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 4 of 6)

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

[Page 319]

Q. By the decree of the 4th of February, 1938, a Secret Cabinet Council was established. According to the contents of that decree, you are supposed to have been a member of that Cabinet Council. In order to save time, I merely wish to ask you: Do you confirm from your own knowledge the statement made by Reichs Marshal Goering, that the Secret Cabinet Council was established only for appearances and that a Secret Cabinet Council was never constituted and that it never had a session?

A. I can only answer yes, never.

DR. NELTE: I come now to the question of the Reich Defence Council (Reichsverteidigungsrat.) In the session of the 23rd of November, the prosecution submitted in evidence, as proof of the rearmament and the active participation of the Wehrmacht in the planning of wars of aggression, among others, Document EC-177, which was designated as "Meeting of the Reich Defence Council of the 22nd of May, 1933." I must say that I have taken the translation from the minutes and I am not sure whether the expression "Reichsverteidigungsrat" - Reich defence council - was translated correctly. In the minutes it states that it is a meeting of the working committee. For your information may I say that the "Reichsverteidigungsrat" was supposed to be a sort of ministerial body and that in addition, there was a working committee.

A second document EC-405 was submitted, a meeting of the same body on the 7th of March, 1934; and a third document 2261-PS dealing with the Reich Defence Law of 1935 and the appointment of Dr. Schacht as Plenipotentiary General for War Economy.


Q. Beyond doubt, you have been active in questions of National Defence. These documents are also submitted as evidence against you. I ask you, therefore, to state whether these meetings in which you participated and which you conducted were concerned with preparations for war and rearmament.

[Page 320]

A. From the very beginning, as long as we were working on these things and by means of a committee of experts from which everything else evolved, I personally participated in these matters, and I may call myself the founder of that committee of ministerial experts which was set up to co- operate with the War Ministry. As Chief of the Organisation Department of the Army, in the winter of 1929 and 1930, that is, three years before Hitler came to power, I formed and personally assembled that committee after the Chancellor - I believe it was Bruning and the Prussian and Reichsminister of the Interior Severing had consented to it. I would like to add that a representative of Minister Severing was always present to make sure that nothing took place which would have been in violation of the Treaty of Versailles. This work was very difficult, because no Reichsminister and no department head was officially obliged to carry out the wishes of the National Ministry of Defence, it was purely voluntary. Consequently, the work went along haltingly and slowly. In this committee of experts which met perhaps two or three times a year, we dealt with - if I may put it briefly - what assistance the civilian department could render in order to free the small army of one hundred thousand soldiers for purely military tasks, naturally limiting ourselves to the defence of our frontiers, as stated in the Treaty of Versailles I could still repeat our discussion from memory, since, with the exception of the period from 1933 to 1935, I conducted every one of these meetings myself, that is as leader of the discussion, not as chairman. I can however refer you now to the Mobilisation Handbook for civil authorities, which was the outcome of this work and about which I shall speak later. We were concerned only with questions of defence, such as the protection of our frontiers, and, in order to make myself clear, I should like to mention some of them. The Wehrmacht was to be free to protect railway property, post office property, reinforcement offices, radio stations, etc., and to man the frontiers with security garrisons, for which the Customs Services were to be responsible. Cable and sea communications with East Prussia were also to be improved. I will not bore you with all this. They were all defensive measures with a view to freeing the few soldiers for purely military functions, because for purposes of actual military operations I need not tell you what we could have done with an army of only 100,000 men. Any questions which went beyond this were never dealt with in that committee. The manner in which we worked was this: I asked the experts to submit the wishes to their heads of departments or Secretaries of State and then to try to persuade the heads of departments to take over the tasks from us, so that we could say that was being done by others and we need not bother about it. I can guarantee that operational questions, strategic questions, armament questions, questions of supply of war equipment were never discussed in this committee. They were only organisational questions of the taking over of functions which generally should be performed by a soldier, but which we wanted to transfer to the civil authorities.

Now, as to the meeting of 22nd May, 1933, which has been discussed several times. It was already stated in the heading of the minutes which we have before us: Competency, hitherto the "Reichswehrminister," now the Reich Defence Council. Hitherto Reichswehrminister, over the committee, voluntary participation of the ministers of other departments; now compulsory participation of the heads of Departments, that is the Ministers, who received the title of "Defence Councillors." I will express that even more clearly, so that it cannot be misunderstood. Every member of the committee represented a ministry. The minister to whom the committee member was responsible, along with his colleagues, formed the Reich Defence Council, as envisaged by us then. They were the council and we were the committee. Therefore, up to now "Reichswehrminister" - now, one could say, as I have just expressed it, the other Ministers were obliged to handle these matters.

