Prelude to Nuremberg : Allied War Crimes Policy and the Question of Punishment

Edition: 1st
Format: Hardcover
Pub. Date: 1998-10-01
Publisher(s): Univ of North Carolina Pr
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Analyzes the complicated domestic and international politics that shaped the Allied nations' policy toward war crimes that culminated in the Nuremberg trials, reconstructing the little-studied deliberations among the Allies at the end of the war. UP.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix(2)
Abbreviations and Acronyms xi
Introduction 1(5)
1. Governments-in-Exile Call for Retaliation
The Demand for a Declaration
Contention within Whitehall
The Big Powers Stand Aloof
Retaliatory Air Raids?
2. Setting Up a War Crimes Commission
Whitehall under Pressure
Anglo-Soviet Disputes over Rudolf Hess and the Baltic Republics
The Appointment of Herbert C. Pell
Inaugurating the UNWCC without the Soviets
3. Summary Execution
Soviet War Crimes Trials
Churchill's Radical Plan
Morgenthau versus Stimson
Roosevelt and Churchill in Agreement
Suspending a Decision
4. Obstructing the UNWCC
Sphere of Operation
What Is a War Crime?
Is Aggressive War a War Crime?
Listing War Criminals
Limiting the UNWCC
Press Criticism
Who Is a Major War Criminal?
International Courts or Military Tribunals?
Hurst Breaks with the Foreign Office
The State Department Traps Pell
Striving for a New Image
Maneuvering for a Postwar Role
Summing Up
5. Atrocities Other Than War Crimes
The Extermination of the Jews
Pell Takes On the State Department
London Decides on a Narrow Interpretation
Washington Alters Its Stand
Whitehall Ignores Washington's Reversal
Crimes against Humanity
6. Asylum for War Criminals
Whether to Address the Neutrals?
Neutrals Maneuver between the Belligerents
Neutrals Yield under Pressure
7. Closing the Circle
Contention within Whitehall
Discord within the Roosevelt Administration
Anglo-American Differences
Washington Takes the Lead
The Nuremberg Charter
Conclusion 231(11)
Epilogue 242(7)
Notes 249(38)
Bibliography 287(10)
Index 297


Chapter One



Polish citizens were the first to suffer from German oppression, and they experienced some of the worst horrors of the German invaders. Within weeks after the German invasion on 1 September 1939, the Wehrmacht had completed its occupation of Poland. The Soviets were not late in seizing their share, and on 17 September the Red Army entered eastern Poland. On 28 September Poland was partitioned between Germany and the Soviet Union. The same day Warsaw surrendered to the Germans, and several days later fighting ceased. Over 100,000 Polish troops had fallen in the month-long campaign, 133,000 had been wounded, and a million Polish soldiers had been captured by the Germans and the Russians. By the end of October Germany had begun annexing parts of western and northern Poland, including Pomerania, Upper Silesia, a part of Mazovia, and parts of the Lodz, Krakow, and Kielce districts. Almost one-quarter of the entire country was annexed to Germany. The remaining areas of Poland held by Germans were placed under the supervision of a civil administration, called the Generalgouvernement. More than 22 million inhabitants of Poland were now under German occupation; nearly half this number, including about 600,000 Jews, resided in the territories annexed by the Reich. The rest, some 12 million people, including 1.5 million Jews, lived in the Generalgouvernement areas. More than 1 million Poles were deported to the Generalgouvernement from the territories incorporated into Germany. In the area controlled by the Soviets, there were between 5 million and 6 million Poles and 1.2 million Jews.

    Germany's goal was to destroy the Polish nation and to turn the Poles into a slave labor force for the German Reich. In order to achieve this goal, the Germans focused on liquidating the nation's intellectual, political, spiritual, and economic elites. Poland was turned into a slave country, its inhabitants forced to serve the German economic and military machine: 1,798 labor camps and 136 refugee camps were built, while 2.5 million Poles were sent to work in Germany. Moreover, Poland served the Germans as their main killing ground. For that purpose they built extermination centers and concentration camps. Transit camps for deportees also were used as killing sites. Between 1939 and 1945 6 million people, half of them Jews, lost their lives in Poland through extermination, murder, execution, or starvation or in battles against the Germans.

    On the day the Red Army entered eastern Poland, the top Polish leaders decided to leave for France through Romania, but they were interned by the Romanian authorities and never reached their destination. On 30 September 1939 President Ignacy Moscicki resigned and nominated as his successor Wladislaw Raczkiewicz, marshal of the senate and president of the World Union of Poles Abroad, who was then in France. The new president appointed Gen. Wladislaw Sikorski, who earlier had been named commander of the Polish army in France, as prime minister. The new government was recognized by the Western Allies as the de jure government of Poland. On 4 January 1940 a military agreement was signed between French prime minister Edouard Daladier and Sikorski that enabled the formation of the Polish armed forces on French soil.

    At the beginning of 1940 the Polish government-in-exile requested both the British and the French governments to condemn Nazi barbarities and to threaten to punish the perpetrators. The Polish leaders also called for making it clear that the Germans would have to compensate for the damages they caused as a result of their violation of international law. British Foreign Office officials opposed the idea. Any such declaration, Sir Orme Sargent, deputy undersecretary of state in the Foreign Office, maintained, would be regarded as mere propaganda. He pointed to the white paper "The Treatment of German Nationals in Germany," published shortly after Britain had declared war on Germany. This white paper, which dealt with German atrocities against German nationals interned in the Dachau and Buchenwald concentration camps in 1938 and 1939, Sargent argued, "was not a success and was largely criticized as being merely stale and tendentious propaganda on our part." He assumed that the same would be said of any reports that Britain would publish on conditions in Poland and Czechoslovakia. Frank Roberts, then acting first secretary in the Central Department of the Foreign Office, even doubted the accuracy of the reports, which came mainly from Polish and Czech sources. He thought that Britain was not in a position to issue absolutely reliable official statements. Lack of credence given to reports received from occupied Eastern Europe was to characterize the general attitude of British officials throughout most of the war years. In early 1940, British policy was still characterized by the wish to do nothing that could overly irritate the Germans, although Britain and France had declared war on Germany the previous September. (Indeed, the British refrained from taking any military measures until the spring of 1940.)

