Shylock as Judge, by Heinrich Haertle — part 6

Stalin knew that he was not in a position to make the kinds of accusations that were made at the post-war International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg. The British and French also had misgivings about how such a trial might turn out, but Washington insisted.

Stalin’s Worry

From Freispruch für Deutschland by Heinrich Haertle
Translated by Hadding Scott, 2015

There are obvious reasons for Stalin’s distrust of a legalistically structured mammoth process. If, by chance, the counsel for the defense reviewed the defensive war of the tiny Soviet Union against gigantic Finland, the Western judges could find themselves in a dilemma. Stalin also knows what his democratic confederates still do not know, that he was not entirely uninvolved in the preparation for the war against Poland, that he had already made a treaty to secure Polish booty for himself in advance, in case of German victory. Also, not everyone could have forgotten that he had delivered the coup de grâce to Poland’s back as it collapsed. Could it be concealed in such a trial that Stalin had undertaken peaceful plundering-raids in Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and southeastern Europe, and had removed entire population-groups? Now he had attacked the Japanese, still in their death-throes, to whom he was obligated by a non-aggression pact.

Stalin had reasons upon reasons to regard these legalistic zealots with distrust.

Indeed his Western accomplices were also initially far from being so unanimous as it might later seem. At the beginning of 1945 Roosevelt, apparently recalling his babblings in Teheran, sent to London a prominent member of his “Brain Trust,” Mr. Rosenman, to talk Churchill out of his earlier scruples and to clear the way for the punishment of all German political and military leaders. In his memoirs Rosenman reports that the English would have accepted the plan to shoot leading personages of the Third Reich without trial, but they opposed a public trial because they feared that such an affair could turn into a powerful sounding-board for a reawakening National-Socialist propaganda.

In response to Rosenman’s mission to London, on 23 April 1945 Sir Cadogan handed to him a memorandum of the English government stating that the procedure that Rosenman had suggested would necessarily generate the impression of a rigged game in which the Allies intended only to ratify a decision already made.

Attacking the pre-war policy of the German leadership seemed especially worrisome to the English. Even Germany’s military actions were not war-crimes in the usual sense. It is not at all certain “whether according to the Law of Nations they can be regarded as crimes.”

France had treated the Great German Reich as legitimate and equal, not only at “Munich” but before and after, and until the beginning of the war. Was it possible that men with whom one had dealt diplomatically for years, and whom one had acknowledged as European partners, could then be treated as bandits whose criminal intentions were already known 20 years earlier?

Such concerns oppressed the English even more strongly. Had they not a few years earlier completed the Anglo-German Naval Agreement with the current universal enemy of all humanity and democracy, and recognized de jure and de facto the National-Socialist state and its rearmament? Had not Chamberlain dealt with that “bloodhound” on equal terms, and come to an agreement in a friendly tête à tête with him for “peace in our time”? Did anyone still remember the words of praise from Lloyd George and from Churchill, for Hitler as the Savior of Germany, and as the Defender of the West against the global Communist menace? In Paris and London there is agreement only about this insurmountable discomfort.

Then Churchill’s dapper foreign minister, Anthony Eden, has one of his rare inspirations; he finds an elegant way out: the “war-criminals” on the German side should not be immediately shot, nor judged by a lengthy legal process; rather, like Napoleon before them, they should be banished to some godforsaken island. There they could no longer be dangerous, and the need to stage such a problematic mass-murder, or mass-trial, would be obviated.

But, as in their conduct of the war, so too in the treatment of “war-criminals,” France and England had not been independent for a very long time. It was made unmistakably clear to these satellites that Washington would insist on a trial. And almost simultaneously Stalin fired a torpedo in London’s direction. On 19 May 1945, Radio Moscow’s agitator Yermashev screamed at the Western World:

“One should finally stand them against a wall and shoot them!”

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