The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

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Let us test this defence against the facts in the case of
the commando order. The original order and the other
relevant documents are all in evidence. In October, 1942,
Hitler ordered that enemy commandos were to be slaughtered
to the last man; that even if they surrendered, they were
nonetheless to be shot immediately, unless interrogation
were necessary, in which case they were to be shot
thereafter. The order was not a purposeless piece of
criminality; allied commando operations were doing serious
harm to the German war effort, and Hitler thought this order
would act as a deterrent.

The order was issued from the OKW and distributed to all
three branches of the service, Army, Navy and Air Force.
There is ample evidence that it was widely distributed and
well known within the Wehrmacht. Rundstedt, Supreme
Commander in the West, reported on 23rd June, 1944, that the
treatment of enemy commando groups has so far been carried
out" according to the Hitler order. Two years later, under
different circumstances, Rundstedt testified that he
"evaded" and "sabotaged" the order, and that it was not
carried out. But we know from the documents that it was
carried out. Pursuant to this order, British and Norwegian
commandos were executed in Norway in 1942 and 1943; American
commandos were shot in Italy in 1944; allied soldiers were
executed in Slovakia in 1945. And, in the nature of things,
the order must have been carried out in other instances of
which, unhappily, no trace now remains.

In the light of these documents, what remains of the
defence? Stated most favorably, merely that because some of
the military leaders disapproved the order, it was not
executed as often as it might otherwise have been. But this
defence is worse than worthless; it is shameful.

We must not forget that to kill a defenseless prisoner of
war is not only a violation of the rules of war. It is
murder. And murder is not the less murder whether there is
one victim, or fifty-five (which is the number of
slaughtered commandos shown by the documents) or Ohlendorf's
ninety thousand. Crime has been piled upon crime in this
case until we are in danger of losing our sense of
proportion. We have heard so much of mass extermination that
we are likely to forget that simple murder is a capital

The laws of all civilized nations require that a man go to
some lengths to avoid associating himself with murder,
whether as an accomplice or accessory or co-conspirator. And
these requirements can reasonably be applied to the German
military leaders. Before this Tribunal they have made much
of their traditions of honour, decency, courage and

Under German military law, a subordinate is liable to
punishment for obeying the order of a superior if the
subordinate knows that the order requires the commission of
a general or a military crime. The commando order required
the commission of murder, and every German officer who
handled the order knew that perfectly well.

When Hitler directed the issuance of this order, the leaders
of the Wehrmacht knew that it required the commission of
murder. The responsibility for handling this question lay
squarely on the group defined in the Indictment. The chiefs
at OKW, OKH, OKL and OKM had to decide whether to refuse to
issue a criminal order or whether to pass it on to the
commanders-in-chief in the field. The commanders-in-chief in
the field, Army, Navy and Air Force, had to decide whether
to execute it or refuse to execute it and whether to
distribute it to their subordinates.

One can imagine that there were many meetings and telephone
conversations among various members of the group to discuss
this matter. There is no evidence that a single member of
the group openly protested or announced his refusal to

                                                  [Page 324]

execute it. The general result was that the order was
distributed throughout a large part of the Wehrmacht. This
put the subordinate commanders in the same position as their
superiors. We are told that some of the generals tacitly
agreed not to carry out the order. If so, it was a miserable
and worthless compromise. By distributing the order with
"secret" or "tacit" understandings, the commanders-in-chief
merely spread the responsibility and deprived themselves of
any effective control over the situation. A tacit agreement
to disobey cannot be so widely circulated. The inevitable
result, and the result proved by the documents, was that the
order was carried out, and innocent men were murdered.

Because he was responsible for enforcing the commando order,
General Dostler was tried, convicted, and shot to death. For
the same crimes, General Falkenhorst now stands condemned to
die. But the responsibility for these murders is shared by
Falkenhorst and Dostler with every German commander-in-
chief, at home or in the field, who allowed this order to
become the official law of the Wehrmacht and participated in
its distribution. On this charge alone, I submit, the
General; Staff and High Command group is proved to have
participated directly, effectively and knowingly in the
commission of war crimes.

On the Eastern Front, the callous indifference of the German
war lords to violations of the laws of war and to mass
suffering and death produced results equally criminal and,
because on a grander scale, far more horrible. The
atrocities committed by the Wehrmacht and other agencies of
the Third Reich in the East were of such staggering enormity
that they rather tax the power of comprehension. Why did all
these things happen? Analysis will show, I believe, that
this was not simply madness and bloodlust. On the contrary,
there was both method and purpose. These atrocities occurred
as the result of carefully calculated orders and directives,
issued prior to or at the time of the attack on the Soviet
Union, which form a coherent, logical pattern.

