Hearing Wilhelm Keitel 1

Morning session part 1, April 3, 1946


The PRESIDENT: Dr. Nelte, the Tribunal is much obliged to you for presenting your argument now.
Dr. NELTE: Mr. President, I will begin the presentation of the case for Keitel by asking you to summon the defendant to the witness stand, and I shall question him. The documents which I will use in this interrogation were submitted with a list yesterday. I hope that those documents are at your disposal so that you will be able to follow my questions in a manner which is desirable in the interest of a smoothly conducted interrogation.
The PRESIDENT:Then you will call the Defendant Keitel?
Dr NELTE: Yes.
(The Defendant Keitel took the stand.]
The PRESIDENT: Will you state your full name?
WILHELM KEITEL (Defendant): Wilhelm Keitel.
The PRESIDENT: Will you repeat this oath after me: I swear by God - the Almighty and Omniscient - that I will speak the pure truth and will withhold and add nothing. (The defendant repeated the oath in German.)
The PRESIDENT: You may sit down if you wish
Dr. NELTE: Please describe your military career briefly.
KEITEL: In the year 1901, in the beginning of March, I became an officer candidate in an artillery regiment of the Prussian Army. At the beginning of the first World War, in 1914, 1 was the regimental adjutant of my regiment. I was wounded in September 1914, and in the beginning of November I became chief of a battalion of my regiment. Since the spring of 1915 I served in various general staff capacities, first with higher commands of the field army, later as a general staff officer of a division. Towards the end I was the first general staff officer of the Naval Corps in Flanders. Then I joined the Reichswehr as a volunteer. Beginning with the year 1929 I was Division Head (Abteilungsleiter) of the Army Organization Division in the Reichswehrministerium. After an Interruption from 1933 to 1935 I became, on 1 October 1935, Chief of the Wehrmacht Department (Wehrmachtsamt) of the Reichskriegsminister, that is Chief of Staff with the Minister of War. While on active service I became Generalmajor. At that time I was chief of an infantry Brigade. On 4 February 1938 to my surprise I was appointed Chief of Staff of the Führer, or Chief of the OKW - Oberkommando der Wehrmacht. On 1 October 1939, I became General of the Infantry and after the campaign in the West in 1940 I became Field Marshall.
Dr. NELTE: Were you a member of the National Socialist German Labor Party?
KEITEL: No, I was not a member. According to military law I could not be or become a member.
Dr. NELTE: But you received the Golden Party Badge. For what reason?
KEITEL: That is correct. Hitler presented this Golden Badge of the Party to me in April 1939, at the same time that the Commander-in-Chief of the Army, General Von Brauchitsch, received it. The Führer said it was to be in commemoration of the march into Czechoslovakia. The Golden Badge had "16 and 17 March" engraved on it.
Dr. NELTE: In the year 1944 the Military Service Law was changed so that active soldiers could also become members of the Party. What did you do at that time?
KEITEL: That is correct. In the late summer or autumn of 1944 the Military Service Law was changed so that active soldiers could also be Party members. At that time I was invited to submit personal data for the Party in order to be listed as a member of the Party. At the same time I was asked to send in a donation of money to the Party. I submitted personal data to Party headquarters and also sent in a donation, but as far as I know I never became a member. I never received a membership card.
Dr. NELTE: To what extent did you participate at Party functions?
KEITEL: Owing to my position and to the fact that I accompanied the Führer constantly, I participated at public functions of the Party several times, for example, at the Party rallies in Nuremberg, also each year when the Winter Relief Work campaign was launched. Finally, according to orders, each year at the 9th of November, I had to attend, together with a representative of the Party a memorial service at the graves of the victims of 9 November 1923. It took place symbolically in memory of the fight an 9 November between the Party and the Wehrmacht. I never participated in internal conferences or meetings of the Party directorate. The Führer had let me know that he did not want this. Thus, for example, every year an 9 November I was in Munich, but never participated in the gatherings of the so-called Hoheitsträger (bearers of power) of the Party.
Dr. NELTE: What decorations did you receive during the war?
