The Allies at the end of World War I intended to hold the Kaiser and high military commanders responsible for war crimes. This never occurred because the Kaiser fled to the neutral Netherlands and proceution wa largely left in the hands of the new Weimar Republic Germnan Government which was both unwilling and incapable of conducting war crime trials. After Hitler and Stalin launched World War II with the invasion of Poland (September 1939), reports of war crimes against civilians began to reach Allied capitals and the neutral United States. It was soon clear that the levl of attrocitoes against civilians was beyond the scope of what had occurred in World War I or for that matter, any other Europen war. Most of the reorts concerned the NAZIs and the countries they had invaded and occupied. Very little was reported on what was happening in Soviet-controlled areas of Eastern Europe, although we now know that heinous crimes were being commotted there by Stalin and the NKVD, although with out the Jewish racial component. As a result, from an early point, the Germans were warned that they would be held responsible for war crimes. Similar warnings were not issued to the Soviets. As the NAZI and Soviet aggressions expanded beyond Poland, governments-in-exile were set up, mostly in London. These governments both publicized thesr reports of actions against civilians and warned mostly the Germans that officils and military commanders would be held responsible. Notably these pronouncements did not identify the Jews as the primary target of NAZI brutlity. And this practice continued with rate exceptions throughout the War. Here anti-Semitism was a factor, but not the only factor. The Allied pronouncements and warnings had little or no impact on NAZI behavior. Unbeknownst to the Allies was the priority that Hitler assigned to the killing of Jews as well as Slavs and other targeted ethnic groups. And for more tha 2 years, the Germans were convinced they were goung to win the war. After the fall of France (June 1940), most Germans belieced they had won the War. It was not untill mid-1944 that most Germans began to realize that they were going to lose the War and lose it disasterouly. And most Germans were either convinced that what they were doing was acceptable behavior in war time or denined the Allied charges to the extent they were aware of them--seeing them as Allied war propaganda. After the War turned against Germany, the extent of NAZI crime were so emnse that NAZI officials saw nothing to be gained by changing policy. By this time most the Holocaust killing had been completed, but of course not the much larger plnned killing of Slavs and other targeted group. Almost incomprehendibly, major NAZIs and tip military commanders were surprised that they were going to be held responsible for war crimes.
The Allies at the end of World War I intended to hold the Kaiser and high military commanders responsible for war crimes. This never occurred because the Kaiser fled to the neutral Netherlands and proceution wa largely left in the hands of the new Weimar Republic Germnan Government which was both unwilling and incapable of conducting war crime trials.
After Hitler and Stalin launched World War II with the invasion of Poland (September 1939), reports of war crimes against civilians began to reach Allied capitals and the neutral United States. It was soon clear that the levl of attrocitoes against civilians was beyond the scope of what had occurred in World War I or for that matter, any other Europen war. Most of the reorts concerned the NAZIs and the countries they had invaded and occupied. Very little was reported on what was happening in Soviet-controlled areas of Eastern Europe, although we now know that heinous crimes were being commotted there by Stalin and the NKVD, although with out the Jewish racial component. Even before this, reports of terrible Jpanese attrocities in China were widely reported in the press.
NAZI crimality is often described as war crimes. The killing was not limited to the War, but the great bulk of the killing did take place during the War--but often not part of military operations. There were actual war crimes, but the most horrendous crimes were killing civilians that were not a threat and had nothing to do with the war. German military successes early in the War put the NAZIs in a position to carry out these crimes and the killing was conducted during the War. And not all of the killing was done by NAZI organizations. The Wehrmacht was involved as well doctors iand nurses in civilian hospitals and healt facilities. The ultimate authority for these actions, however was the NAZI government instaled by Reich Führer Adolf Hitler. The most serious war crimes was the mistreatment and muder of POWS. Here there was a destinction between POWs in the East and West. Not only did huge numbers of Russian and Polish POWs perish, but large numbers of prisoners were executed as a result of the Commisar and Commando Orders. Both prisoners and and civilians were killed as a result of the Reprisal order. The NAZI engineered Holocaust of the Jews is the best documented example of mass murder in history. This is because the NAZIs lost World War II and the copious records they took along with the testimony of individuals conducting the Holocust and their surviving victims have left us with a chilling historical record. The NAZI Holocaust succeeded in killing about 6 million Jews. This was not the largest instance of mass murder in history, but is perhaps the most horific because of the way the SS industrialized the killing process. Another 6 million non-Jews perished, mosrtly Eastern Europeans. Many perished as a result of the NAZI slave and forced labor prograjmns to support yhe war effort. Less well understood is the fact that if the NAZIs had succedded in would have been only the first chapter in a terrifying rengineering of the Human race. High on the NAZI list of untermench were the Slavs of Eastern Rurope. The NAZIs killed many more people than Jews in their preliminary efforts to build a new German empire in the Occupied East. There was also the Lebensborn program aimed at children. In all the NAZIs probably killed more than 20 million people. The NAZI penchant for killing was such that they killed millions of people who could have assisted in their war effort. And as a result, before the Allies destroyed German industry in the strategic bombing campaign, there was a severe labor shortage in the Reich. The subject of NAZI war crimes does not address the crimes committed in Germany agaist Germans. Here again, children were one of the main targets. The domestic programs were outgrowths of the German eugenics movement and included the Hereditary Health Courts and sterilization progrm. Here the most horrendous undertaking ws the T-4 Program.
