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

The Trial of German Major War Criminals

Sitting at Nuremberg, Germany
23rd March to 3rd April, 1946

Ninety-Eighth Day: Wednesday, 3rd April, 1946
(Part 2 of 6)

[DR. NELTE continues his direct examination of Wilhelm Bodewin Johann Gustav Keitel]

[Page 310]

Q. When this decree was issued you were installed as holder of a new office with the title of "Chief of the O.K.W." Will you please clarify whether this term "Chief of the O.K.W." is correct; that is, whether it meant what the title indicated.

A. I must add that I realise now for the first time that this term in its abbreviated form does not quite apply. To be exact one should have said, "Chief of Staff of the High Command of the Wehrmacht," and not the abbreviation, "Chief of the O.K.W." From the case presented by the prosecution I gathered that the "Chief" was interpreted as if that were a commander, chief of an office, with authority to issue orders. And that, of course, is an incorrect conclusion. It was neither a position of a chief in the sense of being able to issue orders nor, as might have been assumed or has been assumed, was it a position as chief of a general staff. That, too, is incorrect. I was never Chief of the General Staff of the Wehrmacht. It was Hitler's unmistakable wish to concentrate in his own person all the authority, all the power of command. That is not merely my retrospective statement. He clearly expressed this desire to me on several occasions, partly in connection with the fact that he told me repeatedly he could never put these ideas through with Blomberg.

Q. I have here in my possession a statement made by Field Marshal von Brauchitsch and submitted by the prosecution.

A. Perhaps I might add something further. I was discussing the fact that the position of Chief of the General Staff did not exist, since it was Hitler's basic view that the commanders-in-chief of the Wehrmacht branches each had his own general staff, or operational staff, and that he did not want the High Command of the Wehrmacht, by including the Wehrmacht Operational Staff, to take over the functions of a general staff. Therefore, in practice the work was done by the general staff of the Wehrmacht branches, while the Wehrmacht Operational Staff of the

[Page 311]

O.K.W. - which was purposely kept small - was a working staff for Hitler, a staff for strategic plans and for special missions.

Q. Then Field Marshal von Brauchitsch's statement in his affidavit - of which I have already spoken - is correct?

It says here: " When Hitler decided to support the obtaining of his political aims through military pressure or through the use of military power, the Commander-in-Chief of the Army, if he participated, received his instructions first orally, as a rule, or by a corresponding order. Thereupon the O.K.W. worked out the operation and deployment plans. When they had been submitted to Hitler, and were approved by him, a written order from the O.K.W. to the branches of the Wehrmacht followed." Is that correct?

A. Yes. In principle it is correct, insofar as the final formulation of the mission with which the commanders-in- chief of the Army were charged, took the form of a directive, as we called it; that is on the basis of the plans which had already been submitted and approved. This work was done by the Wehrmachtfuehrungsstab (Wehrmacht Operational Staff), thus the Wehrmacht Operational Staff was not an office which became independently active and did not handle matters concerning the issuing of orders independently; rather the Wehrmacht Operational Staff and I took part in the basic determination or approval of these proposals and formulated them in the manner in which they were then carried out by Hitler as Commander-in-Chief. To speak technically, we then transmitted these orders.

Q. Then I have an affidavit by Colonel General Halder which deals with the same subject. You know this affidavit No. 1, I believe I can dispense with the reading of it and as evidence need only refer to Halder's affidavit No. 1, which has been submitted by the prosecution.

In addition, the prosecution submitted another document without a special number. The title of it is: "Basis for the Organisation of the German Wehrmacht."

THE PRESIDENT: Is this the document which you say the prosecution offered in evidence but did not give a number to?

DR. NELTE: Mr. President, this document was given to us by the prosecution, I believe by the American prosecution, on the 26th of November, 1945. I do not know -

THE PRESIDENT: You mean it never was deposited in evidence by the prosecution?

DR. NELTE: I do not believe I can decide that. I assume that a document which has been submitted to the defence counsel was submitted to the High Tribunal at the same time, if not as evidence then at least for official notice.

THE PRESIDENT: What is the document? Is it an affidavit or not?

DR. NELTE: It is not an affidavit; it is really a statement by the American prosecution. And, I assume, it is a basis for the prosecution against the organisation O.K.W., and so forth.

THE PRESIDENT: Have you got it in your document book or not?

DR. NELTE: No, I do not have it in the document book, because I assumed that this was also at the disposal of the High Tribunal. On the whole, Mr. President, it is a short document.

