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

The Trial of German Major War Criminals

Sitting at Nuremberg, Germany
9th August to 21st August 1946

Two Hundred-First Day: Monday, 12th August, 1946
(Part 5 of 10)

[DR. LATERNSER continues his direct examination of Gert von Rundstedt]

[Page 92]

Q. Were these warnings observed?

A. Unfortunately, not. Finally even the French police, whom we had armed the better to combat the movement, went over to the rebels.

Q. Did the Germans nevertheless fight against them with forbearance?

A. Yes, as far as we possibly could. For example, never were entire towns destroyed from the air, but single planes were always sent against particular places of resistance. Mass use of artillery or tanks did not take place. The fact that excesses, such as those at Oradour, took place, we all greatly regretted. At that time, I immediately demanded a report, since I could not order a judicial investigation, and I also reported this unfortunate occurrence to the OKW.

Q. Why could you not order a judicial investigation?

A. All the troop units of the SS were subordinate only to Himmler. I had neither disciplinary power nor judicial power over them. I could not give them leave, or bestow awards. I was limited only to the tactical employment of these divisions, much as if I had an Italian or Hungarian or Slovakian division under my command.

Q. Was the legality of the resistance movement recognized?

A. General Eisenhower and De Gaulle declared via radio that it was legal. We inquired of the High Command of the Wehrmacht what should be done in the matter, and the decision received was negative. Later, after the Allied troops had landed on the Mediterranean coast, the legality of the new French Army is said to have been recognized and observed without argument.

Q. What is your attitude toward illegal warfare?

A. My point of view is the following, based on quite understandable patriotic feeling: Disorderly, irregular warfare behind the front of the Army must bring very great misery to the population of the country affected. No army in the world can tolerate such conditions for any length of time, but in the interests of the security and protection of its own troops it must take sharp, energetic measures. But this should, of course, be done in a correct and soldierly manner. Excesses such as those in Oradour were strongly condemned by myself and by all army leaders. We very much disliked seeing the attempt made on the German side to set up this Werwolf movement at the last moment. If it had been put into practice, it would have brought untold misery to our Fatherland, and justly so. I would consider it fortunate for humanity if, through international agreements, such illegal wars could in future be made impossible. That is my point of view.

Q. What measures did you introduce to relieve the position of the French population during the occupation?

A. I would not like to give all the details here. I can only say that I did everything to help Marshal Petain with whom I was on terms of great confidence. I asked Hitler to define at last what position France was to have in the future Europe. I trained the French Guards and tried to create a new French Army for Marshal Petain, though it did not grow into more than a regiment. I succeeded

[Page 93]

in obtaining more rations for the fine French railwaymen who managed all our transports, and I tried to have their relatives who were prisoners of war returned to them, in the same way in which Hitler had approved after the Dieppe raid that the relatives of those in Dieppe could return.

We did what we could to supply the great city of Paris with coal and food, though the transport situation for the German Army was almost unbearably poor. These are the main points.

Q. One intermediate question: On one of the last few days, a witness said that from 1944 on, the concentration camps were guarded by soldiers of all branches of the Wehrmacht. How do you explain that?

A. I know nothing about that. Since Himmler was Commander-in- Chief of the Reserve Army after the attempted assassination of the Fuehrer, he could probably issue such an order. If he did issue it, my feeling is that he wanted to charge the Army also with all these occurrences in connection with the concentration camps.

Q. Now a few questions about the Ardennes offensive. Was an order to shoot prisoners ever issued before or during this offensive?

A. Such an order was not issued by Hitler. On the contrary, he considered it most important to take as many prisoners as possible in the offensive. I consider it impossible that a subordinate military command issued such an order; it contradicts our training and our ideas.

Q. Did you not oppose this offensive?

A. I opposed the offensive for the following reasons: The operational idea as such can almost be called a stroke of genius, but all, absolutely all conditions for a possible success of such an offensive were lacking. Therefore, Field- Marshal Model and I suggested that we should be satisfied with less, and attack the Allied troops east of Aachen from several sides. These suggestions remained unheeded. The offensive had to start with completely inadequate forces on the ground and in the air, and as predicted, it failed.

