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 5 of 6)

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

[Page 323]

Q. The prosecution then contended that according to Document 2852 you were a member of the Council of Ministers for Defence of the Reich. Did you become a minister through this membership in the Reich Defence Council?

A. I might perhaps say a few words to begin with about the Council of Ministers, insofar as the Reich Defence Law, the Reich Defence Committee and the Reich Defence Council disappeared as a result of the law regarding the Council of Ministers for Defence of the Reich, that is, they were never made public and never put into effect. The Council of Ministers for Defence of the Reich was newly created on 1st September, 1939, and this made all these preparations on paper of the Reich Defence Council, Reich Defence Committee and the law null and void, and put in its place a new thing, an institution. This institution, the

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Council of Ministers for Defence of the Reich, was now the small war cabinet, which, if I may say so, should previously have been the Reich Defence Council with its limited number of members. Thus, a new basis was established, and new decrees which were necessary were put into effect by the Council of Ministers for Defence of the Reich, after it had been created and officially confirmed.

I was called into this Council of Ministers, or rather I received a seat in this Council of Ministers. I prefer not to give the reasons, because they were entirely private. It was a compensation for opposition against these things ... I never became active in this Council of Ministers for Defence of the Reich, but I was a member, it was not necessary to be active since in the purely military sphere that is, things with which the Wehrmacht immediately was concerned, the Fuehrer personally, without the Council of Ministers, issued the necessary decrees over his own signature and the circuitous route through the Council of Ministers in Berlin was not necessary; and, in my opinion, I must deny that I became a minister or took over the functions of a minister through this appointment. The functions of a minister were not bound up with it. I was only the representative of the Wehrmacht in this Council of Ministers.

Q. However, your name is indisputably at the bottom of many laws and decrees which were issued. How do you explain the signature on these laws?

A. Yes, I did sign a series of decrees issued by the Council of Ministers, because they were submitted to me by the Secretariat, that is the Chief of the Reich Chancellery, Minister Lammers, with a request for my signature. When I questioned the necessity for doing this I received a formal answer from Lammers - to the effect that other Reich departments might see that the Wehrmacht was not excluded from these decrees or laws. That is why my signature is included. It means - that the Wehrmacht must also obey these decrees and laws. That is why I had no misgivings in signing my name.

Q. The prosecution further accuses you of being a political general. Undoubtedly you appeared at various special functions. Will you please answer this accusation and tell us how it came about?

A. I can readily understand that the fact that functions of a ministerial nature which necessarily brought me frequently into contact with ministers of the Reich - in the course of a war everything is tied up with the Wehrmacht in some way or other - would seem to indicate that I had exercised a political function in these matters. The same conclusion can be reached by other processes of reasoning. That is, my presence at State visits and similar functions, as indicated by many documents, might suggest that I was exercising political functions, or being drawn into such functions. Neither is it true, either in regard to internal German ministerial functions or in regard to foreign political matters. There were, naturally, a great many things to be settled with the ministries, the special ministries. The Wehrmacht had to participate and have a voice in almost all the decrees which were issued by the civilian ministries. This work was naturally done in Berlin. The fact that I had to remain with the Fuehrer at his headquarters kept me away; and this meant that my offices - the office of the O.K.W. - had to settle these questions diplomatically with the Reich departments and their experts rather independently on the whole. Thus it happened, naturally, that decrees of this kind were drawn up requiring my comments and the Fuehrer's consent, which was obtained through me, and that in this connection I was the person who co-ordinated the various wishes and views of the High Commanders of the Wehrmacht branches and reduced them to a common denomination, so to speak. Through these activities, I was naturally drawn into the general scheme of this work, but I do not believe that this would justify the application of the term "political general" to the Fuehrer's Military Chief of Staff.

Q. What can you tell us with regard to foreign policy and the meetings at which foreign policy was discussed?

A. Concerning the sphere of foreign policy, I would merely like to emphasise

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what the former Reich Foreign Minister has already said about collaboration with the leadership of the Wehrmacht. If two commanders were to go their separate ways, then you would have foreign politics on one side and the Wehrmacht on the other, especially under the influence of the Fuehrer, who did not desire collaboration or the mutual exchange of ideas; and rejected it. He kept us in separate camps, and wished to work with each one separately. I must emphasise that most strongly. To conclude, this applies to all other departments who came to headquarters, that is, everything was discussed with them alone, and they also left the headquarters alone.

The Foreign Office was contacted, as State Secretary von Steengracht has stated, with regard to all questions of International Law or questions affecting the prisoner-of-war organisation, which was connected with that, questions of communication with the protecting powers, and questions which von Steengracht may have had in mind when he said "With the Wehrmacht the whole field of an attache's work," since all reports sent by military attaches in neutral and friendly countries to the Commanders-in-Chief of the Wehrmacht branches went through Foreign Office channels. They all arrived there and we received them from there. It was quite natural that during the war any news of special interest to us might call for special contacts, in that we often had to complain that the Foreign Office reports did not reach us in time, and that our Ministry wanted to have them sent direct and not by a roundabout way. Otherwise, however, I must emphasise that there was no collaboration in any other field, or any - I might say - any community of work, between the High Command and the Foreign Office.

