[Source 1:] Erich von Manstein died of a stroke on the night of 9 June 1973 at the age of 85. As the last but one[a] surviving German field marshal, he was buried with full military honours, his funeral attended by hundreds of soldiers of all ranks.

[Source 2] [Gerd von ] Rundstedt was buried, in full uniform, in Hannover-Stöcken Cemetery. The ceremony was attended by over 2,000 people, mainly Army veterans. The German and Lower Saxony governments paid no official attention to his death. (Had he lived longer, this might not have been so. Manstein was buried with full state and military honours in 1973, despite being a convicted war criminal.)

I ask about Erich von Manstein here and entitle my question as such, due the bolded above.

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    The German Wikipedia reports about his (inofficial) work as a consultant for the Bundeswehr. Perhaps this is one of the reasons - not his work during WWII, but his work after the war. – knut Mar 6 '15 at 21:14
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    @knut maybe indirectly... it sounds like 1) compromised high official gets "off the hook" due to soft nature of the latest Nuremberg trials (Peter Geerkens comment explains why he should have been condemned), 2) gets a work in GFR military and 3) he gets military honours because, otherwise, the GFR needs to explain why it has employed high level ex-nazis in the military (all of it in the middle of the Cold War, with the SU ready to claim that such event is a proof of the inherently evil nature of the GFR and its allies). – SJuan76 Mar 7 '15 at 22:20

There were probably several factors at play here:

  • The Bundeswehr saw the Wehrmacht as a respected predecessor.
  • In the 70's you still found many influential officers, politicians, judges and other 'pillars of society' that had been Nazis, still were Nazis at heart, or had been active and successful in the Third Reich in some way. Maybe, they did not see honoring a war criminal as outrageous.
  • The whole public discourse around Nazism still centered on small group of perpetrators.

In the early years of the Bundeswehr, there have been debates about what traditions this army should hold, given that the two predecessors - Reichswehr and Wehrmacht - had a problematic history, to put it very mildly. Many higher officers saw a vital need to maintain traditions and saw the Wehrmacht as a positive point of reference. There's a decree, the Traditionserlass that tries to codify this relationship. The Traditionserlass notes Stauffenberg & Co. as positive examples from it first edition in 1964 on, while avoiding a clear statement on the Wehrmacht. The current version, from 1982, contains the sentence that the Wehrmacht can not be a foundation for traditions. Individual units however may and are held up as exemplary. So in the 70's, parts of the Bundeswehr saw the Wehrmacht as an important part of their traditions, so they would honor an old soldier.

In the decades after WWII, a prevailing attitude in Germany was that the German population had been 'seduced' by Hitler to start WWII and the Holocaust, and that only a small circle of perpetrators was actually guilty. This included the belief that Wehrmacht had been fighting 'honorably', and that the SS was to blame for the atrocities. Remember, Goldstein's " Hitler's willing executioners ", which would be the starting point for a wide ranging debate on the role of ordinary Germans was only published in the 90's. The 90's was also the time when the exhibition Vernichtungskrieg: Verbrechen der Wehrmacht enter image description here toured through Germany sparking debate on the role the Wehrmacht had played in the atrocities committed by Nazi Germany. Public discourse had not been as hostile towards the Wehrmacht in the 70's.

IMO, military honours for Mannstein are inexcusable. The Guy had followed the Kommissarbefehl and 'inspired' his men to murder Jews. It is indicative of the public discourse in Germany in the 70's and the conflicted relationship the Bundeswehr had to the Wehrmacht.

Edit to Add: For a contrasting case, look at Admiral Dönitz: In 1945 he was head of the Navy and, for the short time between Hitlers Death and ermany surrender, Reichpräsident. He was also very much a Nazi. In 1969, General Inspector of the Bundeswehr Ulrich de Maziere suggested to the then Minister of Defence that Dönitz should be buried without any military honours, because according to him "you can't separate the soldier Dönitz from his bahaviour around and after 20.7.1944." There was some to and fro over the following decade (would serving officers be allowed to give speeches and similar question) but the order was in effect in 1980 when Dönitz died and was buried without military honours.
So in one case a political decision was made to not give military honors to a convicted war criminal.

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    There was an upvote and a downvote, I think? Anyway, the question has been updated by now, maybe the downvoter wants to reconsider (or not). – mart Jun 3 '15 at 11:45
  • comes to be, the updater was the downvoter. Some confusion, and misclick. Pardon – Rohit Jan 31 '16 at 13:04
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    In fact, it seems to me that the Dönitz case might be proverbial the exception that proves the rule (the rule being that in the 1970s Wehrmacht and Kriegsmarine personnel were not considered culpable for war crimes or somehow tainted). For notice that it was Dönitz's behaviour on 20.7.1944 that was deemed bad - i.e. his treatment of fellow officers, not his participation in war crimes! – Felix Goldberg Jun 12 '17 at 7:06
  • @FelixGoldberg I think this is very much true, it might even be testable by looking at highr ranking officers that survived the war. Might do so when I get around to it. – mart Jun 13 '17 at 7:23

On my opinion, Wikipedia article on Manstein contains a detailed answer to this question. Manstein conviction was somewhat controversial. For example, Churchill and Adenauer were among those who objected this. He served his jail term until 1953 and then was released.

