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Wilhelm Bodewin Johann Gustav Keitel
22 September 1882 – 16 October 1946 (aged 64)
Bundesarchiv Bild 183-L18173, Wilhelm Keitel.jpg
Wilhelm Keitel
Nickname "Lakaitel" (English: Little Lackey)
Place of birth Helmscherode, Brunswick, German Empire
Place of death Nuremberg, Germany
Allegiance German Empire German Empire (to 1918)
Germany Weimar Republic (to 1933)
Nazi Germany Nazi Germany
Service/branch Wehrmacht
Years of service 1901 - 1945
Rank Generalfeldmarschall
Commands held OKW
Battles/wars World War I
World War II
Awards Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross
Wound Badge of 20 July 1944 (in black)
Golden Party Badge

Wilhelm Bodewin Gustav Keitel (22 September 1882–16 October 1946) was a German field marshal (Generalfeldmarschall). As head of the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (High Command of the Armed Forces) and de facto war minister, he was one of Germany's most senior military leaders during World War II. At the Allied court at Nuremberg he was tried, sentenced to death and hanged as a major war criminal.

Contents

Early life and career

Keitel was born in Germany (now a part of Bad Gandersheim, Lower Saxony), Brunswick, German Empire, the son of Carl Keitel, a middle-class landowner, and his wife Apollonia Vissering. After completing his education in Göttingen, he embarked on a military career in 1901, becoming a Fahnenjunker (Cadet Officer), joining the 6th Lower-Saxon Field Artillery Regiment. He married Lisa Fontaine, a wealthy landowner's daughter, in 1909. Together they had six children, one of whom died in infancy. His eldest son, Karl-Heinz Keitel went on to serve as a divisional commander in the Waffen-SS. During World War I Keitel served on the Western front with the Field Artillery Regiment No. 46. In September 1914, during the fighting in Flanders, he was seriously wounded in his right forearm by a shell fragment.

Keitel recovered, and thereafter was posted to the German General Staff in early 1915. After World War I ended, he stayed in the newly created Reichswehr, and played a part in organizing Freikorps frontier guard units on the Polish border. Keitel also served as a divisional general staff officer, and later taught at the Hanover Cavalry School for two years.

In late 1924, Keitel was transferred to the Ministry of Defense (Reichswehrministerium), serving with the Troop Office (Truppenamt), the post-Versailles disguised General Staff. He was soon promoted to the head of the organizational department, a post he retained after the Nazi seizure of power in 1933. In 1935, based on a recommendation by Werner von Fritsch, Keitel was promoted to Lieutenant-General and appointed as the departmental head of the Wehrmachtsamt (Armed Forces Office) which had the responsibility over all three branches of the armed forces.

OKW and World War II

Keitel, signing the ratified surrender terms for the German Army in Berlin, 8/9 May 1945

In 1937, Keitel received a promotion to General. In the following year, after the Blomberg-Fritsch Affair, the Ministry of War (Reichskriegsministerium) was replaced by the High Command of the Armed Forces (Oberkommando der Wehrmacht, or OKW), and Keitel was appointed as its chief. This effectively made Keitel Germany's war minister, and accordingly he was appointed to the Cabinet. Soon after his appointment at OKW, he convinced Hitler to appoint his close friend, Walter von Brauchitsch, Commander-in-Chief of the Army.

For a brief period in October 1938, Keitel was Military Governor of the Sudetenland, but in February 1939 Keitel again became Chief of OKW; he retained that post until the end of the war.

During World War II, Keitel was one of the primary planners of the Wehrmacht campaigns and operations on the western and the eastern fronts. He advised Hitler against invading France and opposed Operation Barbarossa. Both times he backed down in the face of Hitler and tendered his resignation, which Hitler refused to accept.

In 1940, after the French campaign, he was promoted to Field Marshal along with several other generals. Unusually for a non-field commander, Keitel was awarded the Knight's Cross for arranging the armistice with France.

For the most part, Keitel displayed a lackey-like attitude around Hitler. He was referred to by his colleagues as "Lakaitel" ("Little Lackey", a pun on his surname) and as the "nodding donkey". In 1942, he confronted Hitler in defense of Field Marshal Wilhelm List, whose Army Group A was stalled in the Battle of the Caucasus. Hitler spurned Keitel's pleading and fired List. Keitel's defense of List was his last act of defiance to Hitler; he never again challenged one of Hitler's orders.

Keitel unquestionably allowed Heinrich Himmler a free hand with his racial controls and ensuing terror in occupied Soviet territory. He also signed numerous orders of dubious legality under the laws of war. The most infamous were the Commissar Order (which stipulated that Soviet political commissars were to be shot on sight) and the Night and Fog Decree (which called for the forced disappearance of resistance fighters and other political prisoners in Germany's occupied territories). Another was the order that French pilots of the Normandie-Niemen squadron be executed rather than be made prisoners of war.

