Wilhelm Keitel

Wilhelm Keitel

Infobox Military Person
name= Wilhelm Bodewin Johann Gustav Keitel
lived= 22 September 1882–16 October 1946
placeofbirth= Helmscherode, Brunswick, German Empire
placeofdeath= Nuremberg, Germany

caption= Wilhelm Keitel
nickname= "LaKeitel" (English: Lackey)
allegiance=flagicon|German Empire German Empire (to 1918)
flagicon|Germany Weimar Republic (to 1933)
flagicon|Nazi Germany Nazi Germany
rank= Generalfeldmarschall
branch= Wehrmacht
battles= World War I
World War II
awards=Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross

Wilhelm Bodewin Johann Gustav Keitel (22 September 1882–16 October 1946) was a German field marshal (Generalfeldmarschall). As head of the High Command of the Armed Forces, 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.


Early life and career

Keitel was born in Helmscherode, 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. 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 Defence (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

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 Supreme Command of the Armed Forces ("Oberkommando der Wehrmacht", or OKW), and Keitel was appointed Commander-in-Chief of OKW. 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. But he proved to be weak and cautious: he advised Hitler against invading France and opposed Operation Barbarossa. Both times he backed down in the face of Hitler and tendered his resignation: Hitler refused to accept it.

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.

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, and was referred to by his colleagues as "Lakaitel" ("Lackey-tel" or "Little Lackey") and as the "nodding donkey".

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 being the Commissar Order. 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 honor" that handed over many officers who were involved, including Field Marshal Erwin von Witzleben, to Roland Freisler's notorious People's Court.

In April and May 1945, during the Battle for 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 became a member of the short-lived Flensburg government under Admiral Karl Dönitz.

On 8 May 1945, Dönitz authorized Keitel to sign an unconditional surrender in Berlin.

Nazi connections

As a military officer, Keitel was prohibited by law from joining the NSDAP. 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 the 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// [Historical Division, Headquarters, United States Army, Europe, Foreign Military Studies Branch (1949)]

Trial and execution

Four days after the surrender, Keitel was arrested. He soon faced the International Military Tribunal (IMT), which charged him with a number of offences:
* Conspiracy to commit crimes against peace;
* Planning, initiating and waging wars of aggression;
* War crimes; and,
* Crimes against humanity.

The IMT rejected Keitel's defence 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. 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 ("Alles für Deutschland")."


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 crimes. Many of his descendants still go by this last name. Fact|date=March 2008

Portrayal in popular culture

Wilhelm Keitel has been portrayed by the following actors in film, television and theater productions;cite web |url=http://www.imdb.com/character/ch0042446/ |title=Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel(Character)|accessdate=20 May | accessdaymonth = | accessmonthday = |accessyear=2008 |author=|last=|first=| authorlink = | coauthors = |date=|year=| month = |format=|work=|publisher=IMDb.com |pages= | doi = |archiveurl=|archivedate=| quote = ]
*Leopold Hainisch in the 1955 West German film "Der Letzte Akt" ("Hitler: The Last Ten Days")cite web |url=http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0048295/ |title=Letzte Akt, Der (1955) |accessdate=8 May | accessdaymonth = | accessmonthday = |accessyear=2008 |author=|last=|first=| authorlink = | coauthors = |date=|year=| month = |format=|work=|publisher=IMDb.com |pages= | doi = |archiveurl=|archivedate=| quote = ]
*Tadeusz Bialoszczynski in the 1971 Polish film "Epilogue at Nurnberg"
* Raymond Adamson in the 1973 British television production "The Death of Adolf Hitler"cite web |url=http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0283307/ |title=The Death of Adolf Hitler (1973) (TV) |accessdate=8 May | accessdaymonth = | accessmonthday = |accessyear=2008 |author=|last=|first=| authorlink = | coauthors = |date=|year=| month = |format=|work=|publisher=IMDb.com |pages= | doi = |archiveurl=|archivedate=| quote = ]
*Frank Fontaine in the 2000 Canadian/U.S. T.V. production "Nuremberg". (The American entertainer by this name died in 1978).
* Dieter Mann in the 2004 German film "Downfall" ("Der Untergang")cite web |url=http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0363163/ |title=Untergang, Der (2004) |accessdate=8 May | accessdaymonth = | accessmonthday = |accessyear=2008 |author=|last=|first=| authorlink = | coauthors = |date=|year=| month = |format=|work=|publisher=IMDb.com |pages= | doi = |archiveurl=|archivedate=| quote = ]
*Miroslav Kosev in the 2006 British television docudrama ""

ee also

* War crimes of the Wehrmacht



* BARBAROSSA. By Alan Clark. Perennial, 2002. ISBN 0-688-04268-6
* Hitler and Russia. By Trumbull Higgins. The Macmillan Company, 1966.
* 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.
* Scourched earth. By Paul Carell. Schiffer Military History, 1994. ISBN 0-88740-598-3

External links

* [http://www.fpp.co.uk/books/Keitel/Keitel.zip The Memoirs of Fieldmarshal Keitel] , Keitel autobiography

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