The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)
Nuremberg, war crimes, crimes against humanity

The Trial of German Major War Criminals

Sitting at Nuremberg, Germany
12th March to 22nd March, 1946

Seventy-Ninth Day: Tuesday, 12th March, 1946
(Part 8 of 9)

[DR. LATERNSER continues his direct examination of Field-Marshal Albert Kesselring]

[Page 28]

Q. Do you consider the term "General Staff" as has been employed in these proceedings to be in accordance with military usage?

A. As I said before, the General Staff was composed of "Fuehrungsgehilfen" (officers assisting the direction) and did not include the Commanders and Commanders-in-Chief. According to German views they do not belong to this organisation, because not all of the Commanders and Commanders-in-Chief had had the same education and training as the General Staff officers. The Cs-in-C. were individuals and were treated collectively only in respect of their rank as Generals and for budget and pay purposes.

Q. Would you consider it to be erroneous to apply the term "General Staff" to the high military commanders?

A. According to the German conception it would be a misnomer.

Q. Have at any time in the history of the Armed Forces the high military commanders been subsumed under this group as is being done here?

A. In Germany such subsumption was not indicated and for various reasons was not even admissible. Neither did the Cs- in-C. form a collective body to act in any way as a War Council or as a similar assembly with definite tasks. They were not even, individually or collectively, members of the Reich Defence Council, and only appointed ad hoc commanders of a front or an office. To set up the Cs.-in-C. as a collective body for any specific purpose was in my opinion quite impossible, for the simple reason that they were under the Cs.-in-C. of the Army, the Air Force or the Navy, or under the High Command of the Armed Forces. Furthermore, some of them were 100 per cent. under the German Supreme Command and others 100 per cent. under Axis Command. Some of them were under two different commands, some independent Cs.- in-C., others Army Commanders subordinate to the C.-in-C. of an Army Group.

Q. You are speaking too fast. Did the Cs.-in-C. work out military problems set them, or did they themselves draw up the plans and submit them to Hitler for consideration?

A. The Cs.-in-C. were military men with leadership qualities responsible only for the task allotted to them. Within the scope of this task they could submit suggestions for improvements, etc., to the High Command or to the C.-in-C. of the Army, and their activities were limited to these suggestions.

Q. You just mentioned improvements and modifications. Did this mean that the Cs.-in-C. were expected only to suggest modifications of a plan from the military-technical aspect, or also to submit suggestions as to whether or not a plan should be carried out at all?

[Page 29]

A. Generally it meant only suggestions for modifications from the military-technical aspect. In matters of minor importance they had a say also as to policy. If, however, the highest authority had made a decision, the others kept silent.

Q. We will revert to this later. Did the Group General Staff as presented here ever meet collectively?

A. No.

Q. Were there any rules providing for the organisation of this group?

A. No.

Q. Did any members of this group ever suggest a departure from the rules of International Law?

A. I think not; rather the contrary.

Q. Was there a frequent reshuffle of the holders of the offices which make up this group or did they hold the offices for a long period.?

A. In the course of the latter years the Cs.-in-C. and commanders were rather frequently reshuffled.

Q. What do you know about the conferences Hitler held with high-ranking military leaders?

A. There were two kinds of conferences. First, an important address before a campaign to the higher leaders taking part in it. The object of the address was generally to inform the leaders of the situation and to brief them. In view of the Fuehrer's persuasive rhetoric it was hardly possible for us to take any stand in the matter, particularly as we were not informed about all details. At such conferences discussions did not take place; they were not allowed. There sometimes followed military-tactical consultations and every leader had the chance of putting forward and stressing his views and requests. As I have said, we had no say in political questions. We were, as is known, faced with the accomplished fact, which we as soldiers had to accept.

Q. Did you attend a conference with Hitler on 22nd August, 1939 - that is, shortly before the Polish campaign started?

A. Yes.

Q. Was it not made known at the end of this conference that we had concluded a treaty with the Soviet Union?

A. At the end, after the address, we were all called together again and informed that the message had just been received that Russia would adopt benevolent neutrality.