    Nevertheless, the need to encourage the endurance of the Polish people as well as the government-in-exile was recognized and led the Foreign Office to modify its stand. In mid-February 1940, London agreed in principle to the publication of an Anglo-French-Polish declaration. Eight weeks passed, however, before the statement was actually published. In addition to the lack of fervor among Foreign Office officials, differences over the phraseology of the declaration had to be overcome. In their first draft the Poles had included a paragraph to the effect that the signatories of the declaration reserved for themselves "the right to pursue and punish according to the full force of the law persons of German nationality guilty of having committed acts in flagrant contradiction of the laws and customs of war." In reaction to British and French reservations, the Poles then proposed a revised draft less controversial: the three signatories "desire to make a formal and public protest to the conscience of the world against the action of the German Government whom they must hold responsible for these crimes which cannot remain unpunished."

    Well aware of London's cautious policy at the time, Count Edward Raczynski, the Polish ambassador to Britain, interpreted the debatable paragraph as meaning that any German criminals who remained within Polish jurisdiction after the war would be punished. Sir Alexander Cadogan, the permanent undersecretary in the Foreign Office, disagreed with this limited interpretation. If both the French and the British governments were associated with this declaration, he argued, "that would imply something rather more in the nature of action against `war criminals', which had led us into a certain amount of trouble after the last war." Cadogan believed that Britain should not define its attitude in detail.

    The Poles meanwhile succeeded in winning French support for their revised draft. Charles Corbin, the French ambassador in London, joined the Polish effort to convince the Foreign Office that the paragraph as it now stood did not imply any undertaking to pursue war criminals after the war. British foreign secretary Earl Halifax was not persuaded. He feared that German propaganda would portray such a commitment as evidence of a British objective to destroy the German people. In regard to a declaration, the Foreign Office was only ready to state that the British, French, and Polish governments "must hold the German Government responsible for these crimes, and they reaffirm their determination to right the wrongs inflicted on the Polish people."

    The Poles were forced to give way in the face of London's determination not to issue a forthright statement. The British War Cabinet was told that the Polish government had intimated that it regarded the proposed declaration as a statement of principle, not a contractual obligation. That is to say, no claim vis-a-vis the Germans would be based on it by either the British or the French governments in the future. The War Cabinet approved the statement, subject to receiving a formal assurance of this reading from the Polish government.

    The declaration was published on 18 April 1940. It accused the German government of opening the war against Poland "by brutal attacks upon the civilian population of Poland in defiance of the accepted principles of international law." Furthermore, Germany's acts "clearly reveal a policy deliberately aiming at the destruction of the Polish nation." Specific mention was given to "the atrocious treatment inflicted" on the Jewish community. Berlin was charged with violating the laws of war and the customs of war on land as well as international agreements such as the Fourth International Convention of The Hague of 1907. The concluding sentence, however, which to a great extent was imposed upon the other two signatories, diluted the significance of the declaration. The three Allies, it read, "reaffirm the responsibility of Germany for these crimes and their determination to right the wrongs thus inflicted on the Polish people."

    Even a much firmer declaration almost certainly would not have caused the Germans to alter their policy. Yet this consideration was not one that guided Foreign Office officials. In addition to Britain's initial policy not to collide with Germany, the Foreign Office wanted to avoid any undertaking to punish war criminals. It was deemed too problematic and sensitive an issue for London to become entangled in, especially as it had no direct interest in the matter. The failure of the Allies after World War I to implement their threats to punish war criminals only strengthened reservations about making unequivocal obligations at this stage of the new war.


After the fall of France in June 1940, the Polish government moved to Britain. During the following year relations between Britain and Poland became very close. On 5 August an Anglo-Polish military agreement was signed; Polish forces subsequently fought alongside the British in the Battle of Britain, in Norway, in Africa, and later in Italy, Holland, France, and Germany. At the same time, with Britain left alone to fight a war for survival, the exiled governments recognized that there was no sense in threatening the Germans with reprisals. Nevertheless, the Polish government gave public expression to the Germans' misdeeds, as did the Czech government, in exile in London since the summer of 1940 but recognized by the British only in July 1941. A joint statement in November 1940 decried the violence and cruelty to which the two countries had been subjected, charging they were unparalleled in human history. The statement pointed to the mass executions and deportations to concentration camps, the expulsion of populations, and the banishment of hundreds and thousands of men and women to forced labor in Germany. A month later the Polish government denounced the German policy of denationalization in Poland.

    As part of efforts to fortify the morale of the occupied peoples, British statesmen issued sporadic statements to the effect that the Germans would have to pay for their acts. In a broadcast to the French nation on 21 October 1940, for example, Winston Churchill stated that all the crimes of Hitler would bring upon him and upon all who belonged to his system "a retribution which many of us will live to see." In a speech in Mansion House toward the end of May 1941 Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden spoke of the time "Hitler and his gang" would lose the war. Every German, Eden stated, must know and fear that "the reckoning will indeed be wide and fierce." Three weeks later, on 22 June, Churchill addressed the question of punishing Nazi collaborators: "These quislings, like the Nazi leaders, if not disposed of by their fellow countrymen--which would save trouble--will be delivered by us on the morrow of the victory to the justice of the Allied tribunals." His statement came on a very special occasion, several hours after the beginning of the German invasion of the Soviet Union. Yet warnings such as these should not be regarded as sanctioning any official undertaking on the part of the British government to punish Axis leaders and the perpetrators of atrocities. They were, rather, firm rhetoric, expressions of fury, not statements of operative intentions.

    Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union marked a turning point in the relations between Britain and Poland. Sikorski was quick to realize that London regarded improving its relations with the Soviet Union as a vital interest and that, if necessary, the British would sacrifice their relations with Poland. Whitehall made clear the importance it ascribed to an agreement between the Polish government and the Soviet Union. Disagreement over Poland's frontiers was the main obstacle to the signing of such a document. The Polish government was determined to preserve its pre-1939 frontiers, whereas Moscow was adamant in its desire to regain the territories it had captured following the Ribbentrop-Molotov agreement. Sikorski, his government wholly dependent on Britain, was compelled to give way to British pressure and to sign some sort of agreement with the Soviet Union. The challenge was to find an equivocal formula that would enable postponement of the clash over Poland's frontiers. Accordingly, the Soviet government issued a statement that the articles of the Soviet-German treaty of 1939 "relative to territorial changes in Poland have lost their validity." The Soviets, furthermore, agreed to the formation in their territory of a Polish army under Polish command, which would be subordinate in operational matters to the supreme command of the USSR. Moscow also took it upon itself to grant amnesty to all Polish citizens who had been deprived of their freedom in the territory of the USSR. The agreement, which was signed on 30 July 1941, brought about Soviet recognition of the Polish government-in-exile. For their part both Britain and the United States separately stated that they did not recognize any territorial changes imposed on Poland after August 1939. Several weeks later the British and the Americans followed the Soviets' lead and finally decided to recognize the Czech government-in-exile.

    The Germans, following their attack on the Soviet Union, intensified their atrocities in occupied countries, enacting especially harsh measures against both civilians and soldiers in the Soviet Union. Although continual reports on the Germans' terrible acts reached London, Foreign Office officials generally treated them with great suspicion. By autumn 1941, however, the Foreign Office had to contend with the growing concern among Cabinet ministers as well as in Parliament about the government's treatment of the reports of German atrocities. In September Hugh Dalton, Labour MP and minister for economic warfare, called Eden's attention to the "monstrous practice" that the Germans had recently introduced of seizing and executing hostages whenever a German was attacked. Dalton well knew that Britain was in no position to deter the Germans. Still, he thought his government should not ignore such acts. He proposed telling the people of Europe that the names of all those connected with the shooting of hostages--from the commander of the occupying forces downward--were being duly noted and, after the war, would be "hunted down, tried for the murders now being committed and, if they are convicted, summarily executed." Dalton further suggested encouraging the citizens of occupied countries to record names and incidents that could be useful for judging the criminals after the war. A declaration along these lines, Dalton believed, would do much to sustain the morale of the Allies and to weaken that of the German forces.

    Foreign Office officials retained their reservations. Describing Dalton as a "witch-doctor smelling out the German criminal from one end of Europe to the other," Roger Makins of the Foreign Office Central Department expressed skepticism about the effectiveness of the threats and thought that Britain should not surrender to a desire for revenge or stimulate that desire in other people. The Foreign Office official warned of a repetition of the "Hang the Kaiser" campaign, maintaining that a commitment to hunt down and try thousands of Germans after the war was premature. Makins also drew his colleagues' attention to expected legal difficulties, particularly in regard to the question of the responsibility of subordinate officials. He did, though, accept Dalton's suggestion of encouraging the occupied peoples to record the names of Germans who "behave badly" and stated that Britain was also keeping a record of them. Others rejected even this proposal. Deputy Undersecretary of State Orme Sargent warned his colleagues, "Once we authorise such an idea, we are already half way towards being committed to trying the war criminals, and after our experience of the last war we surely are not going to be foolish enough to attempt such a course again."

    Eden shared his officials' general opposition to any commitment to punish war criminals and told Dalton of his own hesitation in threatening vengeance. He reminded Dalton of the long lists of war criminals that had been prepared by the Allies in accordance with the Treaty of Versailles; when the time came to carry out the provisions for trial by Allied courts, Eden recalled, the difficulties that arose seemed insuperable, and therefore the scheme was abandoned. As a result only a limited number of persons were tried by the German supreme court, and no death sentence was imposed. Eden's lesson was clear: no commitment should be given to hunt down and try thousands of Germans after the war. Revenge should be left for Berlin's neighbors. Britain should let the matter rest at the compilation of names while leaving "our future action to the imagination of the culprits."

    Eden, however, recognized the growing excitement both in Britain and among the exiled governments over the issue of German atrocities and therefore supported publication of a collective statement by the Allies protesting German action against civilians in the occupied territories. The statement would be somewhat along the lines of the joint Anglo-Franco-Polish declaration of April 1940; that is to say, it would avoid an unambiguous commitment to retribution. On 5 October 1941 the War Cabinet was asked to approve a draft declaration that ended with a vague statement according to which the Allied governments "publicly declare that the brutalities which are being committed in the occupied countries are contrary to the dictates of humanity; are a reversion to barbarism; and will meet with retribution, sure, sudden, and complete."

