The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

Fifty-Fourth Day: Friday, 8th February, 1946
(Part2 of 22)



For a number of decades, nations interested in strengthening the cause of peace were proclaiming and advocating the idea that aggression is the gravest encroachment on the peaceful relations between nations, a most serious international crime. These hopes and demands on the part of nations found their expression in a series of acts and documents which officially recognised aggression as an international crime.

On 27th August, 1928, the Briand-Kellogg Pact was signed in Paris. "Persuaded," proclaimed the agreement, "that the time has come when a frank renunciation of war as an instrument of national policy should be made... Convinced that all changes in their relations with one another should be sought only by pacific means...the High Contracting Parties solemnly declare in

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the names of their respective peoples that they condemn recourse to war for the solution of international controversies, and renounce it as an instrument of national policy in their relations with one another."

In 1929, a year after the signing of the Paris Pact, at the Congress of the International Association of Criminal Law at Bucharest, a resolution was passed which squarely raised the question of criminal responsibility for aggression. "Whereas war has been outlawed by the Paris Pact of 1928, and acknowledging the necessity of securing international order and harmony by means of effective sanctions..." the Congress considered imperative "the establishment of an international penal judicial system" as well as of the principle of criminal responsibility of States and single individuals for acts of aggression.

Thus, long ago was proclaimed the principle of penal responsibility for criminal aggression, the principle which found its clear legal expression in sub-paragraph (a) of Article 6 of the Charter of the International Military Tribunal.

Consequently, the Fascist aggressors, the defendants, knew that by their predatory attacks on other countries they committed the gravest crimes against peace. They knew it, and they know it now, and that is the reason why they attempted and are now attempting to camouflage their criminal aggression with lies about defence.

Furthermore, it has been repeatedly and authoritatively declared that violations of laws and customs of war established by international conventions must entail criminal responsibility.

In this connection, it is necessary to note that the gravest outrages in violation of laws and customs of war committed by the Hitlerites -- murder, violence, arson, and plunder -- are considered punishable criminal acts by all criminal codes throughout the world. Moreover, the international conventions signed especially for the purpose of establishing laws and rules of war, stipulate criminal responsibility for violation of these laws and rules. Thus Article 56 of the Hague Convention in 1907 declares:

"The property of municipalities, of institutions dedicated to religion, charity and education, the arts, and sciences, even when State property, shall be treated as private property. All seizure of, destruction or willful damage done to institutions of this character, historic monuments, works of art and science, is forbidden, and shall be made the subject of legal proceedings."
Thus, the Hague Convention not only forbids the violation of rules of war, but also stipulates that these violations "should be made the subject of legal proceedings", i.e., must entail criminal responsibility.

Article 29 of the 1929 Geneva Convention states with still greater precision that "The Governments of the High Contracting Parties whose penal laws may not be adequate shall likewise take or recommend to their legislatures the necessary measures to repress in time of war all acts in contravention of the provisions of the present convention."

Finally, the principle of criminal responsibility for all acts in violation of the laws and customs of war is expressed with the utmost precision in Article 3 of the provisions of the "Washington Conference for the Reduction of Armaments and for the Pacific and Far Eastern Problems," which states that:

"The Contracting Powers, wishing to ensure the execution of promulgated laws...declare that any person in the service of any Power who violates one of these rules, and independently of the fact whether he is subordinated to an official personality or not, will be considered a transgressor of the laws of war and will be liable to be tried by civilian or military authorities."
Consequently, according to the directives of the Hague and Geneva Conventions, and according to the provisions of the Washington Conference, the

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enforcing of criminal responsibility for the violation of the laws and customs of war is not only possible, but is actually compulsory.

Thus, sub-paragraph "B" of Article 6 of the Charter of the International Military Tribunal, concerning war crimes, defined with greater precision and generalised the principles and rules contained in the international conventions previously signed.

The defendants knew that cynical mockery of the laws and customs of war constituted the gravest of crimes. They knew it, but they hoped that total war, by securing victory, would also secure their impunity. But victory did not arrive on the heels of the crimes. Instead came the complete and unconditional surrender of Germany, and with it came an hour of grim reckoning for all the outrages they had committed.

I myself, speaking on behalf of the Soviet Union and my honored colleagues, the Chief Prosecutors of the United States of America, England, and France, we all accuse the defendants of having ruled over the entire German State and war machine through a criminal conspiracy, and of turning the machinery of the German State into a mechanism for the preparation and prosecution of criminal aggression, into a mechanism for the extermination of millions of innocent people.

When several criminals conspire to commit a murder, every one of them plays a definite part. One works out the plan of murder, another waits in the car, and the third actually fires at the victim. But whatever may be the part played by any individual participant, they all are murderers, and any court of law in any country will reject any attempts to assert that the first two should not be considered murderers, since they themselves had not fired the bullet.

The more complicated and hazardous the conceived crime, the more complicated and less tangible the links connecting the individual participants. When a gang of bandits commits an assault, responsibility for the raid is also shared by those members of the gang who did not actually take part in the assault. But when the size of the gang attains extraordinary proportions, when the gang happens to be at the helm of the ship of State, when the gang commits numerous and very grave international crimes, then, of course, the ties and mutual relations among the members of the gang become entangled to the utmost. A highly ramified mechanism is here at work. It consisted of a whole system of links and blocks, (Zellenleiter, Blockleiter, Gauleiter, Reichsleiter, etc.), extending from ministerial chairs to the hands of the executioners.

This is a consolidated and powerful mechanism, yet it is powerless to conceal the basic and decisive fact that at the core of the entire system operated a gang of conspirators who were setting in motion the whole organisation which they had created.

When entire regions of flourishing countryside were turned into desert areas, and the soil was drenched with the blood of those executed, it was the work of their hands, of their organisation, their instigation, their leadership. And just because the masses of the German people were made to participate in these outrages, because, prior to setting packs of dogs and executioners on millions of innocent people, the defendants for years had poisoned the conscience and the mind of an entire generation of Germans by developing in them the conceit of "the chosen," the morals of cannibals, and the greed of burglars, can it be said that the guilt of the Hitlerite conspirators is any less great or any less grave?

Expressing the will of nations, the Charter of the International Military Tribunal has settled this question: "Leaders, organisers, instigators and accomplices participating in the formulation or execution of a Common Plan or Conspiracy to commit any of the foregoing crimes are responsible for all acts performed by any person in execution of such plan." (Article 6 of the Charter.)

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