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

The Trial of German Major War Criminals

Two Hundred and Fifteenth Day: Friday, 30th August, 1946
(Part 2 of 15)

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I do not want to spend time retreading much-traveled roads.

We know that during these years the military leaders built up the Wehrmacht and made it into a formidable military machine, which struck terror into neighbouring countries and later succeeded in overrunning most of them. There is not a shred of evidence to contradict the charge that members of the General Staff and High Command group directed the building and assembling of this machine. Some witnesses have testified that the rearmament was for defensive purposes only, but the Wehrmacht's new strength was promptly used to support Hitler's aggressive diplomatic policy. Austria and Czechoslovakia were conquered by the Wehrmacht, even though there was no war. The events of 1939 to 1942 and the terrible offensive power of the Wehrmacht are a further and sufficient answer, even without referring to Blomberg's official written statement in June, 1937, that there was no need to fear an attack on Germany from any quarter.

Witnesses for the defence have made much of the fact that the generals had little or no foreknowledge of the absorption of Austria. Many of these witnesses were not at the time members of the group, but the point is, in any event, unhelpful, since the Anschluss was not timed in advance by the Germans, but was precipitated by Schuschnigg's surprise order for a plebiscite. That is why, as Manstein testified, plans for the march into Austria had to be quickly improvised. But the plans were drawn up by Manstein under the supervision of Beck (Chief of the General Staff of the Army and a member of the group), and other members

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of the group were closely involved in the Anschluss, as were other generals who later became members.

As to the participation of the generals in the Munich crisis and occupation of the Sudetenland, the defense's main point seems to be that Brauchitsch, Beck and other generals opposed risking a war at that time. The record makes it quite clear that the generals' attitude was not based on any disagreement with the objective of smashing Czechoslovakia, or on any opposition to a diplomatic policy supported by military threats, but arose from their opinion that the Wehrmacht was not as yet (in 1938) strong enough to face a war with major powers. The defendant Jodl expressed it very clearly in his diary, in drawing a contrast between "the Fuehrer's intuition that we must do it this year and the opinion of the Army that we cannot do it as yet, as most certainly the Western powers will interfere, and we are not as yet equal to them."

The further contention of the defence that there were no military preparations for the occupation of Czechoslovakia and that the Commander-in-Chief of the Army gave no instructions in this regard is completely incredible when weighed against contemporary documents of unquestioned authenticity, which have long been in evidence before the Tribunal and which the defence cannot and did not attempt to explain away. The military directives and planning memoranda contained in the so-called "Fall Grun" file demolish any such contention, and fully reveal the extensive preparations being made by the Wehrmacht under the leadership of Keitel, Jodl, Brauchitsch, Halder, and others. Jodl's diary gives us further details about such matters as co-ordination of the air and ground offensives, timing of the D-day order, collaboration with the Hungarian Army, and order of battle. It also shows the personal participation of other members of the group and of other generals who later became members. Military preparation for absorption of the remainder of Czechoslovakia is also adequately shown by documents in evidence before the Tribunal.

One other point about this pre-war period should be noted. The military leaders not only participated in the plans; they were delighted with the results. They were afraid of getting into a war before they were adequately prepared, but they wanted a big army and they wanted the strategic and military advantages which Germany derived from Hitler's Austrian and Czechoslovakian successes. That is, in fact, why the Party leaders and the military leaders worked together; that is why the generals supported Hitler; that is why the Third Reich, through the Party and the Wehrmacht, was able to achieve what it did achieve. Leading German generals have told the Tribunal this in so many words. Blomberg tells us that, before 1938-1939, the German generals were not opposed to Hitler. Blaskowitz says that all officers in the Army welcomed rearmament and therefore had no reason to oppose Hitler. Both of them tell us that Hitler produced the results that all the generals desired.

The testimony of Blomberg and Blaskowitz is in no way weakened by the statements of various defence witnesses, that many Army officers disliked some of Hitler's internal policies and distrusted some of the Nazi politicians. It is too much to ask that all partners in crime should like and trust one another. That, in spite of these differences, the Third Reich came so close to imposing its dominion and evil theories on the world merely emphasizes the deep agreement between the Party and the military leaders on the most essential objectives, national unity and armed might, in order to accomplish territorial aggrandizement. This cannot be doubted, and for confirmation we need only look at the testimony of a witness called by the defence, namely, Colonel-General Reinhardt, who was chief of the Army Training Section before the war and later commanded a Panzer army and an army group on the Eastern Front. When asked what was the attitude of the officers' corps toward Hitler, he replied:

