Görlitz Walter - In the Service of the Reich The Memoirs of Field-Marshal Keitel


Authors : Görlitz Walter - Irving David
Title : In the Service of the Reich The Memoirs of Field-Marshal Keitel Chief of the German High Command, 1938-1945
Year : 1961

Link download : Gorlitz_Walter_-_In_the_Service_of_the_Reich_The_Memoirs_of_Field-Marshal_Keitel.zip

The memoirs of Field-Marshal Keitel were written in manuscript in prison at Nuremberg beginning on 1st September, 1946. The original is in the possession of the Keitel family. His narrative covering the years 1933 to 1938 is included in the German edition, but in this English edition Keitel’s life up to 1937 is dealt with in the editor’s introduction, which contains many extracts from Keitel’s own account of those years. The translation of the memoirs themselves here begins with 1937, on page 36. On the other hand, some passages from the original manuscript, which were not included in the German edition, appear in this translation, as for example the description of the Munich crisis and the planning discussions for the invasion of Britain. The photographs of Field-Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, chief of the German armed forces High Command, signing the instrument of unconditional surrender at Karlshorst near Berlin, show him to have been just the kind of Junkers type that the Western Allies had always made him out to be – a tall, broad-shouldered man, his face a little haggard but proud and set, and a monocle firmly screwed into his left eye. At the hour when the totalitarian regime in Germany finally collapsed he was acknowledging that he was an officer of the old school, although there was nothing about him characteristic of the make-up of the indomitable Prussian officer. Even the skilled American psychologists who analysed and interrogated him during his period of confinement were inclined to see in him the prototype of the Junkers, of the Prussian militarist; perhaps they had never had any real opportunity of making any study of the Junkers class of Prussia. Keitel, in fact, came from an entirely different milieu. The middle-class Hanoverian Keitel family, a family of landowners, came from a region with a marked anti- Prussian tradition. The field-marshal’s grandfather was a Royal Hanoverian crown land lessee and was closely connected with the House of Hanover that Bismarck overthrew. Military tendencies and traditions were completely alien to the family, and in silent protest against Prussia’s annexation of the kingdom of Hanover in 1866 the grandfather had bought the 600-acre estate of Helmscherode in the Gandersheim district of the duchy of Brunswick in 1871 – while still detesting everything that was Prussian. And when his son, the field-marshal’s father, served for a year as a volunteer in a regiment of the Prussian Hussars, he was strictly forbidden when he came home on leave to cross the threshold of Helmscherode while wearing the hated Prussian uniform. There is little similarity between a Brunswick estate like Helmscherode and the great manors east of the Elbe; their lords cannot simply be classified as Junkers. Carl Keitel, the field-marshal’s father, led a life no more pretentious than that of any well-to-do farmer. In contrast to his son, who was an enthusiastic huntsman and loved horses and riding, he believed in the maxim that a good farmer could never be a huntsman; the two were incompatible. At the bottom of his heart the son wanted nothing more than one day to be able to manage the Helmscherode estate himself; farmer’s blood coursed strongly through his veins. He knew a little about agriculture and, as the descendant of a long line of crown-land lessees and estate owners, he had inherited a talent for organising and administering the affairs of large establishments. Several times Keitel was later to toy with the idea of giving up the soldier’s life, but always he heeded what he believed to be his duty, perhaps abetted by the counsels of his ambitious and strong-willed wife. The obstinacy of his father, who had no intention of relinquishing control over Helmscherode as long as he was of sound body, and the increasing tendency among the landed gentry to take up military careers, particularly after the victorious Franco–Prussian War of 1870–71, produced the opposite effect. The heir of Helmscherode, Wilhelm Bodewin Johann Gustav Keitel, born on 22nd September, 1882, became an officer. There is a family story that he was almost in tears as he finally decided to give up all hope of ever being a farmer. There was another reason for the decision, a reason characteristic of the rising generation of middle-class farmers: if one could not be a farmer, then the officer’s was the only profession appropriate to one’s rank. But the officer cadre, in the small northern and central German provinces at least, was of purely Prussian stock. What a comedown for a family with such a strong anti-Prussian tradition! Nothing in his youth and nothing in his early years as an officer gave any hint that the young Keitel was destined to rise to the highest position in the German armed forces, or that it was to bring him such a cruel death. Initially he was a poor scholar, and he improved but little with time. His real interests were hunting, riding and farming at Helmscherode. After taking his school-leaving examination at Göttingen in March 1901, he entered the 46th Lower- Saxon Field Artillery Regiment, with its headquarters and 1st detachment at Wolfenbüttel (Brunswick). The young Lieutenant Keitel was a good and conscientious