The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

Fifty-Fourth Day: Friday, 8th February, 1946
(Part 1 of 22)

[Page 165]

THE PRESIDENT: I call on General Rudenko for the Soviet Union.

GENERAL RUDENKO: May it please Your Honours, on delivering my opening statement, the last to be made at this Trial by the Chief Prosecutors, I am fully conscious of the supreme historical importance of these proceedings.

For the first time in the history of mankind is justice confronted with crimes committed on so vast a scale, with crimes which have entailed such grave consequences.

It is for the first time that criminals appear before a court of justice, who have seized an entire State and made this State an instrument of their monstrous crimes.

It is also for the first time that, by judging these defendants, we sit in judgment not only on the defendants themselves, but also on the criminal institutions and organisations which they created, and on the inhuman "theories" and "ideas" which they promulgated with a view to committing Crimes against Peace and Humanity, crimes which were designed by them far in advance of their perpetration.

Nine months ago, after having tortured for a number of years of bloody warfare the freedom-loving nations of Europe, Hitlerite Germany collapsed under the hammer blows of the combined armed forces of the Anglo-Soviet-American coalition. On 8th May, 1945, Hitlerite Germany was compelled to lay down its arms, having suffered a military and political defeat hitherto unequalled in history.

Hitlerism imposed upon the world a war which caused the freedom-loving nations innumerable privations and endless sufferings. Millions of people fell, victims of the war initiated by the Hitlerite brigands, who embarked on a dream of conquering the free peoples of the democratic countries and of establishing the rule of Hitlerite tyranny in Europe and in the entire world.

The day has come when the peoples of the world demand a just retribution and a severe punishment of the Hitlerite hangmen; when they demand severe punishment of the criminals. All the outrages individually or jointly committed by the major Hitlerite war criminals, all together and each one individually, shall be considered by you, your Honours, with all the thoroughness and attention which the law, the Charter of the International Military Tribunal, justice and our conscience require.

We charge the defendants with the initiation, instigation and direct execution, individually and through their agents, of the criminal Plan or Conspiracy. To the execution of this plan was committed the entire machinery of the Hitlerite State, with all its governmental agencies and institutions, with its Army, its police, and its so-called public agencies, as set out in the Indictment and particularly in Appendix B.

Before entering upon the examination of the concrete events and facts, which lie at the foundation of the charges raised against the defendants, I think it necessary to dwell on certain general legal questions connected with the proceedings. This is indispensable, because the present trial is the first one in history where justice is being done by an agency of an international

[Page 166]

legal system -- the International Military Tribunal. This also becomes necessary, since special consideration was given to questions of law in both the written and oral motions made before the Tribunal.

The first and the most general legal problem which, in my opinion, has to be considered by the Tribunal is the problem of legality. Contrary to the system of Fascist tyranny and arbitrary Fascist practices, the great democracies which have established this Tribunal, as well as all democracies throughout the world, exist and act on a firm legal basis. But neither the positive law nor the concept of law can be identical in the national and in the international meaning of these terms. "Lex" in the meaning of National Law is an act of legislative power of a State, clothed in a proper form. In the meaning of International Law it is different. In the international field there never existed, nor do there now exist, any legislative bodies which are competent to pass laws which are binding on individual States. The legal system of international relations, which include those relations which are manifested in the co-ordinated effort to combat criminality, is based on different legal principles. In the international field the basic source of law and the only legislative act is a treaty, an agreement between States. Accordingly, in the same way as duly promulgated laws, passed by legislative bodies and properly published, are an absolute and sufficient legal basis for the administration of national justice, so in the international field an international treaty is an absolute and sufficient legal basis for the implementation and the activity of agencies of international justice created by the signatories.

The International Military Tribunal was established for the trial and punishment of major war criminals on the basis of the London Agreement, dated 8th August, 1945, signed by the four countries acting in the interests of all freedom-loving nations. Being an integral part of this agreement, the Charter of the International Military Tribunal is to be considered an unquestionable and sufficient legislative act, defining and determining the basis and the procedure for the trial and punishment of major war criminals. Provoked by fear of responsibility or, at best, by insufficient knowledge of the organic nature of international justice, the references to the principle "nullum crimen sine lege" or to the principle that "a statute cannot have retroactive power," are not applicable because of the following fundamental, decisive fact: The Charter of the Tribunal is in force and in operation and all its provisions possess absolute and binding force.

Pursuant to Article 6 of the Charter, the defendants are charged with Crimes against Peace, Crimes committed in Violation of Rules and Customs of War and Crimes against Humanity. We must state with great satisfaction that, in placing on such actions the stigma of criminality, the Charter of the Tribunal has reduced to rules of law those international principles and ideas which for many years were set forth in the defence of law and justice in the field of international relations.

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