Q. What impression did this message have on you and the other high military leaders?

A. It was a tremendous relief to me and to the others. Otherwise we could not have dismissed the possibility of an extension of the war towards the East. Now that Russia held herself aloof, at least the Air Force - I speak as an Army Commander - had obtained a superiority which guaranteed a rapid and decisive success and which, over and above this - in my opinion - would possibly prevent the expansion of the war.

Q. In any case, the message was a great relief to you?

A. Yes, very great.

Q. Witness, can you tell me whether members of the Group General Staff and High Command ever met and had discussions with leading politicians and Party men?

A. If I may speak for myself, I was operating both in the Mediterranean area and in the West. In the Mediterranean area I had to deal with the Gauleiter Rainer and Hofer and then in the West with ...

Q. That was not the point of the question. I wanted to know whether the high military leaders ever met and discussed any political plans with leading politicians.

[Page 30]

A. No, no. That I can definitely say was not the case. We as soldiers generally did not bother about politics. Political decisions were made by the politicians and we had to carry them out.

Q. This attitude is customary among the military leaders as a result of their many years of experience in the Armed Forces, which foster the principle of giving the soldier a non-political education, is it not?

A. This policy has been developed in the German Army since the 18th century.

Q. Do you know whether the higher military leaders had any contact with the Fifth Column?

A. The military leadership had nothing to do with the Fifth Column. This was beneath us.

Q. What was your impression of the conference Hitler held with the higher military leaders before the Eastern campaign started? Was the situation presented to you in such a way that war had to be considered unavoidable?

A. I had the definite impression that the purpose of the address to the leaders was to convince them of the necessity of the war as a preventive war, and that it was imperative to strike before the building up and the mobilisation of the Russian Armed Forces became a danger to Germany.

Q. Could you state the reasons for your impression?

A. As I have already said, the purpose of the address was to give us a convincing picture of the general situation, of the military situation and its time schedule - and it did convince us. In connection with the Russian campaign I should like to say that up to the last day of August I had no doubt -

THE PRESIDENT: Witness, will you go more slowly please and have some consideration for the interpreters.

DR. LATERNSER: Would you please repeat the last answer.

A. I had still less reason to doubt Hitler's words because, up to the last moment, I, as C-in-C. of Air Fleet 2, was engaged in operations against England, and had had neither time nor the means to form a well-founded judgement of my own on the Russian situation. I had to confine myself -

Q. This trial has shown that the Cs-in-C. are being made responsible for what in a war is bound to happen. I should like you to describe the daily routine of a C.-in-C. of an army group, an army, or an air fleet.

A. The daily routine depended of course on the personality of the individual leader. If I may speak of myself -

Q. Witness, I ask you to be very brief.

THE PRESIDENT: Dr. Laternser, surely that is accumulative to what the witness has already been saying, and likely to be very long. About the description of the day of a commander, this witness already said the commander had nothing to do with politics, and nothing to do with the staff. Why should we be troubled with what the commander's day consists of?

DR. LATERNSER: Mr. President, I attach particular importance to this question for the following reasons: In view of the range of a C.-in-C.'s activities, especially at the front, not every report can reach him, because even reports from his own sector have to be dealt with by the respective officers. Thus, only those reports come to him which are of particular importance and of a decisive nature and which have a direct bearing on the conduct of the action.

THE PRESIDENT: Give it in that way then, rather than giving the witness a full day to describe.

DR. LATERNSER: Very well, I shall put it that way.

Q. Witness, in view of the range of your activities as C.-in- C. did every report reach you, or only those which, after having been studied by the respective officers, were found to be of such importance that they had to be submitted to the C.-in-C.?