Soviet war crimes and attrocities are more difficult to assess because the Soviets did not lose the War. Thus they were able to cover up and control press coverage. In addition appolgists in the West in the form of national Communist partie and ideologal allies also helped prevent academic exploration of Soviet war crimes. In addition, the primary victim of Stalin and the NKVD was the country's own citizens and much, but not all of this was conducted before the War. As a result of the extensive cover-up, only partially unveiled by the process began with Khrushchev's Secret Speech at the 20th Party Congress. Estimates of Stalin's body count built by the NKVD range from 20-70 million victims. Before the War the Atheist Campaign, Gulag, Ukranian Famine, and Great Terror acoount for the death of Soviet citizens and the crippling of millions of more lives in the teible Gulag labor camps. With the the launching of the War, NKVD terror spread into the neighboring countries of Eastern Europe. Large numbers of Polish Army officers wer mirdered. Some of the bodies were found by the Germans in the Katyn Forest nea Smolensk. That was just the tip of the iceberg. The NKVD in the Baltics, Poland and Romaboia arrested army ifficers, police, politicians, intelectuals and many others. Large numbers were premtorily shot and families were deported to centrl Asia and Siberia under terible conditiins in which many died. The Terror for Soviet citizes continued. Whole populations of subject populations (Balkars, Chechens, Crimean Tartars,Ingush, Kalmyks, Karachays, Meskhetian Turks, and Volga Germans). Withe Red Army drive west, Eastern European again came under Soviet domination. The NKVD not only hunted dowbn coalbortor, but the non-Communist opposition. The Polish Home Army was not only not assisted whn they rose aginsr the Germans (August 944), but after the reoccuptaion of Poland, were arrested and shot. Similar operations on s smller scale occurred in the other countries of Eastern Europe occupied by the Soviets. Large numbers of POWs also persished in Soviet camps.
Japan did not and does not today admit the full extent of its responsibility for launching World War II. Many Japanese attempt to hide the extent of their country's war crimes and prefer to view their country as a victim of the War. The list of Japanese attrocities and war is very long, involving the deaths of millions, mostly innocent civilians. The list in its entirity is too long to list here, but we need to mention some of the most grevious attrocities committed by the Imperial armed forces. The primary war crime is the launching of aggerssive war first against China (1937) and then the United States, Britain, and the Netherlands (1941). Specific examples include the terror bombing of undefended Chinese cities (Shanghai); mascres of Chinese civilians (the Rape of Nanking), use of biologcal and chenical weapons, mistreatment and massacres of Allied POWs (the Batan Death March), abuse of civilain internees, use of slave labor, conscription of civilian women for prostitution (Korean comfort women).
