The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

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One must remember the observation before this Tribunal of SS
Obergruppenfuehrer Bach-Zelewski, who pointed out that:
  "when for years, for decades, the doctrines are preached
  that the Slavic race is an inferior race and Jews not
  even human, then such an explosion is inevitable."

The defence to these charges is the same as in the case of
the commando order. A mass of affidavits have been submitted
by individual commanders-in-chief and subordinate officers
in which they express their abhorrence of these orders and
profess that they did not execute them. Again we hear of
tacit understandings, even in the face of evidence as to the
slaughter which the orders caused. It makes one gasp that
such a defence can be put forward at all, apparently without

Again I say that the responsibility lies squarely on the
group specified in the indictment. Keitel, Jodl,
Brauchitsch, Goering and their colleagues at the centre of
affairs circulated these malignant orders, the criminality
of which a child could see. Kleist, Kluge, Rundstedt,
Reichenau, Schobert, Manstein and the other field commanders-
in-chief distributed them to their subordinate officers. No
secret agreements could forestall the terrible result which
followed inevitably.

Is it really too much to ask that the commanders-in-chief
should have refused to distribute these orders? As soldiers
they were bound to obey their supreme commander, but their
own law and code says that it is the duty of every soldier
to refuse to obey orders which he knows to be criminal. This
is hard for the ordinary soldier acting under pistol-point
orders from his lieutenant. It is far less difficult

                                                  [Page 328]

for the commander-in-chief, who is expected to be mature,
educated, accustomed to responsibility and disciplined to be
steady and unflinching when put to a test. Under their own
law and according to the traditions they are so shameless as
still to vaunt, the leaders were in duty bound to reject
these orders. Their failure caused suffering and death to
hundreds of thousands; their failure resulted directly in
countless murders and other brutal crimes; and they, far
more than the soldiers whom these orders led into crime, are
the real criminals.

Hitler needed the commanders-in-chief; he needed them
desperately and would have been helpless without them. They
could have held securely and firmly to the standards which
every soldier and, indeed, every man is expected to obey.
And it was not, in most cases, fear of Hitler that caused
them to betray these standards. They were ready enough to
disagree with Hitler on other matters which they regarded as
more important. They did not want to risk a breach with
Hitler over what they callously regarded as a minor matter.
They were intent on "larger" things - the conquest of Europe
- on which they and Hitler were in agreement.

Some of the military leaders, we cannot tell how many, were
willing to go much farther and to stand sponsor for Nazi
ideology. Reichenau and Manstein lent their names and
prestige shamelessly in order to advance these vile
doctrines. We cannot capture all the orders; we cannot tell
how many German commanders-in-chief there are who, like
Manstein, unctuously protesting their disapproval of Nazi
doctrine, could be confronted with their own nauseating

We may assume, for the sake of argument, that many German
commanders-in-chief disliked the pattern of orders and
doctrines which the evidence here has unfolded. He who
touches filth is not excused because he holds his nose. For
reasons which appeared to them sufficient, the German
military leaders helped to weave this pattern. It is just
this calculated indifference to crime which makes their
conduct so unspeakable. Those individual commanders-in-
chief, if any, who can show clean hands may come forth and
clear themselves. But the military leaders as a group, I
submit, are proved beyond doubt to have participated
directly, effectively, and knowingly in numerous and
widespread War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity.

Under Articles 9 and 10 of the London Agreement for the
Trial of Major War Criminals, Keitel and Raeder and the
other military defendants are on trial not only as
individuals but as representatives of the German military
leadership. The military defendants committed their crimes
as military leaders and hand-in-hand with others. It is in
their representative capacity that the military leaders in
the dock are truly important.

The evidence against this group is so complete and
compelling that their attempts at defence must be
desperately and inconsistently contrived. When called to
account as a group for their crimes the famous German
General Staff disintegrates, like a child's puzzle thrown on
the floor, into 130 separate pieces. We are told that there
is nothing there. Called upon to state their views on
Hitler, aggressive war, or other unpleasant subjects, the
pieces reassemble themselves into pattern instantly and
magically. With true German discipline, the same words come
from every mouth. When the question is the participation of
the Wehrmacht in killing Jews, they indignantly deny that
their soldiers would do such things. When the question is
the enforcement of law and discipline within the Wehrmacht,
we are met by affidavits saying that German soldiers who
killed Jews were court-martialled and shot. Charged with
responsibility as a group, they plead immunity on the ground
that they could not resign and that their status was
therefore involuntary. Seeking to establish that they
disapproved the policies of Hitler, they boast that many of
their number who expressed their opposition were allowed or
requested to resign. The inconsistency of their appeal to
the soldier's oath of obedience is particularly shameless.
Charged with launching aggressive wars against neighbouring
countries, they plead the oath in their defence. Accused of

