High Command Trial

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The High Command Trial (or, officially, The United States of America vs. Wilhelm von Leeb, et al.[1]) was the last of the twelve trials for war crimes the U.S. authorities held in their occupation zone in Germany in Nuremberg after the end of World War II.[2] These twelve trials were all held before U.S. military courts, not before the International Military Tribunal, but took place in the same rooms at the Palace of Justice. The twelve U.S. trials are collectively known as the "Subsequent Nuremberg Trials" or, more formally, as the "Trials of War Criminals before the Nuremberg Military Tribunals" (NMT).

Chief of Counsel for the Prosecution Telford Taylor at the High Command Trial

The accused in this trial were all high-ranking generals of the German Wehrmacht (one was a former Admiral); some of them had been members of the High Command of Nazi Germany's military forces. They were charged with having participated in or planned or facilitated the execution of the numerous atrocities committed in countries occupied by the German forces during the war.

The judges in this case, heard before Military Tribunal V-A, were John C. Young (presiding judge) from Colorado, Winfield B. Hale from Tennessee, and Justin W. Harding from Alaska. The Chief of Counsel for the Prosecution was Telford Taylor. The indictment was filed on November 28, 1947; the trial lasted from December 30 that year until October 28, 1948. Of the 14 defendants indicted, two were acquitted on all counts. Johannes Blaskowitz committed suicide during the trial. The remaining nine defendants received prison sentences ranging from three years including time served to lifetime imprisonment.

Germans vigorously opposed the trial. They denied the facts found by the U.S. judges, extolled the defense of obedience to superior orders, and praised the soldierly qualities of the defendants. Particularly active were the Protestant and Catholic churches. After the emergence of the Federal Republic, Chancellor Konrad Adenauer and the Bundestag weighed in on the side of the defendants. German leverage increased as the urgency of rearming Germany grew. Under these intense pressures, in 1950, U.S. High Commissioner John McCloy established a review panel chaired by Judge David Peck of New York and, on its recommendation, reduced the sentences of three of the six High Command defendants still in prison. After further proceedings by mixed commissions composed of Allied and German members, the last of the High Command defendants returned home in 1953.[3]

Indictment[edit]

The accused faced four charges of having committed war crimes and crimes against humanity:

  1. Crimes against peace by waging aggressive war against other nations and violating international treaties.
  2. War crimes by being responsible for murder, ill-treatment and other crimes against prisoners of war and enemy belligerents.
  3. Crimes against humanity by participating or ordering the murder, torture, deportation, hostage-taking, etc. of civilians in occupied countries.
  4. Participating and organizing the formulations and execution of a common plan and conspiracy to commit aforementioned crimes.

All defendants were indicted on all counts; they all pleaded "not guilty".

Count 4 of the indictment—the conspiracy charge—was soon dropped by the tribunal because it was already covered by the other charges.

On count 1, the tribunal considered all accused not guilty, stating that they were not the policy-makers and that preparing for war and fighting a war on orders was not a criminal offense under the applicable international law of the time.

Defendants[edit]

Name Function Charges Sentence
    1 2 3 4  
Bundesarchiv Bild 183-L08126, Wilhelm Ritter von Leeb.jpg

Wilhelm von Leeb
Former Generalfeldmarschall (until 1941) I I G I 3 years' imprisonment; released after the trial-died 1956
Hugo-Sperrle.jpg

Hugo Sperrle
Former Generalfeldmarschall I I I I acquitted-died 1953
Bundesarchiv Bild 183-R63872, Georg von Küchler.jpg

Georg von Küchler
Former Generalfeldmarschall I G G I 20 years' imprisonment; reduced to 12 years in 1951; released 1953 due to medical reasons-died 1968.
Bundesarchiv Bild 146-2004-004-05, Johannes Blaskowitz.jpg

Johannes Blaskowitz
Former Generaloberst I I I I Committed suicide during the trial on February 5, 1948
Hermann Hoth.jpg

Hermann Hoth
Former Generaloberst I G G I 15 years' imprisonment; released 1954-died 1971.
BUNDESARCHIV, Georg-Hans Reinhardt 1.jpg

Georg-Hans Reinhardt
Former Generaloberst I G G I 15 years' imprisonment; released 1952-died 1963.
Hans von Salmuth Former Generaloberst I G G I 20 years' imprisonment; reduced to 12 years in 1951, released in 1953-died 1962
Karl-Adolf Hollidt Former Generaloberst I G G I 5 years' imprisonment; released December 22, 1949-died 1985
Otto Schniewind.jpg

Otto Schniewind
Former Generaladmiral I I I I acquitted-died 1964
Karl von Roques at the Nuremberg Trials.jpg

Karl von Roques
Former General der Infanterie I G G I 20 years' imprisonment; died December 24, 1949.
Reinecke.jpg

Hermann Reinecke
Former General der Infanterie; head of the General Office of the Armed Forces at OKW (Allgemeines Wehrmachtamt, AWA), also head of the office for the NSFO (National-Sozialistische Führungs-Offiziere, Nazi officers charged with political propaganda in the Wehrmacht) I G G I lifetime imprisonment; released 1954-died 1973
Walter-Warlimont.jpg

Walter Warlimont
Former General der Artillerie; deputy head of the Wehrmacht-Führungsstab (WMFS), the Armed Forces Operations Staff. I G G I lifetime imprisonment; commuted to 18 years in 1951; released 1954-died 1976.
Bundesarchiv Bild 183-2007-0313-500, Rumänien, Otto Wöhler bei Lagebesprechung.jpg

Otto Wöhler
Former General der Infanterie I G G I 8 years' imprisonment; released 1951-died 1987
Rudolf Lehmann 1947.jpg

Rudolf Lehmann
Former Generaloberststabsrichter (Colonel General Judicial Officer), Judge Advocate-General of the OKW and as such responsible for the elaboration of the Commissar Order, the Barbarossa Order, and others. I G G I 7 years' imprisonment-died July 26,1955

I — Indicted   G — Indicted and found guilty

All sentences included time already served in custody since April 7, 1945.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ Also known as initially as Case No. 12 (the 13 Generals' trial), and later as Case No. 72 (The German high command trial: Trial of Wilhelm von Leeb and thirteen others)
  2. ^ There was also a "High Command Case" in the Trial of the Major War Criminals before the International Military Tribunal. In that case, the German supreme command of the armed forces (OKWOberkommando Wehrmacht) was acquitted of the charge of having been a criminal organization.[1]
  3. ^ See Detlev F. Vagts, Book Review, American Journal of International Law vol. 104 (2010), p. 548, at 549; reviewing Valerie Geneviève Hébert, Hitler's Generals on Trial: The Last War Crimes Tribunal at Nuremberg. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2010.