    The foreign secretary, however, discovered that his overcaution was not shared by his colleagues in the War Cabinet. The general view among the ministers was that the proposed declaration should lead to a more definite conclusion. One proposal spoke of making it clear that steps were being taken to compile careful lists not only of the leaders who were responsible for German policy in this matter, but also of those who acted foremost in aiding and abetting in these atrocities. In light of the ministers' criticism, the Foreign Office was quick to present the Cabinet with a new draft. This time the threat of vengeance was spelled out more clearly:

We therefore publicly declare that the brutalities which are being committed in the occupied countries are contrary to the dictates of humanity; are a reversion to barbarism; and will meet with sure retribution. To this end we are united in our resolve to win the freedom of the oppressed peoples and to execute justice. The methods of oppression and terror used by Hitler are such that many people, including the Germans and Italians, are ignorant of the full facts. When these things are known, world opinion will not allow the criminals to escape just punishment for their crimes. The facts are being put on record so that in due time the world may pronounce its judgment. With victory will come retribution.

    Dissatisfied even with the new draft, Dalton suggested including explicit reference to the fact that lists were being compiled of those guilty of the brutalities. Eden opposed the idea but suggested a compromise that would refer to the compilation of such lists in British propaganda. The War Cabinet approved the draft declaration and authorized the foreign secretary to arrange for its circulation among the Dominions and the Allied governments. The desire by Foreign Office officials to publish a mild statement and their giving way to external pressure would be repeated in the future.

    At the time Foreign Office officials were preparing the revised draft, questions about German war crimes were being asked in Parliament. On 7 October Captain William Strickland (Conservative) asked the foreign secretary whether he intended to make an announcement that those responsible for "murder, cruelty and oppression" would be brought to trial and punished for their offenses. Geofry Madner (Labour) wanted to know whether the government intended to compile lists of those responsible for committing crimes, while James Walker (Labour) referred to the seizing and executing of hostages by the Germans and asked whether the foreign secretary could guarantee that those murderers would be brought to trial after the war and made to suffer the penalties appropriate to their crimes.

    Undersecretary of State Richard K. Law replied briefly that the subject was under consideration and that the foreign secretary was approaching the Allies on the issue. To Philip Noel-Baker (Labour), who wanted to know whether the government was already keeping lists, Law replied vaguely to the effect "that these actions are not passing unnoticed, either in the countries where they occur or in this country." The next day Sir Waldron Smithers (Conservative) took the occasion of Eden's presence in the Commons to ask whether Whitehall had informed the German government of the steps it had taken "to avenge the brutal treatment now being meted out to the inhabitants of occupied Europe." Eden avoided giving a direct answer and referred Sir Waldron to the obscure statement given by Law the previous day. The foreign secretary assured Sir Waldron that note was being taken "of these terrible things, and that they will not be forgotten."

    In a letter to R. M. A. Hankey, the former secretary to the Cabinet, Eden outlined the considerations that guided his dealing with German atrocities. Hankey, who had been closely involved in the proceedings of the Paris Peace Conference, had warned Eden not to repeat the mistakes of the aftermath of World War I. The foreign secretary said he shared Hankey's objections to commitments; however, he pointed out that recent reports of the shooting of hostages in Norway, France, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, and Greece had stirred up a lot of sentiment in Britain as well as among Britain's allies. The proposed declaration, therefore, aimed to comfort Britain's allies and to strengthen the endurance of the peoples concerned. Hankey was told of an Allied plan to publish a declaration that "would go a good deal further than ours." Unless an agreement was reached on the "inoffensive" declaration proposed by the Foreign Office, Eden explained, "we are likely to find the Allies coming out with something far more embarrassing."

    The foreign secretary referred to a Czech-Polish initiative to publish a joint solemn warning. Their draft resolution condemned German atrocities committed in occupied territory and warned that all Germans guilty of offenses against common or international law would be punished, as would both those who gave illegal orders and those who carried them out. Britain and the United States were to be called on to associate themselves with the statement. British Foreign Office officials, however, told the Czechs and the Poles of London's proposed statement and asked them to hold up their initiative. On 21 October, three weeks after the Cabinet had approved the Foreign Office draft, the latter finally delivered it to Britain's allies, including the United States and the Soviet Union. The delay in sending the draft was another demonstration of the little importance that the Foreign Office ascribed to the war crimes issue.

    Four days later, on 25 October, the British were faced with an unexpected move by the ostensibly neutral United States. Washington informed London about a statement President Franklin D. Roosevelt was going to issue in a few hours condemning the execution of innocent hostages and warning those collaborating with Hitler or trying to appease him. Washington referred to reports of the shooting on 21 October of fifty hostages at Nantes in reprisal for the assassination of the military commander of the region. The president's statement ended with a vague threat: "Frightfulness can never bring peace to Europe. It only sows the seeds of hatred which will one day bring fearful retribution." As it turned out, this was not the last time that the Americans faced the British with a fait accompli. Not only did the Americans refrain from consulting the British, but they gave London hardly any advance notification of the proposed declaration before its publication.

    Roosevelt's initiative compelled the Foreign Office to make several quick decisions. It was suggested that Britain should immediately follow the president's course and not wait until all the Allies reacted to London's draft declaration. Indeed, immediately following the release of Roosevelt's statement, Churchill announced that the British government associated itself entirely with the sentiments of horror and condemnation of the Nazi butcheries in France expressed by Roosevelt. According to the prime minister the atrocities that the Germans had perpetrated were but a foretaste of what Hitler would inflict on the British and the Americans if ever that came within his power. "Retribution for these crimes," Churchill concluded, "must henceforth take its place among the major purposes of the war." Both Roosevelt's and Churchill's declarations were given wide publicity. The New York Times , for example, printed them on the front page, under the headline, "President Flays Hostage Killing."


