority of the representatives of the political leadership. Therefore, anything in the nature of possible crimes which may have been committed in territories not under the territorial control of the indicted group of persons

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must be excluded in this trial in connection with the question of the responsibility of the so-called "group."

The Protectorate and the Government General of Poland, Norway, Belgium and Northern France, the remainder of occupied France, Luxembourg and Alsace-Lorraine, Croatia, Yugoslavia and Greece, Slovakia, Hungary and Italy were not placed under the territorial authority of the military leaders.

In the Soviet Union, the area of operations had from the very outset been limited as narrowly as possible by Hitler's order, and therefore it comprised only the territory within the immediate sphere of military operations until, finally, territorial control was limited to the immediate combat zones, that is to say, to the area roughly ten kilometres behind the first front line. Outside this strip of land the territories were placed under the administrative authority of political agencies.

Charges directed against the "military commanders" or "Wehrmachtsbefehlshaber" appointed in the individual countries and territories are irrelevant in this connection because these officers are not included in the Indictment.

This organization of the administration shows that Hitler, out of his distrust for the military leaders because of their attitude to the questions of warfare and humanity, had quite consistently entrusted the execution of the ideological and political struggle to the political agencies and their executive organs.

The Commanders-in-Chief, therefore, held territorial authority locally only in so far and as long as any particular area in enemy territory was part of the area of operations, and consequently their responsibility was limited in accordance.

But even inside the operational areas, all tasks not immediately connected with the operations themselves were withdrawn from the influence of the Wehrmacht and put under the responsibility of completely independent political agencies. This included, for instance, all measures of a political and police character, the economic exploitation of the occupied territories, measures pertaining to the realm of culture, and man-power problems. Apart from the purely military operations at the front line, there remained therefore as the task of the Commanders-in-Chief only military security and the establishment of local administration within the areas of operations.

Moreover, they were kept so busy in the areas of operations with the tasks connected with the conduct of the operations, the supplying of their troops and with military security, that it was hardly possible for them to concern themselves with other tasks. It was their duty to be with the units under their command in the area of operations. Their planning and their care had to be devoted, first and foremost, to the unceasing struggle and to their troops. Those facts supply the simple explanation of why it was possible to keep so many things and measures connected with other non-army agencies a secret, even in the areas of operations, and why they did not come to the knowledge of the military commanders.

The Waffen SS units were subordinated to the commanding authorities of the Wehrmacht as combat units, exclusively for fighting purposes and as regards their supplies. Regarding the organization and the personnel, both from the point of view of discipline and legality the Reichsfuehrer SS Himmler alone had authority to give orders.

All other organizations of Hitler, such as the special purpose groups (Einsatzgruppen), police, SD, Organization Todt, etc., received their instructions and directives exclusively from their own superior, authorities and not from the Commander-in-Chief of the Operational Sector.

This regulation of authority and division of responsibility practically limited the Commanders-in-Chief to directing the troops under their command in the area of operations.

After having thus clarified the sphere of responsibility of the military commanders, I now propose to turn to some special topics, and by way of introduction, I may say concerning the documents used by the prosecution that extracts from German directives taken from their context often do not reveal the real meaning.

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of the directives and lead to wrong conclusions. Other documents, in particular some of those presented by the Russian prosecution, represent findings of certain Commissions. No one can check the figures contained in these documents, for instance, concerning murders, with any precision, as all specifications concerning the exact time when these crimes were committed, and other substantial data, are missing. The actual number of dead does not, in itself, prove that these dead were murdered by Germans.

Thus, the seemingly crushing evidence of the prosecution melts away upon close inspection, particularly when we consider that this data was collected by numerous commissions in all countries, and from hundreds of witnesses, over a period of several months, and includes events which occurred not in one small area placed under the authority of a commander-in-chief, but in vast territories, and over long periods.

In spite of great difficulties, which the defence had to overcome in the collection of their evidence, I was able to submit to the Tribunal very comprehensive defence evidence, together with observations and comments which I made so far as I was given an opportunity.

As I am again working to a time limit, it is impossible for me to exploit fully even part of this counter-evidence. I, therefore, propose to select only a few individual cases to which I attribute special importance.

There is the Commissar Order, which plays an important part, and which provided for the immediate shooting of political Commissars. When Hitler first orally announced this order, which he alone had planned, in March, 1941, he at once met with the strongest inner opposition on the part of all the generals present, due to their soldierly and human attitude. After the failure of all endeavours made by the generals, the Army High Command and the Armed Forces High Command, to prevent the issuing of this order by Hitler, and when the Commissar Order was issued some time later in writing, the Commanders-in-Chief of the army groups and armies either did not pass this order on to their troops at all, or they ordered on their own authority that it should be evaded. They did so in full consciousness of the danger that they might be heavily punished for open disobedience in war to an order of the Supreme Commander. The order on the preservation of discipline issued by the Commander-in-Chief of the Army, in pursuance of the Commissar Order, had the desired effect. It gave the Supreme Commanders at the front a loophole to act in accordance with their own conception.

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