                                                  [Page 329]

crimes committed during the war, they take credit to
themselves for refusing to obey criminal orders. And so it
is represented that the soldier who in time of peace was
completely bound by his oath to give unquestioning
obedience, regardless of consequences, to a perjured head of
State, could nevertheless, when his country was at war and
obedience supposedly far more necessary, dabble in secret
disobedience and thereby shift the blame and responsibility
for the murder of commandos and commissars on to other

Let us look once more at these military leaders whose
actions we have just examined. They are a group in more ways
than one. They are more than a group; they are a class,
almost a caste. They are a course of thought and a way of
life. They have distinctive qualities of mind, which have
been noted and commented on by the rest of the world for
many decades, and which have their roots in centuries. They
have been an historical force, and are still to be reckoned
with. They are proud of it.

To escape the consequences of their actions, these men now
deny all this. But in their very denial, the truth is
apparent. Their group spirit and unity of outlook and
purpose is so deep that evidence of it drops from their lips
willy-nilly. Read their testimony; always they refer to
themselves as "we" or "we old soldiers," and they are for
ever stating "our" attitude on this or that subject.
Rundstedt's testimony is full of such expressions of the
attitude of the German military leaders as a group, on a
great variety of questions. Manstein told us that "we
soldiers mistrusted all parties"; "we all considered
ourselves the trustees of the unity of Germany"; and "the
National Socialist aim of unification was according to our
attitude, but not the National Socialist methods."

What are the characteristics of the German military leaders?
They have been familiar to students of history for a long
time; books have been written about them. They are manifest
in the documents and testimony before the Tribunal. One
characteristic is that they are careful observers of
Germany's internal politics, but their tradition and policy
is not to identify themselves with parties or internal
political movements. This is the only true note in the
refrain, which has been sung so often at this trial, that
"we were soldiers and not politicians." They regard
themselves as above politics and politicians. They are
concerned only with what they consider to be the deeper,
unchanging interests of Germany as a nation. As Manstein put

  "We soldiers mistrusted all parties because every party
  in Germany placed its own interests above the interests
  of Germany. We all considered ourselves the trustees of
  the unity of Germany in this respect ...."
The German military leaders are deeply interested in foreign
politics and diplomacy. Any intelligent professional officer
must be. Training is conducted, equipment is built, and
plans are evolved in the light of what is known about the
military potential and intentions of other countries. No
officers in the world were more aware of this than German
officers; none studied the international scene as closely or
with such cold calculation. It was their mentor, Clausewitz,
who described war as an instrument of politics.

The German military leaders wanted a Germany free from
political fluctuations, and a government which would
mobilize German resources behind the Wehrmacht and
inculcate in the German public the spirit and purposes of
militarism. This is what Rundstedt meant when he said that:
"The National Socialist ideas which were good were usually
ideas which were carried over from old Prussian times and
which we had known already without the National
Socialists." That is what Manstein meant by the "unity" of

The German military leaders believed in war. They regarded
it as part of a normal, well-rounded life. Manstein told us
from the witness-box that they "naturally considered the
glory of war as something great." The "considered opinion"
of OKW in 1938 recited that:

                                                  [Page 330]

  "Despite all attempts to outlaw it, war is still a law of
  nature which may be challenged but not eliminated. It
  serves the survival of the race and State or the
  assurance of its historical future.
  This high moral purpose gives war its total character and
  its ethical justification."

These characteristics of the German military leaders were
deep and permanent. They have been bad for the world, and
bad for Germany too. Their philosophy was so perverse that
they regarded a lost war, and a defeated and prostrate
Germany, as a glorious opportunity to start again on the
same terrible cycle Their attitude of mind is nowhere better
set forth than in a speech delivered by General Beck before
the German War Academy in 1935. The audience of young
officers was told that "the hour of death of our old
magnificent army" in 1919 "led to the new life of the young
Reichswehr," and that the German Army returned from the
First World War "crowned with the laurels of immortality."
Later on they were told that if the military leaders have
displayed intelligence and courage, then losing a war "is
ennobled by the pride of a glorious fall." In conclusion,
they are reminded that Germany is a "military-minded nation"
and are exhorted to remember "the duty which they owe to the
man who re-created and made strong again the German

In 1935 that man was Hitler. In previous years it was other
men. The German militarist will join forces with any man or
government that offers fair prospect of effective support
for military exploits. Men who believe in war as a way of
life learn nothing from the experience of losing one.

I have painted this picture of the German military leaders
not because it is an unfamiliar one but because it is so
familiar that it may be in danger of being overlooked. We
must not become preoccupied with the niceties of a chart or
details of military organization at the expense of far more
important things which are matters of common knowledge. The
whole world has long known about and suffered at the hands
of the German military leadership. Its qualities and conduct
are open and notorious. Is the world now to be told that
there is no such group? Is it to hear that the German war-
lords cannot be judged because they were a bunch of
conscripts? We have had to deal seriously with such
arguments only because there are no others.