KEITEL: As a German officer, I naturally consider it my duty to answer for what I have done, even if it should have been wrong. I am grateful that I am being given the opportunity to give account here and before the German people of what I was and my participation in the events which have taken place. It will not always be possible to separate clearly guilt and entanglement in the threads of destiny. But I do consider one thing impossible that the men in the front lines and the leaders and the sub leaders at the front should be charged with the guilt, while the highest leaders reject responsibility. That, in my opinion, is wrong and I consider it unworthy. I am convinced that the large mass of our brave soldiers were really decent, and that wherever they overstepped the bounds of acceptable behavior, our soldiers acted in good faith believing in military necessity, and the orders which they received
Dr. NELTE: The Prosecution, in presenting evidence regarding violations of the laws of war, Crimes against Humanity, repeatedly point to letters, orders, et cetera, which bear your name. Many called Keitel orders and Keitel decrees, have been submitted here. Now we have to examine whether and to what degree you and you actions are guilty of and responsible for the results of these orders. What do you wish to say to this general accusation?
KEITEL: It is correct that there are a large number of orders, instructions and directives with which my name is connected, and it must also be admitted that such orders often contain deviation from existing international law. On the other hand, there are group of directives and orders based not an military Inspiration but on an ideological foundation and point of view. In this connection I am thinking of the group of directives which were issued before the campaign against the Soviet Union and also which were issued subsequently.
Dr. NELTE: What can you say in your defense in regard to those orders?
KEITEL: I can say only that fundamentally I bear that responsibility which arises from my position for all those things which resulted from these orders and which are connected with my name and my signature. Further, I bear the responsibility, insofar as it is based on legal and moral principles, for those Offices and division of the OKW which were subordinate to me.
Dr. NELTE: From what may your official position and the scope of your legal responsibility be inferred?
KEITEL: That is contained in the Führer's decree of 4 February 1938 which has been frequently cited.
Dr. NELTE: I am submitting this decree to you so that you car have the text before you. In this Führer decree, Paragraph 1, you will find: "From now on I will directly and personally take over the Supreme Command of the entire Wehrmacht." What did that mean compared with the conditions that have existed until then?
KEITEL: During the war- it must have been in the winter of 1939-1940, I received the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross. I did not receive any other German war decorations.
Dr. NELTE: Do you have any sons?
KEITEL: I had three sons, all of whom served at the front as officers during this war. The youngest one died in battle in Russia in 1941. The second was a major in Russia and has been missing in action and the eldest son, who was a major, is a prisoner-of-war
Dr. NELTE: Field Marshal Keitel, beginning with essential matters, I would like to put the following basic questions to you: What basic attitude did you, as a soldier, an officer and a general, have toward the problems with which you had to deal in your profession
KEITEL: I can say that I was a soldier by inclination and conviction. For more than 44 years without Interruption I served my country and my people as a soldier and I tried to do my best in the service of my profession. I believed that I should do this as a matter of duty, laboring unceasingly and giving myself completely to those tasks which fell to me in my many and diverse positions. I did this with the same devotion under the Kaiser, under President Ebert, under Field Marshal Von Hindenburg, and under the Führer Adolf Hitler.
Dr. NELTE: What is your attitude today?
KEITEL: Until that time we had a Commander-in-Chief of the Wehrmacht, Field Marshal Von Blomberg. In addition there was the Supreme Commander of the Wehrmacht who, according to the Constitution, was the head of the State - in this case, Hitler. With the resignation of the Commander-in-Chief of the Wehrmacht, Von Blomberg, there was only one Supreme Commander and that was Hitler himself. And from that time on he himself exercised command of all three arms of the Wehrmacht: The Army, Navy, and Air Force. It also says "from now and directly." That should establish unequivocally that any intermediary position with authority to issue orders was no longer to exist, but that Hitler's order as Supreme Commander were issued directly to the three arms of the Wehrmacht and their Commanders. It also says here "directly and "personally." That, too, had its meaning, for the word "personally" was to express the fact that there was no and would be no I would say, "deputizing" of this authority.
Dr. NELTE: I assume therefore that you never signed your orders "acting for"?
KEITEL: No, I do not remember a single instance in which I signed "acting for." According to our military principles, if the question had arisen to appoint a deputy, it could have been only one person, the Commander-in-Chief of the three arms of the Wehrmacht, namely the one highest in rank.
Dr NELTE: In Paragraph 2 of the decree of 4 February 193 it says: "... the former Wehrmacht Office in the Ministry of War, with its functions, is placed directly under my command as OKW and as my military staff." What does this signify in regard to the staff which was thereby formed?
KEITEL: The Commander-in-Chief of the Wehrmacht had his military staff in the Wehrmachtsamt, that is to say, the Wehrmachtsamt in the Ministry of War. Hitler, as Supreme Commander took over the Wehrmachtsamt as his military staff. Thus, this staff was to be his personal working staff. At the same time that the post of Supreme Commander of the Wehrmacht was eliminated, that of Reich Minister of War was also removed. There was no War Ministry and no Minister of War as heretofore. Thus one could clearly see what Hitler wanted, namely, that between him and the Wehrmacht divisions there was to be no one holding office with any authority either in command channels or in ministerial functions.