THE PRESIDENT: Perhaps, Mr. Dodd can tell us what it is.

MR. DODD: If I could see it I might be able to be helpful. I am not familiar with it. It is probably one of the documents which we submitted to the defence, but which we did not actually introduce in evidence, and that happened more than once, I think, in the early days of the trial.

DR. NELTE: I only refer to a single paragraph ...


DR. NELTE: I refer to a short paragraph of this statement which I would like to read. Perhaps we can thus obviate submitting the document.

THE PRESIDENT: Are you offering in evidence the whole of the affidavit? I do not mean at this moment, but are you proposing to offer it?

(Dr. Nelte nodded).

[Page 312]

You are?

DR. NELTE: I assume that the prosecution has already submitted it. I am only referring to it.

THE PRESIDENT: The whole affidavit? What is the number of it if it has been submitted?

DR. NELTE: This affidavit also does pot have a number. The prosecution -

THE PRESIDENT: It has not been submitted if it has not a number on it, then. It is suggested to me that possibly the Halder affidavit was offered and then rejected.

DR. NELTE: No. At that time a series of affidavits were submitted: by von Brauchitsch, Halder, von Neusinger, and many other generals who are in Nuremberg. None of these affidavits had an exhibit number.

MR. DODD: This affidavit was put in by the United States as an Exhibit. I do not have the number handy, but I think it was submitted at the time Colonel Telford Taylor submitted the case on behalf of the prosecution against the High Command and the O.K.W. This Halder "affidavit," the first document which Doctor Nelte referred to, is not an affidavit. It was a paper submitted to the Tribunal and to the defence by Colonel Taylor. It set out some of the basic principles of the Organisation of the High Command and the O.K.W. wholly, before he presented his part of the case. It is really just the work of our own staff here in Nuremberg.

THE PRESIDENT: Doctor Nelte, as the document you are referring to, not the Halder affidavit, appears to be a mere compilation, the Tribunal thinks it should not go in as an Exhibit, but you can put a question to the witness upon it.


Q. In the document which you have before you, the prosecution asserted the following: After 1938 there were four divisions, that is, the O.K.W., High Command of the Wehrmacht; the O.K.H., High Command of the Army; the O.K.L., High Command of the Air Force; the O.K.M., High Command of the Navy; and each had its own general staff. What can you tell us about that?

A. I can say only that this is not correct, and contradicts the explanation which I have already given concerning the functions of the High Command of the Wehrmacht Office. Four such departments did not exist. There were only three, the High Command of the Army, the High Command of the Navy, and the High Command of the Air Force.

As I have just stated, the High Command of the Wehrmacht as a personal, direct working staff, was in no way an independent office in that sense. The commanders-in-chief of the Wehrmacht branches were commanders, had the authority to issue orders and exercised this power over troops which were subordinate to them. The O.K.W. had neither the power to issue orders, nor the subordinate troops to which orders could have been issued. It is also not correct, if I recall the speeches of the prosecution, to use the expression "Keitel was commander-in-chief of the Wehrmacht." I am mentioning it only to emphasise this point.

Further, I would like, briefly, to call attention to the diagram on the document which has been shown to me, the last page of the document which has been submitted to me.

DR. NELTE: This sketch is the diagram which is called "The Wehrmacht." It is an exposition, a diagrammatic exposition of the entire Wehrmacht and its branches.

THE WITNESS: I believe I should refer briefly to this diagram. It is this diagram which was the basis for the erroneous conception, because in it the High Command of the Wehrmacht is designated as a special office, or office of Command, and that is incorrect.

Q. What tasks had you in this military sector as the Chief of the O.K.W.?

A. First of all, it was an essential task to secure for the Fuehrer, with and through the Wehrmacht Operational Staff, all the documents and all the information and

[Page 313]

reports which he desired. I dare say that the Wehrmacht Operational Staff had in this connection, a function which one might say - arranged and established direct and close relations between Hitler and the general staffs of the branches of the Wehrmacht. In addition to securing a great number of such documents, which were demanded daily, there was a second function, which, as a rule, required my presence at all conferences in which the commanders-in-chief of the Wehrmacht branches and the chiefs of their staffs participated, as well as the Chief of the Wehrmacht Operational Staff. On those occasions as soon as a series of oral orders was given, these orders, according to military principles, naturally had later to be confirmed in writing. Only in this way could we prevent mistakes or misunderstandings from arising - that is, by confirming these orders to those who had already received them orally, the orders were expressed clearly. That is the aim and meaning of the order.