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"I do not believe there was a single officer who did not back up Hitler in his extraordinary successes. Hitler had led Germany out of its utmost misery, both politically and in its foreign politics, and economically."
So we turn to the war itself. The group of military leaders specified in the Indictment becomes much larger; we are no longer concerned only with the generals in Berlin but also with the war lords who commanded the Wehrmacht in the field whose names were far more familiar to and feared by the peoples of the territories overrun by the Germans. Names such as Blaskowitz, von Bock, von Kluge, Kesselring, von Reichenau, Rundstedt, Sperrle, and von Weichs. What do the generals say in defence of the attack on Poland? Some of their statements, like Mannstein's explanation that the Poles might "carelessly" attack Germany, are merely laughable. About the best they can say is that they expected that Poland would give in without a struggle. Even if this was a defence, its credibility is dubious. Hitler himself had made it clear to the military leaders that it was not a question of Danzig and the Corridor but of living-space and increasing the food supply under German exploitation. The generals could have hardly expected the Poles to give themselves up entirely without a struggle, and Hitler had said that there would be war and no repetition of the Czech affair.

But in any event it is not a defence that the generals hoped for a "Blumenkrieg." The witnesses for the defence have agreed that the German demands on Poland were to be enforced by military threats and armed might. There is no evidence that the generals opposed this policy of sheer hold-up. In fact, it is clear that they heartily endorsed it, since the Polish Corridor was regarded by them as a "desecration" and the regaining from Poland of former German territory as a "point of honour." And it has never been a defence that a robber is surprised by the resistance of his victim, and has to commit murder in order to get the money.

There is no controversy concerning the participation of the members of the General Staff and High Command group in the planning and launching of the attack itself. Brauchitsch has described how the plans were evolved, and then passed to the field commanders-in-chief for their recommendations. We know, both from his own testimony and from contemporary documents, that Blaskowitz, one of the field commanders-in- chef, received the plans for the attack in June and thereafter perfected them in consultation with the army group and OKH. Rundstedt's chief of staff received the plans, and there can be no doubt that all the other commanders-in-chief did also. A week before the attack, all the members of the group met at the Obersalzberg for the final briefing.

As the war spread to other countries and eventually over the entire continent of Europe, the Wehrmacht grew and many more army groups, armies, air fleets, and naval commands were created and the membership in the group was correspondingly enlarged. All three branches of the Wehrmacht participated in the invasion of Norway and Denmark, which was an excellent demonstration of "combined operations" involving the closest joint planning and co-ordination between the three services. The documents before the Tribunal show that this operation was a product of the brains of the German admirals; the proposal originated with Raeder and other naval members of the group and, after Hitler's approval had been obtained, the plans were developed at OKW. Numerous members of the group participated in its planning and execution. The testimony of several Army commanders that they had no foreknowledge of the attack is not a surprising fact since the OKH and the Army commanders-in-chief were all fully absorbed at the time in planning the much larger attack on the Low Countries and France. Only a few German divisions were used in Norway and Denmark and, since it was a "combined operation," the plans were developed in OKW, not OKH.

Dr. Laternser's defence of the Norwegian attack, on the basis that it was a preventive move to forestall an English invasion of Norway, might have some superficial plausibility if there were any evidence that the Norwegian invasion was

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improvised to meet an emergency. But it is utterly incredible in the face of documents which show that the Norwegian invasion had been under discussion since October, 1939, and active planning began in December, that on March 14th Hitler was still hesitant about giving the order for the attack because he was "still looking for some justification," and that all through the weeks preceding the Norwegian attack there was discussion within the General Staff group as to whether it might not be preferable to initiate the general western offensive against France and the Low Countries before undertaking the Norwegian campaign.

As for the major attack in the West, it appears from the testimony of defence witnesses that Hitler wanted to attack in the autumn of 1939 and that Brauchitsch and other generals persuaded him to postpone until the spring of 1940. This postponement shows indeed that the generals had considerable influence with Hitler, but hardly excuses the later attack. When the spring of 1940 arrived, according to Mannstein, "the offensive in the West, from the point of the soldier, was absolutely inevitable." There is no evidence that a single German commander protested against or opposed the flagrant and ruthless violation of the neutrality of the Low Countries.

The explanations of the defence concerning the crimes against peace are laboured and not plausible, and are in conflict equally with the documents before the Tribunal and with the history of the years in question. Nor is it true that the military leaders were mere puppets, without influence on Hitler or the course of events. Naturally there were disagreements not only between Hitler and the Wehrmacht, but within the Wehrmacht itself. If Hitler prevailed at times, so at times did the Wehrmacht, whether it was to postpone the western offensive or to launch the attack on Denmark and Norway. Despite the attempt to make the contrary appear, Hitler was not so stupid as to act without the benefit of military advice. One need only look at Hitler's directive to the military leaders of 12th November, 1940, written after the successful conclusion of the western offensive, in which Hitler discusses very tentatively his future plans in France, a possible offensive in Spain, whether Madeira and the Azores should be occupied, what assistance should be given the Italians in North Africa, what to do in Greece and the Balkans, what the future might hold with regard to the Soviet Union, and whether to invade England in the spring of 1941. Hitler concluded:

