The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

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The indicted military leaders, as a whole, were without any
influence on the course of developments, nay, even they
themselves were surprised by them. If in all those years
Hitler's moves were tolerated by foreign countries and, at
least, recognized de facto, then the reason may be, as
Justice Jackson believes, that these foreign countries had
"weak governments." But the fact remained that there was
international recognition. If even foreign countries did
not, at that time, recognize all these developments as the
"beginning of the execution" of wars of aggression, how
could the German military leaders, as a whole, possibly have
been aware of such plans on Hitler's part?

The military expert will have his last doubts about the
intentions of the military leaders removed when he looks
into the military plans of that period, which contained
nothing but directives for defence. In that respect, the
final address made by General Beck to a circle of high-
ranking officers on the conclusion of an operational task,
concerning the subject "War with Czechoslovakia," may be
considered as characteristic. In this address he spoke with
great seriousness of the results of the preceding studies
and stressed the fact that although Germany would be able to
defeat the Czech Army within a few weeks, she would
subsequently not be in a position to offer any serious
resistance to the French forces, which would, in the
meantime, have crossed the Rhine, and invaded Southern and
Central Germany; so that the initial success against
Czechoslovakia would, in its further consequences, have
developed into a formidable catastrophe for Germany. These
arguments can certainly not be interpreted as indicative of
the German generals' lust for war, nor for their approval of
Hitler's possible plans of aggression.

In the following period the German military leaders likewise
repeatedly and earnestly emphasized that German policy -
whatever its aims might be - should never bring about a
situation which would lead to a war on two fronts. In view
of the numerous mutual assistance pacts, guarantee
obligations, and alliances between all the neighbours of
Germany, this attitude excluded, as a matter of principle,
any idea of waging a war of aggression.

History has justified the opinion held by the generals.
Hitler disregarded their warnings, and exclaimed in
indignation: "What sort of people are these generals, whom
I, as the head of the State, may have to drive into war? If
things were as they should be, I should be unable to escape
from the generals' pressure for war."

Only those who do not want to see the truth can neglect
these facts. If ever there was unanimity among the military
leaders it certainly did not exist with regard to the
planning of wars of aggression, but - based on the very
sober realization of the dangers and consequences of any war
for Germany and the world - agreement did exist in the
rejection of such plans of the head of State.

                                                  [Page 170]

Hitler, the man who should have known best, considered these
men unsuitable as "participants" in his plans, and dismissed
them. Nor did he consider any other officer from the so-
called "Circle of Conspirators" as suitable to become the
Supreme Commander and the future participant in possible
plans, but he personally assumed the supreme command of the
armed forces, and thus became their immediate military

The expression of his will and his directives to the armed
forces now had the character of a military order. Although
protests were still possible, there was nothing left but the
duty of the subordinate to obey if he who gave the orders
held to his opinion.

This is certainly a principle governing all armies of the

At this point, I must refer to a document which the
prosecution has particularly used as a proof of the plans of
the "criminal organization." I am referring to the so-called
"Hoszbach minutes" dealing with the meeting of 5th November,
1937. What actually did happen?

It was not an "influential group of Nazi conspirators
meeting Hitler to consider  the situation," but Hitler, in
his capacity as head of the State, had convened some
military leaders and the Foreign Minister for a meeting. He
developed his own ideas. He began by declaring that the
problem of Austria and Czechoslovakia must be solved between
1943 and 1945; then he referred to the Poles as possible
aggressors. There was no question of settling the Corridor
problem, or of conquests to be made in the East, and similar

As regards the reliability of these minutes, Affidavit 210,
deposed by General Hoszbach, which I have submitted to the
Tribunal, clearly shows that Hoszbach did not write down the
actual text of the speech while it was being made, but wrote
an account of it from memory a few days later. Everybody
knows how easily mistakes which are liable to distort the
actual events occur whenever records are made subsequently,
using the writer's own words, or leaving gaps where his
memory fails him.

The following at any rate is certain:

  1. The Reich War Minister and the Commander-in-Chief of
  the Army did not only not agree to any warlike plan, but
  pointed out in all seriousness, and with due emphasis,
  the danger threatening from England and France, referring
  at the same time to Germany's weakness.
  2.Whatever may have been the meaning of Hitler's speech,
  none of the other military leaders were informed of the
  ideas expressed by Hitler at that meeting. General von
  Fritsch did not even inform his successor of them when he
  obtained his release.
  3. But even if an individual officer had received
  knowledge of the subject of this conference, no
  conclusions can be drawn from this fact against the whole
  of the military leaders. If Hitler contemplated war in
  six or eight years, this was no reason for uneasiness.
  During such a long period, numerous political solutions
  would still have been possible. Nor was it possible to
  perceive Hitler's true ideas from this speech any more
  than from any of his other speeches.
  4. The few officers present at the meeting were bound to
  draw from his speech at least the positive conclusion
  that Hitler himself contemplated only an absolutely
  peaceful development until 1943.