Q. How did you sign the orders and documents which you drew up?

A. It is correct that this form of orders and directives was almost exclusively signed by me. They were actually orders which had already been given and which had already been transmitted along military channels. As can be seen from most of the documents on hand, this gave rise to the form which I made a habit of using. I always wrote at the beginning or after a few preliminary words, "The Fuehrer has therefore ordered:".

In the large majority of cases this order was no longer a surprise to the office which received it. It was nothing new, but it was only a confirmation. In a similar way I had the organisational and other directives and orders, even those in the Operational Field which were not purely operative, worked out under my supervision and transmitted. In this respect I should like to point out particularly that in no case did I send out orders without having shown them again to my commander-in-chief in making the daily reports, in order to be certain that I had not misunderstood him in any form or manner or that I was not issuing anything which, and this I would like to emphasise, did not have his approval to the letter.

Q. There was another category of orders and directives -

A. May I perhaps add a few words?

Q. Please do.

A. In order to clarify this: among the documents which are at issue here are those which Hitler personally signed and released under the heading "The Fuehrer and the Commander-in- Chief of the Wehrmacht." There are some exceptions in which such directives were signed by me "by order of," I would like to explain this matter also.

In this case, it is also true that, if in urgent circumstances these directives, which for the most part had been corrected several times by Hitler personally, had to be issued and the Fuehrer was prevented from signing himself, it was necessary for me to let the signature go out in this form, but never as "deputy," but always as "by order of" Otherwise, orders were issued as I have already stated in the form of directives which were signed by me.

At the same time I should like to mention that, even if we have a series of documents here headed "Chief of the O.K.W." or - some of them are different - "Supreme Command of the Wehrmacht," if they are signed "by order of Jodl," I can say that it can be proved almost automatically that I did not happen to be there at the time: otherwise, I would have signed it myself, knowing that I was Chief of Staff who, in accordance with military regulations, had to sign such documents.

Q. The memorandum which you have before you contains the following sentence: "The O.K.W. combined in itself the activity of a staff and of a ministry, as regards those matters previously taken care of by the Reich War Ministry, which have probably been taken over by the O.K.W."

Please clarify the ministerial function of the O.K.W.

A. Yes, this formulation as set down in this document is not exactly incorrect, but, essentially at least, is open to misunderstanding; for it was not at all true that

[Page 314]

all functions which had been previously carried out by the War Minister were taken over by the O.K.W. There were many functions which the War Minister, in his capacity as minister - and thus the person responsible for them - could and did decide even for the branches of the Wehrmacht and their commanders, which were never referred to the chief of the O.K.W., that is, to me.

The following things happened at that time: everything in this connection involving authority to issue orders or exercise supreme authority, and which the Fuehrer did not wish to take over personally, was transferred to the commanders-in-chief of the branches of the Wehrmacht, as far as supreme authority and authority to make decisions were concerned. To touch on the subject briefly I would like to mention a few essential facts which I remember. For example, the officers' personal records, decisions on complaints, documentary material on budget and domestic questions, court jurisdiction and court authority, which formerly belonged to the Minister of War, were transferred to the supreme commander - all questions concerning officials, all questions of the rights of officials - I could mention still more, but I merely wished to point out that even in cases where decisions had to be made, as for example removing an official or dismissing an employee, the chief of the O.K.W. did not decide, these powers were delegated to the Commanders-in-Chief, in addition to the powers they held previously and which were derived from the War Minister's field of authority. There were only certain reservations which the Fuehrer made for himself. Similarly some of the other fields of the O.K.W. were limited in their assignments in the course of the following years through the dissolution of the Economy and Armament Department. The position of Armament Minister was created because with the dissolution of the Foreign Defence Office, that is, Intelligence Service, only the defence of the Wehrmacht troops was left to them. Everything else was transferred, etc. My authority included the following: It was my duty in all cases to get Hitler's decision on all basic questions with which this ministerial section was concerned. I was only free from the necessity of doing this in current matters or if there was complete agreement between the people involved in a ministerial or administrative question and the branches of the Wehrmacht in my department.

In such a case a decision by Hitler was not necessary. I must emphasise again, in summary, that the O.K.W. had no authority of its own, and that one can only say that Hitler actually functioned as Commander-in-Chief of the Wehrmacht, just as the functions of the War Minister, were combined in his person, so that, to repeat, an intermediary official was to be eliminated at all costs. That is, there was to be no intermediary between him and the commanders-in-chief of the Wehrmacht branches.

THE PRESIDENT: We will adjourn now until two o'clock.

(A recess was taken.)

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