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

The Trial of German Major War Criminals

Sitting at Nuremberg, Germany
4th April to 15th April, 1946

One Hundred and Second Day: Monday, 8th April, 1946
(Part 4 of 11)

[SIR DAVID MAXWELL FYFE continues his cross examination of Wilhelm Bodewin Johann Gustav Keitel]

[Page 105]

Q. Now, you suggested, did you not, these false military movements?

A. No, I neither imagined nor suggested them. But it was an instruction of the Fuehrer, as he dismissed me that evening. I would not have thought of that myself.

Q. You have the documents books that I gave you. just look at this. It is 113 of the German Document Book. It is 131 of your Lordship's Document Book, the larger document book.

Now, this is your document of the 13th, defendant.

A. Yes.

Q. And, if you look at paragraph 1, the directions are to take no real preparatory measures in the Army or Luftwaffe, no troop movements or redeployments, to spread false but quite credible news which may lead to the conclusion of military preparations against Austria. And it is through people in Austria and your customs personnel and through agents that you set out the news, and by make-believe wireless exchange and through manoeuvres.

Now, you put that up to Hitler and on the 14th Captain Eberhard gives the information by phone that the Fuehrer has given his approval on all points. You were putting up what the false news and the false preparations were to be in order to get a political effect in Austria, were you not?

A. I made the proposal on the basis and instigation of instructions which had been given to me on my return to Berlin.

Q. Well now, I only want to deal quite shortly with this, and I think I can, but I want to show the same point with regard to Czechoslovakia.

Before you became Chief of the O.K.W. you had been under von Blomberg at the Ministry of War. Had you seen von Blomberg's plan for the invasion of Czechoslovakia, the directive dated 24th June, 1937?

A. Yes, I knew that.

Q. You had?

A. Yes. It was not instructions for an invasion, it was preparations for the annual mobilisation, that is what it was.

Q. Well, paragraph 2 reads:

"The task of the German Armed Forces is to prepare in such a way that the bulk of the whole strength can break into Czechoslovakia quickly, by surprise, with the greatest force."

[Page 106]

I should have thought that was a preparation for an invasion. All I want at the moment is to know this. You knew of that plan, defendant, did you not?

A. I believe, yes, that I read it at that time, but of course I do not remember the details any more.

Q. Now, you told this Tribunal that the first that you heard of the Fuehrer's plans against Czechoslovakia in 1938 was at the interview you had with the Fuehrer on 21st April. It is very easy to forget something, and I am not putting it to you that you are lying, defendant, on this point. But that is not accurate, is it? You had correspondence with the defendant von Ribbentrop as early as 4th March, six weeks before, on this point, had you not, about the liaisoning with the Hungarian High Command? Isn't that correct?

A. I cannot remember that: I have no idea.

Q. Just look at it. You see my point? You are stating that you were not dealing with politics, but if you will look at this document I will give you it in a moment - it is 2786-PS - you will see that it is apparently a letter from the defendant von Ribbentrop to you:

"Most Honoured General: Enclosed I forward to you the minutes of a conference with the local Hungarian Ambassador for your confidential cognizance. As you can see from them, Mr. Sztojay suggested that possible war aims against Czechoslovakia be discussed between the German and Hungarian Armies. I have many doubts about such negotiations. If we discuss with Hungary possible war aims against Czechoslovakia, danger exists that other parties as well would be informed about this. I would greatly appreciate it if you would notify me briefly whether any commitments were made here in any respect."
And the Foreign Minister encloses the minutes of his conversation with the Ambassador.

A. I remember this incident only so far as an invitation by General von Ratz was concerned. I did not know at all just what was to be discussed. Blomberg had been invited by von Ratz also, and in my ignorance I questioned Hitler, whether I should make such a visit. Hitler told me that he considered that appropriate. However, an operational General Staff meeting did not take place - it was just a hunting visit.

THE PRESIDENT: The Court will adjourn now.

(A recess was taken.)


Q. I want to ask you very few questions on this part of the case, defendant. Do you remember, you told the Tribunal that on 21st April, when you saw Hitler, that he had either read to you or handed you a copy of the minutes which appear there, taken by Schmundt, about the basis of the Fall Grun operation against Czechoslovakia?

