The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

Murder And Ill-Treatment
Of Prisoners Of War
(Part 1 of 2)

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Article 6 (b) of the Charter defines war crimes in these words:

"War crimes: namely, violations of the laws or customs of war. Such violations shall include, but not be limited to, murder, ill-treatment or deportation to slave labor or for any other purpose of civilian population of or in occupied territory, murder or ill-treatment of prisoners of war or persons on the seas, killing of hostages, plunder of public or private property, wanton destruction of cities, towns, or villages, or devastation not justified by military necessity."

In the course of the war, many Allied soldiers who had surrendered to the Germans were shot immediately, often as a matter of deliberate, calculated policy. On the 18th October, 1942, the Defendant Keitel circulated a directive authorised by Hitler, which ordered that all members of Allied "Commando" units, often when in uniform and whether armed or not, were to be "slaughtered to the last man" even if they attempted to surrender. It was further provided that if such Allied troops came into the hands of the military authorities after being first captured by the local police, or in any other way they should be handed over immediately to the SD. This order was supplemented from time to time, and was effective throughout the remainder of the war, although after the Allied landings in Normandy in 1944 it was made clear that the order did not apply to "Commandos" captured within the immediate battle area. Under the provisions of this order, Allied "Commando" troops, and other military units operating independently, lost their lives in Norway, France, Czechoslovakia, and Italy. Many of them were killed on the spot, and in no case were those who were executed later in concentration camps ever given a trial of any kind. For example, an American military mission which landed behind the German front in the Balkans in January, 1945, numbering about twelve to fifteen men and wearing uniform, were taken to Mauthausen under the authority of this order, and according to the affidavit of Adolf Zutte [sic] the adjutant of the Mauthausen Concentration Camp, all of them were shot.

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In March, 1944, the OKH issued the "Kugel" or "Bullet" decree, which directed that every escaped officer and NCO prisoner of war who had not been put to work, with the exception of British and American prisoners of war, should on recapture be handed over to the SIPO and SD. This order was distributed by the SIPO and SD to their regional offices. These escaped officers and NCO's were to be sent to the concentration camp at Mauthausen, to be executed upon arrival, by means of a bullet shot in the neck.

In March, 1944, fifty officers of the British Royal Air Force, who escaped from the camp at Sagan where they were confined as prisoners, were shot on recapture, on the direct orders of Hitler. Their bodies were immediately cremated, and the urns containing their ashes were returned to the camp. It was not contended by the defendants that this was other than plain murder, in complete violation of international law.

When Allied airmen were forced to land in Germany, they were sometimes killed at once by the civilian population. The police were instructed not to interfere with these killings, and the Ministry of Justice was informed that no one should be prosecuted for taking part in them.

The treatment of Soviet prisoners of war was characterized by particular inhumanity. The death of so many of them was not due merely to the action of individual guards, or to the exigencies of life in the camps. It was the result of systematic plans to murder. More than a month before the German invasion of the Soviet Union, the OKW were making special plans for dealing with political representatives serving with the Soviet Armed Forces who might be captured. One proposal was that "political Commissars of the Army are not recognized as Prisoners of War, and are to be liquidated at the latest in the transient prisoner of war camps." The Defendant Keitel gave evidence that instructions incorporating this proposal were issued to the German Army.

On the 8th September, 1941, regulations for the treatment of Soviet prisoners of war in all prisoner of war camps were issued, signed by General Reinecke, the head of the prisoner of war department of the High Command. Those orders stated:

"The Bolshevist soldier has therefore lost all claim to treatment as an honorable opponent, in accordance with the Geneva Convention .... The order for ruthless and energetic action must be given at the slightest indication of insubordination, especially in the case of Bolshevist fanatics. Insubordination, active or passive resistance, must be broken immediately by force of arms (bayonets, butts, and firearms) .... Anyone carrying out the order who does not use his weapons, or does so with insufficient energy, is punishable .... Prisoners of war attempting escape are to be fired on without previous challenge. No warning shot must ever be fired .... The use of arms against prisoners of war is as a rule legal."

The Soviet prisoners of war were left without suitable clothing the wounded without medical care; they were starved, and in many cases left to die.

On the 17th July, 1941, the Gestapo issued an order providing for the killing of all Soviet prisoners of war who were or might be dangerous to National Socialism. The order recited:

"The mission of the Commanders of the SIPO and SD stationed in Stalags is the political investigation of all camp inmates, the elimination and further 'treatment' (a) of all political, criminal, or in some other way unbearable elements among them, (b) of those persons who could be used for the reconstruction of the occupied territories .... Further, the commanders must make efforts from

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the beginning to seek out among the prisoners elements which appear reliable, regardless of whether there are Communists concerned or not, in order to use them for intelligence purposes inside of the camp, and if advisable, later in the occupied territories also. By use of such informers, and by use of all other existing possibilities, the discovery of all elements to be eliminated among the prisoners must proceed step by step at once .."

"Above all, the following must be discovered: all important functionaries of State and Party, especially professional revolutionaries ..all People's Commissars in the Red Army, leading personalities of the State ..leading personalities of the business world, members of the Soviet Russian Intelligence, all Jews, all persons who are found to be agitators or fanatical Communists. Executions are not to be held in the camp or in the immediate vicinity of the camp .... The prisoners are to be taken for special treatment if possible into the former Soviet Russian territory."

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