Published Date

August 1, 1944

Resource Type

GI Roundtable Series, Primary Source

From GI Roundtable 11: What Shall Be Done with the War Criminals? (1944) 

The vast majority of war criminals will be dealt with as prescribed in the Moscow agreement; that is, they will be returned to the scenes of their crimes for trial and punishment by local courts and under local laws. If the legal system of the prosecuting state so provides, some enemy offenders may be tried in ordinary criminal courts for violating the domestic penal laws. But most of them will probably come before military tribunals for violation of the laws and customs of warfare. The recent trial at Kharkov, in which three German officers and a Russian traitor were convicted by a Soviet military court and hanged for atrocities, is an example of how war criminals of this class will be dealt with.

Since there has been no opportunity for the commission of Nazi or Fascist war crimes on American territory, there will presumably be no call that Germans, Italians, or other Axis nationals be “returned to the scene of their crimes” for trial in American courts. However, under the principle of the Moscow Statement, the United States will have a hand in the trial and punishment of Japanese war criminals whose offenses took place in Wake, Guam, the Philippine Islands, the Aleutians, and other Pacific areas.

There will also be charges of war crimes committed against Americans on European and Asiatic battle fronts. While the Moscow Statement does not make clear what will be done about such offenses, the United States will be entitled to have the deciding voice in the disposition of the accused. By the same token, once having participated in the joint United Nations determination of who are the war criminals, and having helped in the distribution of the accused among the various victimized countries, the United States will have no voice in how those countries apply their own laws and legal procedures.

As we have seen, many atrocities have already been investigated and the accused listed by governmental commission and by the United Nations Commission for the Investigation of War Crimes, which has been sitting in London since the middle of 1943.

The Soviet government has set up numerous commissions to collect evidence of atrocities in recaptured parts of the USSR. These have already drawn up detailed accusations. The following is typical, covering the chief instigators of crimes as well as the soldiers who allegedly carried them out. “For the crimes committed in the city of Orel and the Orel Region; for the mass murders of guiltless peaceful residents; for the murders and tortures of wounded and sick war prisoners; for the plundering and abducting of Soviet citizens to German slavery; for the destruction of collective farms, villages and towns; for the looting of the properties of State, cooperative and public institutions—the Extraordinary State Committee holds responsible the commander of the Second German Tank Army, General Schmidt; the commander of the Orel administrative area and military commandant of the city, Major General Hamann, and also the direct executors of these monstrous crimes:

The chief of the Orel camp for war prisoners, Major Hofmann; the assistant chief of the Orel war prisoners’ camp, Captain Matern, the garrison doctor Ehrlich, the, German doctor Schirmann; the German doctor at the war prisoners’ camp, Kuper; chief of the ‘labor exchange’ Lowe … ; chief of the economic kommandatur Schmidt, chief of the camp of the `labor exchange’ Loch, Sergeant Majors Winkler, Stricke and Scholz and Corporal Diel. All of them must bear severe punishment for the monstrous crimes they have committed against the Soviet people during the temporary occupation by the German-fascist troops of the city of Orel and the Orel Region.—Soviet War Documents, pp. 185–186

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