Churchill's statement put an end to the debates that had been going on for several weeks among British officials on the wording of a declaration on German atrocities that the prime minister had been intended to broadcast. Victor Cavendish-Bentinck, chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, who had been asked to produce evidence of the atrocities, thought it could be dangerous to give detailed cases. The Germans, he had argued, might produce sworn statements purportedly given freely by inhabitants of the localities at which the atrocities took place or even propose an inquiry to be conducted by neutrals. Cavendish-Bentinck had no doubt that the Germans had perpetrated and were still committing far worse atrocities than they did during World War I; but he was also of the opinion that until the war was over and an investigation could be conducted on the spot, in the presence of eyewitnesses, it would be difficult to prove many of these allegations. The chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, in fact, treated the reports of atrocities with skepticism. He described Russian broadcasts of mass horrors as mainly "the product of Slav imaginations" and cited the fact that Britain itself had "put out rumours of atrocities and horrors for various purposes." He concluded, "I have no doubt that this game is widely played."

    The Soviets, unfortunately, were not imagining things. The broadcasts to which Cavendish-Bentinck referred told of what later came to be known as the Babi Yar massacre. In the span of two days, 29 and 30 September 1941, SS troops had killed more than 33,000 Jews at Babi Yar ravine. Cavendish-Bentinck was not alone in his thinking; his reservations were shared by other Foreign Office officials. Sargent, for example, thought that the prime minister should discuss the issue in general terms and leave it to each of the Allied governments to publish the statements it liked in regard to atrocities committed against its own people. It seems that the tendency to doubt the reports of German atrocities was also influenced by the unwillingness to condemn such war crimes publicly.

    Churchill's statement of 25 October faced Whitehall with the dilemma of whether or not to proceed with the original plan of publishing a joint Allied declaration. Since the draft declaration had already been delivered, responses now began reaching the Foreign Office. The Australian government thought that the proposed statement was "couched in inappropriate and even extravagant language and should be made more simple and direct." The Australians assumed that the main purpose of the declaration was not to utter vague threats but to encourage the enslaved peoples of Europe to resist the oppressor. Thus, they proposed omitting any reference to retribution and simply stating that the Allied governments "express their sure and certain hope that the spirit of freedom will never be extinguished in Europe and that the courageous resistance of all who are temporarily enslaved will help in the approaching downfall of Hitler's Germany."

    The governments-in-exile thought differently. The government of Greece accepted in principle the text of the British draft declaration, but it insisted on adding Bulgaria beside Germany in the declaration because of the acts perpetrated by the Bulgars in Greece, Yugoslavia, and other countries. Pretending nonbelligerency, they behaved "in the most disgusting manner as plain murderers in the night, seeking to hide their belligerent status." The Yugoslav government was not satisfied with a reference only to the shooting of hostages and was of the opinion that punishment ought to cover every kind of atrocity, including dive-bombing and burning villages and their inhabitants. The Yugoslavs, furthermore, proposed to refer not only to Hitler but also to his satellites and the regimes set up by him in the occupied lands. In particular they wanted to include in the declaration the Hungarians, Bulgars, and Italians and the followers of Pavelic in the "so-called Independent Croatia."

    The War Cabinet, however, approved the Foreign Office stand that the statements of Churchill and Roosevelt had made a joint Allied declaration unnecessary. Roberts, who initiated this move, argued that keeping Britain from signing such a declaration "would not commit us after the war to putting into practical effect whatever the Allied governments may now decide."

    Foreign Office officials wanted to go further and to free Britain of any commitment to making a list of war criminals or to engage in the preparation of any central registry of atrocities. Accordingly, Roberts suggested refraining from asking the Allies to supply Britain with particulars because they might regard such a request as an indication that Britain was ready to act as a sort of clearing office. He warned that a wrong conclusion might also be drawn from Britain's acceptance of any responsibility for ensuring the punishment of offenders whose cases were brought to its notice. There was a need, however, to close the gap between Roberts's proposal and the assurance Eden had given during the debate in Parliament on 8 October that the government was keeping track of German atrocities. Roberts maintained that Eden, in his remark, had not given any indication that the British government itself would start collecting information on German misdeeds. The government knew that the other Allies were keeping particulars themselves, and it would, therefore, rather "appear that the Secretary of State's assurance is in fact already covered." The effort to twist Eden's statement was as awkward as it was obvious.

    Roberts's proposal was unacceptable to Roger Allen, who had been appointed at the beginning of the war to keep track of enemy breaches of the rules of warfare, particularly against British nationals. Allen believed that Britain should have a central records office where reports of atrocities committed against the various Allies would be collected. Holding a position similar to Roberts's, Cavendish-Bentinck again stressed the question of the accuracy of the reports. He argued that although Britain had received reports on German atrocities from various sources, London possessed no sufficient evidence to be able to separate those reports based on facts from those that were untrue. Cavendish-Bentinck's opposition to the idea of a central registry derived mainly from his conviction that Britain should not put itself "in the same grotesque position as we did after the last war in connection with war criminals."

    Britain's decision not to associate itself with the proposed Allied declaration worried the exiled governments, which wanted their statement to have the greatest possible publicity value by having it signed in all solemnity at an Allied meeting at St. James Palace in the presence of Churchill and Eden as well as A. J. D. Biddle Jr., the American ambassador to the Polish government-in-exile. A dispute erupted among the exiled governments over whether to invite Biddle's Soviet counterpart, M. Bogomolov. The Poles, the Czechs, and the Yugoslavs were willing to invite him, but most of the other governments were opposed, on the ground that the Russians had in their time been responsible for atrocities similar to those that the declaration was to condemn. London, however, ruled out boycotting the Soviets on the spot. It was made clear to Wladislaw Kulski, counselor of the Polish embassy in London, that if Britain decided to associate itself with the proposed meeting, the exclusion of the Russians would prevent any British leader from attending the gathering. British officials were deeply concerned at Stalin's suspicion of Britain, particularly as a result of London's unwillingness to declare war on Finland, Romania, and Hungary. In an effort to soothe Stalin, it was decided in mid-November that Eden would visit Moscow. Exempting the Soviets from a mutual Allied declaration, therefore, clearly contradicted Britain's policy at the time.