Dr. NELTE: When this decree was issued you were installed as holder of a new office with the title of "Chief OKW." Will you please clarify whether this term "Chief OKW" is correct; that whether it really was what the title seems to indicate.
KEITEL: I must add that I realize only now that this term in its abbreviated form is not quite apt. To be exact one should have said, "Chief of Staff of the High Command of the Wehrmacht," and not the abbreviation, "Chief OKW." From the case presented by the Prosecution I gathered that the idea of "Chief" was interpreted as if that were a Commander, chief of an office, with authority to issue orders. And that, of course, is an erroneous conclusion. It was neither a position of a chief in the sense of a commander, nor, as might have been assumed or has been assumed, was it a position as chief of a general staff. That too, is incorrect. I was never Chief of the General Staff of the Wehrmacht. It was Hitler's unmistakable wish to concentrate in his own person all the authority, all powers of command. That is not merely a retrospective statement. He clearly expressed this desire to me on several occasions, partly in connection with the fact that he told me repeatedly, "I could never put this through with Blomberg."
Dr. NELTE: I have here a statement made by Field Marshal von Brauchitsch and submitted by the Prosecution. KEITEL: Perhaps I might add something further. I was discussing the fact that it was not a position of Chief of the General Staff, since it was Hitler's basic view that Commanders-in-Chief of the Wehrmacht branches each had his own general staff, or operations staff, and that he did not want the High Command of the Wehrmacht, including the Wehrmacht Operations Staff, to take on the functions of a general staff. Therefore, in practice the work was done by the general staffs of the Wehrmacht branches, while the Wehrmacht Operations Staff of the OKW, which was purposely kept small, was a working staff for Hitler, a staff for strategic planning and for special missions.
Dr. NELTE: Then Field Marshal Von Brauchitsch's statement his affidavit, of which I have already spoken, is correct? It says here:

    "When Hitler had decided to use military pressure or military power in attaining his political aims, the Commander-in-Chief of the Army, if he participated, received his instructions first orally, as a rule, or by an appropriate order. Thereupon the OKW worked out the operation and deployment plans. When they had been submitted to Hitler and were approved by him, a written order from the OKW to the branches of the Wehrmacht followed."
Is that correct?
KEITEL: Yes, in principle it is correct insofar as the final formulation of the order to the Commander-in-Chief of the Army took the form of a directive, as we called it, based an the general plans which had already been submitted and approved. This work was done by the Wehrmacht Operational Staff (Wehrmachtführungsstab); thus the Wehrmacht Operational Staff was not an office which became independently active and did not handle matters concerning the issuing of orders independently; rather the Wehrmacht Operational Staff and I took part in the basic determination or approval of these proposals and formulated them in the manner in which they were then carried out by Hitler as Commander-in-Chief. To speak technically we then passed these orders on.
Dr. NELTE: Then I have an affidavit by Generaloberst Halder which deals with the same subject, You know this affidavit number 1. I believe I can dispense with the reading of it and as evidence refer only to Halder's affidavit Number 1, which has been submitted by the Prosecution (Document Number 3702-PS).
In addition the Prosecution submitted another treatise without a special number. The title of the treatise is "Basis for the Organization of the German Wehrmacht." The PRESIDENT: Is this the document which you say the Prosecution offered in evidence but did not give a number to?
Dr. NELTE: Mr. President, this document was given to us by the Prosecution, I believe by the American Prosecution, on 26 November 1945. I do not know. ..
. The PRESIDENT: You mean it never was deposited in evidence by the Prosecution?
Dr. NELTE: I do not believe I can decide that. I assume that document which has been submitted to the Defense Counsel was submitted to the High Tribunal at the same time, if not as evidence then at least for judicial notice.
The PRESIDENT: What is the document? Is it an affidavit or not?
Dr. NELTE: It is not an affidavit; it is really a study by the American Prosecution. And, I assume, it is a basis for the indictment of the organization OKW, and so forth.
The PRESIDENT: Have you got it in your document book or not?
Dr. NELTE: No, I do not have it in the document book, because I assumed that was also at the disposal of the High Tribunal. Beside Mr. President, it is a short document.
The PRESIDENT: Perhaps, Mr. Dodd can tell us what it is.
