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 4 of 15)

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One must remember the observation before this Tribunal of SS Obergruppenfuehrer Bach-Zelewski, who pointed out that:

"when for years, for decades, the doctrines are preached that the Slavic race is an inferior race and Jews not even human, then such an explosion is inevitable."
The defence to these charges is the same as in the case of the commando order. A mass of affidavits have been submitted by individual commanders-in-chief and subordinate officers in which they express their abhorrence of these orders and profess that they did not execute them. Again we hear of tacit understandings, even in the face of evidence as to the slaughter which the orders caused. It makes one gasp that such a defence can be put forward at all, apparently without shame.

Again I say that the responsibility lies squarely on the group specified in the indictment. Keitel, Jodl, Brauchitsch, Goering and their colleagues at the centre of affairs circulated these malignant orders, the criminality of which a child could see. Kleist, Kluge, Rundstedt, Reichenau, Schobert, Manstein and the other field commanders- in-chief distributed them to their subordinate officers. No secret agreements could forestall the terrible result which followed inevitably.

Is it really too much to ask that the commanders-in-chief should have refused to distribute these orders? As soldiers they were bound to obey their supreme commander, but their own law and code says that it is the duty of every soldier to refuse to obey orders which he knows to be criminal. This is hard for the ordinary soldier acting under pistol-point orders from his lieutenant. It is far less difficult

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for the commander-in-chief, who is expected to be mature, educated, accustomed to responsibility and disciplined to be steady and unflinching when put to a test. Under their own law and according to the traditions they are so shameless as still to vaunt, the leaders were in duty bound to reject these orders. Their failure caused suffering and death to hundreds of thousands; their failure resulted directly in countless murders and other brutal crimes; and they, far more than the soldiers whom these orders led into crime, are the real criminals.

Hitler needed the commanders-in-chief; he needed them desperately and would have been helpless without them. They could have held securely and firmly to the standards which every soldier and, indeed, every man is expected to obey. And it was not, in most cases, fear of Hitler that caused them to betray these standards. They were ready enough to disagree with Hitler on other matters which they regarded as more important. They did not want to risk a breach with Hitler over what they callously regarded as a minor matter. They were intent on "larger" things - the conquest of Europe - on which they and Hitler were in agreement.

Some of the military leaders, we cannot tell how many, were willing to go much farther and to stand sponsor for Nazi ideology. Reichenau and Manstein lent their names and prestige shamelessly in order to advance these vile doctrines. We cannot capture all the orders; we cannot tell how many German commanders-in-chief there are who, like Manstein, unctuously protesting their disapproval of Nazi doctrine, could be confronted with their own nauseating manifestos.

We may assume, for the sake of argument, that many German commanders-in-chief disliked the pattern of orders and doctrines which the evidence here has unfolded. He who touches filth is not excused because he holds his nose. For reasons which appeared to them sufficient, the German military leaders helped to weave this pattern. It is just this calculated indifference to crime which makes their conduct so unspeakable. Those individual commanders-in- chief, if any, who can show clean hands may come forth and clear themselves. But the military leaders as a group, I submit, are proved beyond doubt to have participated directly, effectively, and knowingly in numerous and widespread War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity.

Under Articles 9 and 10 of the London Agreement for the Trial of Major War Criminals, Keitel and Raeder and the other military defendants are on trial not only as individuals but as representatives of the German military leadership. The military defendants committed their crimes as military leaders and hand-in-hand with others. It is in their representative capacity that the military leaders in the dock are truly important.

The evidence against this group is so complete and compelling that their attempts at defence must be desperately and inconsistently contrived. When called to account as a group for their crimes the famous German General Staff disintegrates, like a child's puzzle thrown on the floor, into 130 separate pieces. We are told that there is nothing there. Called upon to state their views on Hitler, aggressive war, or other unpleasant subjects, the pieces reassemble themselves into pattern instantly and magically. With true German discipline, the same words come from every mouth. When the question is the participation of the Wehrmacht in killing Jews, they indignantly deny that their soldiers would do such things. When the question is the enforcement of law and discipline within the Wehrmacht, we are met by affidavits saying that German soldiers who killed Jews were court-martialled and shot. Charged with responsibility as a group, they plead immunity on the ground that they could not resign and that their status was therefore involuntary. Seeking to establish that they disapproved the policies of Hitler, they boast that many of their number who expressed their opposition were allowed or requested to resign. The inconsistency of their appeal to the soldier's oath of obedience is particularly shameless. Charged with launching aggressive wars against neighbouring countries, they plead the oath in their defence. Accused of

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crimes committed during the war, they take credit to themselves for refusing to obey criminal orders. And so it is represented that the soldier who in time of peace was completely bound by his oath to give unquestioning obedience, regardless of consequences, to a perjured head of State, could nevertheless, when his country was at war and obedience supposedly far more necessary, dabble in secret disobedience and thereby shift the blame and responsibility for the murder of commandos and commissars on to other shoulders.

