The suppressed History of Crimes committed on German soldiers in WWII. Part II

Published: 2012-03-29

By Wilfried Heink

The next chapter is by Prof. Dr. Fritz Münch, titled: Zum Recht der Kriegsgefangenschaft (The Rights of Prisoners of War).

The author tells us that existing law concerning POWs is relatively new, going into some detail regarding the Hague Rules of Warfare and the Geneva Convention. He also states that during WWII all of the belligerent parties were signatories to those agreements, except for the Soviet Union (SU). The Communist/Bolshevik regime of the SU considered all agreements signed by the Czarist government null and void, but the overwhelming majority of public opinion assumed that the SU would honor those agreements, since they had become part of international law (p. 15ff). The book under discussion proves this wrong; also, there is no such thing as “International Law,” only agreements between states.

On p. 18 Münch begins addressing the real issue, the partisan problem, which has now moved increasingly into the background: the intent is to depict German soldiers as indiscriminate murderers, who killed at will for no reason and combed the vastness of Russian territory in search of Jews to exterminate them. But the partisans were real and the subject of illegal combatants and legality of reprisal is part of the subject here; the book provides ample material regarding partisan activity, but first a little about the emergence of the partisan problem.

Münch writes that the partisan problem arose for the first time in 1899, at this time only effecting Belgium and Switzerland. A compromise was reached, allowing for the populace to organize and fight the approaching enemy, but that – when the territory was occupied – civilians had to cease fighting. This never solved the problem, so later an attempt was made to establish rules concerning the difference between legal and illegal combatants, which is addressed in some detail later. This early imprecise interpretation led to misunderstandings already in WWI. The author continues by writing that it is impossible to provide sufficient care for POWs as stipulated by the Hague Rules: “63. In the absence of a special agreement between the belligerents, prisoners of war shall be treated, as regards board, lodging, and clothing, on the same footing as the troops of the Government that captured them” when whole armies are captured, as has been shown during and after WWII. He then summarizes the shortcomings during the German POW trials, the IMT et al:

-  treatment of prisoners as criminals without providing evidence that the Rules of Warfare were violated.

-  discarding the Rules of War by asserting that Germany as a state has ceased to exist.

And finally, failure to discharge prisoners of war after hostilities ceased and employment of these prisoners in dangerous jobs.

Münch then refers to the “Geneva Convention relative to the ‘Treatment of Prisoners of War’” of 1949, enforced on October 21, 1950, in which some of the issues were addressed, retroactively. He quotes from Article 84, which states:

A prisoner of war shall be tried only by a military court, unless the existing laws of the Detaining Power expressly permit the civil courts to try a member of the armed forces of the Detaining Power in respect of the particular offence alleged to have been committed by the prisoner of war.

In no circumstances whatever shall a prisoner of war be tried by a court of any kind which does not offer the essential guarantees of independence and impartiality as generally recognized, and, in particular, the procedure of which does not afford the accused the rights and means of defence provided for in Article 105.”

And Article 99, the first paragraph:

No prisoner of war may be tried or sentenced for an act which is not forbidden by the law of the Detaining Power or by international law, in force at the time the said act was committed.”

Anyone even vaguely familiar with proceedings of the “International Military Tribunal” (IMT) at Nuremberg in 1945-46 will have to ask: why now; why were the German military personnel accused of all sorts of crimes not explicitly declared illegal by German laws and not addressed in detail by international agreements, termed “International Law”? After all, what was agreed upon in 1949 did not exist in WWII, as the laws used to convict Germans were written in London after the fact. Article 99 is notable: it forbids the sentencing of POWs based on ex post facto law (written after the fact; p. 21) And that is exactly what happened at Nuremberg, as addressed later on.

We then learn that a Stockholm Institute determined that from 1945 to 1969 - 90 international conflicts occurred, the number of victims allegedly equal to that of WWII. Eugene Davidson writes much the same in his The Nuremberg Fallacies, making a mockery of what Justice Jackson – and I am having a real problem with the word 'justice' before Jackson's name – wrote on June 7, 1945 in his letter to the President:

In arranging these trials we must also bear in mind the aspirations with which our people have faced the sacrifices of war. After we entered the war, and as we expended our men and our wealth to stamp out these wrongs, it was the universal feeling of our people that out of this war should come unmistakable rules and workable machinery from which any who might contemplate another era of brigandage would know that they would be held personally responsible and would be personally punished. Our people have been waiting for these trials in the spirit of Woodrow Wilson, who hoped to "give to international law the kind of vitality which it can only have if it is a real expression of our moral judgment."

No other trial took place as a result of the wars mentioned above; no one was punished for crimes committed as the Germans were, and that even with agreements now in existence. Also, morally is not now – or has it ever been – a part of the criminal justice system, it is only the letter of the law that counts.