    Foreign Office officials were divided in regard to the exiled governments' request. The main opposition came from Sargent, who was disturbed by the wording of the proposed declaration, which stated that guilty persons were to be sought out and punished "by an organised justice." Again, he warned, the Allied declaration was approaching the "Hang the Kaiser" demand. Attending the proposed meeting would make it difficult for Britain subsequently to repudiate the policy that was laid down. Sargent warned that as none of the signatories would be able to enforce the resolution, "the Allied Governments will naturally assume that we intend to do so if we say nothing to the contrary." Although Eden shared some of Sargent's misgivings, he pointed out that His Majesty's Government had not been asked to associate itself with the text of the declaration, which he himself considered to be a reasonable document. Eden thought that Britain should therefore comply with the Allies' request, provided it was acceptable to the Soviet government.

    The Polish desire to see an American representative at the meeting was not entirely realistic because Washington was holding to its neutrality. Roosevelt's statement in October 1941 had reflected no intention on the part of the president to adopt a firm stand against Axis atrocities. Secretary of State Cordell Hull turned down the Polish request, stating that "as the President's statement of October 25 was made independently, we do not now wish to associate ourselves in a joint undertaking of any kind protesting violence against civilians in occupied counties."

    Washington's refusal was conveyed on 27 November. Within two weeks, however, completely new circumstances were created with the Japanese attack on the U.S. fleet at Pearl Harbor. On 8 December Roosevelt asked Congress to declare war on Japan, and three days later he sent a written message to Congress asking that a state of war be recognized between Germany and Italy and the United States. Eden, assuming that Washington's attitude on the war in Europe would now change, instructed Halifax, the British ambassador in Washington, to inquire whether the Americans agreed to attend the proposed meeting at St. James. For the foreign secretary the most important goal was to demonstrate that the United States had actively joined the Allies. Eden's assumption proved correct. On 22 December Hull instructed Biddle to attend the meeting as a guest, though to refrain from associating himself with the text of the declaration.

    Foreign Office officials, since they failed to dissuade Eden from attending the inter-Allied meeting, strove to limit Britain's association with the declaration. They felt that even as hosts, Britain should take a role no more active than that of the other observers. They particularly opposed the proposal that the British representative give the opening address. The Allied declaration, it was stressed, "goes considerably beyond what the Prime Minister said in his own declaration." The Poles, for their part, were most anxious that the British government show some association with the declaration. Kulski emphasized the expected embarrassment that would be his country's lot if the British hosts avoided addressing the meeting. Needed were only a few words of welcome and perhaps a reference to the prime minister's statement of 25 October.

    The meeting of the Allies finally took place on 13 January 1942. Representatives of nine nations whose countries were under German occupation took part: Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Greece, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, and Yugoslavia, together with the French National Committee. Representatives of the United Kingdom, the United States, the Soviet Union, China, the Dominions, and India were present as observers. Eden's opening remarks demonstrated Whitehall's effort to dissociate itself as far as possible from the forthcoming declaration; the initiative for that meeting had come from the exiled governments that had established themselves in Britain, and his attendance as observer was merely a response to a request of the Polish representative. Eden refrained from referring to Churchill's statement of 25 October 1941 or from expressing Britain's stand regarding German atrocities. He concluded his short, polite, diplomatic greeting by saying that it was "fitting" that the governments of the occupied territories "take the initiative in declaring the principles by which they will be guided on their return to their liberated countries." Eden's caution stood out starkly against the background of the firm stand that the governments-in-exile took in their joint declaration. They were determined to include among the principal war aims "the punishment, through the channel of organized justice, of those guilty and responsible for these crimes, whether they have ordered them, or in any way participated in them."


It very quickly became clear to the exile governments that the St. James Declaration had no effect on the Germans. Not only did the atrocities and murders not stop, but they in fact intensified. The Polish government was no longer satisfied with mere declarations; it wanted London to adopt a deliberate, well-publicized policy of reprisals. In April 1942, following the execution of a hundred hostages in Warsaw in retaliation for the killing of two German policemen, London was requested to announce that its bombardments of central and western Germany were reprisals for the killing of hostages. The Foreign Office bluntly rejected the idea, stating that the targets for aerial raids were chosen only on military grounds. The Poles also failed in the American arena when Sikorski stopped short of calling on Washington to apply stringent measures against the property of German nationals and drastic measures against German citizens residing in territory under the control of the United Nations. Roosevelt wrote to him in reply that, although the American people were deeply incensed at the barbaric treatment that the Nazis were meting out, "they are as yet not prepared to resort to such measures as the indiscriminate bombing of the civilian population of enemy countries or to the meting out of such treatment to innocent enemy aliens in the United States."

    The Polish government-in-exile was placed in a difficult situation, especially as it was subjected to growing pressure from its suffering people back home. In mid-May the Foreign Office was handed a copy of a letter Sikorski had received from Warsaw. It charged that for the past two years the Germans had been conducting a deliberate, systematic campaign to annihilate the Polish nation, which was regarded as a natural barrier in their continuous drive toward the East. The government-in-exile was asked to awaken the conscience of the whole civilized world to this "mad action" and also to warn the German government and people of very severe retribution; among the retaliation measures suggested was a proposal to threaten the Germans that for every murder of a Pole, Yugoslav, or Czech, five Germans of comparable age, profession, social level, and sex would be executed immediately after the war. Another measure called for the organization of special air force units whose task would be the daily bombing, as "ruthless as possible," of a German town that had no military value; leaflets telling the reason for the raid would be dropped during the raid. Although recognizing Whitehall's reluctance to act on its proposals, by delivering this letter the Polish government-in-exile sought to influence the British to take some action. The letter demonstrated the pressure to which it was being subjected from its brethren in Poland.

