The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

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Last-Modified: 1997/10/17

COLONEL POKROVSKY: Your Honours, my task today is to present
to you material on the "Criminal Violation of the Laws and
Customs of War in the Treatment of Prisoners of War."

                                                  [Page 301]
Before beginning the presentation of evidence relative to
the overwhelming guilt of the defendants in regard to the
persons who were captured by the German Army, I consider it
essential to make a few brief remarks.

As early as the end of the last century, the Hague
Convention of 1899 established certain rules regulating the
rights and responsibilities of belligerents in regard to
prisoners of war. In pursuance of the provisions of the 1899
Convention, a number of States drew up the necessary
instructions concerning the treatment of prisoners of war. I
would like to cite three or four sentences taken from such

     "The exclusive aim of the military plan is to prevent
     the further participation of prisoners in the war.
     A State may do everything necessary for the holding of
     prisoners, but nothing more.
     Prisoners of war may be employed to perform moderate
     work in conformity with their social position....
     In any case, such work must not be detrimental to
     health and must not be of a humiliating nature. It must
     not contribute directly to military operations against
     the native country of the prisoners.
     Prisoners of war lose their freedom but retain their
     rights. In other words, military confinement is not an
     act of mercy on the part of the captor, but the right
     of disarmed persons."
It may surprise you to learn that the instructions cited are
those issued by the German General Staff in Volume 18 of the
circular published in 1902 by the German General Staff.

The principle of humane treatment of prisoners and wounded
Servicemen was further developed in the Hague Convention of
1907 and the Geneva Convention of 1929.

Germany's adherence to these conventions was definitely
reflected in the German law regarding wartime courts
martial. I have in mind, particularly, the German Law of
17th August, 1938, and, in particular, Section "e",
Paragraphs 73 and 75, which contain direct reference to the
Convention of 1929. That was at a time when Hitlerite
Germany had already begun the execution of her aggressive

As the Tribunal will remember, the 23rd Article of the Hague
Convention of 1907 states,

     "It is forbidden to kill or wound an enemy who, having
     laid down his arms and possessing no means of defence,
     has unconditionally surrendered."
It cannot be said that the brief code of the laws of war,
which was, in fact, drawn up at The Hague and Geneva,
encompassed the whole range of questions relating to those
laws. The authors of these documents had, therefore,
inserted the following proviso; and I will cite this

     "Until the opportunity presents itself of issuing a
     more complete code of the laws of war, the High
     Contracting Parties" -- and I would remind the Tribunal
     that Germany was one of those contracting parties --
     "consider it appropriate to affirm that, in cases not
     provided for in the rules established by them, the
     population and the belligerents remain safeguarded by
     the principles of International Law in so far as these
     principles ensue from the customs, laws of humanity and
     dictates of public conscience in force between
     civilized nations."
I should like to emphasise that in the appendix to the
Convention on the Laws and Customs of Land War -- Second
Peace Conference, 190 --Article 4 of Chapter 2, concerning
prisoners of war, states as follows; and you, Sir, will

                                                  [Page 302]
find the quotation on Page 4 of the document book, where it
is underlined with red pencil:

     "Prisoners of war remain in the custody of the enemy
     State and not of the individuals or troops which had
     captured them.
     They must be treated humanely.
     All their personal belongings except arms, horses, and
     military papers, will remain in their possession."
It may, therefore, be considered definitely established that
the Governments of a number of States, including Germany,
had unconditionally recognized their obligations to insure
conditions under which prisoners of war should not suffer
from arbitrary actions on the part of members of the Armed
Forces of any State.

The natural conclusion presents itself that, in cases of
violations of this obligation, the responsibility for any
crime against a prisoner of war, and especially for a
definite system of crimes against the dignity, person,
health and life of prisoners of war, must fall on the
Government of the country which had signed the Convention.

In the light of the facts which I shall submit to you, on
the basis of irrefutable documents, Germany's solemn
undertakings in regard to prisoners of war will appear to be
nothing but unparalleled and cynical mockery of the very
conception of treaties, laws, culture and humanity.

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