The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

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Last-Modified: 1999/12/6

Q. Do you consider the term "General Staff" as has been
employed in these proceedings to be in accordance with
military usage?

A. As I said before, the General Staff was composed of
"Fuehrungsgehilfen" (officers assisting the direction) and
did not include the Commanders and Commanders-in-Chief.
According to German views they do not belong to this
organisation, because not all of the Commanders and
Commanders-in-Chief had had the same education and training
as the General Staff officers. The Cs-in-C. were individuals
and were treated collectively only in respect of their rank
as Generals and for budget and pay purposes.

Q. Would you consider it to be erroneous to apply the term
"General Staff" to the high military commanders?

A. According to the German conception it would be a

Q. Have at any time in the history of the Armed Forces the
high military commanders been subsumed under this group as
is being done here?

A. In Germany such subsumption was not indicated and for
various reasons was not even admissible. Neither did the Cs-
in-C. form a collective body to act in any way as a War
Council or as a similar assembly with definite tasks. They
were not even, individually or collectively, members of the
Reich Defence Council, and only appointed ad hoc commanders
of a front or an office. To set up the Cs.-in-C. as a
collective body for any specific purpose was in my opinion
quite impossible, for the simple reason that they were under
the Cs.-in-C. of the Army, the Air Force or the Navy, or
under the High Command of the Armed Forces. Furthermore,
some of them were 100 per cent. under the German Supreme
Command and others 100 per cent. under Axis Command. Some of
them were under two different commands, some independent Cs.-
in-C., others Army Commanders subordinate to the C.-in-C. of
an Army Group.

Q. You are speaking too fast. Did the Cs.-in-C. work out
military problems set them, or did they themselves draw up
the plans and submit them to Hitler for consideration?

A. The Cs.-in-C. were military men with leadership qualities
responsible only for the task allotted to them. Within the
scope of this task they could submit suggestions for
improvements, etc., to the High Command or to the C.-in-C.
of the Army, and their activities were limited to these

Q. You just mentioned improvements and modifications. Did
this mean that the Cs.-in-C. were expected only to suggest
modifications of a plan from the military-technical aspect,
or also to submit suggestions as to whether or not a plan
should be carried out at all?

                                                   [Page 29]

A. Generally it meant only suggestions for modifications
from the military-technical aspect. In matters of minor
importance they had a say also as to policy. If, however,
the highest authority had made a decision, the others kept

Q. We will revert to this later. Did the Group General Staff
as presented here ever meet collectively?

A. No.

Q. Were there any rules providing for the organisation of
this group?

A. No.

Q. Did any members of this group ever suggest a departure
from the rules of International Law?

A. I think not; rather the contrary.

Q. Was there a frequent reshuffle of the holders of the
offices which make up this group or did they hold the
offices for a long period.?

A. In the course of the latter years the Cs.-in-C. and
commanders were rather frequently reshuffled.

Q. What do you know about the conferences Hitler held with
high-ranking military leaders?

A. There were two kinds of conferences. First, an important
address before a campaign to the higher leaders taking part
in it. The object of the address was generally to inform the
leaders of the situation and to brief them. In view of the
Fuehrer's persuasive rhetoric it was hardly possible for us
to take any stand in the matter, particularly as we were not
informed about all details. At such conferences discussions
did not take place; they were not allowed. There sometimes
followed military-tactical consultations and every leader
had the chance of putting forward and stressing his views
and requests. As I have said, we had no say in political
questions. We were, as is known, faced with the accomplished
fact, which we as soldiers had to accept.

Q. Did you attend a conference with Hitler on 22nd August,
1939 - that is, shortly before the Polish campaign started?

A. Yes.

Q. Was it not made known at the end of this conference that
we had concluded a treaty with the Soviet Union?

A. At the end, after the address, we were all called
together again and informed that the message had just been
received that Russia would adopt benevolent neutrality.

