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

The Trial of German Major War Criminals

Two Hundred and Fifteenth Day: Friday, 30th August, 1946
(Part 3 of 15)

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Let us test this defence against the facts in the case of the commando order. The original order and the other relevant documents are all in evidence. In October, 1942, Hitler ordered that enemy commandos were to be slaughtered to the last man; that even if they surrendered, they were nonetheless to be shot immediately, unless interrogation were necessary, in which case they were to be shot thereafter. The order was not a purposeless piece of criminality; allied commando operations were doing serious harm to the German war effort, and Hitler thought this order would act as a deterrent.

The order was issued from the OKW and distributed to all three branches of the service, Army, Navy and Air Force. There is ample evidence that it was widely distributed and well known within the Wehrmacht. Rundstedt, Supreme Commander in the West, reported on 23rd June, 1944, that the treatment of enemy commando groups has so far been carried out" according to the Hitler order. Two years later, under different circumstances, Rundstedt testified that he "evaded" and "sabotaged" the order, and that it was not carried out. But we know from the documents that it was carried out. Pursuant to this order, British and Norwegian commandos were executed in Norway in 1942 and 1943; American commandos were shot in Italy in 1944; allied soldiers were executed in Slovakia in 1945. And, in the nature of things, the order must have been carried out in other instances of which, unhappily, no trace now remains.

In the light of these documents, what remains of the defence? Stated most favorably, merely that because some of the military leaders disapproved the order, it was not executed as often as it might otherwise have been. But this defence is worse than worthless; it is shameful.

We must not forget that to kill a defenseless prisoner of war is not only a violation of the rules of war. It is murder. And murder is not the less murder whether there is one victim, or fifty-five (which is the number of slaughtered commandos shown by the documents) or Ohlendorf's ninety thousand. Crime has been piled upon crime in this case until we are in danger of losing our sense of proportion. We have heard so much of mass extermination that we are likely to forget that simple murder is a capital offence.

The laws of all civilized nations require that a man go to some lengths to avoid associating himself with murder, whether as an accomplice or accessory or co-conspirator. And these requirements can reasonably be applied to the German military leaders. Before this Tribunal they have made much of their traditions of honour, decency, courage and chivalry.

Under German military law, a subordinate is liable to punishment for obeying the order of a superior if the subordinate knows that the order requires the commission of a general or a military crime. The commando order required the commission of murder, and every German officer who handled the order knew that perfectly well.

When Hitler directed the issuance of this order, the leaders of the Wehrmacht knew that it required the commission of murder. The responsibility for handling this question lay squarely on the group defined in the Indictment. The chiefs at OKW, OKH, OKL and OKM had to decide whether to refuse to issue a criminal order or whether to pass it on to the commanders-in-chief in the field. The commanders-in-chief in the field, Army, Navy and Air Force, had to decide whether to execute it or refuse to execute it and whether to distribute it to their subordinates.

One can imagine that there were many meetings and telephone conversations among various members of the group to discuss this matter. There is no evidence that a single member of the group openly protested or announced his refusal to

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execute it. The general result was that the order was distributed throughout a large part of the Wehrmacht. This put the subordinate commanders in the same position as their superiors. We are told that some of the generals tacitly agreed not to carry out the order. If so, it was a miserable and worthless compromise. By distributing the order with "secret" or "tacit" understandings, the commanders-in-chief merely spread the responsibility and deprived themselves of any effective control over the situation. A tacit agreement to disobey cannot be so widely circulated. The inevitable result, and the result proved by the documents, was that the order was carried out, and innocent men were murdered.

Because he was responsible for enforcing the commando order, General Dostler was tried, convicted, and shot to death. For the same crimes, General Falkenhorst now stands condemned to die. But the responsibility for these murders is shared by Falkenhorst and Dostler with every German commander-in- chief, at home or in the field, who allowed this order to become the official law of the Wehrmacht and participated in its distribution. On this charge alone, I submit, the General; Staff and High Command group is proved to have participated directly, effectively and knowingly in the commission of war crimes.

On the Eastern Front, the callous indifference of the German war lords to violations of the laws of war and to mass suffering and death produced results equally criminal and, because on a grander scale, far more horrible. The atrocities committed by the Wehrmacht and other agencies of the Third Reich in the East were of such staggering enormity that they rather tax the power of comprehension. Why did all these things happen? Analysis will show, I believe, that this was not simply madness and bloodlust. On the contrary, there was both method and purpose. These atrocities occurred as the result of carefully calculated orders and directives, issued prior to or at the time of the attack on the Soviet Union, which form a coherent, logical pattern.