Münch closes his essay by stating that it would have been best, since no explicit “international” laws existed during WWII, for each country to try their own soldiers based on lex loci, the law of the land, instead of applying law written after the fact and covering up the crimes committed by the victorious powers. But, as shown above by the IMT president’s statement concerning the one-sidedness of proceedings, the intent was not to administer justice at the IMT, or the follow up trials, but to convict the Germans.

Not much needs to be added to this: victors’ 'justice' at its finest, vae victis indeed.

About the (now nonexistent) Partisans.

Before continuing with the book review, some general comments on the partisans – the underlying issue. For it was the reprisals by the Germans, including the actions of the EG, (Einsatzgruppen; rapid response units) – formed by the Germans to combat partisans – which were declared to be war crimes by the IMT judges, the measures taken considered to be in breach of “international law”. The judges ignored the partisans almost completely, and consequently the counter-measures taken by the Germans to fight the partisans are now considered to be almost exclusively ‘Jew killing’ actions. It is beyond the scope of this work to address this nonsense about a few thousand German soldiers scouring the vast Russian landscape on the lookout for Jews, – none of the alleged ‘dozens of mass graves’ have ever been discovered – this is to show that partisans were a huge problem, a war deciding issue, and that reprisals by the Germans were justified, though largely ineffective.

To the definition of combatants as per the: “Convention (IV) respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land and its annex: Regulations concerning the Laws and Customs of War on Land. The Hague, 18 October 1907”, in force at that time:

The qualifications of belligerents
Article 1. The laws, rights, and duties of war apply not only to armies, but also to militia and volunteer
corps fulfilling the following conditions:
1. To be commanded by a person responsible for his subordinates;
2. To have a fixed distinctive emblem recognizable at a distance;
3. To carry arms openly; and
4. To conduct their operations in accordance with the laws and customs of war.
In countries where militia or volunteer corps constitute the army, or form part of it, they are included under the denomination "army."
Art. 2. The inhabitants of a territory which has not been occupied, who, on the approach of the enemy, spontaneously take up arms to resist the invading troops without having had time to organize themselves in accordance with Article 1, shall be regarded as belligerents if they carry arms openly and if they respect the laws and customs of war.
Art. 3. The armed forces of the belligerent parties may consist of combatants and non-combatants. In the case of capture by the enemy, both have a right to be treated as prisoners of war.”

Partisans, by definition, could never adhere to those rules; they have to operate under cover if they hope to be successful. During the war, the soldiers coming home on leave from the eastern front frequently talked about partisans, the word in everyone’s moth, I remember it well. We also have, for just one example, a war time publication by the Soviet War News, published by Hutchinson & Co. (Publishers) Ltd., London, New York, and Melbourne, by authority of “Soviet War News”, issued by the press department of the Soviet Embassy in London (this was sent to me; the article is not dated, but is apparently a 1942 issue). It is “An Account of the Work of Soviet Partisans behind the Nazi lines”,  the essay titled: “We Are Guerillas”. Here is the introduction in its entirety:

What is a guerilla? He is defined in dictionaries as "one engaged in irregular warfare, generally in small independent bodies". The term is derived from the Spanish guerra, meaning war, and guerillas were the main force which prevented Napoleon from ever completely conquering Spain. And the same guerillas, in their Russian form, harassed Napoleon unmercifully when he invaded Russia in 1812.

In Russia, guerillas are generally called "partizans". They developed as a fighting force with a tradition all their own, during the years of civil war which followed the Soviet revolution in 1917. While a life-and-death struggle was going on between Whites and Reds—between those who wanted to restore the inequalities of the old regime and those who supported the government of the people—thousands of men and women, mostly peasants, joined the guerillas.

Brave and skilful leaders sprang out of their ranks, men like Chapayev and Shchors, of whose exploits colorful sagas have now passed into the rich folk-lore of the Russian people. In the rolling plains of the Ukraine, the marshes of the Dnieper, the Cossack lands around the Don, and in the barren steppes of Siberia, everywhere the partizans fought untiringly to help the then young Red Army against the enemies of the Soviets.

That was just over twenty years ago. There are still thousands of men in the Soviet Union today who fought with Chapayev and other partizan leaders, who remember the old traditions of guerilla warfare, and who have not forgotten how to deal with invaders.

From the very first days of the German Invasion in June 1941, guerilla bands were formed wherever the enemy appeared. After Stalin's call to the nation on July 3, when he urged the Soviet people to create in the German rear "conditions impossible for the enemy" the guerilla movement spread like wildfire.

Once again brilliant leaders sprang up everywhere. Literally thousands of detachments were formed. Men, women and even children are fighting in these detachments, pitting their bravery and native ingenuity against the mechanized juggernaut pt Nazism. They are a source of constant terror to the German troops, who can never be sure that an innocent-looking clump of bushes does not conceal a machine-gun, or that a simple peasant girl is not carrying a hand-grenade in her market basket.