Q. Did you oppose Hitler on other occasions also?

A. Not personally, because I had no opportunity of doing so; but to his staff I frequently objected to measures ordered from above; especially in the case of the Normandy invasion, the Ardennes offensive, after it had failed, and the conduct of operations in Holland. But it was all in vain.

Q. When did you consider the war lost?

A. In my opinion the war could not have been won after the fall of Stalingrad. I considered the war lost when the Allies had succeeded in establishing a strong bridgehead on French soil. That meant the end.

Q. Did you or other Commanders-in-Chief attempt to stop the continuation of the war when you regarded it as lost?

A. Both Field-Marshal Rommel and I attempted twice to persuade Hitler to change the conduct of the war and especially to withdraw the front to the German frontiers. But, as was to be expected, these suggestions were not heeded.

Q. Since Hitler refused to listen to such advice, did you not consider his overthrow?

A. I would never have thought of such a thing, that would have been base, bare-faced treachery, and could not have changed the situation. The Army and the people still believed in Hitler at that time, and such an overthrow would have been quite unsuccessful. Even if I, perhaps with the aid of the Allies, had brought about an overthrow, the fate of the German people, according to the famous statement of the Big Three, would have been exactly what it is now, and I would have emerged and been considered for all time as the greatest traitor to my Fatherland.

Q. You lost your position three times during the war. What were the reasons?

A. In 1941, a quite impossible order of a technical nature was issued from above, and would have led to the destruction of the entire Kleist Panzer Army near Rostov. I objected to it I demanded that the order be withdrawn, and said that otherwise

[Page 94]

I would be compelled to consider it a lack of confidence in my leadership, and I would ask that another Commander-in- Chief be selected. Thereupon, I was removed from my post on the same night, on 1st of December, at my own request, as it was put. That was the first case.

The second case was on the 2nd of April, 1944, when, in a very cordial letter, I was replaced by another Commander-in-Chief because of the impaired state of my health.

The third case was on the 9th of March, 1945. Then I could no longer be expected, as an old. gentleman, to continue performing the exacting duties of the Commander-in-Chief West.

Those were the three cases.

Q. And in none of these cases did you resign against the will of Hitler?

A. In the first case one could say so. But he did not hold it against me in any way, for as early as the following March I was made Commander-in-Chief in France.

Q. Now I come to the last question. You know, Field-Marshal, that the prosecution has asked that the body of military leaders be declared criminal. As the senior officer of the German Army, you know the attitude of these leaders toward military and International Law. Would you please tell the Tribunal about it briefly?

A. The rules of warfare and of International Law as set down in the Geneva Convention and the Hague Rules on Land Warfare were always binding for us older leaders. Their strict observance by the troops was demanded, and very severe measures were taken in case of excesses which in war can probably take place in all armies. The court-martial records of the various divisions can give information on this point. Property of the inhabitants was ordered to be respected. Severe punishment for plundering had to be meted out, if only in the interests of maintaining discipline amongst our own troops. Raping of women and other inhuman acts were also subject to severe punishment. What we could do to support the inhabitants of enemy countries affected by the war was done, as far as was possible. The wounded or conquered enemy was no longer considered as such, but had a claim to decent treatment. We ordered that the battle itself was to be fought chivalrously. We old officers who lived through the time of cavalry battles and of infantry bayonet attacks witnessed the increasing mechanisation of warfare with regret. Today the bravest men and the best troops are helpless against the force of mechanisation. All the more did we leaders believe that where there was fighting on land the old soldierly, decent forms of battle should be maintained, and that they should be impressed on the troops again and again.

As senior soldier of the German Army, I will say this: We accused leaders were trained in the old soldierly traditions of decency and chivalry. We lived and acted according to them, and we endeavoured to hand them down to the younger officers.

DR. LATERNSER: I have no further questions.



Q. Field-Marshal, in time of war the military commander must keep in close touch, must he not, and know the opinions of his immediate subordinates, is that right?

A. That is not actually necessary. My subordinates only had to know my operational and tactical views. For the rest, they were free as army leaders within their sphere.

