After Germany’s defeat in WWII, the Nuremberg and later trials were organized primarily for political purposes rather than to dispense impartial justice. Wears War brings to you each week a quote from the many fine men and women who were openly appalled by the trials. All of these people were highly respected and prominent in their field, at least until they spoke out against the trials.
British Attorney Frederick J.P. Veale:
The lawyers entrusted with the task of preparing for the Nuremberg Trials had, of course, very clear and recent precedents ready to hand in the various “show-trials” (to use Marxian terminology) staged by Stalin during the Great Purge (1936-38).
Unfortunately in 1945 it was impossible for them to cite these precedents because a stringent taboo was in force prohibiting all mention of the Great Purge, which, at the time it was carried out, had aroused worldwide surprise, consternation and horror, especially in those Leftist circles in Britain and the United States which regarded the Russian Revolution as a great landmark in the course of human progress. That Stalin should order the death of his closest colleagues, the men who helped Lenin to confer the blessings of Communism on the Russian people, was of course entirely consistent with all that was known concerning his personal character. Nevertheless the Great Purge came as a shock to all those who cherished delusions concerning the nature of the Soviet Regime.
When Hitler’s invasion of Russia in June 1941 transformed Stalin from a confederate of Hitler into an ally of Britain, it became imperative to expunge from public memory all recollection of what was known concerning him and the grim police state which he had established in Russia. This was successfully accomplished by the invention of the Great Stalin Myth. In place of the ruthless tyrant whose character was finally revealed to the world in 1956 by his successor, Nikita Khrushchev, there was held up for public admiration the benign figure of “Uncle Joe Stalin”, the champion of liberty and lover of all mankind, the loyal ally who was inspired by the same lofty ideals as Churchill and Roosevelt. To preserve public belief in the Stalin Myth it was absolutely imperative that no mention of any kind should be made of the Great Purge.
…We cannot know with certainty the number of deaths Cheka was responsible for in its various manifestations, but the number is surely at least 20 million, including victims of the forced collectivization, the hunger, large purges, expulsions, banishments, executions, and mass death at Gulags.
Whole population strata were eliminated: Independent farmers, ethnic minorities, members of the bourgeoisie, senior officers, intellectuals, artists, labor movement activists, “opposition members” who were defined completely randomly, and countless members of the Communist party itself…”
Deprived of the only set of useful precedents for the coming trials of the captured German leaders, the group of international lawyers preparing for these trials had no choice but to present them as a completely novel departure in the administration of justice. They received with shocked silence General Nikitchenko’s unwelcome assertion that the coming trials to be held in Nuremberg would be merely an adaptation of the show-trials carried out during the Great Purge, and they proceeded to make arrangements which would disguise this fact so far as it was possible. The result of their intensive labours was the production of the London Agreement which was made public on 8th August, 1945. The details of this remarkable production require brief examination here.
The London Agreement was an agreement between the British, American, French and Russian Governments to establish a body to be called the International Military Tribunal for the trial of “the major war criminals whose offences have no particular geographical location.” No definition was given of the term “major war criminals” except that the right was reserved by each victorious state to try, according to its own laws, any war criminal in its hands for offences committed on its own territory. Attached to the Agreement and forming an integral part of it was a sort of schedule, grandiloquently labelled “The Charter”, which purported to define the powers of the Tribunal and the procedure which it was to adopt.
On the face of it, therefore, the London Agreement was nothing more than a private arrangement between four sovereign states to put on trial captured subjects of another sovereign state. Had the contracting parties been, say, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras and Salvador, such an agreement would only have been of interest as an indication of how little the elements of jurisprudence were understood in these countries. The fact that the four parties to the London Agreement happened at the time to be the four most powerful states in the world, clearly could have no bearing on the question whether its terms were in accordance with international law. The tribunal which it created was not an international body, except in the sense that more than one state was represented on it. It was simply a gathering of legal officials appointed by four states in accordance with a private arrangement between themselves…
It is, perhaps, hardly necessary to comment on the fundamental injustice of inventing an ad hoc law and then bringing charges alleging acts in breach of this law committed before this law existed. In the United States this injustice was widely recognized. As the leading Republican Senator, Robert A. Taft, a politician respected by all parties, pointed out,
“It is completely alien to the American tradition of law to prosecute men for criminal acts which were not declared to be so until long after the fact. The Nuremberg Trials will forever remain a blot on the escutcheon of American jurisprudence”…
In 1962 the Oxford University historian and leading anti-German publicist, Dr. A. J. P. Taylor, 16 years after the close of the Nuremberg Trials, ventured to express his opinion as to their nature. He described the Nuremberg Tribunal as “a macabre farce” and expressed surprise that an English judge should have been found to preside over it, and that English lawyers, including the then Lord Chancellor, should have pleaded before it.
Many may now think “a macabre farce” an apt description of what actually took place.
Source: Veale, Frederick J. P., Advance to Barbarism: The Development of Total Warfare, Newport Beach, CA: Institute for Historical Review, 1993, pp. 237-240, 251.