One need not here consider the reasons why Hitler, in the
autumn of 1940, began to consider seriously making an attack
on the Soviet Union. We do know that, beginning in September
of 1940, he was constantly discussing this possibility with
the military leaders, who had ample opportunity to express
their views to him. We know that there was a division of
opinion among the generals and admirals; none of them appear
to have been much governed by moral scruples, but some
thought the attack unnecessary, and others were dubious
whether a quick victory could be achieved. However, still
others agreed with Hitler that the attack should be
launched. When Hitler, in consultation with and with the
support of part of the military leadership, decided to make
the attack, there is no indication that any leading generals
stood out decisively against the decision, and they embarked
on the war with the utmost determination to carry it through
to a successful conclusion.

Whatever may have been the reasons which prompted the
attack, there was one factor which, once the decision had
been made, became a vitally important object and purpose of
the attack. That was to seize large areas of the Soviet
Union and to exploit these areas for the material benefit of
Germany. To accomplish this, it was desired to "pacify" and
crush all opposition in the occupied territory as rapidly as
possible and with a minimum expenditure of manpower and
material, to obliterate the Soviet political system and set
up new, German supported, regional political
administrations, and to revise and expand the productive
resources of these areas and convert them to the uses of the
Third Reich.

THE PRESIDENT: The Tribunal will adjourn.

(A recess was taken.)

COLONEL TAYLOR: Mr. President, at our recess I was
describing the programme for the exploitation and
pacification of the occupied Eastern territories. Hitler had
very definite ideas as to how this programme should be
carried out,

                                                  [Page 325]

and these ideas were partially embodied in the series of
directives and orders with which the Tribunal is now
familiar. Some of these orders were to be executed directly
by the Wehrmacht, some of them by other agencies of the
Reich, but in co-ordination with and supported by the

For the rapid and economical "pacification" of occupied
territories, after Hitler had consulted Brauchitsch, the OKW
issued the order of 22nd July, 1941, which ordered the
commanders-in-chief to establish security, not by sentencing
the guilty in courts of law, but by spreading "such terror
as is likely, by its mere existence, to crush all will
amongst the population to resist." For the same purpose, the
OKW issued the order of 13th May, 1941, which suspended the
use of military courts for punishing offences by enemy
civilians, and directed that the troops themselves should
accomplish pacification by "ruthless action" and "collective
despotic measures" in localities of resistance. In
furtherance of these abominable policies, it was further
ordered that the German troops who committed offences
against Soviet civilians were not to be punished at all,
unless punishment was necessary to maintain discipline and
security or prevent waste of food or material. Every
commissioned officer on the Eastern Front was to be
instructed promptly and emphatically to behave in accordance
with these principles. The language of the order was
calculated to incite officers and men alike to the most
despicable behaviour.

In these two orders we can see the basic composition of this
revolting picture. In more detail, Hitler expected
particularly bitter opposition to his new Russian policies
and regimes from officers and agents of the Soviet
Government and from all Jews. These elements he decided to
exterminate utterly, as they would otherwise remain a
constant focal point of resistance within the occupied

In furtherance of these policies of mass murder, the OKW
issued the order for the killing of all political commissars
who might be captured. This, like the commando order,
required the murder of defenseless prisoners of war. And in
this case the military leaders behaved in precisely the same
fashion. Not one commander-in-chief openly protested or
openly announced his refusal to execute the order. A few
commanders may have refused to distribute it down to the
troops, but it was distributed and became well known over
the entire Eastern front. As in the case of the commando
order, we are told that, by tacit agreement among the
commanders, it was not carried out. The evidence in support
of this is that particular commanders or other officers
never personally knew of an instance where a captured
commissar was shot. We may assume the truth of some of these
statements, but it is none the less totally incredible, in
view of the order's wide distribution, and the deliberate
brutalizing of the German soldier by such orders as these,
and such directives as Reichenau and Manstein issued to
their troops, that the commissar order was not carried out
in many cases. It must have been.

The campaign of mass extermination was extended from
commissars to all Communists by the OKW order of 16th
September, 1941, which directed that all cases of resistance
to the Wehrmacht, no matter what the circumstances, should
be attributed to Communists and that "the death penalty for
50 to 100 Communists should generally be regarded as
suitable atonement for one German soldier's life."

Terrorization and exploitation of the Russian countryside
and extermination of undesired elements, obviously, could
not be carried out by the Wehrmacht alone. Many other
agencies of the Third Reich had an important share in this
far-flung, evil programme. Among these other agencies,
perhaps the most unspeakable were the special task forces of
Himmler, known as Einsatzgruppen and Einsatzkommandos. The
mission of these units was to assist in "pacification" and
pave the way for the new political regime by stamping out
opposition, and particularly by slaughtering Communists and
Jews. We know, both from contemporary documents and from the
confession of the leader of one of these units, with what
terrible fidelity that mission was performed.

                                                  [Page 326]

The particular missions of the Einsatzgruppen were assigned
by Himmler, but these units could not simply be turned loose
in the operational and rear areas of a conquered territory
without administration, supplies, communication facilities,
and sufficient control by the military to ensure that their
tasks would be coordinated with, or at least would not
obstruct, military operations. The defence has made every
effort to conceal this plain fact, but any soldier, and
indeed anyone who a gives the matter thought, must know that
it is true.

