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

Eighty-Third Day: Saturday, 16th March, 1946
(Part 2 of 5)

[DR. OTTO NELTE continues his direct examination of HERMANN WILHELM GORING]

[Page 154]

Q. Are you aware that, in this connection, Field-Marshal Keitel was reproached with not being able to put himself across, as they say, with the Fuehrer?

A. This reproach was made against him by quite a number of Commanders-in-Chief and army groups. It was easy for them to make that reproach because they were out of range of Adolf Hitler, and did not have to submit any proposals themselves. I know that, especially after the collapse, quite a number of Generals took the position that Keitel had been a typical "yes-man." I can only say I personally should be interested if I could see those who to-day consider themselves "no- men."

Q. Was there ever, as far as Hitler was concerned, any possibility of Field-Marshal Keitel getting released from his office?

THE PRESIDENT: Dr. Nelte, the Tribunal does not think - at least we should like to ask you - what relevance does the gossip of the General Staff, or any reproaches which may have been raised against him by it, have to the charges against Keitel? What has that to do with the charges against Keitel?

DR. NELTE: If one wants to do justice to the defendant Keitel, that is to say, if one wants to try to establish what role he has played in this terrible tragedy, then that is only possible if one establishes clearly what his function was, and thereby what his responsibility was; and then, if one takes the tactical conditions into consideration -

THE PRESIDENT: I know that perfectly well, and we have spent three-quarters of an hour in hearing the defendant Goering describe what his relationship was and what Keitel's function was. What I asked you was what this had to do with the case, the criticisms or gossip of the General Staff about Keitel? I say we have spent three-quarters of an hour in hearing what the defendant Goering says his function was, and what his relationships with the Fuehrer were, and nothing else.

DR. NELTE: I began with the organisation of the O.K.W. I wanted to determine the chain of command between the O.K.W. and the Chief of the O.K.W.,

[Page 155]

on the one band, and the branches of the Wehrmacht, on the other; and then I have tried to clarify the responsibilities which, as Chief of the O.K.W., he was to have, according to Hitler's wishes, and how he carried these out.

The gossip, Mr. President, was only, I believe, a subject of a few minutes during the examination of the witness.

THE PRESIDENT: My interruption was made because you asked the defendant a question about somebody being reproached for something or other by the other members of the General Staff, and that seems to me to be totally irrelevant.

DR. NELTE: The last question which I put was whether there had been any possibility of Field-Marshal Keitel obtaining a release from his position. May I assume, Mr. President, that this question is relevant?

THE PRESIDENT: You may certainly ask the question as to whether he asked to be relieved of his command.

As a matter of fact, Dr. Nelte, that question was asked before, the question at which I interrupted you; and I have the answer written down, that Keitel asked for a command, even if only of a division.

DR. NELTE: That was the question which he put to Reich Marshal Goering. He came to him, Goering, and put the question to him. Now I want to ask whether there existed any possibility of Keitel obtaining a release from his position from Hitler?

A. The question whether a General could ask for and obtain his release from the Fuehrer has played an important role in these proceedings generally. Actually, one has to make a distinction between two phases, peace and war.

In times of peace a General could ask for his release. Unless he was in a prominent and decisive position and very well known to the Fuehrer, such a request for release was granted without question. If he were in an especially important position and well known to the Fuehrer, then, using all his persuasive powers, the Fuehrer appealed to him with all the means at his disposal to remain at his post. However, if a General had asked the Fuehrer for his release and had given as reason that in principle he was of a different political opinion, either domestic or foreign, then without doubt he was retired, even if not on that very day. But at the same time it would have given rise to an extraordinary suspicion on the part of the Fuehrer toward this person.

During the war, the matter was entirely different. The General, like every soldier, was obliged to do his duty, to obey orders. The Fuehrer had issued the statement that he wanted no requests for release either from Generals or any other important State personalities; he himself would decide if a person were to resign or not; he himself could not resign if it became unpleasant now; he considered that desertion.

If, nevertheless, a General had submitted a request for release in war-time and this had been refused him, he certainly could not insist upon it. If he resigned, in spite of this, he violated the law and from this moment was guilty of desertion.