THE PRESIDENT: Sir David, isn't this really a matter of argument rather than a matter for cross-examination? The witness says that in so far as the part he took in all these matters, it was military. The case of the prosecution is that the part he took was political.

SIR DAVID MAXWELL FYFE: My Lord, if I may say so, it is a very fair comment and received with greatest respect. The difficulty arises, when a witness has said several times "it is political" and "it is only military." I wanted to bring out the points that show it is political and I don't want to trespass on anything which the Tribunal had in mind.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think the Tribunal has all the documents before it upon which it can judge, really, unless you have new documents?

SIR DAVID MAXWELL FYFE: My Lord, there are none; and, my Lord, I will, of course,

[Page 107]

accede at once to what the Tribunal says. My Lord, I should like to point out one document.

THE PRESIDENT: Sir David, I think the Tribunal does feel that the cross-examination is apt to get a little bit too long and sometimes too detailed.

SIR DAVID MAXWELL FYFE: If your Lordship please, I am sorry if that has been done, but, my Lord, the witness was in examination-in-chief, I think, two full days and in examination by the other defence counsel for half a day, and so far the prosecution has only spent just four hours. So I hope your Lordship won't hold it too much against us. My Lord, the only document which I should like to - I shall not pursue the point in view of what your Lordship has said - is on Page 31 of the document book. I only wanted you to have this in mind, because your Lordship will remember that the witness said that the state of German preparations was such that he himself, and the other generals, did not think that a campaign against Czechoslovakia would succeed. Your Lordship will see that on that day General Halder, then Chief of Staff, said that the operation would definitely succeed and almost be reached in the second day. My Lord, I only want to pass on that and I think it is only fair that the Tribunal should have that point in mind. I don't think it has been referred to before. I will leave that point, as your Lordship has indicated and I will leave the other points on this part of the case, as I intended to do. I only want to deal with a different point entirely and then I shall finish.


Q. Defendant, the document which I have now passed to you is a document which gives the account of a conference between Hitler and yourself on 20th October, 1939, with regard to the future shape of Polish relations, and I want you to look at paragraph 3, the second sub-paragraph. I want to put one interview to you arising out of that. That paragraph says:

"The Polish intelligentsia must be prevented from forming a ruling class. The standard of living in the country is to remain low. We only want to draw labour forces from there."
Now, do you remember General Lahousen giving evidence? He said that Admiral Canaris had protested vehemently to you against, first of all, the projected shooting and extermination measures that were being directed particularly against the Polish intelligentsia, nobility and clergy, as well as elements that could be regarded as embodiments of the national resistance movement. According to General Lahousen, Canaris said:
"The world will at some time make the Armed Forces under whose eyes these events have occurred, also responsible for these events."
Do you remember Admiral Canaris saying that to you or words to that effect?

A. I only know what General Lahousen testified here in court. I don't know anything about what Admiral Canaris said.

Q. Did Lahousen never give you any warning of any kind as to the fact that the Armed Forces might be held responsible for these actions that were being taken in Poland?

A. No. It was also my opinion that the Armed Forces would be made responsible even if such actions were taken without their approval or contact. That was also a reason for the conference.

Q. And that was a point that did worry you very much, was it not?

A. Yes, I was extremely worried and I had serious discussions about it, but not at that particular time.

Q. And wouldn't it be fair to put it this way, that if you had known at the time all that you know now, you would have refused, even with all that you have told us, you would have refused to have anything to do with actions that produced concentration camps, mass murder, and misery to millions of people, or do you

[Page 108]

say that you still, knowing all that you know now, would have gone on with these actions?

A. No. I am convinced that if the German Armed Forces and their Generals had known it then they would have fought against these things.


MR. DODD: If Your Honours please, I have just one question.


Q. A few days ago, on the morning of 3rd April, when you were on direct examination, we understood you to say that you had the feeling that you must accept responsibility for orders issued in your name, orders which you passed on, which were issued by Hitler; and on Friday afternoon, when Sir David was examining you, we understood you to say that as an old professional soldier you of course, understood the traditions and indeed the principles of that profession that oblige a soldier not to carry out any order which he recognises to be criminal in character. Is that understanding on our part correct?

