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Karl Doenitz


My question concerns the genius behind the U-boats: Karl Doenitz. He was the last Nazi ruler of Germany. Doenitz was tried and convicted at Nuremberg. He got the lightest sentence except those who where found not guilty. But his crimes only reflected those that were committed on the high sea.

Did Admiral Doenitz ever know about, exploit, profit from, or cover up anything about the Holocaust?

I don't want to have any false or idealized notions of this man if he did something that contributed to genocide.

Andrew Mathis answers:

I am one of the volunteers who answers questions for the Holocaust History Project.

Admiral Karl Dönitz was charged at Nuremberg under three of the four counts: Conspiracy Against Peace; Crimes Against Peace; and War Crimes. He was not indicted under Charge Four, Crimes Against Humanity, which encompassed charges concerning the Holocaust.

Dönitz was acquitted on Charge One but convicted of charges Two and Three. He received the shortest sentence of anyone convicted -- ten years. Released from prison in 1956, he survived until 1980.

You can read about his sentencing here (and in the pages that follow):


To quote briefly from the Tribunal:

Although Dönitz built and trained the German U-boat arm, the evidence does not show he was privy to the conspiracy to wage aggressive wars or that he prepared and initiated such wars. He was a line officer performing strictly tactical duties. He was not present at the important conferences when plans for aggressive wars were announced, and there is no evidence he was informed about the decisions reached there. Dönitz did, however, wage aggressive war within the meaning of that word as used by the Charter. Submarine warfare which began immediately upon the outbreak of war, was fully coordinated with the other branches of the Wehrmacht. It is clear that his U-boats, few in number at the time, were fully prepared to wage war.


Dönitz is charged with waging unrestricted submarine warfare contrary to the Naval Protocol of 1936, to which Germany acceded, and which reaffirmed the rules of submarine warfare laid down in the London Naval Agreement of 1930.

[the second quote is pursuant to guilt in war crimes]

In short, Dönitz was apparently unaware of the Holocaust or, at the very least, was not complicit in the persecution and murder of Jews.

You may also want to check these links:


A short introduction to Nuremberg; and


A list of what charges the defendants were found guilty of and what sentences they received.

Andrew E. Mathis, Ph.D.

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Last modified: September 24, 2000
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