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.
The memoirs of FM Wilhelm Keitel were written very well, although one would expect a collection of hasty entries due to the situation they where written in. Keitel wrote them during the Nuremberg trials, where he was condemed to death by hanging. The memoirs describe the period of Keitel's association with Hitler, up to 1943. At that point in the trial he interrupted his writings because he was sentenced to death, and decided to spend his last days with his family. They show Keitel as a man faithful to Hitler, but not always in agreement with him, and also give vital information on the controversial trial, and disgrace of Fritz, the army commander. Although the memoirs do not describe Hitler as much as they could, I find them to be a vital source for anyone studying the German High Command of 1938-43.- Gleb Iatsenia
You've seen him quite often, standing behind Hitler, seemingly the latter's partner in crime. The quintessential Prussian war-horse, moving armies about to destroy countries. Drunk with ambition. But you would be wrong, dead wrong. Keitel was quite the opposite. He came from Hanover, not Prussia, from a non-military background. He longed to be a farmer. He offered to resign countless times only to be screamed at by Hitler. He signed all of Hitler's more questionable orders but the latter never once asked for or heeded his advice. Keitel protested the invasions of France and Russia, the partisan execution orders, the "nacht und nebel" orders, the "terror flyer" orders - all emanating from Hitler, all laid at Keitel's door at Nuremberg. He loathed his job, watched his eldest son go to his death in Russia and for his thanks was abused day and night by Hitler who would routinely tell him to leave the room as politiking was none of his business. He cowered constantly under Hitler's rages and abuse which undid greater men than he. Hitler knew Keitel was incorruptible and ambition-less and so he used the upright soldier's soldier to rubber-stamp horrendous actions. These memoirs were written in appaling conditions in the Nuremberg jailhouse with the rope beckoning days away. No notes. No interviews. Just the power of this man's character fighting off despair. Rarely can memoirs have been written in such grim circumstances. Keitel's lodestar was loyalty to his oath and uniform. He never once deviated from this. At Nuremburg he watched others slither out of guilt by playing the disloyalty card (paging Albert Speer...Albert Speer!!!). Keitel by contrast took his assumed guilt on the chin to ensure the vindication of his beloved Wehrmacht. At the end his only sad request was to be allowed a soldier's death by firing squad. This the Nuremberg Lynching Tribunal denied. Keitel was nearly garrotted on the scaffold as the alcoholic executioner botched the job. A squalid end befitting a squalid legal farce. Dulce et decorum est. Pro patria morum.
PS- the memoirs were superbly translated by none other than the renowned David Irving who adds his usual fascinating insight, in my edition anyway. He got screwed for the fee but laughed it off as it opened doors closed to others- doors leading into Hitler's inner circle....but that's another story!!!......
This is a well written booked other than the unwarranted and unnecessary comments by the editor. This book confirms all the problems the military had with Hitler, but this was one man and the Generals, especially Keitel, should have been more forceful. Imprisonment with Hess and Speer would have been a more fitting end for Keitel, but the authorities especially the Russians were looking for a scapegoat