That the case against the German militarists is clear does
not make it the less important. We are at grips here with
something big and evil and durable; something that was not
born in 1933 or even 1921; something much older than anyone
here; something far more important than any individual in
the dock; something that is not yet dead and that cannot be
killed by a rifle or a hangman's noose.

For nine months this courtroom has been a world of gas
chambers, mountains of corpses, human-skin lampshades,
shrunken skulls, freezing experiments, and bank vaults
filled with gold teeth. It is vital to the conscience of the
world that all the participants in these enormities shall be
brought to justice. But these exhibits, gruesome as they
are, do not lie at the heart of this case. Little will be
accomplished by shaking the poisoned fruit from the tree. It
is much harder to dig the tree up by the roots, but only
this will, in the long run, do much good.

The tree which bore this fruit is German militarism.
Militarism is as much the core of the Nazi Party as of the
Wehrmacht itself. Militarism is not the profession of arms.
Militarism is embodied in the "military-minded nation" whose
leaders preach and practice conquest by force of arms, and
relish war as something desirable in itself. Militarism
inevitably leads to cynical and wicked disregard of the
rights of others and of the very elements of civilization.
Militarism destroys the moral character of the nation that
practises it and, because it can be overthrown only by its
own weapons, undermines the character of nations that are
forced to combat it.

                                                  [Page 331]

The well-spring of German militarism through the years has
been the group of professional military leaders who have
become known to the world as the "German General Staff."
That is why the exposure and discrediting of this group
through the declaration of criminality is far more important
than the fate of the uniformed individuals in the dock, or
of other members of this group as individuals. Keitel and
Raeder and Rundstedt and Kesselring and Manstein have shot
their bolt. They will not lead the legions of the Wehrmacht

What is really at stake now is not the lives of these
particular men but the future influence of the German
General Staff within Germany, and, consequently, on the
lives of people in all countries. That is why it was
declared at Yalta:

  "It is our inflexible purpose to destroy German
  militarism and Nazism and to ensure that Germany will
  never again be able to disturb the peace of the world. We
  are determined to disarm and disband all German armed
  forces; break up for all time the German General Staff
  that has repeatedly contrived the resurgence of German

The first steps toward the revival of German militarism have
been taken in this courtroom. The German General Staff has
had plenty of time to think since the spring of 1945, and it
well knows what is at stake here. The German militarists
know that their future strength depends on re-establishing
the faith of the German people in their military powers and
in dissociating themselves from the atrocities which they
committed in the service of the Third Reich. Why did the
Wehrmacht meet with defeat? Hitler interfered too much in
military affairs, says Manstein. What about the atrocities?
The Wehrmacht committed none. Hitler's criminal orders were
discarded and disregarded by the generals. Any atrocities
which did occur were committed by other men such as Himmler
and other agencies such as the SS. Could not the generals
have taken any steps to prevent Germany's engulfment in war
and eventual destruction? No; the generals were bound by
their oath of obedience to the chief of State. Did not an SS
general say that the field marshals could have prevented
many of the excesses and atrocities? The reaction is one of
superiority and scorn: "I think it is impertinent for an SS
man to make such statements about a field marshal," says
Rundstedt. The documents and testimony show that these are
transparent fabrications. But here, in embryo, are the myths
and legends which the German militarists will seek to
propagate in the German mind. These lies must be stamped and
labeled for what they are now while the proof is fresh.

This is as important within our own countries as it is here
in Germany. Militarism has flourished far more widely and
obstinately in Germany than elsewhere, but it is a plant
which knows no national boundaries; it grows everywhere. It
lifts its voice to say that war between East and West, or
Left and Right, or White and Yellow is inevitable. It
whispers that newly devised weapons are so terrible that
they should be hurled now lest some other country use them
first. It makes the whole world walk under the shadow of

German militarism, if it comes again, will not necessarily
reappear under the aegis of Nazism. The German militarists
will tie themselves to any man or party that offers
expectation of a revival of German armed might. They will
calculate deliberately and coldly. They will not be deterred
by fanatical ideologies or hideous practices; they will take
crime in their stride to reach the goal of German power and
terror. We have seen them do it before.

The truth is spread on the record before us, and all we have
to do is state the truth plainly. The German militarists
joined forces with Hitler and with him created the Third
Reich; with him they deliberately made a world in which
might was all that mattered; with him they plunged the world
into war and spread terror and devastation over the
continent of Europe. They dealt a blow at all mankind; a
blow so savage and foul that the conscience of the world
will reel for years to come. This was not war; it was crime.
This was not soldiering; it

                                                  [Page 332]

was savagery. These things need to be said. We cannot here
make history over again, but we can see that it is written

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