Field-Marshal Keitel might have asked the Fuehrer, "Have me transferred to a different office." But the Fuehrer particularly disliked making any changes in his immediate circle; and during the war - that I know from his own words - he would not have agreed to a change, particularly with regard to Field-Marshal Keitel, with whom he was used to working, unless the Field-Marshal had become ill and hence really unable to continue his duties.

Q. Were these considerations of which you have just spoken likewise the determining factor in the retirement of Field- Marshal von Brauchitsch?

A. The case of Field-Marshal von Brauchitsch's retirement is very well known to me, because the Fuehrer had discussed it at length with me beforehand; for at first he was not decided whether he or someone else should take over the command of the Army. Thus we discussed candidates for the succession, and so forth. At that moment the Fuehrer was not satisfied with the direction of the

[Page 156]

Army by the Commander-in-Chief on the Eastern Front. The Commander-in-Chief was Brauchitsch; the Chief of the Army General Staff was Halder. I suggested to the Fuehrer that he change the Chief of the Army General Staff, because I thought he was by far the less capable. The Fuehrer wanted to do that; then the next morning he had made up his mind and told me that he, the Fuehrer, wanted himself to assume this command, to bring about order on the Eastern Front, and that therefore it was for him more important to retire the Commander-in-Chief, although he agreed with me that the Chief of Staff was the weaker one. Then I suggested that both be dismissed.

The Fuehrer called Brauchitsch, talked with him for two hours and requested him in a clear way, that is in a way not to be misunderstood, to resign.

Thus, in this case, a clear decision was made by the Fuehrer to dismiss the Commander-in-Chief of the Army, in order to assume, personally, command of the Army. From that time on, the Fuehrer was not only Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces but also de facto Commander-in-Chief of the Army.

Q. The prosecution has stated and has produced evidence that Field-Marshal Keitel was a member of the Reich Defence Council (Reichsverteidigungsrates). You spoke of this question yesterday. And I can now state that you said that Field-Marshal Keitel was a member of the Reich Defence Council according to he Reich Defence Law, but that this Reich Defence Council was never constituted. You ought to know that because you were, according to that law, chairman of that Reich Defence Council. Is that correct?

A. I have stated clearly that I never attended a meeting, nor called a meeting.

THE PRESIDENT: You know, do you not, that the Tribunal is directed to hold an expeditious trial and for that reason they are not going to hear cumulative evidence? The defendant has already given us an answer to the question you have just put to him. The Tribunal do not wish to hear the same answer again.

DR. NELTE: I have not yet seen yesterday's transcript, and it is of great importance for the defendant Keitel -

THE PRESIDENT: You were in court and you can take it from me that the answer was given.

DR. NELTE: The questions and the answers are not always as clear as they may seem on reading the transcript.

Q. Can you tell me whether Field-Marshal Keitel was ever a Minister?

A. He was not a Minister. He had only the courtesy rank of a Minister.

Q. Was he entitled to participate in Cabinet meetings?

A. Not by virtue of his position; but, in questions of interest to him which pertained to his work, he could be invited by the Fuehrer to attend Cabinet meetings.

Q. Keitel was a member of the Ministerial Council for the Defence of the Reich. Did that make him a Minister?

A. No, he remained the same. He had only the rank of a Minister. Field-Marshal Keitel could not attend Cabinet meetings of the Reich Cabinet because be became Chief of the High Command only in 1938, and from that time on no Cabinet meetings took place.

Q. The prosecution have also asserted that there was a triumvirate, consisting of the Plenipotentiary-General for Economy, the Plenipotentiary-General for Administration, and the Chief of the O.K.W. Can you tell us something about that?

A. I know nothing about that.

Q. The prosecution have accused Field-Marshal Keitel of having been a political General. Do you know anything about that?

A. The Generals in the Third Reich had no right whatsoever to participate in any political activity. The only exception in this respect was myself - and that was due to the peculiar nature of my position, for I was at the same time,

[Page 157]

soldier, a General, and on the other hand, in politics, a politician. The other Generals, as the Fuehrer always very clearly pointed out, had nothing to do with politics.

