The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

Fifty-Eighth Day: Wednesday, February 13, 1946
(Part 3 of 19)

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 instructions:

"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 plans.

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 excerpt:
"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

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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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