Mr. DODD: If I could see it I might be able to be helpful. I am not familiar with it. It is probably one of the documents which we submitted to the Defense but which we did not actually introduce in evidence, and that happened more than once, I think, in the early days of the Trial.
Dr. NELTE: I refer to a single short paragraph of this study which I would like to read. Perhaps we can thus obviate submitting the document.
The PRESIDENT: Are you offering in evidence the whole of the affidavit? I do not mean at this moment, but are you proposing to offer it?
Dr. NELTE: I assume that the Prosecution have already submitted it. I am only referring to lt.
The PRESIDENT: The whole affidavit? What is the number of if it has been submitted?
Dr. NELTE: This affidavit also does not have a number. The Prosecution ...
The PRESIDENT: It has not been submitted if it has not number on it then. it is suggested to me that possibly the Halder affidavit was offered and then rejected.
Dr. NELTE: No. At that time a series of affidavits was submitted by Von Brauchitsch, Halder, Heusinger, and many other generals who are in Nuremberg. None of these affidavits had an exhibit number.
Mr. DODD: This affidavit was put in by the United States as an exhibit. I do not have the number handy, but I think it was submitted at the time Colonel Telford Taylor submitted the case on behalf of the Prosecution against the High Command and the OKW. This Halder "affidavit," the first document which Doctor Nelte referred to, is not an affidavit. it was a paper submitted to the Tribunal and to the Defense by Colonel Taylor. It sets out some of the basic principles of the organization of the High Command and the OKW wholly before he presented his Part of the case. It is really just the work of our own staff here in Nuremberg.
The PRESIDENT: Doctor Nelte, as the document you are referring to, not the Halder affidavit, appears to be a mere compilation the Tribunal thinks it should not go in as an exhibit, but you can put a question to the witness upon it.
Dr. NELTE: (Turning to the defendant.) In the essay which you have before you, the Prosecution asserted the following: After 1938 there were four divisions: The OKW (High Command of the Wehrmacht); the OKH (High Command of the Army); the OKL (High Command of the Air Force); the OKM (High Command of the Navy) and each had its own general staff. What can you tell us about that
KEITEL: I can say only that this is not correct, and also contradicts the description which I have already given of the functions of the High Commands of the Wehrmacht branches and of the OKW. There were not four such departments. There were only three: The High Command of the Army, the High Command of the Navy, and the High Command of the Air Force.
As I have just stated, the High Command of the Wehrmacht as a personal, direct working staff, was in no way an independent authority in that sense. The Commanders-in-Chief of the Wehrmacht branches were commanders, had the authority to issue orders and exercised this power over troops which were subordinate to them. The OKW had neither the power to issue orders, nor subordinate troops to which orders could have been issued. It is also not correct, if I recall the speeches of the Prosecution, to use the expression "Keitel was Commander-in-Chief of the Wehrmacht." I am mentioning it only to emphasize this point. Further, I would like, briefly to call attention to the diagram on the last page of the document which has been shown to me.
Dr. NELTE: This sketch is the diagram which is called "The Wehrmacht." It is an exposition, a diagrammatic exposition of the entire Wehrmacht and its branches.
KEITEL: I believe I should point briefly to the fact that it this diagram which was the basis for this erroneous conception because in it the High Command of the Wehrmacht is designated as a special office or office of command, and that is incorrect.
Dr. NELTE: What tasks had you in this military sector as the Chief of the OKW?
KEITEL: First of all, it was an essential task to secure for the Führer with and through the Wehrmacht Operational Staff, all the documents and all the numerous informations and reports which he desired. I dare say that the Wehrmacht Operational Staff had, this connection, the function to, one might say, arrange and establish a direct and close communication between Hitler and the general staffs of the branches of the Wehrmacht. In addition to securing a countless number of such documents which were demanded daily, there was a second function, namely to be regularly present at all conferences in which the Commanders-in-Chief of the Wehrmacht branches and the chiefs of their staffs participated as well as the Chief of the Wehrmacht Operational Staff. On those occasions as soon as a series of oral orders was given, these orders, in compliance with military principles, naturally had later to be confirmed in writing. Only in this way could we prevent mistakes or misunderstandings from arising, that is, by confirming these orders to those who had already received them orally the orders were made clear. That is the purpose and meaning of the order.
Dr. NELTE: How did you sign the orders and documents which you drew up?
