The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

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DR. NELTE, Continued:

                                                  [Page 193]

It cannot and shall not be denied that the defendant Keitel
was absolutely in favour of the Fuehrer principle in the
leadership of the Wehrmacht and that the essay Foundations
of the Organization of the German Wehrmacht (L-21I) can be
regarded as an acknowledgement in regard to the conduct of a
future war; not, however, that an actual war was anticipated
at that time or, that this was the reason for this essay.

What does this mean in regard to the defendant Keitel?
Anyone recognising the Fuehrer principle as being militarily
correct must act accordingly. Professor Jahrreiss has stated
that the Fuehrer principle - like every other political
system - is not absolutely good or bad, but that everything
depends on the manner and methods used in carrying it out.

Keitel has a military background and favours the Fuehrer
principle for the field with which he is conversant.
According to this principle the responsibility lies
completely with the one who has the authority to command.
While the Fuehrer principle in fact hardly underwent any
change in the civilian province, where it was also applied
but where it amounted to no more than superficialities, this
principle necessarily made itself felt much more strongly
and obviously in the military sphere, particularly in the
relationship between the Commanders-in-Chief and their
Chiefs of the General Staff.

Formerly the Chiefs of the General Staff had been the really
responsible commanders, now they became the operational
assistants to the commanders. In the formulation of orders
they were "collaborator-advisers" in the field of strategic
operations for which these officers had been especially

Keitel was - that is certain - neither a commander nor Chief
of the General Staff; he was the Chief of the Military
Chancellery (Militarkanzlei) under Hitler, a soldier and an
administrator of war ministerial duties; therefore, a
"minister", claims the prosecution.

One should not refer in this trial to distinctions which
prove to be merely formal when the real functions give
another picture. This is particularly important in the case
of Keitel. It should be determined what he actually was and
how he acted in reality.

The dual position created by the decree of 4th February,
1938, has led to an erroneous appraisal of Keitel's
functions. We assume that Hitler dissolved the Reich
Ministry of War because he no longer wished to have a
Minister of War; in spite of the fact that on 4th February,
1938, a considerable number of functions, handled up to then
by the Reich Ministry of War, had been assigned to the
individual Wehrmacht branches, there were a number of
functions which had to be retained and administered in the

But taking into, account the idea of an intended strict
concentration of functions pertaining to the war leadership,
Keitel could not attend to those on the basis of complete
authority and according to his own judgement, but he had to
present the demands of the Wehrmacht and co-ordinate the
Wehrmacht's affairs with the duties of the other ministries.

It cannot and will not be denied that this concentration of
duties in the person of Hitler was in practice unfeasible.
Thus, an extensive amount of preparatory and executive work
rested with Hitler's military staff, whose Chief of Staff
was Keitel. Hence, the responsibility rested with it also.
But not with reference to important questions, especially
those of a fundamental nature. It was, of course, a matter
of judgement to what extent the defendant Keitel considered
matters essential and fundamental and submitted them. But
the evidence showed that when in doubt about matters, after
conscientious examination, Keitel was inclined to present
them rather than to make his own decision about them.

The sources from which Hitler got his news were so intricate
that Keitel had no way of knowing whether Hitler had the
news that seemed to him to be important, through his
adjutants, through Himmler and Bormann, or in some other
way. To avoid unnecessary discussion afterwards with Hitler
who, being distrustful of everyone, always took it for
granted that people would intentionally conceal things

                                                  [Page 194]

from him, Keitel was anxious not to leave himself open to
the reproach of having omitted something. A characteristic
example is the case of the mass escape of eighty R.A.F.
officers from Sagan camp.

There the point is simply to show that Keitel, in his
capacity as guardian of the actual war functions which still
remained in the OKW, held no position as a Minister. Here,
too, he was the "Chef du Bureau", the head of the military
chancellery, a position which is also held by the chief of a
ministerial office, or even a State secretary. I wish to
refer in this connection to Dr. Lammers's statement, already
referred to by me, and to the affidavits of Admirals Raeder
and Donitz which I have already mentioned repeatedly.

The text of the Fuehrer decree of 4th February, 1938, shows
that Hitler also wished to make this clear. If Hitler had
not had the definite desire to exclude every third person
from a responsible and perhaps uncomfortable function in the
highest military sector, he might have given Keitel at least
the authority to take part in Cabinet meetings. In the
Fuehrer decree in which the Commanders-in-Chief of the Army
and Navy as well as Keitel had been given the "rank" of a
Reich Minister, it was explicitly ordered that both
Commanders-in-Chief should be entitled to take part in
Cabinet meetings. The fact that this was decreed
simultaneously is a convincing argumentume contrario. It
proves that Hitler did not wish that his Chief of Staff of
the OKW should perhaps have an opportunity of presenting his
own opinions and possible doubts before the Cabinet. Hitler
gave the defendant Keitel the "rank" of a Reich Minister for
the purpose of enabling him to carry on direct negotiations
with the departmental ministers. Had Keitel not had the rank
of a Reich Minister, he would have been limited to
conferences with State secretaries and suchlike and thus be
very handicapped in carrying out the Fuehrer's orders and