Where, therefore, is the proof of a participation by the
generals in Hitler's plans?

The prosecution is again endeavouring to draw conclusions as
to the attitude of the generals towards the entire plan from
their reactions to the union with Austria and to the
Czechoslovakian question. The special emphasis which is laid
on the participation of some officers in the conference held
between Hitler and the Austrian statesmen on the
Obersalzberg, in February, 1938, is particularly illustrated
by the words which Hitler spoke some time later: "I selected

                                                  [Page 171]

my most brutal-looking generals to appear as mutes in order
to demonstrate the seriousness of the situation to

The actual march into Austria and the occupation of that
country were a political action, the background of which was
unknown to the generals. The officer saw only that when his
troops marched into Austria they were everywhere showered
with flowers, and enthusiastically welcomed by hundreds of
thousands, and that not a single shot was fired.

The deployment plan "Grun" against Czechoslovakia, to which
the prosecution refers, was not a consequence of the meeting
of 5th November, 1937, but constituted a purely
precautionary measure contemplated in the event of a war
with France, and was already in the hands of the General
Staff on 1st October, 1937; that is to say, before the
meeting of 5th November. Although, even in this case, an
agreement was reached which provided for the entry of the
German troops, the Chief of the German General Staff,
General Beck, in a memorandum, drawn up with the approval of
the Commander-in-Chief of the Army, warned against a policy
which might lead to war. In this memorandum he emphasized
that any war launched by Germany in Europe must ultimately
lead to a world war and to a tragic end for Germany. General
Beck was dismissed. When Hitler turned directly to the
Chiefs of the General Staffs of the Armies on 10th August,
1938, with the obvious hope of overcoming the resistance of
the older Commander-in-Chief with the help of the younger
generation, the objections raised by these younger officers
were such that he became even more suspicious of the
generals. Where, then, was the enthusiasm of the generals
for Hitler's plans? Where was their participation in them?

Hitler's constantly changing utterances in the Sudeten
question made it all the more impossible for the military
leaders to realize that he might seriously be planning a

On 5th November, 1937, he declared that he would settle the
Czech problem between 1943 and 1945.

On 20th May, 1938, he declared in a military directive: "I
do not intend to smash Czechoslovakia in the near future by
military action without provocation."

On 30th May, 1938, he issued a directive to the armed forces
in which he said: "It is my unalterable decision to smash
Czechoslovakia by military action in the near future."

On 16th June, 1938, he said in another directive: "The
immediate objective is the solution of the Czech problem by
my own free decision."

On 24th August, 1938, he specified that an "incident" in
Czechoslovakia must be the prerequisite for a German attack.

On 16th September, 1938, the military preparations began at
the frontier. But political negotiations were opened

On 1st October, 1938, the territories ceded were peacefully
occupied in accordance with the political agreements.

The Protectorate was occupied as a consequence of a purely
political action; the military leaders received only the
order for a peaceful entry.

When, in December, 1938, a written order to the Army High
Command (OKW), decreed that the Army was to devote itself
until 1945 exclusively to the tasks of its organization and
structure and its training, and that it was to abstain from
any kind of preparations for a war, including preparations
for the defence and safeguarding of the frontier, the
military leaders gained the firm conviction that a peaceful
development had been secured. Which of these events was to
permit the conclusion that the military leaders had
participated in a general plan directed toward a war of
aggression? In every case, the military leaders did nothing
but execute their purely military orders after political
decisions had been made.

The political development which led to the war with Poland
has been sufficiently dealt with in this trial. It merely
remains my duty to explain how this development

                                                  [Page 172]

appeared in the eyes of the military leaders. How were the
relations between the generals and Hitler at that time? He
was the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces. In other
words, he was their immediate military superior. Their
political objections had everywhere been refuted by events;
in the case of the occupation of the Rhineland, in
connection with the union with Austria, in the Sudeten
problem, and on the occasion of the creation of the

It is easy, from our present knowledge of things, simply to
deny these facts, but in those days the belief in Hitler's
political ability was a tangible reality for the  majority
of the German citizens and soldiers. And he had achieved all
his successes only by political means, not in a single case
by war: To realize that he would risk a war, a war of
aggression with Poland, the military leaders would have had
to be crystal-gazers. How were they to perceive his aims?
The Foreign Office was prevented from informing them of the
political situation. Neither as individuals nor as a group
were they able to participate in political decisions. The
proposals made by the German Foreign Minister to the Polish
Ambassador in October, 1938, the conferences between Hitler
and the Polish Foreign Minister himself, could only be
judged by the soldiers as attempts at a political settlement
of the Polish problem, but never as an indication of an
intended war of aggression.

