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Nuremberg: The Fall Of The Supermen
Even as the horrors unfolded, it seemed difficult to connect them with the shabby figures in the prisoners’ dock. And yet, these contemptible shadows had once been among the most powerful and corrupt men on earth. In a rare view from the bench, the U.S. judge at the war crimes trial of the twenty-one top Nazis records the last chapter of their evil careers. It is adapted from Mr. Riddle’s forthcoming autobiography. In Brief Authority , to be published by Doubleday this fall.
August 1962 | Volume 13, Issue 5
The defendants Keitel and Jodl were both connected with the OKW, the High Command of the Armed Forces, an interservicc organization directly responsible to Hitler as Supreme Commander. Keitel was the chief of the OKW, with Jodl immediately subordinate to him. The British historian John Wheeler-Bennett, comparing them, believed that Keitel was a man of third-rate ability, with “ambition but no talent, loyalty but no character, a certain native shrewdness and charm but neither intelligence nor personality.” Keitel particularly illustrated what “training without education” did to the German military mind. The loyalty of both generals to Hitler was automatic. But Alfred Jodl, who came from a family of intellectuals, was an individual of high intelligence and vigorous personality, who deliberately subordinated his will to the Fuehrer’s caprices and became one of his most idolatrous admirers.
Keitel looked like a cross between a battered but respectable coachman and one of the milder Anglican bishops. Obsequious in his cell, he would bow and scrape to a lieutenant. In court he sat upright and apparently composed in his shabby green uniform, stripped of decorations, always looking “correct.” Marshal Keitel kept repeating on the stand in his defense that he had absolutely no “command functions,” as if he considered that this description of his duties would absolve him of having faithfully carried out Hitler’s orders to murder and to torture. Jodl, in a green coat and light blue trousers with red stripes, gave one the impression of strength and self-control. Like so many of the defendants, his attitude toward Hitler fluctuated between adulation and contempt.
Of the two admirals, Karl Doenitz, who had succeeded Raeder as head of the Navy, was the modern, highly trained technician. Admiral Raeder, a little man of an older generation, was born in 1876, entered the Navy at eighteen, and received the commendation of the Kaiser in 1910 when he was navigation officer of the Imperial Yacht Hohenzollern . Before retiring in 1943 he had been active in building up the German Navy and in the submarine warfare; but what particularly moved the Tribunal to impose on him a sentence of life imprisonment was his successful pressure on Hitler to invade Norway, in spite of Hitler’s desire to keep Scandinavia neutral- one of the clearest acts of aggressive war in the record. Raeder was skeptical about what would happen to him; he hoped he would be shot, for at his age he had no desire to serve a prison sentence. He had already attempted suicide when in the hands of the Russians.
At end drew near and the time for the delivery of the judgment and the sentences approached, even Goering’s factitious gaiety grew thin and forced, and finally deserted him. Schacht looked tired and old, but his sang-froid never left him, and his back was like a ramrod. The tragedy of Germany had settled deep in the soul of Spcer. Little Funk cried more, and Streicher kept on howling at night. The fear of death turned Ribbentrop to parchment, drawn and sallow between the points of chin and cheeks.
The reading of the judgment, a part of it by each member, was finished on the morning of October I, 1946. Three men had been acquitted—Schacht, Fritzsche, and the wily old diplomat von Papen—and were moved to cells on the third tier. The others were waiting to hear their sentences. Fritzsche, Gilbert records, was overwhelmed: “Free … and not even sent back to Russia” (the Russians had captured him).
After a recess, the defendants who had been convicted were called to be sentenced. Standing there before us, they behaved like men. I felt sick and miserable. Wc had seen them day in and day out for a year. What right had I? . … I knew they deserved it. Goering, who was the first to be sentenced, saluted when Lawrence pronounced his fate: “Defendant Hermann Wilhelm Goering, on the counts of the Indictment on which you have been convicted, the International Military Tribunal sentences you to death by hanging.” Goering was glad that he had not got a life sentence, he later told Dr. Gilbert—those who were sentenced to life never went down in history as martyrs. How soon he would cheat the law, his thumb to his nose, pulling the phial of cyanide of potassium from some secret crevice in the folds of his vast flesh. … The slave-labor chief, Fritz, Sauckel, when he got to his cell, said to Gilbert: “Death! I have never been cruel myself. But I am a man—and I can take it…—and burst into tears. Specr thought his sentence of twenty years was fair enough; he was glad Fritzsche had been acquitted … Kaltenbrunner, sentenced to death, tried to kiss his mistress through the grille of lhe visitors’ room.
Admiral Raeder, who had been sentenced to life imprisonment, petitioned the Allied Control Council to change his sentence to death by shooting—the resistance of his body was low, he said, and his imprisonment would not last very long. But the Control Council had the power only to decrease sentences. At Spandau he acted as librarian, fussy and meticulous, liking to repeat the German saying: “A disorderly ship reflects incapability.” He was fond of gardening. He was recently released, and is still living at eighty as I write this.