From an early point, the Germans were warned that they would be held responsible for war crimes. Similar warnings were not issued to the Soviets. As the NAZI and Soviet aggressions expanded beyond Poland, governments-in-exile were set up, mostly in London. These governments both publicized thesr reports of actions against civilians and warned mostly the Germans that officils and military commanders would be held responsible. At a verey early point it became clear that the NAZI Government and the Whermacht were violating the laws and customs of war as established by the Hague and Geneva Conventions. Unlike previous wars, the war crimes being cimmitted were not just against enemy military forces and POWS, but noncombatant civilan population. The Allies began publishing official notes, warnings, and declarations. The first was a note by the Czech Government in Exile, the very same day Britain declared war on Germany. President-in-exile, Eduard Beneš, sent a letter to British Primeminister Neville Chamberlain, reporting on the the persecution of Czech civilians by NAZI occupation authorities (Sptember 3, 1939). Of course it w Chamberlain who had made these attricities possible by abandoning Czechoslovakia at the pre-Wr Munich Conference. This was followed by several official statements published by the Allied governments (the United Kingdom, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and France) on the violations of the laws of war in Poland (early 1940). These Allied governments warned the Germans and clearly stated the responsibility of the German officials for attroicities and other criminal acts. The United States joined the international outrage. President Franklin Roosevelt sharply criticized the Germans for executing 'innocent hostages in reprisal for isolated attacks on Germans'. He stated that 'the Nazi treatment of civilian population revolts the world' (October 25, 1941). The President was still thinking in World war I terms and was still apparently unaware that hundreds of thousands of civilians, mostly Jews, were being murdered without any justification whatsoever and this human carnage was actually aimary German war aim. While still neutral, President Roosevelt by this time had ordered the U.S. Navy into an undeclared war in the North Atlantic against German U-boats.
British Primeminister Winston Churchill was the first important national leader to make it clear that the Germans would be held responsible for war crimes. He was the first to relize the enormity of the German killing opration. The Bletchely Park code breakers as part of the Ultra effort were picking transmissions from Einsatzgruppen who were proudly reporting to Berlin on the numbers of Jews being killed after Hitler launched Opperation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union (June 1941). The reports were carefully broken down into men, women, and children. The reports were transmitted in such numbers and frequency that Bletchely officials asked the Primeminister if he wanted to continue to receive them. He declared that 'retribution for these crimes must henceforward take its place among the major purposes of the war'(October 25, 1941). [Crowe, p. 153.] At the time this was still more an expression of outrage than a concrete plan for war crimes trials. At the time, Britain could do little more than make propaganda and beyond else survive until Ameica entered the War.
The Atlantic Charter is one of the key documents of the 20th century and remains still relevant today. President Roosevelt and Primeminister Churchill meet aboard the Prince of Wales on August 9-13, 1941 at Placentia Bay. The Prince of Wales had been badly mauled by Bismark in May. It was to be sunk by a Japanese aerial attack in December. Roosevelt and Churchill issue the Atlantic Charter. The two were war time allies. Britain had weathered the worst that the NAZI Luftwaffe could throw at it. America and Britain were fighting the U-boats in the North Atlantic to keep Britain alive. It was clear that America would soon be drawn into the War. America had already played an important role in keeping Britain alive and the two countries were the only hope of the occupied European and in fact Western civilization itself--threatened by the evil tide of NAZI tyranny. The two leaders, the two most important men of the 20th century, agreed to a simple, but elegant eight-point statement of their aims which today still stands as the central credo of the Atlantic Alliance. The punishment of war criminals was not prt of the Atlantic Harter, but the defeat of the NAZI tyranny was central to the developing Anglo-American relationship.
As long as the Soviet Union was aNAZI ally, the Soviets were silent as to NAZI attrocities. In fact the Soviet NKVD was engaged in many of the same actions and attrocities as the NAZI SS. With the German invasion of the Soviet Union (June 1941), the Soviet peoplye were subjected to the sme barbarity that the NKVD and Red army had inflicted on Eastern Europeans. The first to bear the brunt of NAZI barbarity were the Jews anbd Soviet POWs. The Soviets like the Allies began to publish statements on German war crimes. Stalin announced 'flagrant [German] violations of the rules of war." (November 6, 1941)
Hecwarned that if the Reich continued waging 'a war of extermination, they will get it'. Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov, one of Stalin's cloest advisrs, declared in notes that the Soviet government held the leaders of the German Government responsible for the crimes committed by the German Army (November 7, 1941, and January 6, 1942, inter alia). He warned that 'accountability for these crimes rested entirely with the German State.' [Crow, p. 153.]
Molotov at the time does not seemed to have been fully aware of the SS Einsatzgruppen killing squads.