The first military directive of April, 1939, amounted to
nothing more than the preparation for an "eventuality." If a
military leader considered the situation realistically, the
assurances of British and French help for Poland were bound
to make the idea of a war of aggression against Poland
appear absurd.

The conference held on 23rd May, 1939, was a unilateral
speech directed by the Supreme Commander to the military
leaders whom he had summoned. When Hitler declared, in the
course of his address, "I would have to be an idiot to
blunder into a world war on account of the lousy Corridor
problem, like the inefficient statesmen of 1914"; and when,
in reply to an observation made by Field-Marshal Milch that
the production of heavy bombs was quite inadequate in the
event of a war, and must be immediately increased, Hitler
said that there was ample time to take steps in that matter,
the military leaders were bound to conclude from this that
Hitler had made military preparations only to support the
initiated political moves, but that he would on no account
risk an armed conflict with Poland.

Nor was the conference held on 22nd August, 1939, a
consultation with advisers, but an address by the Supreme
Commander directed to the military leaders whom he had
called together. When Hitler said in his speech, "We have no
other choice; we must act," he did not indicate how he
intended to "act." At any rate, the military leaders were by
no means under the impression that a war against Poland had
been decided upon. On the contrary, the obvious relief with
which  Hitler announced that a trade agreement had just been
reached with the Soviet Union impressed all those present at
the meeting with the firm belief that he would find a
diplomatic solution to the Polish question, too.

Until then, Hitler had been a genius at seizing the right
opportunity. No one ever used bluff with greater virtuosity
than he. Bluff and military pressure, however, are permitted
instruments of policy. It is quite wrong to conclude that a
man who practises or supports one or the other of those
methods thereby also approves of a war of aggression. If
Hitler had really conceived the plan for an aggression
against Poland at some earlier date, the military leaders
were not even able to recognize this plan as such. In the
last analysis, they themselves were "bluffed."

But what were they to do once the die was cast? Were they to
declare, "We  cannot do this," or were they to refuse to

They had to do their duty. They were in exactly the same
situation as the Russian Army commanders who entered Poland
a few days later upon orders from Stalin!

Once the war had begun, the words of Napoleon carried weight
with the military leaders:

                                                  [Page 173]

  "You must remember, gentlemen, that in war obedience
  comes before courage."

However, the prosecution holds the military leaders
responsible not only for the outbreak of the war, but also
for its prolongation and for its conduct in general.

The political and military reasons which have led to the
extension and the shaping of the events of the war have been
so often and so completely examined in this trial that I
must refrain at this juncture - particularly in view of the
limited time which is at my disposal - from reopening this
matter for a general survey.

As regards the military leaders the political background of
the Second World War presents itself clearly as the
consequences of the conditions created by the Treaty of
Versailles. Thus, it seemed to them that, in the last
analysis, the German action against Poland was morally

The war in the West was the last thing which the German
generals desired. When England and France declared war, this
was certainly not a move which was seconded by the German
military leaders. The prolongation and extension of the war
can no longer be considered as a result of free decisions or
of a preconceived plan. The necessities of a struggle for
victory or defeat, once a war has broken out, dictate to
every nation the road which it has to follow. In these
circumstances, the soldier is nothing but the sword which
must strike, and the shield which must receive the blows in
order to prevent the death of his own nation.

The evidence produced in Raeder's case has made clear beyond
doubt the considerations that guided the group of officers
who prepared the occupation of Denmark and Norway. We know
that in this case Germany forestalled an Allied action by a
very narrow margin. If the Commander-in-Chief of the Navy
himself was convinced that it was absolutely necessary to
avert the very serious dangers which threatened Germany,
how, in these circumstances, could the troop commanders, who
are members of the so-called "group," have been persuaded
that there was no reason to fear such grave danger? Would
the Allied Chiefs of General Staffs and field commanders
have had the right, or the possibility, to refuse to embark
their troops - which was done for the same purpose - before
the German action was undertaken? Moreover, only a limited
number of military leaders had any knowledge of this action
at all. All the other officers covered by the Indictment
only learned over the radio that the operation had been
undertaken. How can they, therefore, be accused of taking
part in planning aggression against these countries?

The reasons for and the prerequisites of the Western
campaign have also been discussed conclusively. The attitude
which the generals adopted in this case constitutes a
particularly striking refutation of the assumption made by
the prosecution. The Army High Command itself sharply turned
against Hitler's decision to launch an attack in the West,
particularly because of the intended violation of
neutrality. The clash with Hitler was so serious that in his
address to the Commanders-in-Chief on 23rd November, 1939,
he directed exceptionally bitter attacks against his
generals; he accused them of being ignorant of foreign
political questions and referred to them as an "obsolete
upper class which had already failed in 1914." The same
evening the Commander-in-Chief of the Army sent in his
resignation, which, however, was not accepted.

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