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 "carriers."

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.

Blowback - CSimpson

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