Keitel accepted Hitler's directive for Operation Citadel in 1943 despite strong opposition from several field officers who argued that neither the troops nor the new tanks on which Hitler staked his hopes for victory were ready.

Keitel played an important role in foiling the July 20 plot in 1944. Keitel then sat on the Army "Court of honour" that handed over many officers who were involved, including Field Marshal Erwin von Witzleben, to Roland Freisler's notorious People's Court.

Keitel

In April and May 1945, during the Battle of Berlin, Keitel called for counterattacks to drive back the Soviet forces and relieve Berlin. But there were no German forces to carry out such attacks.

After Hitler's suicide on 30 April, Keitel stayed on as a member of the short-lived Flensburg government under Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz.

On 8 May 1945, Dönitz authorized Keitel to sign an unconditional surrender in Berlin. Although Germany had surrendered to the Allies a day earlier, Stalin had insisted on a second surrender ceremony in Berlin.

Nazi connections

As a military officer, Keitel was prohibited by law from joining the NSDAP (Nazi Party). However, after the Wehrmacht's rapid early successes on the Russian Front, he was given a "Golden" (Honorary) NSDAP membership badge by Adolf Hitler, who was seeking to link military successes to political successes. In 1944, German laws were changed and military officers were encouraged to seek NSDAP membership. Keitel claimed he did so as a formality at the Nuremberg Trials, but never received formal party membership. He was one of only two people to receive honorary party membership status.

Before his execution Keitel published Mein Leben: Pflichterfüllung bis zum Untergang: Hitlers Feldmarschall und Chef des Oberkommandos der Wehrmacht in Selbstzeugnissen, otherwise known in English as In the Service of the Reich, and was later re-edited as The Memoirs of Field-Marshal Keitel by Walter Görlitz from a translation by David Irving as the author in 1965. Another work by Keitel later published in English was Questionnaire on the Ardennes offensive [1]

Trial and execution

Wilhelm Keitel's detention report from June 1945
1946-10-08 21 Nazi Chiefs Guilty.ogv
Oct 17, 1946 Newsreel of Nuremberg Trials Sentencing

Four days after the surrender, Keitel was arrested along with the rest of the Flensburg government. He soon faced the International Military Tribunal (IMT), which charged him with a number of offences:

Keitel testified that he knew many of Hitler's orders were illegal (for instance, he described the Night and Fog Decree as "the worst of all" the orders he'd been given) but claimed he was merely following orders in conformity to "the leader principle" (Führerprinzip). The IMT rejected this defence and convicted him on all charges. Due to his signature on orders which called for soldiers and political prisoners to be killed or disappeared, he was sentenced to death. To underscore the criminal rather than military nature of Keitel's acts, the Allies denied his request to be shot by firing squad. Instead, he was executed by hanging. Keitel's last words were:

Ich rufe den Allmächtigen an, er möge sich des deutschen Volkes erbarmen. Über zwei Millionen deutsche Soldaten sind vor mir für ihr Vaterland in den Tod gegangen. Ich folge meinen Söhnen nach. Alles für Deutschland!",

which translates roughly to:

I call on God Almighty to have mercy on the German people. More than two million German soldiers went to their death for the fatherland before me. I follow now my sons — all for Germany!

Dates of Rank

Legacy

When moving to the United States and Australia after World War II, some of Keitel's family changed their last name to Keetle so as to not be associated with his legacy.

Portrayal in popular culture

Wilhelm Keitel has been portrayed by the following actors in film, television and theater productions;[2]

See also

Notes

  1. ^ Historical Division, Headquarters, United States Army, Europe, Foreign Military Studies Branch (1949)
  2. ^ "Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel(Character)". IMDb.com. http://www.imdb.com/character/ch0042446/. Retrieved 20 May 2008. 
  3. ^ "Letzte Akt, Der (1955)". IMDb.com. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0048295/. Retrieved 8 May 2008. 
  4. ^ "The Death of Adolf Hitler (1973) (TV)". IMDb.com. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0283307/. Retrieved 8 May 2008. 
  5. ^ "Untergang, Der (2004)". IMDb.com. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0363163/. Retrieved 8 May 2008. 

Bibliography

  • BARBAROSSA. By Alan Clark. Perennial, 2002. ISBN 0-688-04268-6
  • Hitler and Russia. By Trumbull Higgins. The Macmillan Company, 1966.
  • Knopp, Guido (2000). Hitlers Krieger. Goldmann Verlag. ISBN 3-442-15045-0. 
  • The World War II. Desk Reference. Eisenhower Center director Douglas Brinkley. Editor Mickael E. Haskey. Grand Central Press, 2004.
  • The story of World War II. By Donald L. Miller. Simon & Schuster, 2006. ISBN 10: 0-74322718-2.
  • Scorched Earth. By Paul Carell. Schiffer Military History, 1994. ISBN 0-88740-598-3

External links

Awards and achievements
Preceded by
Yosuke Matsuoka
Cover of Time Magazine
14 July 1941
Succeeded by
Claude Wickard

Quotes

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

It isn't right to be obedient only when things go well; it is much harder to be a good, obedient soldier when things go badly and times are hard. Obedience and faith at such time is a virtue.