The General who interested himself most in politics was the late Field-Marshal von Reichenau. That was the reason the Fuehrer, in spite of his personal sympathies and the strongly positive attitude of Reichenau toward the Nazi Party, refused to make him Commander-in-Chief of the Army after the resignation of Fritsch; the Fuehrer did not want any political Generals.

Q. But it cannot be denied that in the so-called decrees often the political objective was made known, and that such decrees and orders were signed by Keitel.

A. Decrees were principally Fuehrer decrees, because they contained broad directives. The preamble of an important decree very commonly was the political premise which explained why the Fuehrer had decided on this or that military measure. But that has nothing to do with a General being political.

Q. The prosecution have frequently mentioned that the defendant Keitel was present at State receptions, such as that accorded Hacha, and at other ministerial receptions. From that they have tried to deduce that he was a political General.

A. When the Fuehrer, as Head of State, received foreign missions, heads of States, or chiefs of Governments, it was customary for the chiefs of his most important offices to be present: the Chief of the State Chancellery, frequently of the Reich Chancellery, depending on who came; and the Chief of the High Command, since, in the conferences, questions might come up for which the Fuehrer would need military information of some kind. And then, of course, there was also a certain ceremony involved. Whenever I had important visitors, my military staff or a representative of the staff was also with me.

Q. May I say, then, that Field-Marshal Keitel was present at, but did not participate in, the conferences?

A. If he participated, it was not, at any rate, of any consequence.

Q. The prosecution stated that, on the occasion of the visit of President Hacha, the defendant Keitel exerted pressure on President Hacha by threatening to bomb Prague.

A. I said yesterday that I made that statement.

Q. I just wanted to establish it.

Now I should like further to question you concerning the "terror flyers." Do you remember that about the middle of June, 1944, when negotiations on this question took place among the various departments, you were waiting at the Platterhof with Field-Marshal Keitel for Hitler and there discussed this question?

A. I cannot say whether that was at the Platterhof. At any rate, I talked with the Field-Marshal many times on the subject.

Q. It is important in this connection to establish whether the defendant Keitel approached you on this question, and stated to you that he was against the idea of lynch justice, which was advocated by the Party.

A. He said that several times. We were in agreement on this.

Q. Did the defendant Keitel at that time also state to you that he was in favour of an official warning or a note to the Allied Governments - in respect to the well-known Dieppe case - rather than separate court-martial procedures without legal evidence?

A. I think we had frequent discussions on this point. I advocated that in the case of pure terror flyers - that is to say, those who violated the orders of their own superiors - there should be legal proceedings. Keitel said it would be hard to differentiate cases and to carry this out. It would be more practical to send a note to the Allies to the effect that, if it were not stopped, measures would have to be taken. The view that this course should be adopted was also advocated in other quarters.

[Page 158]

DR. NELTE: Mr. President, on submitting my applications for evidence, I proposed, among other things, a characterisation of Field-Marshal Keitel given me by Goering. In the session of 25th February an agreement was reached with the prosecution that this characterisation, which is in the form of an affidavit, might be submitted in the presence of the witness, that is, Goering. Am I now permitted to read you this characterisation of which you have already received the original, or may I refer to it as evidence and merely file it with you?

I ask this question because a part of the description which is contained in the affidavit has already been expressed by this witness in this interrogation.

THE PRESIDENT: What is the document to which you are referring? What is the origin of it? Is it a document drawn up by the defendant Goering?

DR. NELTE: It is an affidavit Signed by Goering, entitled "Characteristics of Field-Marshal Wilhelm Keitel." It is referred to in my applications as an affidavit. Much of what is contained in it has already been said by Reichsmarschall Goering.

[ Previous | Index | Next ]

Home ·  Site Map ·  What's New? ·  Search Nizkor

© The Nizkor Project, 1991-2012

This site is intended for educational purposes to teach about the Holocaust and to combat hatred. Any statements or excerpts found on this site are for educational purposes only.

As part of these educational purposes, Nizkor may include on this website materials, such as excerpts from the writings of racists and antisemites. Far from approving these writings, Nizkor condemns them and provides them so that its readers can learn the nature and extent of hate and antisemitic discourse. Nizkor urges the readers of these pages to condemn racist and hate speech in all of its forms and manifestations.