And this is quite clear from the documents. The OKW
Directive for Special Areas of 13th March, 1941, provided
that Himmler could send these units into operational areas
in order to perform "special tasks for the preparation of
the political administration, tasks which result from the
struggle which has to be carried out between two opposing
political systems." But the order carefully specified that
the execution of Himmler's tasks should not disturb military
operations, and that the units were subject to the supreme
authority of the Commander-in-Chief of the Army in the
operational area. The billeting and feeding of Himmler's
units was to be furnished by the Army. It was directed that
further details should be arranged between the OKH and
Himmler. Brauchitsch has confirmed that subsequently the
details were settled at a conference between Heydrich and
General Wagner of OKH; and Schellenberg, who drafted the
agreement, has described its contents.

These infamous gangs of murderers, in short, were fed and
housed by the Army and would have been helpless without the
Army's support. The testimony of some of the German generals
that these killings of thousands upon thousands took place
without their knowledge would make one smile, were not the
truth so black and sickening. A military area, even far
behind the front, is not a desert where one can wander to
and fro unchallenged. It is a veritable maze of rear
headquarters, truck companies, ammunition dumps, supply
depots, signal installations, hospitals, petrol dumps,
railway guards, prisoner-of-war stockades, anti-aircraft
batteries, airfields, engineers, ordnance units, motor pools
- thousands and one other troops that furnish the base of
operations and the line of communications for an army in the
field. The smooth functioning of this vast and complicated
train is vital to the success of the combat troops. The
enemy knows this, and is eager both to disrupt it and to
extract intelligence from it through sabotage groups,
agents, and partisans. Wherefore the occupying forces guard
their installations, patrol the roads and railways, and
garrison the centres of population. Travelers, no matter
what uniform they wear, are stopped and questioned and asked
for identification. These troops in the rear come in close
contact with the civilian population, and know what is going
on among them. Military police and counter-intelligence
troops patrol the area and report on its condition to higher

Furthermore, a commander in the field dislikes to have
autonomous units, under special orders from home, at large
in his area. This is particularly true when, as here, the
units came as servants of Himmler, whom the German generals
say they thought to be their enemy, intent on usurping their
powers and functions. The idea that Himmler's extermination
squads flitted through Russia, murdering Jews and Communists
on a large scale, but secretly and unbeknown to the Army, is
utterly preposterous - the desperate sparring of men who
have no recourse but to say what is not true.

Let us look again at the pattern as a whole. Most of it was
written down in plain German before the attack on Russia was
launched. Terrorize the populace, let acts of violence and
brutality on the part of German troops go unpunished, kill
the commissars, kill 100 Communists whenever you can find an
excuse, make way for and feed and house Himmler's squads
performing "tasks which result from the struggle which has
to be carried out between two opposing political systems."
And the political system for which the commanders-in-chief
were fighting had already been exterminating Communists and
Jews and boasting about it for years.

                                                  [Page 327]

The German generals were bright enough to understand this
pattern. In any event, it had been explained to them. The
OKW directive suspending the courts martial ended with a
directive to the military leaders to inform their legal
advisers about the "verbal information in which the
political intentions of the High Command were explained to
the commanders-in-chief." The defendant Rosenberg, at the
time of or before the invasion, advised Keitel, Jodl,
Warlimont, Brauchitsch and Raeder about his "political and
historical conception of the Eastern problem." According to
Brauchitsch, Hitler had explained the "ideological" nature
of the war to all the commanders-in-chief in conference at
the time the commissar order was issued. The affidavits of
Generals Roettiger, Rode, and Heusinger further confirm the
obvious conclusion that the whole pattern of "pacification"
was well understood throughout the German military

An army demoralized and brutalized by criminal orders and
evil doctrines will behave in a brutal way in circumstances
where they have no explicit orders. I have not, for
instance, seen a written order that Soviet prisoners who
could not march should be shot. I am prepared to believe
that some German generals treated prisoners as well as they
could, but I also find convincing the complaint of the young
German lieutenant that efforts to pacify and exploit the
Ukraine were being frustrated because:
  "prisoners were shot when they could not march any more,
  right in the middle of villages and some of the bigger
  hamlets, and the corpses were left lying about, and the
  population saw in this, something they did not understand
  and which confirmed the worst distortions of enemy

For the same reasons, the anti-partisan warfare was carried
out brutally, and with enormous loss of life among innocent
civilians. As the divisions of the German Army were
transferred between the Eastern and Western Fronts, the
practices on each front spread to the other. Slaughter at
Kherson and Kovno was reflected in massacre at Malmedy and
Oradour. The German Army had been demoralized by its
leaders. I recall to the Tribunal that a high German
military judge, as early as 1939, granted "extenuating
circumstances" to an SS officer who, without any reasons,
shot 50 Jews in a Polish synagogue because:
  "as an SS man, particularly sensitive to the sight of
  Jews, and to the hostile attitude of Jewry to the
  Germans, he acted quite thoughtlessly in a youthful
  spirit of adventure."

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