In paragraph 3 the working plans were particularly mentioned. These working plans, in a word, are the forerunner of the Mobilisation. Book, which is the final

[Page 321]

stage; whereas the working plans of about 1933 were the intermediary stage. Then, as regards the concluding words at the meeting of 22nd May, 1933, which have been given special prominence here by the prosecution, and which deal with the need for secrecy - the passage where I said, according to the minutes, that nothing which could lead to objections at the Disarmament Conference should be left 1ying in the desks of the ministries, that is correct. I did say that and I have said it because the experts told me that, with the exception of a small wooden box or a drawer in a desk which could not be locked, they had no place in which to keep anything and because von Blomberg, Reich War Minister at that time, who had been in Geneva at the Disarmament Conference for almost two years, gave me the definite order before this meeting, to point out these things, because in Geneva one was surrounded by an extremely large number of agents who were only waiting to be able to present proof that, in spite of the disarmament negotiations, there were things going on which could be interpreted as violations of the Versailles Treaty. That is what I have to say about the document.

Q. I have given to you now the Mobilisation Book for the Civil Administration. It is document PS-1639. It has been submitted in order to prove that aggressive wars were being planned. Would you explain to us the purpose of this book?

A. I have already stated that at an earlier stage, that is during the years 1932/33, the individual ministries had so- called working plans which included what they were to do if something happened which necessitated their participation in defending the country. In the course of years, naturally, a number of new tasks were added and that finally led to this Mobilisation Book for the Civil Authorities and Civil Administration, the study of which would certainly show nothing which might have anything to do with strategic, operational or other preparations for war. On the other hand, I am not in a position to prove that everything contained in this book could never have been useful in military operations which could develop from an aggressive war plan. Many, one could almost say most, measures in the event of mobilisation would not indicate on the surface whether it is a measure for defence or a measure which is necessary for aggressive action, or if it is merely a supposition. That cannot be determined. But I believe I can say, because I, myself, have been engaged so personally in this work, perhaps more than anyone else, that there was no reason at all to burden the civilian experts - they were high government counsellors - with strategic or operational planning. I do not believe that it is necessary to prove that such work is not within their scope. I have looked through and studied this mobilisation book here. I do not wish to bore you by citing points which are of a purely defensive nature. I could name them: closing, reinforcement of the frontier defences; demolitions, cutting of railroads and similar things, all this is in the book. One of the most important chapters, which, if I remember correctly, we discussed during four or five of these sessions, was the question of evacuation, that is, evacuating territories close to the border of valuable war material and personnel, so that, in case of war, they should not fall into the hands of the enemy. This problem of evacuation was one of the most difficult, because the extent to which one can evacuate, that is, what things can be evacuated, is perhaps one of the most difficult decisions to make.

Q. If I ...

A. I would like to say one more thing about the Reich Defence Committee, supplementing the ideas which I expressed before. Until the year 1938 no meeting or session of the Reich Defence Council was ever held, that is, the ministers who were the superiors of the committee members never met, not even once. I would have known about it, although at the cabinet meeting, I believe as early as March, 1933, we passed a resolution to make these ministers responsible for a Reich Defence Council which should deal with these tasks, and to oblige them to take over these tasks as their necessary contribution to the defence of the Reich, and, of course, to finance them. That was the main purpose - otherwise the Reich Defence Council never met.

[Page 322]

Q. Actually, the minutes which have been presented for the period of 1933 to 1938 are of the meetings of working committees. But you know that about eight days ago two documents were submitted which appeared to be the minutes of the meetings of the Reich Defence Council. One session or assembly is supposed to have taken place in November, 1938, and the second one in March, 1939. Unfortunately, I have not received these documents, but I have looked at them and you have also seen them. Can you explain to us how these minutes, i.e. these meetings, came about and what they mean?

A. I merely wish to add a few supplementary words to the statement which Reich Marshal Goering has already made. In December, 1938, there was passed the Reich Defence Law, which had been drawn up in 1935, a shelved law, i.e. a law which had not been made public and one which required modification, the reason being that the Reich Defence Law of 1935 was devised by the Reich War Minister, Commander in Chief von Blomberg who no longer held office. I was with Reich Marshall Goering at that time to discuss this with him and to find a new basis for this law, which until then had not been published. This law of the autumn of 1938 had a number of supplementary clauses as compared to the old one, and perhaps I will be able to give details later. Among other things, according to this law also, Reich Marshal Goering, who was formerly Reich War Minister, represented the Fuehrer, a function which I could not exercise.

