Wilhelm Keitel was born on the 22nd of September 1882 in the village of Helmscherode, then part of the German Empire and in 1901 he joined the Prussian army as an artillery officer.
The First World War began on the 28th of July 1914. Keitel, who served on the western front as a battery commander and then staff officer, was seriously wounded by a shrapnel grenade in Flanders in 1914. After his recovery, thanks to his organizational skills, he served in the Army General Staff from the spring of 1915. The First World War ended on the 11th of November 1918.
In the new Weimar Republic, which was the government of Germany from 1918 to 1933, Keitel was retained in the newly created Reichswehr and played a part in organizing the paramilitary Freikorps units.
In 1924, Wilhelm Keitel was transferred to the Ministry of the Reichswehr in Berlin. Keitel, then a colonel, served in the Truppenamt – an agency which concealed the existence of the proscribed German Army General Staff.
Wilhelm Keitel played a crucial role in the German rearmament.
Wilhelm Keitel became Hitler’s loyal “ yes-man “ willing to do everything the Führer demanded of him.
In 1935 Wilhelm Keitel was appointed the head of the Armed Forces Office at the Reich Ministry of
High Command was led by Wilhelm Keitel as Chief with the rank of a Reich Minister, which essentially made him the second most powerful person in the Armed Forces’ hierarchy only after Hitler himself.
Wilhelm Keitel also agreed with Adolf Hitler’s plans to redraw the postwar international borders which the Nazis considered unfair and illegitimate. On the 12th of March 1938, German troops entered Austria, and one day later, Austria was incorporated into Germany. Thousands turned out to greet Adolf Hitler. For his participation in the annexation, which became known as the Anschluss and was the Nazi German regime’s first act of territorial aggression and expansion, Wilhelm Keitel was awarded the Anschluss Medal.
World War 2 started on the 1st of September 1939 when Germany invaded Poland. Wilhelm Keitel was involved in planning of the invasion and was fully aware of its criminal nature as mass arrests, population transfers and mass murders had been planned long before.
The German invasion of France, Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands started on the 10th of May 1940 and became known as the Battle of France. These countries, along with France were conquered within 6 weeks. After Germany defeated France, Keitel described Hitler as “the greatest warlord of all time”.
Shortly after, Wilhelm Keitel was promoted to the rank of field marshal.
From April 1941, Keitel issued and signed a series of criminal orders allowing the execution of Jews, civilians and non-combatants for any reason.
During the upcoming months, Wilhelm Keitel was busy drawing up plans for the invasion of the Soviet Union which became known as Operation Barbarossa.
Operation Barbarossa began on Sunday the 22nd of June 1941. In September the same year, Keitel issued an order to all commanders stating that the soldiers on the Eastern Front had to use “unusual severity” to stamp out resistance and a response to a loss of one German soldier was the execution of 50 to 100 “Communists”.
He also drafted the “Night and Fog” decree that allowed German authorities to abduct suspected members of the resistance by night, so that they effectively vanished without a trace.
In addition, Keitel also signed orders authorizing reprisals against the families of Allied volunteers.
On the 20th of July 1944, Claus von Stauffenberg and other conspirators attempted to assassinate Hitler.
After the bomb had exploded, Keitel personally led the wounded Hitler out of the room.
Adolf Hitler committed suicide on the 30th of April 1945. On the night of the 8th of May 1945, Wilhelm Keitel signed the definitive German Instrument of Surrender which was the legal document that effected the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany on all fronts and ended World War II in Europe
In the end, justice finally caught up with Keitel when he was arrested by the allies and tried at the Nuremberg Trials which were held against representatives of the defeated Nazi Germany.
On the 1st of October 1946 the International Military tribunal found Wilhelm Keitel guilty on all four counts and sentenced him to death by hanging. He was 64 years old when he was executed on the 16th of October 1946.
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