The St. James Declaration issued in London (January 13, 1942) was the first concrete step toward making the punishment of war criminals an important Allied war goal. The Declaration was issued by the representatives of the governments-in-exile of countruies occupied by NAZI Gernany (Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Greece, Free French Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, and Yugoslavia). Note that the countries that had been occupied or partially occupied by the Soviets (Estonia, Finland, Lsrtvia, Lithuania, and Romania) were not included, except for Poland which was invaded and occupiedcby both Germany and the Soviet Union. Finland and Romania of course were fighting with the Germans. The Governments-in-exile declared that the organized judicial instruments would be established to try and punish the criminal acts perpetrated by the Germans against civilian populations and this would be a major war goal. Also present at the St. James Conference were representatives of major belligerent but nonoccupied Allied countries, most importantly the United Kingdom and the United States. The timing of the St. James Declation was significant. The Red Army had stopped the Whermacht before Moscow and was inflicting huge casualties on th Germans for the first time in the war. In addition, the Japanese carrier attack on Pearl Harbor had brought America into the War (December 1941). Britain was no longer alone. The Germans now faced a massive coalitiin America, Britain and the Sovit Union. Wrnings of future war crimes trils were no longer the meaningless threats of a defeated people, but of a powerful war time coalition.
Notably the early Allied pronouncements did not identify the Jews as the primary target of NAZI brutality. They were occassionally mentioned, but usually the prnouncemnt simply strssed the perceution of innocent civilians. The Soviets in particular refused to idebtify Jews as the porimary initial targert. And this practice continued with rate exceptions throughout the War. The important St. James Declaration did not specify the genocidal crimes against European Jrews
Jews began referring to this as Totschweigen (hushing up) the crimes against Jews. Jewish opinion in the U.S. and Britain, was outraged. A protest was lodged (February 18, 1942). British Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden issued a statement in the House of Commons (released simultaneously in London, Moscow, and Washington) describing German policy aimed at the the physical destruction of the Jewish people (December 17, 1942). By this time the Allies had a growing awareness of German actions, but not a full understanding of the priority Hitler had assigned to killing operations. The U.S. Government never issued a comparable War-time document. Here anti-Semitism was a factor, but not the only factor. The term Holocaust is a post-War term which began to be used as an undertanding of the nature and extent of German actions against the Jews began to be more widely understood.
The first international body to make preparations as opposed to declarations for the ctual trial and punishment of war riminals was the United Nations War Crimes Commission (UNWCC). It should be understood that the United Nations was not yet an estanloshed international organization, but am used by President Roosevelt to describe the anti-NAZI coalition he helped form. A proposal to formation the UNWCC was announced (October 1942). The UNWCC was then constituted (October 20, 1943). It was empowered to investigate the atrocities comitted by Axis war criminals and record the names of the individual perpetrtors responsible. Participants in the UNWCC included representatives from Australia, Belgium, Britain, Canada. China, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, France, Greece, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, the United states, and Yugoslavia. Notably absent from the UNWCC was the Soviet Union, both a perpetrator of attrocicities and the country suffering the most from war crimes. Stalin was understanably cautious aboutinternational investigatin of war crimes.
Stalin at the Tehran Conference raised the issue of punishing German war criminals. We do not know what was on Stalin's mind when he suggested shooting 50,000 German officers to Churchill and Roosevelt. Put passing it off as a joke, which many authors do, seems rather caviler to us. After all for a man who had already murdered millions. 50,000 executions was not a large number. This was just what he did to the Poles which by the time of the Tehran Conference was known. And we know from the Katyn Forest that this was sometyhing the NKVD was more than capable of doing. The Russians finally admitted just that. And the fact that Stalin did not actually do it is not evidence that he was not serious at Tehran. After VE-Day and establishing control in East Germany, Stalin began to see the Germans that he controlled as a useful ally in the developing Cold War. This was not the case in Poland during 1940. His goal in Poland as a NAZI ally was to destroy the Polish nation. And eliminating the officer corps and other highly nationalist groups was part of that process. Attempting to eliminate the German nation after World War II would have been counter productive in the Cold War. We suspect at Tehran he was still in the punish the Germans phase of his thinking. Goebbels discusses the Tehran Conference in his diary. His chief comcern was apossible appeal the German people. He does not mention wr crimes trials. He weites, ""In the evening I telephoned my commentary on the Teheran Conference to the Führer. He expressed complete agreement with it. He, too, is of the opinion that the communiqué reveals anything but success. We can publish it almost verbatim in the German press, it contains nothing dangerous to us." [Goebbels. December 7, 1943, pp. 544-45.]