So it is true of course that Manstein was a "convicted military criminal".

But he was not ONLY a "convicted military criminal". He was also a soldier, a field marshal, and quite famous in this quality. It is as a field marshal that he's got a military funeral, not as a war criminal.

It is a custom that outstanding military commanders get honorable military funerals. Though most of them, if tried by their military enemies (those who fought against them) would get a sentence as military criminals. There are few exceptions to this rule, I understand. But the exceptions only confirm the rule.

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    @T.E.D.: Manstein's signature is on a memorandum to the regional SS Commander inquiring as to why his [Manstein's] troops weren't being given the watches looted from dead Jews earned through the effort those troops had exerted in assisting with the round-up of the Jews. That was the key evidence in his Nuremberg Trial, and he might have hung for it if the U.S. had conducted the trial instead of the Brits. – Pieter Geerkens Mar 7 '15 at 5:01
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    @T.E.D.: Manstein was an SS Officer in Wehrmacht clothing - a fanatical Nazi personally devoted to Hitler. – Pieter Geerkens Mar 7 '15 at 19:15
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    The gap between the regular army's involvement in war crimes and that of the Einsatzgruppen is a lot narrower than was admitted in the early post war era. At the time, getting Germany back on its feet in NATO was important and digging out the records entirely would result in about 60-70 percent of the German military population being found guilty. In the 70s, much of the government and military leadership were still of the age where many had ties to the war. – Oldcat Jun 2 '15 at 19:07
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    For Adenauer and Churchill it was a political necessity to get former Wehrmacht personnel back to military work for the FRG. Western Germany would reestablish its armed forces in 1955 to face the Soviet Union. They felt that they couldn't afford to bring up the former Wehrmacht personnel against them - who viewed themselves as having fought a clean fight during the war. The fight might have been clean in Africa for the most part, which impressed the British, but it was rather horrible in the Soviet Union. Manstein endorsed the Nazis ideological aims and implemented their policy. – jjack Jun 2 '15 at 20:38
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    Upvote. Genius should be regarded, no matter what. – Rohit Jan 31 '16 at 12:23

Manstein, at no time, was a member of the Nazi party. A fact you can find on the Wikipedia or ANY of his many biographies, or in fact in any history of the German high command. Calling Manstein a "Nazi" is both factually incorrect and likely would have been considered very insulting to him, to his family and to many others on the general staff that served with him and for him who were also not "Nazis".

At the time of his death, the decision of whether to bury a soldier with military honors belonged to the German Bundeswehr, not the Allied commissions that convicted Manstein of war crimes. Presumably, if the Bundeswehr buried Manstein with honors it is because they did not consider the charges against him to be valid demerits to his honor.

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    I don't find this satisfying. Please say more on " Manstein was not a Nazi" – Rohit Mar 7 '15 at 16:49
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    @MarkWallace I don't appreciate you deleting stuff out of my answers. How would you like it if I went through all of your answers deleting all of your "unsourced" assertions, of which there are hundreds. – Tyler Durden Mar 11 '15 at 2:04
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    @Rohit I assume by your statement you consider Germans to be the same thing as Nazis. Did you ever consider that there might be some Germans who were not members of the Nazi party and disagreed with their policies? In fact, here is a shocker for you: most Germans were not Nazis. The Nazi party had about 9 million members. The population of Germany was about 60 million people. – Tyler Durden Mar 11 '15 at 2:08
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    I think that comes down to semantics. historisches-centrum.de/forum/schroeders04-2.html has the quotes That we all affirm National Socialism and racism completely is unquestionable (Dass wir alle Nationalsozialismus und Rassegedanken restlos bejahen, steht außer Zweifel) or As it seems that a hostile world is trying to build walls around Germany, so to hinder the way into its future, to hinder the Führer from completing his work - so we soldiers promise him: In spite of all forces to support his work, even in battle, to execute his will, wherever it may take us! – user45891 Mar 11 '15 at 16:12
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    @Tyler Durden: Manstein was one of Hitler's generals. He was convicted of being a war criminal, because he sanctioned Nazi policy in the Soviet Union. – jjack Jun 2 '15 at 20:44

Look at history Manstein was a true soldier not a political figure. This was shown by Churchill appreciating this fact and contributing to his defense during the war crimes trial. If Germany had won the war how many American and English high ranking figures would have been on trial? The man was dedicated soldier and should be respected for his genius.

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