It is erroneous, therefore, if the prosecution has termed
Keitel a Reich Minister, even Reich Minister "without
portfolio". He was a minister, and was not a member of the
Reich Cabinet. State Secretary Stuckart in a document
submitted to the prosecution has listed all members of the
Reichsregierung. Keitel is not among them; he is mentioned
in this document only as the holder of one of the highest

Now, the prosecution has not limited the term
Reichsregierung to membership in the Reich Cabinet, but
considered other committees as part of the Reichsregierung,
too. It would seem, therefore, as if the prosecution looked
upon the legal, structure based on German law as irrelevant.
Pursuant to Appendix B to the indictment, the
Reichsregierung is in the sense of the Indictment composed

(1) Members of the ordinary Cabinet after 30th January,
1933, the date Hitler became Chancellor of the German
Republic. The term "ordinary Cabinet" used here means: Reich
Ministers, i.e., Heads of Departments of the Central
Government; Reich Ministers without portfolio; State
Ministers acting as Reich Ministers and other officials
entitled to take part in meetings of this Cabinet.

(2) Members of the Council of Ministers for the Defence of
the Reich.

(3) Members of the Secret Cabinet Council.

Regardless of the individual responsibility of every
defendant the Tribunal must examine as to whether the
concept of a "Reich Cabinet" as defined by the prosecution
is correct, i.e., practically speaking, whether the
composition of the group seems to justify the prosecution's
concept of a "Reich Cabinet". In any case it is not
sufficient to accept as correct the assertion of the
prosecution in this respect.

I assume that my colleague, Dr. Kubuschok, will come back to
this during his case.

THE PRESIDENT: Dr. Nelte, the Tribunal feels that you are
taking a very long time over this question of whether Keitel
was - what his exact position was.

                                                  [Page 195]

DR. NELTE: I believe, Mr. President, that the prosecution
also took a great deal of time to make clear what position
Field-Marshal Keitel occupied in their opinion. He is not
here as Field-Marshal but as the Chief of the OKW.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, if they have - I must confess that I
have forgotten. It seems to me and the Tribunal generally
that you are taking up far too long on this topic and you
have got many other topics which are of very great
importance to the defendant, and you have already been
speaking for several hours, and you occupied a large number
of pages in order to try to define what Keitel's position
was. I thought you might be able to cut it down.

DR. NELTE: I shall try.

I have explained that defendant Keitel did not belong to
Group 1; that is to say, that he was not a minister. Through
the hearing of evidence, it was proved that, despite the
Fuehrer Decree of 4th February, 1938, there never was a
Secret Cabinet Council; that such council was never set up;
that it never held a session; and that no persons involved
ever received a commission. Thus, it is proved that the
defendant was also never a member of the Secret Cabinet

It is true that Keitel was a member of the Council of
Ministers for the Defence of the Reich. Witness Dr. Lammers
has confirmed that the fact of becoming a member of the
Council of Ministers for the Defence of the Reich did not
change Keitel's official position and especially did not
make him a minister. In his affidavit of 25th November,
1945, co-defendant Dr. Frick says that Keitel worked in the
Council of Ministers for the Defence of the Reich as
"liaison man".

I pass on to the next paragraph.

In order to clarify the defendant Keitel's responsibility
and competence, it is necessary to analyse the concept of
OKW. I ask, Mr. President, that this speech be not
considered a theoretical and, therefore, superfluous
discussion. The very fact that the prosecution makes a
sweeping and fundamental assertion -

THE PRESIDENT (interposing): Dr. Nelte, may I ask what you
have been doing if you have not been analysing the concept
of the OKW?

DR. NELTE: Up until now I have explained Keitel's position
as the Chief of the OKW. In statements on Page 74 and the
following pages I wanted to explain to you that the
prosecution and others as well have talked about the OKW;
and "OKW" is a word which has three different types of

Mr. President, if you will be good enough to permit me to
submit this in writing, and if you would consider it as
having been presented in Court, then I am willing to leave
out the pages up to 77 and submit them to you.

In any case, it appears to me to be an important part of the
explanation regarding the interpretation of the word "OKW",
and the fact that this is not identical with Keitel is
particularly important.

I shall continue at Page 77. In order to see clearly what
part Keitel played in reality and what share he had in the
happenings as a whole I now wish - after investigating his
legal competencies - to examine what actual influence he had
upon the development and carrying out of the measures, the
effects of which constitute the subject of this trial. From
everyday experience we know that it does not matter so much
what a person is supposed to be in a particular position,
but what he has made of that position by virtue of his
personality. I believe I may say that in the course of this
trial the personality of no other defendant has been judged
in such varying and contradictory ways as that of the
defendant Keitel.