Q. What impression did this message have on you and the
other high military leaders?

A. It was a tremendous relief to me and to the others.
Otherwise we could not have dismissed the possibility of an
extension of the war towards the East. Now that Russia held
herself aloof, at least the Air Force - I speak as an Army
Commander - had obtained a superiority which guaranteed a
rapid and decisive success and which, over and above this -
in my opinion - would possibly prevent the expansion of the

Q. In any case, the message was a great relief to you?

A. Yes, very great.

Q. Witness, can you tell me whether members of the Group
General Staff and High Command ever met and had discussions
with leading politicians and Party men?

A. If I may speak for myself, I was operating both in the
Mediterranean area and in the West. In the Mediterranean
area I had to deal with the Gauleiter Rainer and Hofer and
then in the West with ...

Q. That was not the point of the question. I wanted to know
whether the high military leaders ever met and discussed any
political plans with leading politicians.

                                                   [Page 30]

A. No, no. That I can definitely say was not the case. We as
soldiers generally did not bother about politics. Political
decisions were made by the politicians and we had to carry
them out.

Q. This attitude is customary among the military leaders as
a result of their many years of experience in the Armed
Forces, which foster the principle of giving the soldier a
non-political education, is it not?

A. This policy has been developed in the German Army since
the 18th century.

Q. Do you know whether the higher military leaders had any
contact with the Fifth Column?

A. The military leadership had nothing to do with the Fifth
Column. This was beneath us.

Q. What was your impression of the conference Hitler held
with the higher military leaders before the Eastern campaign
started? Was the situation presented to you in such a way
that war had to be considered unavoidable?

A. I had the definite impression that the purpose of the
address to the leaders was to convince them of the necessity
of the war as a preventive war, and that it was imperative
to strike before the building up and the mobilisation of the
Russian Armed Forces became a danger to Germany.

Q. Could you state the reasons for your impression?

A. As I have already said, the purpose of the address was to
give us a convincing picture of the general situation, of
the military situation and its time schedule - and it did
convince us. In connection with the Russian campaign I
should like to say that up to the last day of August I had
no doubt -

THE PRESIDENT: Witness, will you go more slowly please and
have some consideration for the interpreters.

DR. LATERNSER: Would you please repeat the last answer.

A. I had still less reason to doubt Hitler's words because,
up to the last moment, I, as C-in-C. of Air Fleet 2, was
engaged in operations against England, and had had neither
time nor the means to form a well-founded judgement of my
own on the Russian situation. I had to confine myself -

Q. This trial has shown that the Cs-in-C. are being made
responsible for what in a war is bound to happen. I should
like you to describe the daily routine of a C.-in-C. of an
army group, an army, or an air fleet.

A. The daily routine depended of course on the personality
of the individual leader. If I may speak of myself -

Q. Witness, I ask you to be very brief.

THE PRESIDENT: Dr. Laternser, surely that is accumulative to
what the witness has already been saying, and likely to be
very long. About the description of the day of a commander,
this witness already said the commander had nothing to do
with politics, and nothing to do with the staff. Why should
we be troubled with what the commander's day consists of?

DR. LATERNSER: Mr. President, I attach particular importance
to this question for the following reasons: In view of the
range of a C.-in-C.'s activities, especially at the front,
not every report can reach him, because even reports from
his own sector have to be dealt with by the respective
officers. Thus, only those reports come to him which are of
particular importance and of a decisive nature and which
have a direct bearing on the conduct of the action.

THE PRESIDENT: Give it in that way then, rather than giving
the witness a full day to describe.

DR. LATERNSER: Very well, I shall put it that way.

Q. Witness, in view of the range of your activities as C.-in-
C. did every report reach you, or only those which, after
having been studied by the respective officers, were found
to be of such importance that they had to be submitted to
the C.-in-C.?

                                                   [Page 31]

A. In particular, when an action was in progress not all
reports could reach the C.-in-C. In my own case, this was
still less possible, as I spent 50 to -70 per cent. of my
time at the front. The staffs of the armies, air fleets and
navy units had to retain a responsibility of their own
within their competence.