A. Yes.

Q. So that it is fair to say to you that despite the obligations of your oath as a professional soldier, you acknowledge having carried out criminal orders?

A. One can hardly put it that way. What should be said is that the type of government we had at the time and the authority of the head of State permitted such legislative power that the executive organs were not conscious of carrying out illegal orders. Of course, I was also aware of the fact that deeds were committed which were incompatible with right and justice.

Q. I understand you to say you did with knowledge carry out and pass on criminal or illegal orders. Is that a fair statement?

A. I did not have any inner conviction of being criminal, since after all it was the head of the State, who as far as we were concerned, held all the legislative power. Consequently I did not consider that I was acting criminally.

Q. Well, I do not want to devote any more time to you except to say this, to suggest to you, that I think your answer is not responsive.

You told us that some of these orders were violations of the existing International Law. An order issued in that form and on that basis is a criminal order, is an illegal order, is it not?

A. Yes, that is correct.

Q. Well, when you carried them out you were carrying out criminal orders in violation of one of the basic principles of your professional soldier's code, no matter by whom they were issued.

A. Yes.

THE PRESIDENT: Dr. Nelte, do you wish to re-examine?

DR. NELTE: Mr. President, I do not propose to put any further questions regarding the actual facts involved in the case to the defendant. It appears to me that after his frank statements the objective facts have been clarified as much as is possible in this trial.

Regarding the facts subjectively seen, it is according to my conception necessary, particularly with reference to the last question which has been asked by the American Prosecutor, that certain supplementary statements be obtained.


Q. Once more, therefore, I am having the Canaris document shown to you, Exhibit USSR 356, from which General Rudenko has presented to you your hand-written note and also the documents submitted by the British Prosecutor, D-762, 764, 766, 765, and 770.

According to statements made during the cross-examination your explanation regarding responsibilities appears to require a supplementary clarification. You have said that you passed on Hitler's orders with cognizance of their contents. And

[Page 109]

now I come back to Mr. Dodd's question and in light of the judgement to be passed on you, I must ask you, for it is of the greatest importance, how was it possible and how do you want to explain that these ruthless orders, in violation of the law of war, could be carried out by you or how, as it says in the Canaris document, you could support them? You did have objections, you told us so. This is a matter that can only be explained by you yourself since it is a personal affair and cannot be clarified with the help of documents, as such. A number of times you have told me, and now again you have emphasised it, that you desired to help us find a thorough and truthful explanation for everything.

Thus, I am asking you how was it possible and how do you explain that those orders and instructions were carried out and passed on by you and how it is that no effective resistance was met with?

A. About this clearing up, I realise that many orders and also notes which I wrote on documents that have been found and orders which I passed on must seem incomprehensible to onlookers and particularly to foreigners.

To find an explanation for this, I must say that you had to know the Fuehrer, that you had to know in what atmosphere I worked in day and night for years. You must not fail to consider just what the circumstances were under which these events occurred. I have often testified here that I wanted to give expression to my scruples and objections, and that I did so. The Fuehrer would then advance arguments which to him appeared decisive in his own forceful and convincing way, stating the military and political necessities and making felt his concern for the welfare of his soldiers and their safety as well as his concern about the future of our people. I must state that, because of that, but also because of the ever increasing emergency, militarily speaking, in which we found ourselves, I convinced myself and often allowed myself to become convinced of the necessity and the rightness of such measures. So I would transmit the orders that were given, and promulgated them without letting myself be deterred by any possible effects they might have.

Perhaps this may be considered as weakness and perhaps I shall be accused of the same guilt. But at any rate, what I have told is the truth. During the examination by Sir David I myself admitted and acknowledged that I often had serious conflicts of conscience and that I often found myself in a position where I myself in some way or another was able to visualize the consequences of these matters. But never did it enter my mind to revolt against the head of the State and the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces or refuse him obedience. As far as I am concerned as a soldier, loyalty is sacred to me. I may be accused of having made mistakes, and also of having shown weakness in face of the Fuehrer, Adolf Hitler, but never can it be said that I was cowardly, dishonourable or faithless.

This is what I had to say.

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