Slaughter on the Eastern Front
excerpted from the book
America's recruitment of Nazis,
and its disastrous effect on our domestic and foreign policy
by Christopher Simpson
Collier / Macmillan, 1988
Crimes against humanity, " states the Allied Control Council
Law No. 10 of 1945, are "atrocities and offenses, including
but not limited to murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation,
imprisonment, torture, rape, or other inhuman acts committed against
any civilian population, or persecutions on political, racial
or religious grounds...."
This statute, together with earlier joint declarations by
Allied governments concerning war crimes, became the formal foundation
upon which the Nazis and their collaborators were tried after
World War II. The Control Council law as written is comprehensive.
It also includes prohibition of war crimes-including murder or
deportation of civilian populations by occupying armies, plunder,
killing of POWs or hostages, wanton destruction of cities or towns,
etc.-and crimes against peace, meaning the launching of an invasion
or waging an aggressive war in violation of treaties. Punishment
for those convicted under the law range from deprivation of civil
rights to the death penalty, depending upon the circumstances
of the crime.'
While this declaration prohibits specific acts by individuals,
it also implicitly acknowledges that the genocide and slavery
perpetrated by Nazi Germany required a high degree of coordination.
Criminal culpability explicitly extends to the administrative
apparatus of the SS, to the Nazi party, and to the chiefs of German
industry that profited from concentration camp labor. It includes
pro-Fascist newspaper publishers who promoted racial hatred in
the pages of their publications and the senior officers of Axis
ministries and local governments that carried through the day-to-day
business of mass murder and persecution.
This text uses the term war crimes to refer to those activities
banned by Allied Control Council Law No. 10, such as murder, torture,
deportation, or persecution on the basis of race or religion.
A "war criminal," logically, is one who has committed
those crimes. But as is well known, many persons directly responsible
for the Holocaust against the Jews, the mass murder by starvation
of millions of Soviet prisoners of war, and other atrocities have
escaped and never been tried for their deeds. Therefore, any serious
discussion of who can properly be called a "war criminal"
must of necessity consider all the historical evidence of what
took place during the war and the Holocaust-not just the relatively
small number of cases that were formally tried before the International
Tribunal at Nuremberg or other courts. The term war criminal,
as used here, is narrowly defined, but it goes beyond simply those
persons who have been convicted in a court of law. It applies
to the responsible officials of the political parties, police
organizations, or wartime Axis governments whose records of terror,
extermination, and anti-Semitism are beyond dispute; to the individuals
who voluntarily participated in genocide or mass murders; and,
in a small number of cases, to propagandists or publicists who
actively promoted persecution on the basis of race or religion.
To understand how certain people ... escaped punishment for
their crimes, it is necessary to look briefly at one of the most
prominent features of the Nazi political philosophy: extreme anticommunism
and particularly fanatic hatred of the USSR.
The slaughter that followed the German attack on the Soviet
Union in June 1941 is without equal in world history. Next to
the Nazis' operation of the anti-Jewish extermination centers
at Treblinka, Sobibor, Birkenau, and elsewhere, the most terrible
crimes of the entire war took place in name of anticommunism in
the German-occupied territories on the eastern front. Civilian
casualties in these areas were so enormous, so continuous, and
so extreme that even counting the dead has proved impossible.
Scholars have attempted to deduce the numbers of fatalities from
captured German records, reports of Einsatzgruppen (mobile execution
squads), prisoner of war (POW) camp mortality reports, and Soviet
census statistics. The evidence indicates that between 3 and 4
million captured Soviet soldiers were intentionally starved to
death in German POW camps between 1941 and 1944. About 1.3 million
Jews were exterminated inside Nazi-occupied Soviet territory,
mainly through mass shootings but also through gassing, deportation
to extermination camps, looting and destruction of villages, hangings,
and torture. The generally accepted figure for all Soviet war
dead is 20 million human beings-about 15 percent of the population
of the country at the time-but the destruction was so vast that
even this number can be only an educated guess.
The Nazis deliberately used famine as a political weapon in
the East, and it soon became the largest single killer. As the
German invasion of the USSR began, General (later Field Marshal)
Erich von Manstein ordered that "the Jewish-Bolshevist system
must be exterminated.... In hostile cities, a large part of the
population will have to starve." Nothing, Manstein continued,
"may, out of a sense of mistaken humaneness, be distributed
to prisoners or to the population-unless they are in the service
of the German Wehrmacht."*
[* Other features of military regulations promulgated by
Manstein on the eve of the war include orders for the immediate
liquidation of all captured Soviet political officers or leaders,
summary executions for civilians who 'participate or want to participate'
in resistance to German troops, and "collective measures
of force", which soon came to mean murder of entire populations
of villages, including children-to punish hamlets in which 'malicious
attacks [against the Wehrmacht] of any kind whatsoever' had taken
place. German soldiers who had committed what would otherwise
be crimes under Germany s own military code were not to be prosecuted
if their acts had taken place "out of bitterness against
. . . carriers of the Jewish-Bolshevik [sic] system.
