The Propagander ™ FAQ

Was the German Military Complicit in the Holocaust?

Five of the highest ranking military officers in the Third Reich were indicted for Crimes Against Humanity at 
Nuremberg. Three of them were found Guilty and received a sentence of death, and two of those three were convicted for crimes involving the Holocaust. Here are the facts:

Hermann Goering was commissioned as an officer in the Prussian army in 1912. He was a highly decorated fighter pilot and went on to command the Richthofen Squadron in WW1. Goering left the military for a time before founding the German Luftwaffe, and was one of Hitler's four service chiefs during WW2. While there were some career military personages who looked down on him, and indeed made a case that he was not 'really' one of them, he nonetheless was one of the highest ranking officers in the Third Reich.

From the Final Judgement of Hermann Goering:

Goering persecuted the Jews, particularly after the November 1938 riots, and not only in Germany, where he raised the billion-mark fine as stated elsewhere, but in the conquered territories as well. His own utterances then and his testimony now shows this interest was primarily economic-how to get their property and how to force them out of the economic life of Europe. As these countries fell before the German Army, he extended the Reich anti-Jewish laws to them; the Reichsgesetzblatt for 1939, 1940, and 1941 contains several anti-Jewish decrees signed by Goering. Although their extermination was in Himmler's hands, Goering was far from disinterested or inactive, despite his protestations in the witness box. By decree of 31 July 1941 he directed Himmler and Heydrich to "bring about a complete solution of the Jewish question in the German sphere of influence in Europe." There is nothing to be said in mitigation. For Goering was often, indeed almost always, the moving force, second only to his leader. He was the leading war aggressor, both as political and as military leader; he was the director of the slave labor program and the creator of the oppressive program against the Jews and other races, at home and abroad. All of these crimes he has frankly admitted.

Wilhelm Keitel was one of Germany's most senior military leaders during WW2. He joined the German military in 1901, and was posted to the German General Staff in early 1915. Keitel was Chief of the High Command of the Armed Forces during WW2, and was basically Hitler's chief of staff.

From the Final Judgement of Wilhelm Keitel:

Lahousen testified that Keitel told him on 12 September 1939, while aboard Hitler's headquarters train, that the Polish intelligentsia, nobility, and Jews were to be liquidated. On 20 October, Hitler told Keitel the intelligentsia would be prevented from forming a ruling class. the standard of living would remain low, and Poland would be used only for labor forces. Keitel does not remember the Lahousen conversation, but admits there was such a policy and that he had protested without effect to Hitler about it . . . . Keitel does not deny his connection with these acts. Rather, his defense relies on the fact that he is a soldier and on the doctrine of "superior orders," prohibited by Article 8 of the Charter as a defense. There is nothing in mitigation. Superior orders, even to a soldier, cannot be considered in mitigation where crimes so shocking and extensive have been committed consciously, ruthlessly, and without military excuse or justification.

Here is how the Tribunal put it in its Final Judgement of the Criminal Organizations, which included the General Staff and High Command:

From the Tribunal's Final Judgement:

The plan for exterminating the Jews was developed shortly after the attack on the Soviet Union. Einsatzgruppen of the Security Police and SD, formed for the purpose of breaking the resistance of the population of the areas lying behind the German armies in the East, were given the duty of exterminating the Jews in those areas. The effectiveness of the work of the Einsatzgruppen is shown by the fact that in February 1942 Heydrich was able to report that Estonia had already been cleared of Jews and that in Riga the number of Jews had been reduced from 29,500 to 2,500. Altogether the Einsatzgruppen operating in the occupied Baltic states killed over 135,000 Jews in 3 months.

Nor did these special units operate completely independently of the German Armed Forces. There is clear evidence that leaders of the Einsatzgruppen obtained the co-operation of army commanders. In one case the relations between an Einsatzgruppe and the military authorities was described at the time as being "very close, almost cordial"; in another case the smoothness of an Einsatzkommando operation was attributed to the "understanding for this procedure" shown by the army authorities.

It is also true that the Tribunal declined to convict the General Staff and High Command. However, this hardly constitutes a finding of innocence by the German military. Here is the way the Tribunal explained this disparity:

From the Final Judgement of the Criminal Organizations:

The Prosecution has also asked that the General Staff and High Command of the German Armed Forces be declared a criminal organization. The Tribunal believes that no declaration of criminality should be made with respect to the General Staff and High Command. The number of persons charged, while larger than that of the Reich Cabinet, is still so small that individual trials of these officers would accomplish the purpose here sought better than a declaration such as is requested. But a more compelling reason is that in the opinion of the Tribunal the General Staff and High Command is neither an "organization" nor a "group" within the meaning of those terms as used in Article 9 of the Charter . . . .

Although the Tribunal is of the opinion that the term "group" in Article 9 must mean something more than this collection of military officers, it has heard much evidence as to the participation of these officers in planning and waging aggressive war, and in committing war crimes and crimes against humanity. This evidence is, as to many of them, clear and convincing.

They have been responsible in large measure for the miseries and suffering, that have fallen on millions of men, women, and children. They have been a disgrace to the honorable profession of arms. Without their military guidance the aggressive ambitions of Hitler and his fellow-Nazis would have been academic and sterile. Although they were not a group falling within the words of the Charter, they were certainly a ruthless military caste. The contemporary German militarism flourished briefly with its recent ally, National Socialism, as well as or better than it had in the generations of the past.

Many of these men have made a mockery of the soldier's oath of obedience to military orders. When it suits their defense they say they had to obey; when, confronted with Hitler's brutal crimes, which are shown to have been within their general knowledge, they say they disobeyed. The truth is that they actively participated in all these crimes, or sat silent and acquiescent, witnessing the commission of crimes on a scale larger and more shocking than the world has ever had the misfortune to know. This must be said. Where the facts warrant it, these men should be brought to trial so that those among them who are guilty of these crimes should not escape punishment.

Conclusion: It is true that the General Staff and High Command were not ruled to be Criminal Organizations in the sense of the Indictment. It was further ruled that a majority of the highest ranking German military personages, though judged to be "a disgrace to the honorable profession of arms," were not proven to be complicit in the Holocaust. But two of the very highest ranking military figures in Hitler's Reich were. As for the overall complicity of Hitler's military men, they "actively participated in all these crimes, or sat silent and acquiescent", and this in and of itself equals complicity.
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