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

The Trial of German Major War Criminals

Two Hundred and Twelfth Day: Tuesday, 27th August, 1946
(Part 8 of 11)

[Page 169]


The indicted military leaders, as a whole, were without any influence on the course of developments, nay, even they themselves were surprised by them. If in all those years Hitler's moves were tolerated by foreign countries and, at least, recognized de facto, then the reason may be, as Justice Jackson believes, that these foreign countries had "weak governments." But the fact remained that there was international recognition. If even foreign countries did not, at that time, recognize all these developments as the "beginning of the execution" of wars of aggression, how could the German military leaders, as a whole, possibly have been aware of such plans on Hitler's part?

The military expert will have his last doubts about the intentions of the military leaders removed when he looks into the military plans of that period, which contained nothing but directives for defence. In that respect, the final address made by General Beck to a circle of high- ranking officers on the conclusion of an operational task, concerning the subject "War with Czechoslovakia," may be considered as characteristic. In this address he spoke with great seriousness of the results of the preceding studies and stressed the fact that although Germany would be able to defeat the Czech Army within a few weeks, she would subsequently not be in a position to offer any serious resistance to the French forces, which would, in the meantime, have crossed the Rhine, and invaded Southern and Central Germany; so that the initial success against Czechoslovakia would, in its further consequences, have developed into a formidable catastrophe for Germany. These arguments can certainly not be interpreted as indicative of the German generals' lust for war, nor for their approval of Hitler's possible plans of aggression.

In the following period the German military leaders likewise repeatedly and earnestly emphasized that German policy - whatever its aims might be - should never bring about a situation which would lead to a war on two fronts. In view of the numerous mutual assistance pacts, guarantee obligations, and alliances between all the neighbours of Germany, this attitude excluded, as a matter of principle, any idea of waging a war of aggression.

History has justified the opinion held by the generals. Hitler disregarded their warnings, and exclaimed in indignation: "What sort of people are these generals, whom I, as the head of the State, may have to drive into war? If things were as they should be, I should be unable to escape from the generals' pressure for war."

Only those who do not want to see the truth can neglect these facts. If ever there was unanimity among the military leaders it certainly did not exist with regard to the planning of wars of aggression, but - based on the very sober realization of the dangers and consequences of any war for Germany and the world - agreement did exist in the rejection of such plans of the head of State.

[Page 170]

Hitler, the man who should have known best, considered these men unsuitable as "participants" in his plans, and dismissed them. Nor did he consider any other officer from the so- called "Circle of Conspirators" as suitable to become the Supreme Commander and the future participant in possible plans, but he personally assumed the supreme command of the armed forces, and thus became their immediate military superior.

The expression of his will and his directives to the armed forces now had the character of a military order. Although protests were still possible, there was nothing left but the duty of the subordinate to obey if he who gave the orders held to his opinion.

This is certainly a principle governing all armies of the world.

At this point, I must refer to a document which the prosecution has particularly used as a proof of the plans of the "criminal organization." I am referring to the so-called "Hoszbach minutes" dealing with the meeting of 5th November, 1937. What actually did happen?

It was not an "influential group of Nazi conspirators meeting Hitler to consider the situation," but Hitler, in his capacity as head of the State, had convened some military leaders and the Foreign Minister for a meeting. He developed his own ideas. He began by declaring that the problem of Austria and Czechoslovakia must be solved between 1943 and 1945; then he referred to the Poles as possible aggressors. There was no question of settling the Corridor problem, or of conquests to be made in the East, and similar subjects.

As regards the reliability of these minutes, Affidavit 210, deposed by General Hoszbach, which I have submitted to the Tribunal, clearly shows that Hoszbach did not write down the actual text of the speech while it was being made, but wrote an account of it from memory a few days later. Everybody knows how easily mistakes which are liable to distort the actual events occur whenever records are made subsequently, using the writer's own words, or leaving gaps where his memory fails him.

The following at any rate is certain: 1. The Reich War Minister and the Commander-in-Chief of the Army did not only not agree to any warlike plan, but pointed out in all seriousness, and with due emphasis, the danger threatening from England and France, referring at the same time to Germany's weakness.

2.Whatever may have been the meaning of Hitler's speech, none of the other military leaders were informed of the ideas expressed by Hitler at that meeting. General von Fritsch did not even inform his successor of them when he obtained his release.

3. But even if an individual officer had received knowledge of the subject of this conference, no conclusions can be drawn from this fact against the whole of the military leaders. If Hitler contemplated war in six or eight years, this was no reason for uneasiness. During such a long period, numerous political solutions would still have been possible. Nor was it possible to perceive Hitler's true ideas from this speech any more than from any of his other speeches.