Manstein later claimed at his trial for war crimes that the
starvation order had escaped my memory entirely. He was convicted
by a British tribunal and sentenced to eighteen years in prison,
but he obtained release in 1952 after serving fewer than three
years of his term. The former field marshal eventually became
an adviser to the West German Defense Ministry.]
This was a war not only of conquest but of extermination.
Entire regions of the USSR were to be cleared of the existing
Communist apparatus and of Slavic "subhumans" to make
way for settlement by "Aryan pioneers." Above all, it
was believed necessary to conduct an ideological war to wipe out
the "Jewish-Bolshevist plague" and those who were its
Hitler's high command carefully planned the extermination campaign
on the eastern front, drawing up directives for mass killings
l and distributing them to Wehrmacht and SS commanders. They established
special SS teams devoted exclusively to mass murder- the Einsatzgruppen
and their subgroups, the Sonderkommandos and Einsatzkommandos-and
set up liaison between the killing teams and the army commanders
at the front to ensure that the killing teams received the necessary
intelligence and logistical support. The SS carefully tabulated
the results of the carnage as it took place, wrote it up, and
sent word back to Berlin. Teams of inspectors and experts (among
them men who were later employed as experts on Soviet affairs
by U.S. intelligence agencies) traveled the eastern front throughout
the war to make sure the exterminations or confiscations of food
from occupied territories were going properly and were being carried
out, as one Einsatzgruppe leader was to testify at Nuremberg,
in a manner which was "humane under the circumstances."
What has since come to be termed "political warfare"-that
is, the use of propaganda, sabotage, and collaborators to undermine
an enemy's will to fight-played an important role in German strategy
from the beginning of the conflict. Specialized Nazi-trained propaganda
and terror teams made up of native collaborators were among the
first units that marched with the German armies across Europe.
The collaborationist troops of the eastern front were ... integral
part of German strategy in the East and deeply involved in Nazi
efforts to exterminate the Jews. The Western powers recognized
this fact during the war. Collaborators captured by Western forces
were treated as prisoners of war, and many were turned over to
the USSR as traitors and suspected war criminals in the first
months after Germany's surrender. The predominant opinion in the
U.S. command at war's end was that it was now up to the USSR to
decide what to do with the Nazis' eastern troops and other traitors,
just as it was up to the Americans to decide what to do with Tokyo
Rose and similar captured defectors from this country.
But a parallel development that would soon have a powerful
impact on how Axis POWs were treated in the West was taking `.
place. There was at the time in American hands another group of
the Axis prisoners, who, unlike the collaborators from the East,
were regarded as quite valuable: scientists who had put their
skills to work for the Nazi cause.
All the major powers considered German scientists part of
the booty of war. The Americans, British, and Soviets each had
established special teams that concentrated on the capture and
preservation of German laboratories, industrial patents, and similar
useful E hardware of the modern age. Scientists were generally
regarded as another technical asset to be appropriated.
The United States and Great Britain jointly created a Combined
Intelligence Objectives Subcommittee (CIOS) to coordinate their
efforts to seize particularly valuable targets. Actual raids were
carried out by subordinate teams designated by a letter, like
the "S Force" (also known as the "Sugar Force"
in cable traffic) in Italy, the "T Force" in France,
Holland, and Germany, and so on. These units had only minimal
armed strength, but they traveled complete with accomplished linguists,
Western scientists, and police specialists who permitted them
to identify rapidly and capture useful experts and materials.
The stakes in the search for the scientific expertise of Germany
were high. The single most important American strike force, for
example, was the Alsos raiding team, which targeted Axis atomic
research, uranium stockpiles, and nuclear scientists, as well
as Nazi chemical and biological warfare research. The commander
of this assignment was U.S. Army Colonel Boris Pash, who had previously
been security chief of the Manhattan Project-the United States'
atomic bomb development program-and who later played an important
role in highly secret U.S. covert action programs. Pash succeeded
brilliantly in his mission, seizing top German scientists and
more than 70,000 tons of Axis uranium ore and radium products.
The uranium taken during these raids was eventually shipped to
the United States and incorporated in U.S. atomic weapons.'
The U.S. government's utilitarian approach to dealing with
German science and scientists, however, proved to be the point
of the wedge that eventually helped split American resolve to
deal harshly with Nazi criminals, including the captured collaborators
who had served on the eastern front. It is clear in hindsight
that the Americans in charge of exploiting German specialists
captured through Alsos and similar programs became pioneers of
the methods later used to bring other Nazis and collaborators
into this country. Equally important, the philosophical concepts
and psychological rationalizations expressed by U.S. officials
in dealing with the German experts were gradually stretched to
cover utilization of almost any anti-Communist, regardless of
what he or she had done during the war.