    Churchill's visit to the United States in June 1942 was regarded by Sikorski as an opportunity to influence the two Western leaders to consider ways to deter the Germans from continuing their crimes. In a letter to Churchill the Polish prime minister maintained that protests and threats of possible future retaliation "have hitherto remained without effect upon the Germans." The Polish leader feared that in light of Britain's difficult situation on the battlefield, "minor issues" such as German atrocities in Poland would be pushed aside. The Germans' principal aim, he stressed again, was "the extermination of the Polish nation." Sikorski expected Churchill and Roosevelt to agree on the need for bombardment reprisals. Large-scale bombing of nonmilitary objectives in Germany, according to Sikorski, "would undoubtedly restrain the Germans from pursuing their present policy of terrorism." He further argued that the United Nations' strict adherence to the rules of international law had always been interpreted by the Germans as a sign of weakness. In addition, Sikorski wanted to take drastic retaliatory measures against German citizens residing in Allied countries. He also expected both Britain and the United States to associate themselves with the St. James Declaration of 13 January.

    Sikorski, under pressure from Warsaw, did not permit himself secretive diplomatic activities but began airing his views publicly. In addition to his desire to encourage his people in Poland and to demonstrate that the government-in-exile was doing its utmost to put an end to the Germans' misdeeds, he also tried to exert indirect pressure on Whitehall by calling the British public's attention to the desperate situation of the Polish people. In a broadcast to Poland in early June, Sikorski stressed that "only the announcement of retribution and the application of reprisals wherever possible can stop the rising tide of madness of German assassins and save several hundreds of thousands of innocent victims from certain death." Several days later, on 19 June, the Polish National Council, which represented the Polish parliament abroad, appealed to the parliaments of the free nations to assure that "the crimes which have been committed [will be] suitably punished." The number of civilians shot or hanged for "fidelity to their country and nation," the council reported, had already exceeded 140,000; several times as many Polish men and women were suffering in German prisons and concentration camps, and about 1.5 million persons had been deported to the heart of Germany for forced labor in mines and factories. In addition, nearly 2 million Polish citizens had been robbed of their farms, houses, shops, workshops, and factories and expelled from the western to the eastern provinces of Poland. According to German plans, the National Council's statement dolefully concluded, the Polish people were condemned to lifelong slavery for the benefit of the German "Herrenvolk."

    The Polish government was not the only exiled group at the time to urge London to adopt stern measures against the Germans. The destruction of the village of Lidice on 10 June 1942 turned out to be a watershed for the Czechs. A total of 199 men of the village were shot to death, while 88 children and their mothers, 60 women in all, were sent to concentration camps (Ravensbruck, Mauthausen, and Auschwitz), where all of them were killed. The cause of this slaughter was the assassination on 27 May of SS Gen. Reinhard Heydrich, chief of the Reich Security Head Office and protector of Bohemia and Moravia, in an ambush in Prague. The assassins were Czech resistance fighters who earlier had parachuted into Czechoslovakia from Britain. The Czech government-in-exile had planned and directed the successful attempt on Heydrich's life in cooperation with the British Special Operation Executive.

    In a BBC broadcast right after the incident and before Heydrich had died of his wounds, Dr. Hubert Ripka, the Czech minister of state, declared forthrightly that the attack on the life of the "monster" Heydrich was a punishment for the crimes he had committed against Czechoslovakia and other enslaved nations in Europe. Anticipating German retaliation, Ripka warned that "there will be no peace and right in the world unless the German crimes are severely punished and unless the Allies secure guarantees that the German nation should never again be able to venture on a new military expedition against the world."

    Despite knowing what the Germans were capable of and that their retaliation was likely, the Czechs were still shocked by the actual retribution taken by the Germans. German terrorism and barbarity, Ripka wrote to Sir Philip Nichols, minister to the Czechoslovak government in London, "exceed all the other infamies which the Germans have hitherto perpetrated against the population of the occupied areas." Less than three weeks after the assassination, more than 500 had fallen victim to the outburst of German savagery. Ripka described the massacre in Lidice as "an atrocity which is without parallel in the history of modern warfare"--an emotional exaggeration on his part but a factual understatement, for by that time the Germans already had murdered millions of people, foremost among them Jews and Soviet civilians and POWS.

    Powerless to retaliate, the Czechs, too, now turned to the British to act. London was asked to announce that for every village treated in the manner of Lidice, the RAF would raze to the ground a small village or town in Germany. Rejecting the request, the British made it clear that the bombing program was carefully designed to destroy Germany's war potential in a systematic manner and that the Air Staff would refuse any suggestion to divert bombers to what they considered to be unessential targets. Ripka was determined, however, to demonstrate to the Germans that there was indeed a resolve among the Western powers to take retaliatory measures. He suggested a large-scale raid on some German city, after which London was to announce that it had come in reply to the brutal atrocities committed by the Nazis in occupied countries. Should the further slaughter of the civilian population continue, the Czech foreign minister then wanted the British government to state that the RAF would diverge from the principle it had maintained until then, of bombarding only military objectives. Ripka was certain that such a declaration not only would have enormous effect among the inhabitants of the occupied countries, but it would also help the German people to recognize "the kind of calamity in which they will ultimately become involved as a result of the fiendish deeds of the Nazis." Ripka expected the Big Three Powers and China to go one step further and to associate themselves with the resolution adopted at the St. James meeting. Such a course, he wrote to Eden, would serve as an effective psychological means of causing the German people to fear the punishment, "which they will incur as a result of the terrorism in the occupied countries."