4. The few officers present at the meeting were bound to draw from his speech at least the positive conclusion that Hitler himself contemplated only an absolutely peaceful development until 1943. Where, therefore, is the proof of a participation by the generals in Hitler's plans?

The prosecution is again endeavouring to draw conclusions as to the attitude of the generals towards the entire plan from their reactions to the union with Austria and to the Czechoslovakian question. The special emphasis which is laid on the participation of some officers in the conference held between Hitler and the Austrian statesmen on the Obersalzberg, in February, 1938, is particularly illustrated by the words which Hitler spoke some time later: "I selected

[Page 171]

my most brutal-looking generals to appear as mutes in order to demonstrate the seriousness of the situation to Schuschnigg."

The actual march into Austria and the occupation of that country were a political action, the background of which was unknown to the generals. The officer saw only that when his troops marched into Austria they were everywhere showered with flowers, and enthusiastically welcomed by hundreds of thousands, and that not a single shot was fired.

The deployment plan "Grun" against Czechoslovakia, to which the prosecution refers, was not a consequence of the meeting of 5th November, 1937, but constituted a purely precautionary measure contemplated in the event of a war with France, and was already in the hands of the General Staff on 1st October, 1937; that is to say, before the meeting of 5th November. Although, even in this case, an agreement was reached which provided for the entry of the German troops, the Chief of the German General Staff, General Beck, in a memorandum, drawn up with the approval of the Commander-in-Chief of the Army, warned against a policy which might lead to war. In this memorandum he emphasized that any war launched by Germany in Europe must ultimately lead to a world war and to a tragic end for Germany. General Beck was dismissed. When Hitler turned directly to the Chiefs of the General Staffs of the Armies on 10th August, 1938, with the obvious hope of overcoming the resistance of the older Commander-in-Chief with the help of the younger generation, the objections raised by these younger officers were such that he became even more suspicious of the generals. Where, then, was the enthusiasm of the generals for Hitler's plans? Where was their participation in them?

Hitler's constantly changing utterances in the Sudeten question made it all the more impossible for the military leaders to realize that he might seriously be planning a war.

On 5th November, 1937, he declared that he would settle the Czech problem between 1943 and 1945.

On 20th May, 1938, he declared in a military directive: "I do not intend to smash Czechoslovakia in the near future by military action without provocation."

On 30th May, 1938, he issued a directive to the armed forces in which he said: "It is my unalterable decision to smash Czechoslovakia by military action in the near future."

On 16th June, 1938, he said in another directive: "The immediate objective is the solution of the Czech problem by my own free decision."

On 24th August, 1938, he specified that an "incident" in Czechoslovakia must be the prerequisite for a German attack.

On 16th September, 1938, the military preparations began at the frontier. But political negotiations were opened simultaneously.

On 1st October, 1938, the territories ceded were peacefully occupied in accordance with the political agreements.

The Protectorate was occupied as a consequence of a purely political action; the military leaders received only the order for a peaceful entry.

When, in December, 1938, a written order to the Army High Command (OKW), decreed that the Army was to devote itself until 1945 exclusively to the tasks of its organization and structure and its training, and that it was to abstain from any kind of preparations for a war, including preparations for the defence and safeguarding of the frontier, the military leaders gained the firm conviction that a peaceful development had been secured. Which of these events was to permit the conclusion that the military leaders had participated in a general plan directed toward a war of aggression? In every case, the military leaders did nothing but execute their purely military orders after political decisions had been made.

The political development which led to the war with Poland has been sufficiently dealt with in this trial. It merely remains my duty to explain how this development

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appeared in the eyes of the military leaders. How were the relations between the generals and Hitler at that time? He was the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces. In other words, he was their immediate military superior. Their political objections had everywhere been refuted by events; in the case of the occupation of the Rhineland, in connection with the union with Austria, in the Sudeten problem, and on the occasion of the creation of the Protectorate.

It is easy, from our present knowledge of things, simply to deny these facts, but in those days the belief in Hitler's political ability was a tangible reality for the majority of the German citizens and soldiers. And he had achieved all his successes only by political means, not in a single case by war: To realize that he would risk a war, a war of aggression with Poland, the military leaders would have had to be crystal-gazers. How were they to perceive his aims? The Foreign Office was prevented from informing them of the political situation. Neither as individuals nor as a group were they able to participate in political decisions. The proposals made by the German Foreign Minister to the Polish Ambassador in October, 1938, the conferences between Hitler and the Polish Foreign Minister himself, could only be judged by the soldiers as attempts at a political settlement of the Polish problem, but never as an indication of an intended war of aggression.

