Alfred Jodl (c. 1892-1946) was a top German military officer during World War II and part of the leadership cadre around Nazi leader Adolf Hitler. For his military strategies and orders that led to deaths of enemy troops and civilians throughout Europe, Jodl was arrested in 1945 and hanged a year later with several other top Nazis as a war criminal.
Sources place Alfred Jodl's date of birth around 1892, and there is little information about his life prior to his military career. Jodl's official public record began with his service during World War I in the Bavarian Army, where he was an artillery expert. At the war's end, imperial Germany was soundly defeated, and the Treaty of Versailles dictated that its armed forces would be limited to 100, 000 men; the treaty also curtailed Germany's use of heavy artillery, tanks, submarines, and the famed Luftwaffe (air force). Jodl remained in the service of the military, though a leadership vacuum and a near-revolution had made mutinies quite common among the demoralized armed forces in the final months of the war.
Advanced Through Ranks
During the 1920s Jodl served the newly-created Weimar Republic in Germany's Ministry of War and in the intelligence service. He was perhaps fortunate to have a steady post, for the country's economy was in ruins and the unemployment rate was dangerously high. Such conditions gave rise to a political movement called National Socialism, a right-wing fascist movement led by another World War I veteran, Adolf Hitler. By 1932 Jodl had returned to service in the Army itself and was head of its Operations Department. Hitler became German Chancellor early the next year.
Jodl served as head of Army operations until 1935. During this period Hitler was consolidating power and winning support for an economic course that brought some measure of stability and prosperity. Yet the Nazi political platform blamed its Jewish citizens for many of Germany's economic woes, and imposed an increasingly drastic series of laws that restricted the civil rights of German Jews. Hitler also began violating the terms of the Versailles treaty by re-arming. By 1936 Jodl had advanced to the rank of colonel and to the post of head of the National Defense Section in the High Command of the Armed Forces.
Outbreak of War
In 1938 the German border to be defended widened considerably when Austria was annexed and became part of the country-an act that took place with almost no resistance. From 1938 to August of 1939 Jodl served as Artillery Commander of the 44th Division, and was posted in both Vienna, the Austrian capital, and Brno, a city in the former Czechoslovakia. In the late summer of 1938 German troops were massing on Germany's border with Czechoslovakia. Jodl had planned the specifics of the invasion, but alarmed European leaders signed a peace agreement with Germany a few weeks later that allowed Hitler to simply annex part of Czechoslovakia. A year later, an increasingly bellicose Germany invaded Poland, an act that launched World War II. Hitler had signed a non-aggression pact with the Soviet Union, and with his eastern flank protected-as well as a standing alliance with a fascist dictatorship in Italy-Germany launched air attacks on Britain. German troops successfully invaded France, Norway-which Jodl himself strategized-Denmark, Holland, Belgium, Yugoslavia, and Greece.
At this point Jodl began to take on an even more decisive role in Germany military matters. In August of 1939, now a general major, he became Chief of Operation Staff of the High Command of the Armed Forces, essentially Hitler's liaison between the Wehrmacht, or armed forces, and the puppet Nazi Cabinet. One of the youngest among Hitler's inner circle, Jodl was the German officer in charge of negotiations at Salonika regarding Greece's capitulation to Nazi forces in the spring of 1941. Later that spring, Germany invaded the Soviet Union. Troops marched though Poland, where many of the concentration camps constructed to annihilate European Jewry were located; meanwhile, the outside world had little idea of the extermination policies that had been signed into action by Hitler and Jodl's colleagues at the top levels.
Germany's invasion of Russia proved its fatal error, however. Wehrmacht troops made it as far as Moscow and Leningrad by the end of 1941, but the Soviet army proved a tough foe. On an order dated October 7, 1941, Jodl's signature appears under the directive that Hitler would reject Russia's possible surrender of Moscow and Leningrad in the event of a negotiation; it declared that the cities should be leveled. Furthermore, problems among his top aides and advisors plagued Hitler during the war years. This dissension led to an assassination attempt on his life in July of 1944, and Jodl was wounded by the bomb. A secret landing of American troops in France and successful routing of the Germans spelled the end of the war. In April of 1945 Russian and American troops took Berlin (the German capital), and Hitler committed suicide. He passed on his command to Karl Doenitz, the admiral of the German Navy.
The Wehrmacht's official surrender came in the northeast French city of Reims. Jodl was sent on Doenitz's behalf, and over two days in early May of 1945, Jodl stalled with Allied negotiators from the staff of American General Dwight D. Eisenhower, commander of the Allied forces in Europe. Eisenhower himself refused to negotiate with Jodl personally. Doenitz had given orders to delay the signing as long as possible to enable German soldiers in the east of Europe to turn back and surrender to Allied forces instead of Russians, who were inflicting dire retribution upon their vanquished. Eventually Eisenhower became incensed at Jodl's tactics, and threatened to close the front in the West, which would leave the retreating German troops stranded in the east. Jodl signed the surrender at 2:38 a.m. on May 7, 1945. It was estimated that because of the delay almost a million Germans were able to evade the Russians.