Let us look once more at these military leaders whose actions we have just examined. They are a group in more ways than one. They are more than a group; they are a class, almost a caste. They are a course of thought and a way of life. They have distinctive qualities of mind, which have been noted and commented on by the rest of the world for many decades, and which have their roots in centuries. They have been an historical force, and are still to be reckoned with. They are proud of it.

To escape the consequences of their actions, these men now deny all this. But in their very denial, the truth is apparent. Their group spirit and unity of outlook and purpose is so deep that evidence of it drops from their lips willy-nilly. Read their testimony; always they refer to themselves as "we" or "we old soldiers," and they are for ever stating "our" attitude on this or that subject. Rundstedt's testimony is full of such expressions of the attitude of the German military leaders as a group, on a great variety of questions. Manstein told us that "we soldiers mistrusted all parties"; "we all considered ourselves the trustees of the unity of Germany"; and "the National Socialist aim of unification was according to our attitude, but not the National Socialist methods."

What are the characteristics of the German military leaders? They have been familiar to students of history for a long time; books have been written about them. They are manifest in the documents and testimony before the Tribunal. One characteristic is that they are careful observers of Germany's internal politics, but their tradition and policy is not to identify themselves with parties or internal political movements. This is the only true note in the refrain, which has been sung so often at this trial, that "we were soldiers and not politicians." They regard themselves as above politics and politicians. They are concerned only with what they consider to be the deeper, unchanging interests of Germany as a nation. As Manstein put it:

"We soldiers mistrusted all parties because every party in Germany placed its own interests above the interests of Germany. We all considered ourselves the trustees of the unity of Germany in this respect ...."
The German military leaders are deeply interested in foreign politics and diplomacy. Any intelligent professional officer must be. Training is conducted, equipment is built, and plans are evolved in the light of what is known about the military potential and intentions of other countries. No officers in the world were more aware of this than German officers; none studied the international scene as closely or with such cold calculation. It was their mentor, Clausewitz, who described war as an instrument of politics.

The German military leaders wanted a Germany free from political fluctuations, and a government which would mobilize German resources behind the Wehrmacht and inculcate in the German public the spirit and purposes of militarism. This is what Rundstedt meant when he said that: "The National Socialist ideas which were good were usually ideas which were carried over from old Prussian times and which we had known already without the National Socialists." That is what Manstein meant by the "unity" of Germany.

The German military leaders believed in war. They regarded it as part of a normal, well-rounded life. Manstein told us from the witness-box that they "naturally considered the glory of war as something great." The "considered opinion" of OKW in 1938 recited that:

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"Despite all attempts to outlaw it, war is still a law of nature which may be challenged but not eliminated. It serves the survival of the race and State or the assurance of its historical future.

This high moral purpose gives war its total character and its ethical justification."

These characteristics of the German military leaders were deep and permanent. They have been bad for the world, and bad for Germany too. Their philosophy was so perverse that they regarded a lost war, and a defeated and prostrate Germany, as a glorious opportunity to start again on the same terrible cycle Their attitude of mind is nowhere better set forth than in a speech delivered by General Beck before the German War Academy in 1935. The audience of young officers was told that "the hour of death of our old magnificent army" in 1919 "led to the new life of the young Reichswehr," and that the German Army returned from the First World War "crowned with the laurels of immortality." Later on they were told that if the military leaders have displayed intelligence and courage, then losing a war "is ennobled by the pride of a glorious fall." In conclusion, they are reminded that Germany is a "military-minded nation" and are exhorted to remember "the duty which they owe to the man who re-created and made strong again the German Wehrmacht."

In 1935 that man was Hitler. In previous years it was other men. The German militarist will join forces with any man or government that offers fair prospect of effective support for military exploits. Men who believe in war as a way of life learn nothing from the experience of losing one.

I have painted this picture of the German military leaders not because it is an unfamiliar one but because it is so familiar that it may be in danger of being overlooked. We must not become preoccupied with the niceties of a chart or details of military organization at the expense of far more important things which are matters of common knowledge. The whole world has long known about and suffered at the hands of the German military leadership. Its qualities and conduct are open and notorious. Is the world now to be told that there is no such group? Is it to hear that the German war- lords cannot be judged because they were a bunch of conscripts? We have had to deal seriously with such arguments only because there are no others.