    Most Foreign Office officials opposed the Czech proposal. If an announcement were made that the raids constituted reprisals for specific German brutalities, Roberts argued, the Germans could abandon these particular crimes and "we should be in a rather difficult position as regards continuing our raids." He preferred to continue the present policy "and to leave the European populations to draw their own conclusions from the heavy bombing of German cities." The Foreign Office official rejected the suggestion that the Allies associate themselves with the St. James Declaration on the ground that Britain might be the only Big Power to do so. The United States was expected to oppose the idea, while the Soviet government was liable to demand certain changes in the text.

    Denis Allen of the Central Department in the Foreign Office warned that association with the St. James Declaration would commit the British government to carrying out whatever policy any of the Allied governments might choose to put into effect within the broad framework of the declaration. Allen negated the argument that adherence to the declaration would enhance the morale of the people in occupied Europe. These people, he contended, were looking for active measures, not mere declarations. Still, he did not propose to adopt operative actions. Arguing against the Czech reprisal proposal, Allen pointed to Air Chief Marshal Sir Charles F. A. Portal's evaluation that there was nothing the Germans would like more than the diversion of the British bombing effort from their built-up industrial areas to their villages. Allen did not rule out the possibility that the Germans might even increase their atrocities in the hope of diverting the bombing to German villages. Alternatively, he suggested (as Roberts had before him) the possibility existed that the Germans might significantly reduce their atrocities, thus placing Britain in a difficult moral position in regard to the continuation of the bombing. Allen presented still one more alternative, that a reprisals policy might lead to counter-reprisals. He thought the government was already doing its utmost to show the German people the connection between Allied air raids and German policy; in any case, he was sure that Whitehall intended to extend the bombing against Germany to the limit.

    A completely different approach was taken by Sargent, who advised the government not to ignore the demands for reprisals. Sargent suggested, therefore, that Britain announce after the next big raid that it had been intended as an act of reprisal for specific atrocities committed by the Germans. Referring to Roberts's apprehension, Sargent remarked, "There is such a large accumulation of German atrocities to work off that I do not think we need be worried by the prospect of not being able to justify our raids because the Germans suddenly stop their atrocities." Sargent's arguments, however, were not accepted by his colleagues who were determined not to involve Britain in this aspect of the war.

    Parallel with its negotiations with British officials, the Czechoslovak government took unilateral action by announcing that the arrangements to "judge and punish the culprits with extraordinary and the most rigorous sentences" had already begun. The Czechs listed those whom they regarded as personally responsible for the crimes. The list included Adolf Hitler and the members of his government, and all the representatives of the German government and administration and of the Nazi Party stationed in Czechoslovakia, as well as their subordinates. Every German, the Czechs announced, "who aided the culprits, even though only indirectly, or who had approved of their deeds, would be punished." The Czechoslovak government, it promised, would chase the guilty until all of them, "whether caught in our territory or run to earth on foreign territory, receive due punishment."

    The Foreign Office termed the Czech action "inexcusable," since the Foreign Office had not been consulted in advance. Concern was expressed lest the Germans conclude that the Czech threat was made in cooperation with London or at least with its tacit consent. Still, in light of the fact that Britain had no positive suggestions to put forward, it was thought better not to reprimand the Czechs. The latter were, in any event, greatly piqued at London's avoidance of a public condemnation of the Lidice massacre. Whitehall's inaction was especially conspicuous, since U.S. Secretary of State Cordell Hull had denounced the massacre within two days after it had occurred.

    Under Czech pressure, the Foreign Office decided to take the occasion of the opening of the Exhibition of Graphic Art at the Czechoslovak Institute in London on 1 July 1942 to deliver an encouraging public message to the Czech people. Eden's message, which strongly denounced the Lidice massacre, was presented by Nichols. "Lidice is a name which humanity will not forget, and that it is not an isolated example of Nazi methods is shown by the fact that a further village, namely Lezaky, is now reported to have suffered the same inhumane fate." The foreign secretary, however, like his American colleague, carefully avoided threatening the Germans with reprisals. Several days later Whitehall also responded to Czech president-in-exile Eduard Benes's urging by repudiating the Munich agreement and approving Czechoslovakia's future frontiers.

Britain's deplorable situation on the battlefield, its fear of German retaliation against British POWS, and the lessons London had begun to draw from the fiasco of the Leipzig trials, as well as a skepticism at the veracity of reports received from Slavic and Jewish sources, combined to influence Whitehall's stand. It opposed reprisals and would not undertake to punish the perpetrators of war crimes. By the summer of 1942, however, London realized that some action had to be taken to mollify the governments-in-exile, particularly the Polish and the Czech. These two, it was feared, might persuade the others to commit themselves to policy decisions inconsistent with Whitehall's views, thereby embarrassing Britain. The Polish and the Czech leaderships had demonstrated that, if need be, they were ready to take unilateral action and go public with their views. Foreign Office officials, who up to now had dominated Britain's policy on the issue, sought a formula that would placate the exiled governments but, at the same time, exempt Britain from taking unambivalent actions to punish war criminals. For its part, Washington was keeping a low profile on the matter, taking advantage of its equivocal neutrality; as we saw, Roosevelt's statement in October 1941 reflected neither an established stand on the treatment of war criminals nor any concrete intentions. For the first few months after the United States joined the fighting, this aspect of the war received but meager attention in Washington.

Copyright © 1998 The University of North Carolina Press. All rights reserved.

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