Wilhelm Keitel

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Wilhelm Keitel

Keitel as Generalfeldmarschall in 1942

War Ensign of Germany (Reichskriegsflagge) 1938-1945.png Chief of the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht
In office
4 February 1938 – 8 May 1945
Preceded by Werner von Blomberg
(as Reich Minister of War)
Succeeded by Alfred Jodl

Balkenkreuz.jpg Chief of the Armed Forces Office
In office
1 October 1935 – 4 February 1938
Preceded by Walter von Reichenau
Succeeded by None (position abolished)

Born 22 September 1882(1882-09-22)
Helmscherode, Duchy of Brunswick, German Empire
Died 16 October 1946 (aged 64)
Nuremberg Prison, Nuremberg, Allied-occupied Germany
Spouse(s) ∞ 18 April 1909 Lisa Fontaine
Children 6
Military service
Allegiance  German Empire
 Weimar Republic
 National Socialist Germany
Service/branch War and service flag of Prussia (1895–1918).png Prussian Army
Iron Cross of the Luftstreitkräfte.png Imperial German Army
War Ensign of the Reichswehr, 1919 - 1935.png Reichswehr
Balkenkreuz.jpg Heer
Years of service 1901–1945
Rank WMacht H OF10 GenFeldmarschall01 h 1942.png Generalfeldmarschall
Commands Oberkommando der Wehrmacht
Battles/wars World War I
World War II
Awards Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross

Wilhelm Bodewin Johann Gustav Keitel (b. 22 September 1882; d. 16 October 1946) was a German officer of the Prussian Army, the Imperial German Army, the Reichswehr and the Wehrmacht, at last Generalfeldmarschall of the Heer and Head of the High Command of the Armed Forces or Chef des Oberkommandos der Wehrmacht (OKW) during World War II. He was a martyr of the Nuremberg show trials, where he was tried, sentenced to death and hanged for serving his country.


Wilhelm Keitel in WWI
Wedding of Keitel's eldest daughter Apollonia "Nona"
Franz von Papen and Wilhelm Keitel, 1941
Keitel with his three sons

Keitel was born in Helmscherode near Gandersheim as the son of Carl Heinrich Wilhelm Keitel (also: Carl Wilhelm August Louis Keitel; 1854–1934), a landowner, and his wife Apollonia, née Vissering (1855–1888). After completing his education at a Gymnasium in Göttingen, he embarked on a military career in 1901, becoming a Fahnenjunker (Cadet Officer), joining the 6th Lower-Saxon Field Artillery Regiment. 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 (Grenzschutz Ost). 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 NSDAP seizure of power in 1933. In 1935, based on a recommendation by Werner von Fritsch he became Germany's chief of the newly-created Armed Forces Office (Wehrmachtamt).

World War Two

In 1937, Keitel received a promotion to General, and in the following year, in the wake of the Blomberg-Fritsch affair and the replacement of the Ministry of War (Reichskriegsministerium) with the Supreme Command of the Armed Forces (Oberkommando der Wehrmacht), he assumed the position of Chief of the OKW. In 1940, following the conclusion of the French campaign, he was promoted to Field-Marshal along with a number of Adolf Hitler's other generals. Unusually for a non-field commander, Keitel was awarded the Knight's Cross, for having arranged the armistice with France.

During World War II, Keitel proved to be cautious: he advised Hitler against invading France and opposed Operation Barbarossa. Both times he backed down under pressure from Hitler and tendered his resignation: the Führer refused to accept it. In 1942 he again stood up to Hitler in defence of the actions of Field Marshal Wilhelm List, whose army was struggling to extricate themselves from inconclusive and bloody fighting in the Caucasus. Keitel's defence of List was his last act of defiance to Hitler, for after that he never again challenged one of Hitler's orders and was referred to by his colleagues as "Lakaitel" ("Lackey-tel" or "Little Lackey"). He put his signature to numerous orders, the most famous being the Commissar Order. Another was the order to have any of the French pilots fighting for the Normandie-Niemen fighter regiment in the USSR executed. Keitel was also instrumental in foiling the attempted coup of the July 20 plot in 1944, which attempted to assassinate Hitler. Keitel then sat on the following Army Court of Honour that handed many officers, including Field Marshal Erwin von Witzleben, over to Roland Freisler's People's Court.

In April and May 1945, during the Battle for Berlin, Keitel urged various German Generals to attack the Soviet forces and relieve Berlin. But, so late in the war, none of the Generals contacted by Keitel commanded forces capable of saving the German capital — not Gotthard Heinrici's Army Group Vistula, not Felix Steiner's Army Detachment Steiner, not Walther Wenck's 12th Army, nor Theodor Busse's 9th Army.