Jodl then went to the north German city of Flensburg, where Doenitz was. Jodl was arrested there with his superior on May 23. In October of 1945, an International Military Tribunal (IMT) in Nuremberg issued an indictment against Jodl and several other top Nazi leaders, including Doenitz; Minister of Armaments and War Production Albert Speer; Luftwaffe chief Hermann Goering; Fritz Sauckel, head of the Nazis' forced labor operations; and foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop. The Russians had demanded that Jodl's name be included on the War Criminals list in part for his stalling at Reims and for once issuing an order of Hitler's that German units in Russia could act with heedless brutality.
Tried at Nuremberg
Other evidence that survived the end of World War II linked Jodl to serious transgressions, including a plan of action regarding the destruction of the United States and Britain. Jodl also had made a speech on November 7, 1943, about slave labor-for which the genocidal camps, such as Auschwitz and Treblinka, were ostensibly designed-asserting that "remorseless vigor and resolution" was critical regarding German actions in Denmark, France, and Belgium, according to Alfred D. Low's The Men Around Hitler: The Nazi Elite and Its Collaborators. That same year Jodl gave orders that citizens should be evacuated in the north of Norway and their homes burned so that they could not provide assistance to an imminent Russian invasion. Other documents show that Jodl knew that thousands of civilians had been forcibly deported from France to work in German munitions factories.
The trial for Jodl and the nineteen other defendants began in November of 1945. In contrast to some of the other defendants, such as the visibly unstable Sauckel and the eloquent, repentant Speer, Jodl was known for his stoic demeanor on the stand. His wife left flowers for him on the witness box at the start of his testimony on June 3, 1946. Luise Jodl, once a secretary at the offices of the German High Command, had married Jodl after the death of his first wife, Anneliese, in 1944. She walked to Nuremberg from Berchtesgaden, and her interventions helped Jodl obtain the services of a well-known attorney, Franz Exner from the University of Munich.
Among the many incidents about which Jodl was questioned were his orders to bomb the Dutch city of Rotterdam. In his defense, Jodl asserted that this and other actions that he ordered were not "criminal" in the sense that they violated international standards of military conduct during warfare. On the stand, he also hinted that much of the blame for the war lay in the maneuvers of German politicians, not the actions of loyal officers. He claimed to have known nothing of the death camps at which nearly six million European Jews met their death. In his cell, he spoke with Gustave Gilbert, the prison psychiatrist at Nuremberg who later wrote a book on his experiences. Jodl told Gilbert that he had sometimes hated Hitler, because of "his contempt for the middle class, with which I identified myself, his suspicion and contempt for the nobility, to which I was married, and his hatred of the General Staff, of which I was a member, " Gilbert reported in Nuremberg Diary.
During this time, Luise Jodl sent telegrams to England's wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill, attempting to appeal to his own sense of military duty and the officers' code of conduct to carry out orders, that he might intervene on her husband's behalf. She asked that Churchill "give your voice of support to my husband, Colonel General Jodl, who, like yourself, did nothing but fight for his country to the last, " according to Joseph Persico's Nuremberg: Infamy on Trial. She also sent similarly worded missives to English Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery and General Eisenhower. None stepped in, however, and unlike a few of the other defendants, the IMT did not find any "mitigating factors" regarding Jodl's actions during the war, and sentenced him to death.
Jodl was hanged in a gymnasium at the Nuremberg prison on October 16, 1946. He was cremated, and his ashes later taken to the Munich suburb of Solln, and then scattered into a tributary of the Isar, which in turn carried them to the Danube and then out to sea. According to Persico's Nuremberg: Infamy on Trial, in his cell at Nuremberg Jodl kept a timeworn picture of a woman holding an infant. When a prisoner of war came in to give him a shave and inquired as to who the two were, Jodl said that it was his mother and himself as a baby, and then reflected, "it's too bad I didn't die then. Look how much grief I would have been spared. Frankly I don't know why I lived anyway."
Further Reading on Alfred Jodl
Fest, Joachim C. The Face of the Third Reich: Portraits of the Nazi Leadership, translated from the German by Michael Bullock, Pantheon, 1970.
Gilbert, G. M., Nuremberg Diary, Farrar, Straus, 1947.
Low, Alfred D., The Men Around Hitler: The Nazi Elite and Its Collaborators, East European Monographs, 1996.
Persico, Joseph, Nuremberg: Infamy on Trial, Viking, 1994.
Shirer, William L. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany, Simon & Schuster, 1960.
Speer, Albert, Inside the Third Reich: Memoirs, translated from the German by Richard and Clara Winston, Macmillan, 1970.
New York Times, October 16, 1946, p. 21.