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4.0 out of 5 stars Keitel's memoirs have historical value, 18 July 2011
This review is from: The Memoirs of Field-Marshal Wilhelm Keitel: Chief Of The German High Command, 1938-1945 (Paperback)
The memoirs of German Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, the head of the Supreme Command of the Werhmacht during World War II, and thus in paper (though not so much in reality) the second man in command in Germany's military effort during the conflict after Adolf Hitler. Remarkably, Keitel wrote this book under extraordinary circumstances, while being imprisoned in Nuremberg in 1946 and waiting for the hangman (he stopped writing this book just 6 days before his execution).

Keitel's has been criticized by historians for not being very bright and for being servile, blindly obedient to Hitler. This memoir in many ways reinforces this view. It makes clear that Keitel, even after Germany's defeat, believed Hitler to be one of history's greatest military geniuses. On page 127, for instance Keitel writes about the Fuhrer's "unparalleled inventiveness" in planning military operations. Keitel was impressed by Hitler's apparent knowledge of many facts during war conferences. In contrast, Von Manstein and Speer both make clear in their respective memoirs that this sort of memorizing was shallow and ultimately meaningless. This book also makes clear that Hitler constantly humiliated Keitel, yet Keitel sheepishly remained at his side. Keitel defends the infamous Commissar Order and, without giving any solid evidence, insists that Operation Barbarossa was a preventive war, that the Soviets were preparing an invasion of Germany (like many historians, Keitel thinks that Germany could have prevailed over the Soviet Union if the unexpected failure of the invasion of Italy in Greece and the invasion of Yugoslavia would have made possible for Germany to attack Russia in early May instead of late June, reaching Moscow before winter).

This volume is not very well written, the prose often clumsy and disjointed. This is understandable since Keitel never pretended to be a writer, he wrote from memory and without access to files, did not have time to revise it and he wrote it knowing that in a few weeks he would be hanged. Nevertheless, he wanted to leave his important testimony to history. Ultimately, this memoir' stylistic flaws are more than made up by the very interesting story it tells. The book is certainly recommended for those interested in World War II and military history in general, though not necessarily for those whose interest in those subjects is passing.
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