Q. I want to quote to you one sentence from the evidence which has been given by your former Commander-in-Chief. The translators already have it. It is on Page 2 of Affidavit No. 4:

[Page 95]

"During operations, the OKH maintained a constant exchange of ideas with army groups by means of telephone, radio and courier. The Commander-in-Chief of the Army used every opportunity to maintain a personal exchange of ideas with the commanders of army groups, armies and lower echelons by means of personal visits to them."
Is that, generally speaking, correct?

A. That is absolutely correct as far as the conduct of the war, operations and tactical actions are concerned. Such an exchange did take place from the army groups up to the Commander-in-Chief of the Army.

Q. I shall read you one more sentence from the evidence that has been given by Colonel-General Blaskowitz. He has said - and I want you to tell me whether you agree with this - that it was common practice for the commanders of army groups and of armies to be asked from time to time for estimates of a situation, and for their recommendations, by telephone, teletype or wireless, as well as by personal records.

A. It is not correct that they had to give such estimates. They could.

Q. Now I have some questions on the Russian campaign. You yourself at a conference with Hitler and your Army colleagues raised a question of a gap which existed between your army group and that of Field-Marshal von Bock, is that right?

A. That is correct.

Q. And you knew from your former experience that although on the map that gap was shown as swamp land, it could be used by troops; and you therefore advised about the steps that should be taken to prevent its exploitation by the enemy?

A. I pointed out that according to my experiences in the last war against Russia, the Russians could operate freely in this swamp area, and that it would therefore be practical for German troops also to be moved through this area. This suggestion was not accepted. As the operations later showed the Russians had strong forces in the area, and from there they constantly threatened the left flank of my army.

Q. Yes. I am not concerned with whether the advice was listened to or not. But you agree that you offered it?

A. It was not advice; it was a question which occurred to me as I described the plan of the operation to the Fuehrer. It was not advice.

Q. I am not going to quarrel with you on that. I want to mention one other conference about which we have already heard a certain amount, and that was the meeting which took place - I think it was in the office of Field-Marshal von Brauchitsch - May, 1938, when there was a question of seizing the Sudetenland. Is it not a fact that at that conference von Brauchitsch asked for your opinion and that of your fellow officers on the proposals which Hitler had laid before you?

A. At that time, a memorandum was read which the Chief of the General Staff Beck had drawn up, and which warned against a war over the question of the Sudetenland. It was to be submitted to Hitler by von Brauchitsch. We were asked for our opinion on this memorandum, and we unanimously agreed that war should not be waged.

Q. You were unanimously agreed with General Beck that the sort of war that was likely to happen at that time, if Hitler had his way, should not be waged at that time in that way?

A. In our opinion, or in the opinion of the memorandum, the German Army was not in a position to wage this war if France, England, and America were to join the enemy side. That was the fundamental idea of the memorandum. We could probably have dealt with Czechoslovakia alone, but never if the countries just mentioned had come to her aid. And against that Hitler was to be warned.

Then it is fair to say, is it not, that in order to support himself in the objections which he proposed to make to Hitler, Brauchitsch assembled a circle

[Page 96]

of leading generals who were of the same opinion as himself? That strengthened his hand, did it not?

A. Yes; one could say, that.

Q. You all agreed in giving advice similar to that which had been given by Generaloberst Beck?

THE PRESIDENT: Is this a convenient time to break off?


(The Tribunal adjourned until 1400 hours.)




Q. You have given evidence, Field-Marshal, to the effect that you had little or no knowledge of such moves as the occupation of the Rhineland or the seizure of the Sudetenland, is that correct?

A. I had no previous knowledge of the occupation of the Rhineland, just as little as I knew anything of the occupation of the Sudetenland in 1939. I was inactive at the time, retired.

Q. What was the highest past you held when you were in service between 1933 and the outbreak of the war in 1939?

A. As I reported earlier, from the 1st of October, 1932, until 31st October, 1938, I was Supreme Commander of Group I, Berlin. And then I was retired.

Q. Therefore, during the period up to the outbreak of the war, during such time as you held the post, and when you received little or no information about what was going on, you were not a member of the indicted group, as defined in this Indictment?

A. No, I was not a member of that group.

Q. And as far as the invasion of Norway is concerned, you were at that time active in a different theatre of war, is that right?

A. At the time when the Norway enterprise began I was Supreme Commander of Army Group A, stationed at Coblenz, in the West.

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