The first military directive of April, 1939, amounted to nothing more than the preparation for an "eventuality." If a military leader considered the situation realistically, the assurances of British and French help for Poland were bound to make the idea of a war of aggression against Poland appear absurd.

The conference held on 23rd May, 1939, was a unilateral speech directed by the Supreme Commander to the military leaders whom he had summoned. When Hitler declared, in the course of his address, "I would have to be an idiot to blunder into a world war on account of the lousy Corridor problem, like the inefficient statesmen of 1914"; and when, in reply to an observation made by Field-Marshal Milch that the production of heavy bombs was quite inadequate in the event of a war, and must be immediately increased, Hitler said that there was ample time to take steps in that matter, the military leaders were bound to conclude from this that Hitler had made military preparations only to support the initiated political moves, but that he would on no account risk an armed conflict with Poland.

Nor was the conference held on 22nd August, 1939, a consultation with advisers, but an address by the Supreme Commander directed to the military leaders whom he had called together. When Hitler said in his speech, "We have no other choice; we must act," he did not indicate how he intended to "act." At any rate, the military leaders were by no means under the impression that a war against Poland had been decided upon. On the contrary, the obvious relief with which Hitler announced that a trade agreement had just been reached with the Soviet Union impressed all those present at the meeting with the firm belief that he would find a diplomatic solution to the Polish question, too.

Until then, Hitler had been a genius at seizing the right opportunity. No one ever used bluff with greater virtuosity than he. Bluff and military pressure, however, are permitted instruments of policy. It is quite wrong to conclude that a man who practises or supports one or the other of those methods thereby also approves of a war of aggression. If Hitler had really conceived the plan for an aggression against Poland at some earlier date, the military leaders were not even able to recognize this plan as such. In the last analysis, they themselves were "bluffed."

But what were they to do once the die was cast? Were they to declare, "We cannot do this," or were they to refuse to obey?

They had to do their duty. They were in exactly the same situation as the Russian Army commanders who entered Poland a few days later upon orders from Stalin!

Once the war had begun, the words of Napoleon carried weight with the military leaders:

[Page 173]

"You must remember, gentlemen, that in war obedience comes before courage."
However, the prosecution holds the military leaders responsible not only for the outbreak of the war, but also for its prolongation and for its conduct in general.

The political and military reasons which have led to the extension and the shaping of the events of the war have been so often and so completely examined in this trial that I must refrain at this juncture - particularly in view of the limited time which is at my disposal - from reopening this matter for a general survey.

As regards the military leaders the political background of the Second World War presents itself clearly as the consequences of the conditions created by the Treaty of Versailles. Thus, it seemed to them that, in the last analysis, the German action against Poland was morally justified.

The war in the West was the last thing which the German generals desired. When England and France declared war, this was certainly not a move which was seconded by the German military leaders. The prolongation and extension of the war can no longer be considered as a result of free decisions or of a preconceived plan. The necessities of a struggle for victory or defeat, once a war has broken out, dictate to every nation the road which it has to follow. In these circumstances, the soldier is nothing but the sword which must strike, and the shield which must receive the blows in order to prevent the death of his own nation.

The evidence produced in Raeder's case has made clear beyond doubt the considerations that guided the group of officers who prepared the occupation of Denmark and Norway. We know that in this case Germany forestalled an Allied action by a very narrow margin. If the Commander-in-Chief of the Navy himself was convinced that it was absolutely necessary to avert the very serious dangers which threatened Germany, how, in these circumstances, could the troop commanders, who are members of the so-called "group," have been persuaded that there was no reason to fear such grave danger? Would the Allied Chiefs of General Staffs and field commanders have had the right, or the possibility, to refuse to embark their troops - which was done for the same purpose - before the German action was undertaken? Moreover, only a limited number of military leaders had any knowledge of this action at all. All the other officers covered by the Indictment only learned over the radio that the operation had been undertaken. How can they, therefore, be accused of taking part in planning aggression against these countries?

The reasons for and the prerequisites of the Western campaign have also been discussed conclusively. The attitude which the generals adopted in this case constitutes a particularly striking refutation of the assumption made by the prosecution. The Army High Command itself sharply turned against Hitler's decision to launch an attack in the West, particularly because of the intended violation of neutrality. The clash with Hitler was so serious that in his address to the Commanders-in-Chief on 23rd November, 1939, he directed exceptionally bitter attacks against his generals; he accused them of being ignorant of foreign political questions and referred to them as an "obsolete upper class which had already failed in 1914." The same evening the Commander-in-Chief of the Army sent in his resignation, which, however, was not accepted.

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