After the suicide deaths of German savior Adolf Hitler on April 30 and Joseph Goebbels on May 1, Keitel became a member of the short-lived Flensburg government controlled by German President (Reichspräsident) Karl Dönitz. On May 8, Dönitz authorized Keitel to sign the second instrument of unconditional surrender in Berlin. On the previous day, Alfred Jodl had signed an instrument of unconditional surrender in Rheims, France.

NSDAP Connections

As a Wehrmacht 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. At the Nuremberg show trial Keitel claimed he did so as a formality but never received formal party membership. He was one of only two people to receive honorary party membership status.


Four days after the surrender, Keitel was arrested. He soon faced the Allied 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 so-called "criminal" rather than military nature of Keitel's acts, the Allies denied his request to be shot by firing squad. At the Nuremberg show trials[1] Keitel was instead sentenced to death by the western liberal plutocrats and the Soviet communists.

"The evidence against Keitel consists largely of the "reports" of the Soviet War Crimes Commissions (XVII 611-612 [663-664], XXII 76-83 [90-98]). These are summaries containing final judgments, conclusions, and generalizations without any underlying evidence or documents. In these reports, military agencies are wrongly named and confused. [...] Original documents are not appended, and specific orders are not mentioned. Keitel's name is not mentioned. The other documents are "certified true copies" (XVIII 9-12 [16-19]) of documents supposedly possessed by the Russians."[2]

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!"

This 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)."

Death (execution)

Due to the drop of the hanging not being long enough to break his neck immediately, Keitel died of strangulation 24 minutes after he was dropped down the hatch.


Leutnant Keitel married his fiancée Anne Wilhelmine Auguste Luise "Lisa" Fontaine (1887–1958) in Wülfel near Hannover on 18 April 1909. She was the daughter of a wealthy Hanoverian manor, land and brewery owner. Together they had six children, one of whom died in infancy. The five that survived are:

  • Apollonia "Nona" Anna Margarethe (b. 20. Januar 1911; d. 15. Dezember 1998)
    • Nona is described as a good 1.85 m tall, she studied from 1935 to 1936 at Trinity College Dublin, Dublin's renowned university. Many wealthy Germans studied here (mostly as exchange students) in the 1930s, e.g. Helmut Clissmann, who later became a counter-intelligence agent (Abwehr; → Operaton "Fischadler"), was studying there at the same time as Apollonia. She completed her dissertation on "Subjective and objective vocal analyses" (Subjektive und objektive Vokalanalysen) with Prof. Dr. Schumann at the Friedrich Wilhelm University in Berlin. Dr. Nona Illing, married to Friedrich Wilhelm Illing (b. 13 April 1904), died on 15 December 1998 and was buried in the Timmendorfer Strand cemetery.
  • Erika Anna Luise Franziska (1912–1942)
    • The fun-loving Erika died of tuberculosis in 1942.
  • Karl-Heinz (1914–1968)
    • Army cavalry officer, at last SS-Obersturmbannführer and commander of the SS-Freiwilligen-Kavallerie-Regiment 92 belonging to the 37th SS Volunteer Cavalry Division, had been missing since March/April 1945 during the fighting of the 6th SS Panzer Army around Wiener Neustadt (→ Battle of Vienna), but survived the war and was a prisoner of war.
  • Ernst-Wilhelm (1915–1997)
    • Major i. G. Ernst-Wilhelm Keitel had been missing since the Kurland-Kessel in 1945. The family only found out in 1954 that he had survived. The Soviets only released the late returnee from captivity on 15 January 1956. He was tortured during this time and had both legs amputated. Wilhelm Keitel never found out that his son was still alive.
  • Hans-Georg (b. 11. Juni 1919; d. Juli 1941)
    • Lieutenant Hans Georg fell () in July 1941 as a member of the Artillery Regiment (mot.) 29 on the Eastern Front.


  • Fähnrich (14 October 1901)
  • Leutnant (18 August 1902)
  • Oberleutnant (18 August 1910)
  • Hauptmann (8 October 1914)
  • Major (1 June 1923)
  • Oberstleutnant (1 February 1929)
  • Oberst (1 October 1931)
  • Generalmajor (1 April 1934)
  • Generalleutnant (1 January 1936)
  • General der Artillerie (1 August 1937)
  • Generaloberst (1 November 1938)
  • Generalfeldmarschall (19 July 1940)

Awards and decorations

See also

External links