Decisive for Keitel's material responsibility is his actual
position in the tug-of-war with Hitler and the group around
him, his actual influence upon that group and thus on those
circumstances as a whole which could be causative for the
operations of Hitler's headquarters in the military field.

I shall deal with this fundamental complex when taking up
the charges made by the prosecution against Keitel and other
defendants on the strength of the cross-examination of Dr.
Gisevius, in other words, after the presentation of evidence
for Keitel has been completed.

                                                  [Page 196]

In view of the comprehensive scope of Justice Jackson's
questions and the answers given thereto by Dr. Gisevius, the
testimony of Dr. Gisevius has become of tremendous
importance in the case of the defendant Keitel.

Were Dr. Gisevius's statements about Keitel true - i.e.,
statements made by him on the basis of various information,
in most instances in terms of conclusive findings - the
defendant Keitel would not have told the truth during the
presentation of evidence. The importance of that fact
becomes evident when it is considered that doubts on his
truthfulness would of necessity destroy Keitel's defence,
which in its essence draws on the subjective aspect of facts
as a whole. In view of this fact and the importance of the
testimony of Dr. Gisevius also for other defendants, it is
my duty not to leave anything undone to explain the contrast
between Keitel's answers and the testimony of the witness

Experience has taught that dead witnesses are the best
witnesses because the rendering of their purported
utterances cannot be directly refuted. Evidence on the
strength of information belongs to another group of
statements which almost defy refutation.

The testimony of Gisevius combines both possibilities in
that he bases his testimony primarily on information
obtained from witnesses who are dead. Justice Jackson used
Dr. Gisevius as star witness in his comprehensive attack on
the defendant Keitel. After the completion of the
presentation of evidence against Keitel, he did not bring
forward one individual circumstance but an indictment on all
counts and a general judgement on Keitel's answers.

The counter-evidence is concerned, on the one hand and as
far as possible, with proving the objective incorrectness of
facts based upon information obtained from certain
individuals, and, further, with establishing proof of the
unreliability of the information. I call to mind the words
which the defendant Keitel said under oath upon completion
of his direct examination by me while in the witness-box:

  "One may hold it against me that I was wrong and made
  mistakes, that my attitude toward the Fuehrer Adolf
  Hitler was wrong and weak, but it should not be said of
  me that I was a coward, that I was untruthful, and that I
  was disloyal."

I sum up in condensed form the charges made against the
defendant Keitel, during interrogation by the prosecution,
as follows:

(1) Keitel built an impenetrable ring round Hitler so that
the latter could be told nothing.

(2) Keitel failed to pass on to Hitler reports he had
received from Canaris whenever such reports covered
atrocities, crimes and the like, or he gave orders to modify

(3) Keitel had a tremendous influence on the OKW and the

(4) Keitel threatened his subordinates, when they made
political statements, that he would not protect them; he
even said that he would turn them over to the Gestapo.

Dr. Gisevius says in one part of his statement that Keitel
had no influence over Hitler. He exonerates Hitler by
explaining that Keitel had formed a ring round Hitler in
order that the latter should be told nothing. The British
and American prosecution, in their indictment, called Keitel
a powerful staff officer who exerted great influence over
Hitler; the French prosecution described Keitel as a willing
tool of Hitler; the German generals called him a "yes-man"
who could not carry anything through; and now Keitel grows,
according to the statement of Dr. Gisevius, into a real
handyman and buffer for Hitler, who hid from the latter
anything bad, who submitted to him only what he (Keitel) saw
fit, and permitted no one to approach Hitler.

The prevention of access to Hitler by Keitel, as asserted,
can only be maintained by somebody who did not know the
conditions prevailing around Hitler. Before the war Keitel
worked in Berlin in the Bendler Strasse, while Hitler was in
the Wilhelmstrasse. Keitel came perhaps once a week to
report, or on special order.

                                                  [Page 197]

At that time, on account of the distance, it was in fact
impossible for Keitel to exert any influence as to access to
the Fuehrer.

It was equally impossible when Hitler was at the Berghof
near Berchtesgaden for weeks at a time whilst Keitel
remained in Berlin.

At the beginning of operations Keitel was with Jodl and the
Supreme General Staff at the Fuehrer's headquarters. Here
also they were separated. Keitel did not sit in Hitler's
ante-room, but rather in other buildings or barracks. He
came from time to time with General Jodl to the conference
on the situation, in which, besides Hitler, some fifteen or
twenty officers of all three branches of the Wehrmacht took
part. Apart from the conferences on the situation there was
no personal contact. When Hitler wanted Keitel for anything
he sent for him. Personally and individually there was
closer contact in Berlin between Hitler and his adjutants,
the Chief of the Party Chancellery, the Chief of the Reich
President Chancellery, and the Chief of the Reich

Keitel not only could not decide who could see Hitler, he
also could not possibly prevent anybody from going to

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