One need not here consider the reasons why Hitler, in the autumn of 1940, began to consider seriously making an attack on the Soviet Union. We do know that, beginning in September of 1940, he was constantly discussing this possibility with the military leaders, who had ample opportunity to express their views to him. We know that there was a division of opinion among the generals and admirals; none of them appear to have been much governed by moral scruples, but some thought the attack unnecessary, and others were dubious whether a quick victory could be achieved. However, still others agreed with Hitler that the attack should be launched. When Hitler, in consultation with and with the support of part of the military leadership, decided to make the attack, there is no indication that any leading generals stood out decisively against the decision, and they embarked on the war with the utmost determination to carry it through to a successful conclusion.

Whatever may have been the reasons which prompted the attack, there was one factor which, once the decision had been made, became a vitally important object and purpose of the attack. That was to seize large areas of the Soviet Union and to exploit these areas for the material benefit of Germany. To accomplish this, it was desired to "pacify" and crush all opposition in the occupied territory as rapidly as possible and with a minimum expenditure of manpower and material, to obliterate the Soviet political system and set up new, German supported, regional political administrations, and to revise and expand the productive resources of these areas and convert them to the uses of the Third Reich.

THE PRESIDENT: The Tribunal will adjourn.

(A recess was taken.)

COLONEL TAYLOR: Mr. President, at our recess I was describing the programme for the exploitation and pacification of the occupied Eastern territories. Hitler had very definite ideas as to how this programme should be carried out,

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and these ideas were partially embodied in the series of directives and orders with which the Tribunal is now familiar. Some of these orders were to be executed directly by the Wehrmacht, some of them by other agencies of the Reich, but in co-ordination with and supported by the Wehrmacht.

For the rapid and economical "pacification" of occupied territories, after Hitler had consulted Brauchitsch, the OKW issued the order of 22nd July, 1941, which ordered the commanders-in-chief to establish security, not by sentencing the guilty in courts of law, but by spreading "such terror as is likely, by its mere existence, to crush all will amongst the population to resist." For the same purpose, the OKW issued the order of 13th May, 1941, which suspended the use of military courts for punishing offences by enemy civilians, and directed that the troops themselves should accomplish pacification by "ruthless action" and "collective despotic measures" in localities of resistance. In furtherance of these abominable policies, it was further ordered that the German troops who committed offences against Soviet civilians were not to be punished at all, unless punishment was necessary to maintain discipline and security or prevent waste of food or material. Every commissioned officer on the Eastern Front was to be instructed promptly and emphatically to behave in accordance with these principles. The language of the order was calculated to incite officers and men alike to the most despicable behaviour.

In these two orders we can see the basic composition of this revolting picture. In more detail, Hitler expected particularly bitter opposition to his new Russian policies and regimes from officers and agents of the Soviet Government and from all Jews. These elements he decided to exterminate utterly, as they would otherwise remain a constant focal point of resistance within the occupied areas.

In furtherance of these policies of mass murder, the OKW issued the order for the killing of all political commissars who might be captured. This, like the commando order, required the murder of defenseless prisoners of war. And in this case the military leaders behaved in precisely the same fashion. Not one commander-in-chief openly protested or openly announced his refusal to execute the order. A few commanders may have refused to distribute it down to the troops, but it was distributed and became well known over the entire Eastern front. As in the case of the commando order, we are told that, by tacit agreement among the commanders, it was not carried out. The evidence in support of this is that particular commanders or other officers never personally knew of an instance where a captured commissar was shot. We may assume the truth of some of these statements, but it is none the less totally incredible, in view of the order's wide distribution, and the deliberate brutalizing of the German soldier by such orders as these, and such directives as Reichenau and Manstein issued to their troops, that the commissar order was not carried out in many cases. It must have been.

The campaign of mass extermination was extended from commissars to all Communists by the OKW order of 16th September, 1941, which directed that all cases of resistance to the Wehrmacht, no matter what the circumstances, should be attributed to Communists and that "the death penalty for 50 to 100 Communists should generally be regarded as suitable atonement for one German soldier's life."

Terrorization and exploitation of the Russian countryside and extermination of undesired elements, obviously, could not be carried out by the Wehrmacht alone. Many other agencies of the Third Reich had an important share in this far-flung, evil programme. Among these other agencies, perhaps the most unspeakable were the special task forces of Himmler, known as Einsatzgruppen and Einsatzkommandos. The mission of these units was to assist in "pacification" and pave the way for the new political regime by stamping out opposition, and particularly by slaughtering Communists and Jews. We know, both from contemporary documents and from the confession of the leader of one of these units, with what terrible fidelity that mission was performed.

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The particular missions of the Einsatzgruppen were assigned by Himmler, but these units could not simply be turned loose in the operational and rear areas of a conquered territory without administration, supplies, communication facilities, and sufficient control by the military to ensure that their tasks would be coordinated with, or at least would not obstruct, military operations. The defence has made every effort to conceal this plain fact, but any soldier, and indeed anyone who a gives the matter thought, must know that it is true.

