The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

Shofar FTP Archive File: imt/tgmwc/tgmwc-22/tgmwc-22-212.09


Archive/File: imt/tgmwc/tgmwc-22/tgmwc-22-212.09
Last-Modified: 2001/01/21

[DR. LATERNSER, CONTINUED]

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

                                                  [Page 174]

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

                                                  [Page 175]

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

                                                  [Page 176]

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

                                                  [Page 177]

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.

                                                  [Page 178]

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.


Home ·  Site Map ·  What's New? ·  Search Nizkor

© The Nizkor Project, 1991-2012

This site is intended for educational purposes to teach about the Holocaust and to combat hatred. Any statements or excerpts found on this site are for educational purposes only.

As part of these educational purposes, Nizkor may include on this website materials, such as excerpts from the writings of racists and antisemites. Far from approving these writings, Nizkor condemns them and provides them so that its readers can learn the nature and extent of hate and antisemitic discourse. Nizkor urges the readers of these pages to condemn racist and hate speech in all of its forms and manifestations.