That the case against the German militarists is clear does not make it the less important. We are at grips here with something big and evil and durable; something that was not born in 1933 or even 1921; something much older than anyone here; something far more important than any individual in the dock; something that is not yet dead and that cannot be killed by a rifle or a hangman's noose.

For nine months this courtroom has been a world of gas chambers, mountains of corpses, human-skin lampshades, shrunken skulls, freezing experiments, and bank vaults filled with gold teeth. It is vital to the conscience of the world that all the participants in these enormities shall be brought to justice. But these exhibits, gruesome as they are, do not lie at the heart of this case. Little will be accomplished by shaking the poisoned fruit from the tree. It is much harder to dig the tree up by the roots, but only this will, in the long run, do much good.

The tree which bore this fruit is German militarism. Militarism is as much the core of the Nazi Party as of the Wehrmacht itself. Militarism is not the profession of arms. Militarism is embodied in the "military-minded nation" whose leaders preach and practice conquest by force of arms, and relish war as something desirable in itself. Militarism inevitably leads to cynical and wicked disregard of the rights of others and of the very elements of civilization. Militarism destroys the moral character of the nation that practises it and, because it can be overthrown only by its own weapons, undermines the character of nations that are forced to combat it.

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The well-spring of German militarism through the years has been the group of professional military leaders who have become known to the world as the "German General Staff." That is why the exposure and discrediting of this group through the declaration of criminality is far more important than the fate of the uniformed individuals in the dock, or of other members of this group as individuals. Keitel and Raeder and Rundstedt and Kesselring and Manstein have shot their bolt. They will not lead the legions of the Wehrmacht again.

What is really at stake now is not the lives of these particular men but the future influence of the German General Staff within Germany, and, consequently, on the lives of people in all countries. That is why it was declared at Yalta:

"It is our inflexible purpose to destroy German militarism and Nazism and to ensure that Germany will never again be able to disturb the peace of the world. We are determined to disarm and disband all German armed forces; break up for all time the German General Staff that has repeatedly contrived the resurgence of German militarism."
The first steps toward the revival of German militarism have been taken in this courtroom. The German General Staff has had plenty of time to think since the spring of 1945, and it well knows what is at stake here. The German militarists know that their future strength depends on re-establishing the faith of the German people in their military powers and in dissociating themselves from the atrocities which they committed in the service of the Third Reich. Why did the Wehrmacht meet with defeat? Hitler interfered too much in military affairs, says Manstein. What about the atrocities? The Wehrmacht committed none. Hitler's criminal orders were discarded and disregarded by the generals. Any atrocities which did occur were committed by other men such as Himmler and other agencies such as the SS. Could not the generals have taken any steps to prevent Germany's engulfment in war and eventual destruction? No; the generals were bound by their oath of obedience to the chief of State. Did not an SS general say that the field marshals could have prevented many of the excesses and atrocities? The reaction is one of superiority and scorn: "I think it is impertinent for an SS man to make such statements about a field marshal," says Rundstedt. The documents and testimony show that these are transparent fabrications. But here, in embryo, are the myths and legends which the German militarists will seek to propagate in the German mind. These lies must be stamped and labeled for what they are now while the proof is fresh.

This is as important within our own countries as it is here in Germany. Militarism has flourished far more widely and obstinately in Germany than elsewhere, but it is a plant which knows no national boundaries; it grows everywhere. It lifts its voice to say that war between East and West, or Left and Right, or White and Yellow is inevitable. It whispers that newly devised weapons are so terrible that they should be hurled now lest some other country use them first. It makes the whole world walk under the shadow of death.

German militarism, if it comes again, will not necessarily reappear under the aegis of Nazism. The German militarists will tie themselves to any man or party that offers expectation of a revival of German armed might. They will calculate deliberately and coldly. They will not be deterred by fanatical ideologies or hideous practices; they will take crime in their stride to reach the goal of German power and terror. We have seen them do it before.

The truth is spread on the record before us, and all we have to do is state the truth plainly. The German militarists joined forces with Hitler and with him created the Third Reich; with him they deliberately made a world in which might was all that mattered; with him they plunged the world into war and spread terror and devastation over the continent of Europe. They dealt a blow at all mankind; a blow so savage and foul that the conscience of the world will reel for years to come. This was not war; it was crime. This was not soldiering; it

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was savagery. These things need to be said. We cannot here make history over again, but we can see that it is written truthfully.

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