Erich von Manstein
Erich von Manstein (24 November 1887 – 9 June 1973) was one of the most prominent commanders of the Wehrmacht, Nazi Germany's armed forces during World War II. Attaining the rank of Generalfeldmarschall (Field Marshal), he was held in high esteem as one of Germany's best military strategists.
Born into an aristocratic Prussian family with a long history of military service, Manstein joined the army at a young age and saw service on several fronts during World War I. He had risen to the rank of captain by the end of the war and was active in the inter-war period helping Germany rebuild her armed forces. During the invasion of Poland at the outbreak of World War II, he was serving as Chief of Staff to Gerd von Rundstedt's Army Group South. He was one of the planners of Fall Gelb (Case Yellow), an offensive through the Ardennes during the invasion of France in 1940. Attaining the rank of general at the end of the campaign, he was active in the invasion of the Soviet Union and the Siege of Sevastopol and was promoted to Field Marshal in August 1942. Germany's fortunes in the war began to take an unfavourable turn after the disastrous Battle of Stalingrad, where Manstein commanded a failed relief effort. He was one of the primary commanders at the Battle of Kursk, one of the last major battles of the war and one of the largest battles in history. His ongoing disagreements with Hitler over the conduct of the war led to his dismissal in March 1944. He never obtained another command and was taken prisoner by the British in August 1945, several months after Germany's defeat.
Manstein gave testimony at the main Nuremberg Trials of war criminals in August 1946, and prepared a paper that, along with his later memoirs, helped contribute to the myth of a "clean Wehrmacht"—the myth that the German armed forces were not culpable for the atrocities of the Holocaust. In 1949 he was tried in Hamburg for war crimes and was convicted on nine of seventeen counts, including the poor treatment of prisoners of war and failing to protect civilian lives in his sphere of operations. His sentence of eighteen years in prison was later reduced to twelve, and he served only four years before being released in 1953. As a military advisor to theWest German government in the mid-1950s, he helped re-establish the armed forces. His successful memoir, Verlorene Siege (1955), translated into English as Lost Victories, was highly critical of Hitler's leadership, and focused strictly on the military aspects of the war, ignoring the political and ethical context. Manstein died in Munich in 1973.
Manstein was moved to Nuremberg in October 1945. He was held at the Palace of Justice, the location of the Nuremberg Trials of major Nazi war criminals and organisations. While there, Manstein helped prepare a 132-page document for the defence of the General Staff and the OKW, on trial at Nuremberg in August 1946. The myth that the Wehrmacht was "clean"—not culpable for the events of the Holocaust—arose partly as a result of this document, written largely by Manstein, along with General of Cavalry Siegfried Westphal. He also gave oral testimony about the Einsatzgruppen, the treatment of prisoners of war, and the concept of military obedience, especially as related to the Commissar Order, an order issued by Hitler in 1941 requiring all Soviet political commissars to be shot without trial. Manstein admitted that he received the order, but said he did not carry it out. Documents from 1941 presented at Nuremberg and at Manstein's own later trial contradict this claim: He actually received regular reports throughout that summer regarding the execution of hundreds of political commissars. He denied any knowledge of the activities of the Einsatzgruppen, and testified that soldiers under his command were not involved in the murder of Jewish civilians. However, Otto Ohlendorf, commander of Einsatzgruppe D, contradicted this during his own testimony, saying that not only was Manstein aware of what was happening, but that the Eleventh Army was actively involved. In September 1946 the General Staff and the OKW were declared to not be criminal organisations.
After his testimony at Nuremberg, Manstein was interned by the British as a prisoner of war at Island Farm (also known as Special Camp 11) in Bridgend,Wales, where he awaited the decision as to whether or not he would face a war crimes trial. He mostly kept apart from the other inmates, taking solitary walks, tending a small garden, and beginning work on the drafts of two books. British author B. H. Liddell Hart was in correspondence with Manstein and others at Island Farm and visited inmates of several camps around Britain while preparing his best-selling 1947 book On the Other Side of the Hill. Liddell Hart was an admirer of the German generals; he described Manstein as an operational genius. The two remained in contact, and Liddell Hart later helped Manstein arrange the publication of the English edition of his memoir, Verlorene Siege (Lost Victories), in 1958. The British cabinet, under pressure from the Soviet Union, finally decided in July 1948 to prosecute Manstein for war crimes. He and three other senior officers (Walther von Brauchitsch, Gerd von Rundstedt, and Adolf Strauss) were transferred to Munsterlager to await trial. Brauchitsch died that October, and Rundstedt and Strauss were released on medical grounds in March 1949. Manstein's trial was held in Hamburg from 23 August to 19 December 1949.
Manstein faced seventeen charges at the trial, three of which pertained to events in Poland and fourteen regarding events in the Soviet Union. Charges included maltreatment of prisoners of war, cooperation with the Einsatzgruppe D in killing Jewish residents of the Crimea, and disregarding the welfare of civilians by using "scorched earth" tactics while retreating from the Soviet Union. The prosecution, led by senior counsel Arthur Comyns Carr, used an order Manstein had signed on 20 November 1941, based on the Severity Order that had been issued by Field Marshal Walther von Reichenau, to build their case that Manstein had known about and was complicit with the genocide. The order called for the elimination of the "Jewish Bolshevik system" and the "harsh punishment of Jewry".
