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Final statement Wilhelm Keitel

THE PRESIDENT: I call upon Defendant Keitel

WILHELM KEITEL (Defendant): I acknowledged on the witness stand my responsibility in connection with my official position and have explained the significance of this position in the presentation of evidence and in the final plea of my defence counsel.
It is far from my intention to minimize my part in what took place. In the interest of historical truth however, it seems advisable to correct a few errors in the final speeches of the Prosecution.
The American chief prosecutor said in his final speech, and I quote: "Keitel, a weak, submissive tool, turned the Wehrmacht, the instrument of aggression, over to the Party".
A "turning-over" of the Wehrmacht to the Party by me cannot be reconciled with my functions, either up to 4 February 1938 or after that time, when Hitler made himself Supreme Commander of the Wehrmacht and thus ruled the Party and the Wehrmacht absolutely. I do not recall that any sort of evidence was presented in the course of this Trial which could justify this serious allegation by the Prosecution.
The presentation of evidence however, has also shown that the further contention "that Keitel led the Wehrmacht in its execution of its criminal intentions" is wrong. This allegation is in contradiction to the Anglo-American trial brief which says expressly that I had no authority to issue orders.
Consequently, the British chief prosecutor is also mistaken when he speaks of me as - and I quote -"a Fieldmarshall who issued orders to the Wehrmacht". And when he claimed that I said that I "had no idea what practical results were intended by this" - that is the quotation - I believe that this is something quite different from what I said on the witness stand and I quote the words I spoke on the witness stand: "But when an order was given, I acted according to my duty as I saw it, without permitting myself to be confused by the possible but not always foreseeable consequences". Also the contention that I - and I quote - "Keitel and Jodl cannot deny the responsibility for the operation of the Einsatzkommandos, with which their own commanders co-operated closely and cordially", cannot be reconciled with the results of the testimony. The O.K.W. was eliminated from the Russian theatre of war. There were no troop commanders under its orders.
The French chief prosecutor said in his final speech: "Is it necessary to recall the terrible words of Defendant Keitel that human life was worth less than nothing in the occupied territories?"
These terrible words are not my words. I did not think them up and did not make them the contents of any order either. The fact that my name is connected with the transmission of this Führer order weighs heavily enough upon me.
At another point M. Champeteir de Ribes says, and I quote: "This order was executed - it concerned anti-partisan activities - by virtue of instructions from the commander of the army group, who in his turn, acted according to general instructions of the Defendant Keitel".
Here again "instructions of Keitel" are mentioned although the French Indictment itself states that I, as chief of the O.K.W., could not give any direct orders to the branches of the Wehrmacht.
In the final speech of the Soviet Russian prosecutor, he says - and I quote: "Beginning with the documents on the execution of political persons, Keitel, this "soldier" as he likes to call himself, lied shamelessly to the American Prosecution in the preliminary examination - disregarding his oath - by saying that this decree was in the nature of a reprisal and that political persons had been kept separate from the other prisoners of war at the latter’s own request. He was exposed before the Court". The document in question is 884-PS.
The accusation that I lied is unfounded. The Soviet Russian Prosecution overlooked the fact that the transcript of my preliminary examination on this question was not a subject of evidence before this Tribunal. Therefore, its use in the final speech of the Prosecution should not have been allowed. I did not see the transcript of the preliminary examination and do not know the wording. If it is complete, it will clarify the error which arose because the document in question had not been shown to me. In my examination by my defense counsel on the witness stand I presented the state of affairs correctly.
In the last stage of the Trial, the Prosecution attempted once more to incriminate me severely by connecting my name with an order for the preparation of biological warfare. A witness, the former Generalarzt Dr. Schreiber, had said in his report that: "The Chief of the O.K.W., Fieldmarschall Keitel had issued orders to prepare for bacteriological warfare against the Soviet Union". On the witness stand here, to be sure, the witness spoke of a Führer order. But this is not true either.
The introduction of the testimony of Colonel Bürker, which was approved by the Tribunal in agreement with the Prosecution, indicates that in the autumn of 1943, I, in Bürker’s own words, rejected sharply and categorically the suggestion of the Army Medical Inspectorate and the Army Ordnance Branch to begin experiments with bacteria, with the comment that that was completely out of the question and that it was indeed forbidden. This is true. General Jodl also can confirm the fact that no order of the kind alleged by the witness was ever issued; on the contrary, Hitler prohibited bacteriological warfare, which had been suggested by some departments. This proves the allegation to the contrary by the witness Dr. Schreiber to be untrue.
I claim to have told the truth in all things, even if they incriminated me; at least to have endeavored, in spite of the great extent of my field of activity, to contribute to the clarification of the true state of affairs to the best of my knowledge.
Now, at the end of this Trial, I want to present equally frankly the avowal and confession I have to make today.
In the course of the Trial, my defense counsel submitted two fundamental questions to me, the first one already some months ago. It was: "In case of a victory, would you have refused to participate in any part of the success?" I answered: "No, I should certainly have been proud of it". The second question was"Howe would you act if you were in the same position again?" My answer:"Then I would rather chose death than to let myself be drawn into the net of such pernicious methods".
From these two answers, the High Tribunal may see my point of view. I believed but I erred and I was not in a position to prevent what ought to have been prevented. That is my guilt.
It is tragic to have to realize that the best I had to give as a soldier, obedience and loyalty, was exploited for purposes which could not be recognized at the time and I did not see that there is a limit set even for a soldier’s performance of his duty. That is my fate.
From the clear recognition of the causes, the pernicious methods and the terrible consequences of this war, may there arise the hope for a new future for the German people in the community of nations.

See also: Verdict Keitel


German word for leader. During his reign of power Adolf Hitler was Führer of Nazi Germany.
Soviet Union
Soviet Russia, alternative name for the USSR.
German armed military forces, divided in ground forces, air force and navy.


Defendant Wilhelm Keitel, former Chief of the O.K.W., in his cell in Nuremberg.(Bron: USHMM) Source: USHMM.


Published by:
Arnold Palthe
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International Military Tribunal, Nuremberg 1947.