soldier. As one would expect from his earlier life of eating, drinking, hunting and riding, and his enjoyment of good company, he was by no means an ascetic. Even so, he detested frivolity and loathed extravagant pleasures. When he and his friend Felix Bürkner, the famous show jumper, were posted together to the Military Riding Academy in 1906, they pledged to one another that there would be “no skylarking and no affairs with women.” It was said of Keitel during his time as a division commander in Bremen, between 1934 and 1935, that while he naturally used a service car if he drove to official functions, his wife – if she was invited – had to go by tram, as they had no car of their own. This strict and extreme correctness was characteristic of the man. During the war and at the height of the fuel crisis, Keitel – chief of the armed forces High Command – shocked the senior SS officials attending state funerals by turning up in a modest Volkswagen, while they, the gentlemen with the silver deaths heads on their caps and the motto, “Our honour lies in our loyalty,” drove up in enormous and glittering limousines. In any event, the young Keitel soon came to the attention of his superiors on account of his boundless proficiency. First his name was put up for the command of the demonstration regiment of the Field-Artillery Gunnery School, then there was talk of his being posted as inspecting officer to the training establishment for officer recruits. His then commanding officer disclosed to him that there was a condition attached to the latter posting: the candidate should be a bachelor. Keitel had a violent quarrel with his superior, pointing out that he was going to be engaged and was thinking of marrying shortly. In April 1909 Lieutenant Keitel married Lisa Fontaine, the daughter of a well-to-do estate owner and brewer of Wülfel, near Hanover, a strongly anti-Prussian man to whom his new “Prussian” son-in-law was initially not a welcome addition to his family. Lisa Fontaine had many intellectual and artistic interests. In her youth she was very beautiful, although standoffish in manner. As far as can be judged from the letters she left, she was probably the stronger and certainly the more ambitious partner of the marriage: Wilhelm Keitel was just an average officer whose only secret ambition was to be a farmer and to manage Helmscherode. The marriage, which was blessed with three sons and three daughters, one of whom died tragically of an early and incurable disease, was to endure through all their trials and tribulations. And when the worst hour came, and her husband was sentenced to death by the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg, Lisa Keitel retained her composure. Keitel’s sons all became officers. The eldest married the daughter of Field- Marshal von Blomberg, the Reich war minister, in whose demise Keitel was to be so disastrously yet innocently involved; the youngest son was later killed in action in Russia. Perhaps because he respected a man who knew how to speak his mind, Keitel’s colonel selected him as his regimental adjutant. In the Prussian-German army this was a position of considerable trust: to the regimental adjutant fell the duty not only of handling personnel matters but also of formulating mobilisation measures and much else besides. But his superiors must have believed Lieutenant Keitel capable of far more than this. During the autumn exercises of the Tenth Corps, of which his regiment was a subordinate formation, the corps’ chief of staff, Colonel Freiherr von der Wenge, struck up a conversation with him, from which Keitel concluded that he had been earmarked for General Staff duties. It was a belief in which he was not deceived. And so, during the winter of 1913–14, the man who had hated deskwork all his life began, as he himself describes in his early memoirs, to study the “gray donkey,” as the handbook for General Staff officers was dubbed by the German army at that time. In March 1914 Keitel took part in the corps’ course for current or future General Staff officers. Four Army General Staff officers had been detached to the course, including Captains von Stülpnagel and von dem Bussche-Ippenburg, both of whom were later to be influential personalities in the republican Reichswehr. It was Bussche-Ippenburg, the chief of the Army Personnel Office, a key position in this small republican army, who – according to Keitel’s early memoirs – fetched him into the organisational department (T-2) of the so-called “Troop Office” – the disguised agency set up to replace the General Staff forbidden under the Versailles Treaty. Keitel went to war with the 46th Artillery Regiment, and in September 1914 he was quite seriously wounded in his right forearm by a shell fragment. Among the family papers there is an entire series of letters written by him to his father and father-in-law, and by his wife to her parents. These reveal Keitel’s views on this first great and terrible European war. Naturally, he was duty-bound to hope piously for a German victory, but at the same time there was a dejected conviction deep down that, in fact, all they could do now was just grimly hang on. How similar was to be his attitude to the Second World War – determined to fulfil his personal obligations, ruled by blind obedience, but with no hope of final victory. He served his head of state, and he continued to serve him even at the Nuremberg trial, despite his self-confessed inability to fathom this last Supreme Warlord of Germany. ...

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