This conference in November, 1938, to recall it briefly, had been convened by Reich Marshal Goering in order to present this law which had not been published, and which was not to be published, to a large circle of members of the ministries. There were about seventy or more persons present, to whom the Reich Marshal explained the purpose and the essence of this law in the form of a speech. There was no discussion apart from that speech and there was certainly no question of a meeting of the Reich Defence Council at that time.

You also recently showed me the second document of a meeting of the Reich Defence Council as it is called and as also appears in the heading of the minutes of the summer, 1939.

Q. No, March, 1939.

A. That has been mentioned here, and I believe it was the second meeting of the Reich Defence Council, I can explain that.

I called a meeting of the committee and, of course, furnished Reichsmarschall Goering with the agenda and the names of the people who were to be present. Reichsmarschall Goering informed me that he would come himself and that since he wished to discuss other questions he would accordingly enlarge the attendance. This conference, therefore, had an agenda which I had planned for the committee and concrete questions were also brought up for debate. It is however remarkable that according to the list of those present, that is according to the numbers, the members of the Reich Defence Council were only represented by a very small number, partly not at all, although there were about forty or fifty people present. The Reich Defence Council itself was a body of twelve people, and it needs no further explanation that, from the form in which these two conferences or sessions took place, one could not say that this was a plenary session of the Reich Defence Council based upon a clearly defined agenda but rather, that there were two meetings, the motive and extent of which I have described here.

(A recess was taken.)

THE PRESIDENT: Dr. Nelte, the Tribunal think that you might get on a little more quickly with the defendant. The Tribunal recall that you asked a few days ago that you might submit an affidavit of the defendant's evidence, and there is in your Document Book an affidavit. You have been over all those matters in the affidavit at very much greater length than you would have gone into them if you had read the affidavit, and we hope that you will be able to deal more shortly with the evidence in future.

[Page 323]

DR. NELTE: Mr. President, I made every effort to be as brief and concise as possible in my questions, but testimony is, of course, always subjective. The defendant is unfortunately the one who is mentioned most frequently in this trial and naturally he is interested in clarifying those matters which he considers essential in order to present his case clearly.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, Dr. Nelte, I do not think it is necessary to discuss the matter further; but the Tribunal have expressed their wish.

DR. NELTE: As far as I am able, I shall comply with your request, Mr. President.

(The defendant Keitel resumed the stand and testified further as follows.)

BY DR. NELTE (Continued):

Q. Feldmarschall Keitel, you have just given us an explanation of the Reich Defence Council, and the Reich Defence Committee. You probably realise that we are not and should not be so much concerned with whether decisions are made by a Reich Defence Council or a Reich Defence Committee. We are interested in what actually took place and whether or not these things justify the imputations of the prosecution. In this respect I ask you to tell me if those things which you discussed and planned on the Reich Defence Committee justify the suspicion that you were considering aggressive war?

A. I realise fully that we are not concerned with the formality of whether it was the Council or the Committee, since the Council was a board of ministers, while the Committee was a board of minor experts. We are concerned with what actually did take place and what was done. With the exception that in the year 1934 and until the autumn of 1935 I was not present at these discussions, and therefore cannot vouch for every word which was spoken at that time, I must state that nothing about the planning of wars, the preparing for wars, the operational, strategical or armed preparedness for war was ever discussed.

Q. The prosecution has labelled you as a member of the Three- Man Council, from which they have deduced that you had special powers to act within the German Reich Government. I am submitting to you Document 2194-PS. In this document in the Reich Defence Law of 1938, paragraph 5, sub-section 4, you will find the source of this term which, in itself, is not official.

A. The Reich Defence Law of 1938 provided for a general plenipotentiary for administration in order to restrict the size of the body. The Reich Minister of the Interior was to have this office and further, according to paragraph 5, subsection 4, the Supreme Command of the Army was to have priority influence in regard to the State Railways and the State Postal Services, for in the event of mobilisation, transport must run and the services for the transmission of news must be available, as is the case in all countries. The Three-Man Council is an idea which I have never heard of until just now. It probably refers to the Plenipotentiary General for Administration, the Plenipotentiary General for Economy and the Chief of the O.K.W. It referred to three. There is no doubt about it, because, in line with the Reich Defence Law, they were already supposed to have a number of decrees which were to be published when this law was made public, and each one of the three had to make the necessary preparations in his own sphere. Thus the idea of a Three-man Council originated.

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