The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

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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

                                                  [Page 319]

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:

                                                  [Page 320]

  "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

                                                  [Page 321]

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

                                                  [Page 322]

  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

                                                  [Page 323]

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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