Primeminister Churchill mulling over how to impede the German attriocities before the NAZI regime was crushed suggested to the War Cabinet that it might have a 'salutary affect' on the Germans for Britain, America, and the Soviet Union to issue a joint seclaration 'to the effect that a number of German officers or members of the Nazi Party, equal to those put to death by the Germans in the various countries, would be returned to those countries after the war for judgemnent.' It is clear from his statement that he has still not fully understood the dimensions of the German killing. Eden demured on the wording of Churchill's draft. The final wording was very close to Churchill's draft and was issued by the three Allied powers (November 1, 1943). At this time the Allies had not yet crossed the Channel, but it was becoming increasingly clear that the Germans would be defated. The Allies promissed to persue 'the ranks of the guilty ... to the uttermost ends of the earth.' The three principal powers, Britain, the United States, and the Soviet Union, solemnly committed themselves to the punishment of those responsible for war crimes. The Moscow Declaration distinguished between criminals whose acts were committed within the boundaries of specific countries and the 'major criminals' whose 'offenses have no particular geographical location and who will be punished by a joint decision of the governments of the Allies'. After the War, some 5,000 of the most notorious war criminals wwre returned to Poland and Czechoslocakia where they were executed in Warsaw, Crakow, Prague, and Bratislava.
The Allied pronouncements and warnings had little or no impact on NAZI behavior. Unbeknownst to the Allies was the priority that Hitler assigned to the killing of Jews as well as Slavs and other targeted ethnic groups. And for more tha 2 years, the Germans were convinced they were goung to win the war. After the fall of France (June 1940), most Germans belieced they had won the War. It was not untill mid-1944 that most Germans began to realize that they were going to lose the War and lose it disasterouly. And most Germans were either convinced that what they were doing was acceptable behavior in war time or denined the Allied charges to the extent they were aware of them--seeing them as Allied war propaganda. After the War turned against Germany, the extent of NAZI crime were so emense that NAZI officials saw nothing to be gained by changing policy. By this time most the Holocaust killing had been completed, but of course not the much larger plnned killing of Slavs and other targeted group. Almost incomprehendibly, major NAZIs and tip military commanders were surprised that they were going to be held responsible for war crimes.
The final meeting of the Big Three (Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin) took place at the Yalta Conference (February 1945). President Roosevelt who was visavly ill at Yalta would suffer a massive cerebral hemorrhage (April 1945) and Primeninister Churchill would be vited out of office (July 1945). Presidenr Roosevelt at Yalta proposed that an international tribunal should be convened to try Nazi leaders for planning and waging a war of aggression and for war crimes. Soviet leader Joseph *Stalin concured with the legalist approach, but wanted to confine the process to crimes committed in war. Churchill and Eden advocated summary trial and execution. Goebbels in hs diary adresses the Yalta Conference, butonly to discuss forlorn hopes of divisions within the Allies. He does not mention war crimes trials. [Goebbels, Februry 28, 1945, pp. 7-9.]
The various Allied effort aimed at punishing war criminals led to the London Agreement (August 8, 1945). By this time Germany had been defeated and the major NAZI war criminals had been arrested or commited suiside. Japan was being smashed to pieces. The day the London Agreement was reached was the day before the United States dropped the first atomic bomn on Hiroshima. The London Agreement set up the the International Military Tribunal. The Tribunal's charter addressed arange of substantive and procedural rules. A major contribution toward formulation of unprecedented Nuremberg principles was made by Hersch Lauterpacht, a British Jewish law professor who had emigrated from Galicia. It was Lauterpacht who defined the three crimes in the charter: 1) crimes against peace, 2) war crimes, and 3) crimes against humanity. In his academic works Lauterpacht, formulated the 'Nuremberg principles' which were not only accepted in the London Charter but subsequently in the developing body of international criminal law. Lauterpacht subsequently became a judge of the International Court of Justice,
Crowe, David M. War Crimes, Genocide, and Justice: A Global History.
Goebbels, Josef. Louis P. Lochner, ed. The Goebbels Diaries, 1942-1943 (Doubleday: Garden City, 1948), 566p.
Goebbels, Josef. Hugh Trevor-Roper, ed. Final Entries 1945: ThevDiaries of Josef Goebbels (Avon: New York, 1979), 453p.
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