Manstein claimed that he remembered asking for a draft of such an order, but had no recollection of signing it. Whether or not Manstein was responsible for the activities of Einsatzgruppe D, a unit not under his direct control but operating in his zone of command, became one of the key points of the trial—the prosecution claimed that is was Manstein's duty to know about the activities of this unit and also his duty to put a stop to their genocidal operations. Manstein's defence, led by the prominent lawyer Reginald Thomas Paget, argued that Manstein was not compelled to disobey orders given by his sovereign government, even if such orders were illegal. Manstein, speaking in his own defence, stated that he found the Nazi racial policy to be repugnant. Sixteen other witnesses testified that Manstein had no knowledge of or involvement in the genocide. Recent scholars, including Benoît Lemay, are of the opinion that he almost certainly perjured himself at his own trial and at Nuremberg.
Manstein was found guilty on nine of the charges and was sentenced to eighteen years in prison. An uproar ensued among Manstein's supporters both in Great Britain and in Germany. Liddell Hart lobbied in the British press, and in Germany the sentence was seen as a political decision. The sentence was reduced to 12 years in February 1950. Paget published a best-selling book in 1951 about Manstein's career and trial, which portrayed Manstein as an honourable soldier fighting heroically despite overwhelming odds on the Eastern Front, and who had been convicted of crimes that he did not commit. The book helped to contribute to the growing cult surrounding Manstein's name. His release on 7 May 1953 was partly a result of a recurrence of his eye problems, but also the result of pressure by Winston Churchill, Konrad Adenauer, Liddell Hart, Paget, and other supporters.
While some historians, including Antony Beevor and Benoît Lemay, are of the opinion that he had some Jewish and Slavic ancestry, there is no clear evidence that Manstein objected to the racial policy of Nazi Germany. Antisemitism was common in Germany and throughout Europe during this period, and Manstein's attitude towards the Jews had its roots in his exposure to and assimilation of these views. His actions were a reflection of his loyalty toward Hitler and the Nazi regime and of his grounding in a sense of duty based on traditional Prussian military values.His criticism of Hitler was based solely on their disagreements over the conduct of the war, not about the regime's racial policies. He believed that Bolshevism and Judaism were inextricably linked, that there was a global conspiracy led by the Jews, and that in order to stop the spread of communism it was necessary to remove the Jews from European society. His order of 20 November 1941, based on the Severity Order of von Reichenau, reads in part:
Jewish Bolshevik system must be wiped out once and for all and should never again be allowed to invade our European living space ... It is the same Jewish class of beings who have done so much damage to our own Fatherland by virtue of their activities against the nation and civilisation, and who promote anti-German tendencies throughout the world, and who will be the harbingers of revenge. Their extermination is a dictate of our own survival.
Manstein did nothing to prevent the extermination of Jews and other civilians in the areas where his units were operating, and his Eleventh Army actively participated. He later stated that he felt the number of Jews killed in the Holocaust was exaggerated.
Post-war life and memoirs
Along with ten other former senior officers, Manstein was called on in 1955 by the Amt Blank to formulate plans for the re-founding of the German Army. On 20 June 1953 he spoke to the Bundestag, giving his analysis of strategic power considerations and the country's defence, and spoke about whether the country should have a professional army or a conscripted army. His opinion was that the length of service for Bundeswehr conscripts should be at least 18 months, preferably 24 months. His idea to form a reserve force was later implemented.
Manstein's war memoir, Verlorene Siege (Lost Victories), was published in Germany in 1955 and translated into English in 1958. The book was a highly acclaimed best-seller, critical of Hitler and his leadership style. Historians such as Liddell Hart see Manstein's emphasis on the purely military aspects of the war, while ignoring the political and moral aspects, as a way for him to absolve himself and the high command of any responsibility for the events of the Holocaust.
His favourable portrayal of himself had an impact on popular opinion; he became the centre of a military cult which cast him as not only as one of Germany's greatest generals, but also one of the greatest in history. He has been described as a militärische Kult- und Leitfigur ("military cult legend"), a general of legendary—almost mythical—ability, much honoured by both the public and historians. Biographers, including Benoît Lemay, feel that his narrow focus on military matters to the exclusion of moral issues cannot be considered ethical. In 1967 Lieutenant General Ernst Ferber of theBundeswehr encouraged young German soldiers to eschew unconditional obedience to the head of state, instead focusing on serving the nation and the German people.
Manstein and his wife moved several times after his release, living in Essen and Bonn for a time before settling into a new house near Munich in 1958. The second volume of his memoirs, Aus einem Soldatenleben ("A Soldier's Life"), covering the period from 1887 to 1939, was published in 1958. Jutta Sibylle von Manstein died in 1966, and Erich von Manstein died of a stroke on the night of 9 June 1973. The last surviving German field marshal, he was buried with full military honours, his funeral attended by hundreds of soldiers of all ranks. His obituary in The Times states "His influence and effect came from powers of mind and depth of knowledge rather than by generating an electrifying current among the troops or 'putting over' his personality." Spiegel magazine was much harsher, saying "He assisted in the march to catastrophe—misled by a blind sense of duty."