Q. About ten days ago Document D-665 was submitted by the prosecution. This document is headed "The Fuehrer's Ideas regarding the Waffen S.S." dated 6th August, 1940. In this document there is a passage by the O.K.W., which states the following:

"The Chief of the O.K.W. has determined that the widest dissemination of the ideas of the Fuehrer on the Waffen S.S. is desirable."
Do you know this document?

A. Yes, I read this document at the time it was submitted, and I remembered it. To explain the origin of this document I must say briefly:

After the war in France Hitler planned to give an independent status to the S.S. forces, Waffen S.S. forces, in order to make them complete military units. He may have carried this out. Until that time they had been branches of infantry troops attached to different army formations. Now these groups were to be made into independent and fully- equipped units and would thus become independent formations. This created extreme unrest in the army, and caused acute dissatisfaction among the generals. It was said to denote competition with the army, and the breaking of the promise made to the army that "there is only one bearer of arms in Germany - and that is the Wehrmacht." They asked: "Where would this lead?"

At that time the Commander-in-Chief of the army asked Hitler's Chief Adjutant for information about this outrage and General Schmundt, with Hitler's approval, then wrote the passage mentioned in this document.

I went to the Fuehrer personally about this question to tell him plainly that the army considered it an insult. He decided to handle the matter through his adjutant, as it had nothing to do with the High Command of the Wehrmacht. This announcement was then communicated to the army itself in order to calm the feelings aroused. The information from myself that there was no objection to the widest publicity in this case either, was given to satisfy General Brauchitsch, who expressly requested to be allowed to distribute it to every unit in order to reassure the Army that the troops in question were police troops who had to have experience of active service, as otherwise the home front would refuse to recognise them.

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That is how it began; and if I am asked my views on the matter at present I would say briefly: I also thought at the time that there ought to be a limit to these things; I believe ten per cent. was the figure mentioned. With the development of events in connection with the setting up of new formations after 1942, these troops lost their original character of an e1ite, selected on physical and racial grounds. There was no mistaking the fact that considerable pressure was exercised; and I myself was very much afraid that some day this instrument of the Waffen S.S. which had swelled to a force more than twenty divisions strong, would grow into a new Army with a different ideology. We had very grave misgivings in this respect, especially as what we now saw before us was no longer an e1ite in any sense of the term; and since we even saw commissioned and non- commissioned officers and men transferred from these troops to the Wehrmacht. It was no longer a question of selecting volunteers. I do not think there is anything further to add.

Q. The prosecution has submitted document L-211 to me. It is headed "War Operations as an Organisational Problem," and contains the comments of the O.K.W. on the memorandum of the Commander-in-Chief of the Army regarding the organisation of the leadership of the Wehrmacht.

This document was submitted to prove that the O.K.W. and you, as chief of the High Command of the Wehrmacht, held views which favoured aggression and had expressed them in these comments.

I assume that you remember this memorandum. What have you to say about the accusation which is based on this?

A. This document was submitted to me during my preliminary interrogation and thus I was reminded of its existence. In this connection I must also give a brief description of the background. It is not an exaggeration to say that in the early twenties, that is shortly after the end of the First World War, there was a great deal of literature produced, I believe in all countries which had taken part in the war, on the best way of distributing and co-ordinating competencies on the highest level in the armed forces (Kriegsspitzengliederung). I myself wrote on the subject and I know the opinions held in the United States, England and France. At that time everybody was occupied with the question of Kriegsspitzengliederung, and von Blomberg said he was in favour of the eighth solution - seven had already been discarded.

In this connection a struggle developed, led by the High Command of the Army and the General Staff of the Army, who constantly opposed the idea of a combined supreme operational command of the armed forces, and demanded that the supreme authority should be in the hands of the Army General Staff, as it was before.

When the High Command was created and von Blomberg had gone, the army thought the moment opportune to return with renewed vigour to the attack. The result was a memorandum from the Commander-in-Chief of the Army, written by General Beck, and the answer to this is the memorandum mentioned here. As I collaborated in the drafting of this answer, I can vouch that two men were responsible for it, namely, General Jodl and myself, and that we were the only two who worked on it. I can state that at that time we were not motivated by any acute problem or by any preliminary general staff work in preparation for war, but only by the fact, as I might put it, that of all the many memoranda and investigations into the most expedient method, the one drawn up by us appeared to be the most practical.

THE PRESIDENT: Does the document not speak for itself? He says he collaborated in it, but that it was not concerned with war, so that is all that needs to be said. The document speaks for itself then.