KEITEL: It is correct that this form of orders and directives were almost exclusively signed by me. They were actually orders which had already been given and which had already long since be transmitted through military channels. As can be seen from bulk of the documents submitted here, this gave rise to the form which I made a habit of using in which I always wrote at the beginning or after a few preliminary words, "The Führer has therefore ordered ... "
In the large majority of cases this order was no longer a surprise to the office which received it. It was nothing new but it was only a confirmation. In a similar way I naturally had also a considerable. number of organizational and other directives and orders also in purely operational fields worked out under my supervision passed on. In this respect I should like to point out particularly that in no case did I send out orders without having shown them again to my supreme commander when making the daily reports, in or to be certain that I had not misunderstood him in any form or manner or that I was not issuing anything which - and this I would like to emphasize - did not have his approval to the letter.
Dr. NELTE: There was another category of orders and directives ...
KEITEL: May I perhaps add a few words?
Dr. NELTE: Please do.
KEITEL: In order to clarify this: Among the documents submitted here are those which Hitler personally signed and released under the heading "The Führer and Supreme Commander of Wehrmacht." There are some exceptions in which such directives were signed by me "by order of," I would like to explain this matter also. In this case it is also true that if these directives, which for the most part had been corrected several times by Hitler personally, had to be issued urgently and the Supreme Commander was prevented from signing himself, it was necessary for me to let the signature go out in this form, never as "deputy" but always "by order of." Otherwise, orders were issued as I have already stated, the form of directives which were signed by me.
At the same time I should like to mention that even if we have a series of documents here headed "Chief, Supreme Commander, the Wehrmacht" or - some of them are different: "High Command of the Wehrmacht" - if they are signed, "by order, Jodl," I can say that it can be proved almost automatically that I did not happen to there at the time; otherwise I would have signed it myself, knowing that I was Chief of Staff who, in accordance with military regulations, had to sign such documents.
Dr. NELTE: The memorandum which you have before you contains the following sentence:
"The OKW united in itself the activity of a staff and of a ministry; the matters involved; which had previously been taken care of by the Reich War Ministry, have probably also been turned over to the OKW."
Please clarify the ministerial function of the OKW.
KEITEL: Yes, this formulation as set down in this document is not exactly incorrect, but it is on important points at least, open to misunderstanding, for it was not at all true that all functions which had been previously carried out by the War Minister were turned over to the OKW. There were many functions and rights which the War Minister, in his capacity as minister, and thus the person responsible for them, could and did decide even for the branches of the Wehrmacht and their commanders, which were never transmitted to the Chief of the OKW, that is, to me.
The following things happened at that time: Everything in this connection involving authority to issue Orders or exercise supreme command, and which the Führer did not which to take over personally, was transferred to the Commanders-in-Chief of the branches of the Wehrmacht as far as supreme authority and authority to make decisions were concerned. To touch on the subject briefly, I should like to mention a few essential facts which I remember. For example, the officers' personnel records, decisions and complaints, documentary material and budget questions, court jurisdiction and court authority which formerly belonged to the Minister of War, were transferred to the Commander-in-Chief, as well as all questions concerning officials and all questions of the rights of officials. I could mention still more but I merely wished to point out that even in cases where decisions had to be made, as for example, removing an official or dismissing an employee, the chief of the OKW did not decide. These powers were delegated to the Commanders-in-Chief in addition to the power they held previously and which were transferred from the War Minister's jurisdiction.
There were only certain reservations which the Führer made for himself. Similarly some of the other fields of the OKW were limited in their assignments in the course of the following years through the dissolution of the Economic Armament Office. The position of Armament Minister was created because the dissolution of the Amt Ausland Abwehr, that is, the Counter-intelligent Service, of which only the branch self-protection of the' troops was left with the Wehrmacht; everything else was transferred and so forth.
My authority included the following: It was my duty in all cases to get Hitler's decision on all basic questions with which this ministerial section was concerned. I was free from the necessity of doing this only in current matters or if there was complete agreement between the persons involved, in a ministerial or administrative question and the branches of the Wehrmacht in my department. In such a case a decision by Hitler was not necessary. I must emphasize again, in summary, that the OKW had no authority of its own, and that one can say only that Hitler actually functioned as Supreme Commander of the Wehrmacht, just as the functions of the Minister were combined in his person so as to, to repeat that, eliminate an intermediary official at all costs. That is, there was to be no intermediary between him and the Commanders-in-Chief of Wehrmacht branches.
The PRESIDENT: We will adjourn now until 2 o'clock. (The Tribunal recessed until 1400 hours)

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Keitel in his cell in Nuremberg, November 24, 1946
(Source: Wikimedia)


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Arnold Palthe
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