Q. Did the many activities of a C.-in-C. permit of all
reports on violations of International Law, even of a minor
nature, being submitted to him?

A. This was aimed at. I doubt, however, for the above-
mentioned reasons, whether it was possible in every case.

Q. In this matter, therefore, the C.-in-C. had to rely on
his staff, had he not?

A. 100 percent.

Q. Were you C.-in-C. of an air fleet on the Eastern front
from June to November, 1941?

A . Yes.

Q. Did you hear anything about the extermination of Jews in
the East?

A. No.

Q. Did you hear anything about the Einsatz Groups of the

A. Nothing. I did not even know the name of these units.

Q. Did you get to know anything about the regrettable order
that Russian Commissars were to be shot after their capture?

A. I heard of this order at the end of the war. The air
fleet, not being engaged in ground fighting, had actually
nothing to do with this question. I think I can safely say
the Air Force knew nothing whatsoever about it. Though I
very frequently had personal dealings with Field-Marshal von
Bock, with commanders of armies and armoured units, none of
these gentlemen ever told me of such an order.

Q. Did you know about the Commando order?

A. Yes, I did.

Q. And what did you think of this order?

A. I considered such an order, received by me as C.-in-C.
Mediterranean, holding a double post, not to be binding on
me, but as the outline of an order which left me a free hand
as to its application. In this question I held the view that
it was up to me, as C.-in-C., to decide as to whether the
Commando action was contrary to International Law or whether
it was tactically justified. The view adopted more and more
by the army group, as advocated by me, was that personnel in
uniform who had been sent out on a definite tactical task
were to be treated and considered as soldiers in accordance
with the provisions of The Hague Convention for land

Q. The Commando order was consequently not applied within
your command?

A. In one case, yes, it was certainly applied.

Q. Which case do you mean?

A. I mean the case of General Dostler.

Q. The case of General Dostler has already been mentioned in
this trial. Did you know about this case when it was

A. As a witness under. oath I have stated that I cannot
remember this case. I think there are two reasons why I was
not informed of it. Firstly, after a conversation with my
chief, who spoke to another commander about it, it appeared
that none of us knew anything. Secondly, because of the
gigantic operations on the Southern front, I was, more often
than not, absent from my headquarters.

Q. If you had been called upon to make a decision on the
Dostler case, how would you have decided?

A. I am not well enough acquainted with the case. I only
know it from hearsay.

MR. JUSTICE JACKSON: I do not think we can try Dostler's
case, or that this witness should give his conclusions,
inasmuch as the case has been tried by a

                                                   [Page 32]

competent Court and the issue disposed of. I have no
objection to any facts that inform this Tribunal, but his
conclusion as to the guilt of his fellow officer is hardly

THE PRESIDENT: Particularly as he said he cannot remember.

DR. LATERNSER: I withdraw the question.

Q. Witness, can you quote other cases where the Commando
order was not applied in your area?

A. Small-scale landings behind the lines at Commazzio, South
of Venice, also airborne landings North of Albenda in the
region of Genoa, and minor actions in the Lago di Ortona
district. I am convinced the troops adopted this general
view and acted accordingly.

Q. You were C.-in-C. of an air fleet in the East. What can
you say about the treatment of the Russian civilian
population during the campaign?

A. I was in Russia until the end of November and I can only
say that the population and the troops were on the best of
terms, and that the field kitchens were used everywhere for
the benefit of the poor and the children; also that the
morality of the Russian woman, which, as is known, is on a
high level, was respected by the German soldiers to a
remarkable extent. I know that my doctors, during the hours
of attendance, were frequently consulted by the Russian
population. I remember this, because the doctors spoke to me
about the fortitude they showed in enduring pain. The war
passed so quickly over the plains as far as Smolensk that
the whole area presented quite a peaceful aspect; peasants
were at work, fairly large herds of cattle were grazing, and
when I visited the area I found the small dwellings intact.

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