And this is quite clear from the documents. The OKW Directive for Special Areas of 13th March, 1941, provided that Himmler could send these units into operational areas in order to perform "special tasks for the preparation of the political administration, tasks which result from the struggle which has to be carried out between two opposing political systems." But the order carefully specified that the execution of Himmler's tasks should not disturb military operations, and that the units were subject to the supreme authority of the Commander-in-Chief of the Army in the operational area. The billeting and feeding of Himmler's units was to be furnished by the Army. It was directed that further details should be arranged between the OKH and Himmler. Brauchitsch has confirmed that subsequently the details were settled at a conference between Heydrich and General Wagner of OKH; and Schellenberg, who drafted the agreement, has described its contents.

These infamous gangs of murderers, in short, were fed and housed by the Army and would have been helpless without the Army's support. The testimony of some of the German generals that these killings of thousands upon thousands took place without their knowledge would make one smile, were not the truth so black and sickening. A military area, even far behind the front, is not a desert where one can wander to and fro unchallenged. It is a veritable maze of rear headquarters, truck companies, ammunition dumps, supply depots, signal installations, hospitals, petrol dumps, railway guards, prisoner-of-war stockades, anti-aircraft batteries, airfields, engineers, ordnance units, motor pools - thousands and one other troops that furnish the base of operations and the line of communications for an army in the field. The smooth functioning of this vast and complicated train is vital to the success of the combat troops. The enemy knows this, and is eager both to disrupt it and to extract intelligence from it through sabotage groups, agents, and partisans. Wherefore the occupying forces guard their installations, patrol the roads and railways, and garrison the centres of population. Travelers, no matter what uniform they wear, are stopped and questioned and asked for identification. These troops in the rear come in close contact with the civilian population, and know what is going on among them. Military police and counter-intelligence troops patrol the area and report on its condition to higher headquarters.

Furthermore, a commander in the field dislikes to have autonomous units, under special orders from home, at large in his area. This is particularly true when, as here, the units came as servants of Himmler, whom the German generals say they thought to be their enemy, intent on usurping their powers and functions. The idea that Himmler's extermination squads flitted through Russia, murdering Jews and Communists on a large scale, but secretly and unbeknown to the Army, is utterly preposterous - the desperate sparring of men who have no recourse but to say what is not true.

Let us look again at the pattern as a whole. Most of it was written down in plain German before the attack on Russia was launched. Terrorize the populace, let acts of violence and brutality on the part of German troops go unpunished, kill the commissars, kill 100 Communists whenever you can find an excuse, make way for and feed and house Himmler's squads performing "tasks which result from the struggle which has to be carried out between two opposing political systems." And the political system for which the commanders-in-chief were fighting had already been exterminating Communists and Jews and boasting about it for years.

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The German generals were bright enough to understand this pattern. In any event, it had been explained to them. The OKW directive suspending the courts martial ended with a directive to the military leaders to inform their legal advisers about the "verbal information in which the political intentions of the High Command were explained to the commanders-in-chief." The defendant Rosenberg, at the time of or before the invasion, advised Keitel, Jodl, Warlimont, Brauchitsch and Raeder about his "political and historical conception of the Eastern problem." According to Brauchitsch, Hitler had explained the "ideological" nature of the war to all the commanders-in-chief in conference at the time the commissar order was issued. The affidavits of Generals Roettiger, Rode, and Heusinger further confirm the obvious conclusion that the whole pattern of "pacification" was well understood throughout the German military leadership.

An army demoralized and brutalized by criminal orders and evil doctrines will behave in a brutal way in circumstances where they have no explicit orders. I have not, for instance, seen a written order that Soviet prisoners who could not march should be shot. I am prepared to believe that some German generals treated prisoners as well as they could, but I also find convincing the complaint of the young German lieutenant that efforts to pacify and exploit the Ukraine were being frustrated because:

"prisoners were shot when they could not march any more, right in the middle of villages and some of the bigger hamlets, and the corpses were left lying about, and the population saw in this, something they did not understand and which confirmed the worst distortions of enemy propaganda."
For the same reasons, the anti-partisan warfare was carried out brutally, and with enormous loss of life among innocent civilians. As the divisions of the German Army were transferred between the Eastern and Western Fronts, the practices on each front spread to the other. Slaughter at Kherson and Kovno was reflected in massacre at Malmedy and Oradour. The German Army had been demoralized by its leaders. I recall to the Tribunal that a high German military judge, as early as 1939, granted "extenuating circumstances" to an SS officer who, without any reasons, shot 50 Jews in a Polish synagogue because:
"as an SS man, particularly sensitive to the sight of Jews, and to the hostile attitude of Jewry to the Germans, he acted quite thoughtlessly in a youthful spirit of adventure."

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