- Stephen R A'Barrow
Clearly not enough people were put on trail at Nuremberg after the Second World War. Not enough of the hierarchy, the middle men or the perpetrators lower down the genocidal machinery. Too many were allowed to slip the net. But why were the few remaining leaders of Nazi Germany tried in Nuremburg and not the Hague? The laws governing war and the treatment of civilian populations were established at the Hague in 1899 and were refined and extended in 1907. The answer is simple, the victorious powers had allied themselves to a monster in Stalin and were not short on having committed a long list of atrocities of their own which breached a raft of the Hague conventions right through articles 45-56 for which they could not try the Nazi hierarchy for without also condemning themselves.
Whilst it was inevitable that a updated and extended legal framework on the laws governing war, war crimes and crimes against humanity would have had to have been encompassed after the most costly war in human history, the Nuremberg trials represented a very limited form of justice on many fronts. The need for a trial was obvious. The Second World war, unlike the First, had twice as many civilian casualties as military ones and these were not merely the result of collateral damage. All airforces had for example unleashed utterly murderous attacks and had specifically bombed civilian populations of enemy nations as targets for mass slaughter and none more so than the command of the RAF. Bomber Harris was after all known by his own aircrews as `Butcher Harris` (for butchering Germany's cities) and the RAF made no secret even when occasionally dropping leaflets rather than bombs on German civilians of telling them of their avowed aim of 'terrorising' them.
The three great ironies of the entire Nuremberg process remain firstly that no system of justice anywhere at anytime can claim to be offering even the semblance of impartial justice in a system where the accuser is also the judge. Secondly you can't start a process of justice where the first act has those sitting in judgement giving themselves a general amnesty from prosecution. Thirdly you can't make up the frame of reference on the hoof and on the one hand blank the abundantly obvious war crimes of Allied airforces, or the Soviets being co-conspirators in the invasion and ethnic cleansing of Poland by simply leaving these out of the proceedings. Not least when those sitting in judgement were simultaneously perpetrating or acquiescing in the perpetration of among the largest and most barbarous exercises in ethnic cleansing in European history, when over 30 million Europeans were ethnically cleansed from their homelands in the rush to redraw Europe's borders. The true cost of the millions who died as part of this ‘exodus’ is still being calculated.
Crimes committed in heat of battle are on thing. Those committed in the name of justice after the fact and upon civilian communities in a vast swathe from Western Boheima to the far reaches of the eastern Baltic and beyond are quite another. Crimes in Bohemia and Moravia (the Czech Republic) only began on 8 May 1945, after Nazi Germany's capitulation. The so called 'Wild Expulsions' continued until October 1945 but a murderous regime continued a root and branch exercise in ethnically cleansing Germans, Hungarians and even Jews who survived the concentration camps until 1948; a process which killed anywhere from 40,000 to 270,000 civilians across Czechoslovakia alone.
The murderous rampage of the Red Army which raped and butchered its way across Europe, in the process deporting millions to slave labour camps in Siberia and Kazakhstan, affected the populations of eastern Poland, the Baltic states, Romania, Hungary and Germany. An unprecedented ethnic reordering of Europe that started in 1939 but continued until 1951 and whose bitter legacy has lasted into the present.
There are still unfortunately far too many apologists for Stalin's crimes and those of the puppet regimes he established. And some of the criminal legal frameworks that underpinned the atrocities that followed the end of the war are still on the statute books in countries that are members of the European Union. Over 70 years on they need to be systematically taken to task for their obfuscations, denials and excuses.
To read more on the murderous consequences for Europe but for Germany in particular read my new book Death of a Nation out on 8th May.