[Page 31]

A. In particular, when an action was in progress not all reports could reach the C.-in-C. In my own case, this was still less possible, as I spent 50 to -70 per cent. of my time at the front. The staffs of the armies, air fleets and navy units had to retain a responsibility of their own within their competence.

Q. Did the many activities of a C.-in-C. permit of all reports on violations of International Law, even of a minor nature, being submitted to him?

A. This was aimed at. I doubt, however, for the above- mentioned reasons, whether it was possible in every case.

Q. In this matter, therefore, the C.-in-C. had to rely on his staff, had he not?

A. 100 percent.

Q. Were you C.-in-C. of an air fleet on the Eastern front from June to November, 1941?

A . Yes.

Q. Did you hear anything about the extermination of Jews in the East?

A. No.

Q. Did you hear anything about the Einsatz Groups of the S.S.?

A. Nothing. I did not even know the name of these units.

Q. Did you get to know anything about the regrettable order that Russian Commissars were to be shot after their capture?

A. I heard of this order at the end of the war. The air fleet, not being engaged in ground fighting, had actually nothing to do with this question. I think I can safely say the Air Force knew nothing whatsoever about it. Though I very frequently had personal dealings with Field-Marshal von Bock, with commanders of armies and armoured units, none of these gentlemen ever told me of such an order.

Q. Did you know about the Commando order?

A. Yes, I did.

Q. And what did you think of this order?

A. I considered such an order, received by me as C.-in-C. Mediterranean, holding a double post, not to be binding on me, but as the outline of an order which left me a free hand as to its application. In this question I held the view that it was up to me, as C.-in-C., to decide as to whether the Commando action was contrary to International Law or whether it was tactically justified. The view adopted more and more by the army group, as advocated by me, was that personnel in uniform who had been sent out on a definite tactical task were to be treated and considered as soldiers in accordance with the provisions of The Hague Convention for land warfare.

Q. The Commando order was consequently not applied within your command?

A. In one case, yes, it was certainly applied.

Q. Which case do you mean?

A. I mean the case of General Dostler.

Q. The case of General Dostler has already been mentioned in this trial. Did you know about this case when it was pending?

A. As a witness under. oath I have stated that I cannot remember this case. I think there are two reasons why I was not informed of it. Firstly, after a conversation with my chief, who spoke to another commander about it, it appeared that none of us knew anything. Secondly, because of the gigantic operations on the Southern front, I was, more often than not, absent from my headquarters.

Q. If you had been called upon to make a decision on the Dostler case, how would you have decided?

A. I am not well enough acquainted with the case. I only know it from hearsay.

MR. JUSTICE JACKSON: I do not think we can try Dostler's case, or that this witness should give his conclusions, inasmuch as the case has been tried by a

[Page 32]

competent Court and the issue disposed of. I have no objection to any facts that inform this Tribunal, but his conclusion as to the guilt of his fellow officer is hardly helpful.

THE PRESIDENT: Particularly as he said he cannot remember.

DR. LATERNSER: I withdraw the question.

Q. Witness, can you quote other cases where the Commando order was not applied in your area?

A. Small-scale landings behind the lines at Commazzio, South of Venice, also airborne landings North of Albenda in the region of Genoa, and minor actions in the Lago di Ortona district. I am convinced the troops adopted this general view and acted accordingly.

Q. You were C.-in-C. of an air fleet in the East. What can you say about the treatment of the Russian civilian population during the campaign?

A. I was in Russia until the end of November and I can only say that the population and the troops were on the best of terms, and that the field kitchens were used everywhere for the benefit of the poor and the children; also that the morality of the Russian woman, which, as is known, is on a high level, was respected by the German soldiers to a remarkable extent. I know that my doctors, during the hours of attendance, were frequently consulted by the Russian population. I remember this, because the doctors spoke to me about the fortitude they showed in enduring pain. The war passed so quickly over the plains as far as Smolensk that the whole area presented quite a peaceful aspect; peasants were at work, fairly large herds of cattle were grazing, and when I visited the area I found the small dwellings intact.

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