DR. NELTE: But surely he may clarify some of the ideas contained in this document. Moreover, Mr. President, in regard to this question I took the liberty of submitting the affidavit in document book 2: "High Command of the Wehrmacht

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and General Staff," which is signed by the defendant Keitel as well as by Herr Jodl. It has been submitted to you as No. 2 of Document Book 2.

THE PRESIDENT: Is that the affidavit of 8th March?

DR. NELTE: 29th March, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT: The first one in the book, or where is it?

DR. NELTE: No, in the second part.

THE PRESIDENT: But what page?

DR. NELTE: The pages have not been numbered consecutively, it has a table of contents, and under that you will find it as number two.

THE PRESIDENT: Are you quoting then from L-211 now? Are you finished with that?

DR. NELTE: This affidavit belongs to L-211.

THE PRESIDENT: I thought the witness said he had collaborated in the study, which is L-211, and that it was not concerned with war. You might leave it at that.

DR. NELTE: I believe, Mr. President, in this trial we are concerned with hearing what the defendants have to say to those documents which accuse them. The explanation of document L-211 which the defendant wishes to make is contained in the affidavit which I submitted in document book number 2.

THE PRESIDENT: If what he wishes to say was put down in the affidavit then he should not have been asked about it; the affidavit should have been read.

DR. NELTE: The difference between his verbal statement and the contents of the affidavit is a difference in time of 1st to 10th. He only gave a brief summary of the answer he wished to make. The affidavit is longer, and therefore I thought I could dispense with reading the affidavit if he could give us a brief summary of the chief points with which we are concerned.

THE PRESIDENT: You and I have a different idea of the word summary.

DR. NELTE: May I continue, Mr. President?

THE PRESIDENT: Yes, go on.


Q. I now come to the question of rearmament, and the various cases of Austria, Czechoslovakia, etc. I would like to ask you about the accusation of the prosecution, that you participated in the planning and preparation of wars of aggression. So that we can understand each other, and you can give your answers correctly, we must be quite clear as to what is meant by war of aggression. Will you tell us your views on that subject?

A. As a soldier, I must say that the term war of aggression as used here is meaningless as far as I am concerned; we learned how to conduct aggressive warfare, defensive actions, and actions of retreat. However, according to my own personal feeling as a military man, the concept "war of aggression" is a purely political concept and not a military one. I mean that if the Wehrmacht and the soldier, are a tool of the politicians, they are not qualified in my opinion to decide or to judge whether these military operations did or did not constitute a war of aggression. I think I can summarise my views by saying that military offices should not have authority to decide this question and are not in a position to do so; and that these decisions are not the task of the soldier, but solely that of the statesman.

Q. Then you mean to say - and this applies also to all Commanders-in-Chief - and officers involved - that the question of whether or not a war is a war of aggression, or whether or not it would be conducted for the defence of a country, in other words, whether a war is a just war or not, was not in the field of your professional deliberations and decisions?

A. No; that is what I wish to express, since ...

Q. What you are giving is an explanation. But you are not only a soldier, you are also an individual with a life of your own. When facts brought to your notice in your professional capacity revealed that a projected operation was unjust, did you not have private and personal doubts?

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A. I believe I can truthfully say that, throughout the whole of my military career I was brought up, so to speak, in the old tradition, which never concerned itself in this question. Naturally, one has one's own opinion and a life of one's own, but in the exercise of professional functions as a soldier and officer this life has been given away, yielded up. Therefore I could not say either at that time or later, that I gave thought to these purely political questions, for I took the stand that a soldier should be able to have confidence in his State leadership, and, accordingly, he is obliged to do his duty and to obey.

Q. Now we will take up the questions individually.

Did you know Hitler's plans first in regard to rearmament, and later, in regard to aggression, as the prosecution calls it? I am thinking chiefly of the period from February 1933 to 1938.

A. It was clear to me that when Hitler became Chancellor, we soldiers would undoubtedly have a different position in the Reich under new leadership, and that the military factor would certainly be viewed differently from what had been the case before. Therefore, we quite frankly and openly welcomed the fact, that at the head of the Reich Government there was a man who was determined to bring about an era which would lead us out of the deplorable conditions then obtaining.

So much I must confess, that I welcomed the plan and intention to rearm as far as was possible at that time, as well as the ideas which tended in that direction. In any event, as early as 1933, in the late summer, I resigned from my activities in the War Ministry. I spent two years on active service and only returned at the time when the Wehrhoheit (military sovereignty) had been re-established and it was obvious that we were rearming. Therefore, during my absence I did not follow these matters. At any rate, in the period from 1935 to 1938, during which I was Chief under Blomberg, I naturally saw and witnessed everything that took place in connection with rearmament and everything that was done in this field by the War Ministry to help the Wehrmacht department.

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