Wilhelm Bodewin Johann Gustav Keitel (September 22, 1882October 16, 1946) was a German field marshal (Generalfeldmarschall) and a senior military leader during World War II. He assumed the position of Chief of the OKW (Oberkommando der Wehrmacht). The International Military Tribunal rejected Keitel's defense that he was following orders in conformity to "the leadership principle" (Führerprinzip) and found him guilty on all charges. To underscore the criminal rather than military nature of Keitel's acts, the Allies denied his request to be shot by firing squad. Instead, he was executed by hanging.

Contents

Sourced

  • I call on God Almighty to have mercy on the German people. More than two million German soldiers went to their death for the fatherland before me. I follow now my sons - all for Germany.
    • Last words, 10/16/46, quoted in "The Mammoth Book of Eyewitness World War II" by Jon E. Lewis - History - 2002
  • I am a soldier and I worked for the kaiser, under Ebert, Hindenburg, and Hitler, all the same way, for the past forty-four years.
    • To Leon Goldensohn, March 27, 1946, from "The Nuremberg Interviews" by Leon Goldensohn, Robert Gellately - History - 2004
More than two million German soldiers went to their death for the fatherland before me. I follow now my sons - all for Germany.
  • I believe German soldiers are good and decent, and if they did anything wrong it was because of military necessity.
    • To Leon Goldensohn, March 27, 1946, from "The Nuremberg Interviews" by Leon Goldensohn, Robert Gellately - History - 2004
  • Hitler gave us orders - and we believed in him. Then he commits suicide and leaves us to bear the guilt. He should have remained alive to bear his share.
    • To Leon Goldensohn, April 6, 1946, from "The Nuremberg Interviews" by Leon Goldensohn, Robert Gellately - History - 2004
  • It isn't right to be obedient only when things go well; it is much harder to be a good, obedient soldier when things go badly and times are hard. Obedience and faith at such time is a virtue.
    • To Leon Goldensohn, May 17, 1946, from "The Nuremberg Interviews" by Leon Goldensohn, Robert Gellately - History - 2004 - Page 166
  • Death by hanging. That, at least, I thought I would be spared.
    • After receiving the death sentence, quoted in "Nuremberg Diary" by G. M. Gilbert - History - 1995
  • Why did the generals who have been so ready to term me a complaisant and incompetent yes-man fail to secure my removal? Was that all that difficult? No, that wasn't it; the truth was that nobody would have been ready to replace me, because each one knew that he would end up just as much a wreck as I.
    • Excerpt from "The Memoirs of Field-Marshal Keitel" - Page 52 - by Wilhelm Keitel - 1966
  • 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 that I did not see that there is a limit set even for a soldier's performance to his duty. That is my fate.
    • Statement issued at Nuremberg, 1946. Quoted in "The Trial of the Germans" - Page 341 - by Eugene Davidson - History - 1997
  • The Fuhrer has ordered that the enemy employs in partisan warfare Communist-trained fanatics who do not hesitate to commit any atrocity. It is more than ever a question of life and death. This fight has nothing to do with soldierly gallantry or principles of the Geneva Convention. If the fight against the partisans in the East, as well as in the Balkans, is not waged with the most brutal means, we will shortly reach the point where the available forces are insufficient to control the area. It is therefore not only justified, but it is the duty of the troops to use all means without restriction, even against women and children, so long as it ensures success. Any consideration for the partisans is a crime against the German people.
    • December 16, 1942. Quoted in "The Second World War: A Complete History" - Page 386 - by Sir Martin Gilbert - History - 2004

Unsourced

  • I often had the sharpest and harshest clashes with Hitler. But had I taken my own life, it wouldn't have improved things, because this demon went ahead with whatever he wanted and succeeded.
    • April 6, 1946

About Keitel

Keitel, the weak and willing tool, delivered the armed forces, the instrument of aggression, over to the party and directed them in executing its felonious designs.
  • If you want my own plain opinion about Keitel's orders, I will tell you. They were the orders of a stupid follower of Hitler. I myself paid very little attention to them and I think any attempt to justify his orders would be a mistake on the part of those of us who are steeped in military tradition and good conduct. I trust you will not quote me on these observations. I knew Keitel fairly well and I think that he is a decent person. It was simply that Hitler wanted a weak general in that powerful position in order to be able to have complete control of him. If I had held Keitel's position under Hitler, I wouldn't have lasted two weeks.
  • A field marshal who issued orders to the armed forces but had no idea of the results they would have in practice.
    • Robert H. Jackson
  • Keitel, the weak and willing tool, delivered the armed forces, the instrument of aggression, over to the party and directed them in executing its felonious designs.
    • Robert H. Jackson

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