"I shall expect the commanders-in-chief to express their opinions of the measures anticipated in this directive. I shall then give orders regarding the method of execution and synchronization of the individual actions."
No, the leaders of the Wehrmacht were not puppets. If the generals owed their opportunity to rebuild the Wehrmacht largely to Hitler and the Nazis, it is very true that Hitler was utterly dependent on the generals for carrying out his plans. Brauchitsch has pointed out that "the carrying out of the orders that were given to the Army and to the army groups required such a high knowledge of military matters, and such ability and psychological understanding, that there were only a few people who were actually able to carry out such orders." And it is worth noting also that despite the very real and natural friction between the war lords and a former corporal, Hitler never, until July, 1944, went outside the ranks of the Army for his commanders-in-chief. Even during these final desperate months, only four outsiders, Himmler himself and three others from the Waffen SS, achieved the coveted distinction.

Nor was the Wehrmacht that swarmed over the continent of Europe led by reluctant men. These aggressive wars were launched and waged by men who worshipped armed might, and wanted to extend the hegemony of Germany. That is, at bottom, why the Nazis and the Wehrmacht leaders gave the Third Reich its unity. I recall the Tribunal's attention to Admiral Fricke's memorandum of June, 1940:

"It is too well known to need further mention that Germany's present position in the narrows of the Heligoland Bight and in the Baltic - bordered

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as it is by a whole series of States and under their influence - is an impossible one for the future of Greater Germany. The power of Greater Germany in the strategic areas acquired in this war should result in the existing population of these areas feeling themselves politically, economically and militarily to be completely dependent on Germany. If the following results are achieved - that expansion is undertaken (on a scale I shall describe later) by means of the military measures for occupation taken during the war, that French powers of resistance (popular unity, mineral resources, industry and armed forces) are so broken that a revival must be considered out of the question, that the smaller States such as the Netherlands, Denmark and Norway are forced into a dependence on us which will enable us in any circumstances and at any time easily to occupy these countries again - then in practice the same, but psychologically much more, will be achieved.

The solution, therefore, appears to be to crush France, to occupy Belgium, part of North and East France, to allow the Netherlands, Denmark and Norway to exist on the basis indicated above."

In the face of documents such as this one, we have nevertheless heard the generals say over and over again that they were never told about what was going on, and heard about events for the first time over the radio. Over and over again they have protested that they never heard about certain things until they were lodged in the jail at Nuremberg. Military figures, like so many others in this case, have not hesitated to put the responsibility for things which they cannot deny or avoid on the shoulders of one or two people, whom they have portrayed as peculiar and unrepresentative of the group. The common denominator of these scapegoats is that they are all dead. The dead Reichenau is made to share the blame with the other dead who cannot speak - Hitler, Himmler, Dr. Rasche and the rest. These defences are mean and they are utterly incredible. The world will never believe them.

No group of men was more intimately concerned than were the military leaders with what was going on in and around Germany in the years before the war. The military leaders now tell us that they neither knew, nor cared to know, nor ought to have known, about these things. If what they say is true, then they are utterly unique, for nearly all the world had heard something about these things. One of the most remarkable things about this Trial has been that instead of a series of startling revelations, the documents assembled here and the labour devoted to them have served to confirm what was already known or suspected throughout they world many years ago. I cannot believe that anybody will ever subscribe to the view which the military leaders, forced by circumstances, have put forward here in order to try to clear themselves from a stain which is far too dark to be effaced.

The crimes against peace in which the General Staff and High Command group participated led inevitably to the war crimes which followed. Without the participation of this group in the Crimes Against Peace, there would not have be any War Crimes. It is not a change from one subject to another, but only inevitable chain of causation, which leads us now to consider the methods by which the Wehrmacht waged the wars it had launched.

We do not, of course, suggest that the hands of every German soldier were plunged into innocent blood, or that the rules of war and the laws of decency were disregarded by every German commander. But we do say that the nature and extent of the atrocities ordered by the leaders of the Wehrmacht and thereafter perpetrated by it in many countries of Europe, reveal and prove a calculated indifference on the part of the military leaders to the commission of crimes.

The uncontested fact is that the Supreme Command of the Wehrmacht, under instructions from Hitler as its commander- in-chief, issued various orders which flagrantly contravened the rules of war. These included the orders for the shooting of commandos and political commissars, the orders to "pacify" the occupied territories of the Soviet Union by spreading terror, and others. The defence

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does not dispute the issuance of these orders, and it does not and cannot contest their criminality. Rather we are told that the German commanders were honourable soldiers, that they disapproved of these orders, that they tacitly agreed not to execute the orders, and that the orders were not executed.

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