While the major portion of this book is concerned with the tactics and operations of Soviet guerillas, the heroic struggle of guerillas in other parts of Nazi-occupied Europe receives its share. From Finland in the north, through Central Europe to Greece in the south, the trail of guerilla fire is here laid in (the German and Italian rear).

This fiery trail is growing every day fiercer. The guerilla movement is the foundation of a new people's army which will one day link up with the regular Allied forces to smash Fascism from the face of Europe.”

And this is what the German fighting forces were up against, never knowing when a shot would ring out from somewhere killing a comrade, or when a bomb would explode destroying rail lines and killing soldiers, or if bridges would be blown up, etc., etc.; never knowing who to trust, as even women and children participated in this illegal warfare. The Germans did their best, but were powerless to stop the activities because of the sheer numbers of partisans involved. And the “partizans” were not a rag-tag group, but part of the Red Army. On May 30, 1942 the administrative unit of the partisan movement was formed under the command of General P.K. Ponomarenko. From then on the partisan army was considered to be equal to other groups of the Red Army: infantry, air force and navy, and were called: “Soldiers of the Red Army operating behind enemy lines.” (Franz. W. Seidler, Die Wehrmacht im Partisanenkrieg, Pour le Mérite-Verlag für Militärgeschichte, Selent 1999, pp. 24-5)

But even before May 1942, partisans were led and supplied by the Red Army, the appointment of Ponomarenko just made it official. And now a little about numbers: at the end of 1943, Ponomarenko proudly published the results of 2 years’ 'work': 300,000 German soldiers were killed, among them 30 generals and 6,000 officers; 3,000 trains derailed; 3,263 bridges destroyed; 859 munitions depots blown up. In 1961 an official account followed, published in Moscow under the title “Sowetskie Partizani”: 500,000 German soldiers, officers, members of the SS and police, as well as train crews had been murdered. In a different publication the following numbers are provided: 18,000 military trains destroyed; about 500,000 explosive charges activated; 42,000 trucks destroyed; 2,000 rail- and 8,000 street bridges destroyed; 9,400 locomotives and 85,000 rail cars destroyed. (Ibid, pp. 36-7)

Following the war, partisans were praised and honored, especially in Russia but in other eastern countries as well. In an East German publication we read that in the SU, 1,933,000 partisans were active: 250,000 in Bulgaria; 500,000 in Yugoslavia (this is confirmed in the book under discussion, p. 27); in Poland 350,000; more numbers for other countries are provided, totaling 4,409,500 illegal combatants fighting the German forces. (Atlas Zur Geschichte, Band 2, VEB Hermann Haack, Geographisch-Kartographische Anstalt Gotha/Leipzig 1975, p. 46). The map also shows huge areas completely under partisan control.

In spite of all this we are still told that the EG were ‘Jew killing’ units exclusively! In 2009, for instance, a National Geographic documentary was produced with the title “Nazi Death Squads”, referring to the EG. One of the 'historians' participating in this vile piece of hate propaganda, Richard Rhodes, told the audience “that he had nightmares dealing with this material, but pushed through those feelings to tell the story.” Historians, he continued, still claim that the death camps were the centers of the killings, with the EG killings “shrugged off as wild excesses,” because historians are unwilling to confront this material. To call this guy deluded is praising him, but he has one thing right. Lately – because the numbers of Jews allegedly killed in concentration camps is revised downward almost daily – the ‘crime scene’ is increasingly being shifted to alleged mass murders of Jews in the east, “in ditches,” as these numbers are impossible to verify (Saul Friedländer, The Years of Extermination: Nazi Germany and the Jews, 1939-1945, 2007). The NG documentary used to be available online, but no longer. I taped the show.

As mentioned in the introduction to We are Guerillas, in a radio address of July 3, 1941, Stalin called on the Soviet people to resist and form partisan units:

In case of a forced retreat of Red Army units, all rolling stock must be evacuated; the enemy must not be left a single engine, a single railway car, not a single pound of grain or gallon of fuel. The collective farmers must drive off all their cattle and turn over their grain to the safe keeping of the state authorities for transportation to the rear. All valuable property, including non-ferrous metals, grain and fuel that cannot be withdrawn must be destroyed without fail.

In areas occupied by the enemy, guerilla units, mounted and on loot, must be formed; sabotage groups must be organized to combat enemy units, to foment guerilla warfare everywhere, blow up bridges and roads, damage telephone and telegraph lines, set fire to forests, stores and transports. In occupied regions conditions must be made unbearable for the enemy and all his accomplices. They must be hounded and annihilated at every step, and all their measures frustrated.”

This call went out before even two weeks passed following the German preventive strike of June 22 code named “Barbarossa”. Is it possible to form partisan units in as short a time as this? No, and we have evidence that partisans were organized and trained well in advance, with details provided later. But first the follow up order by Stalin called “Stavka Order No. 0428” of November 17, 1941. Stavka translates roughly into  ‘High Command’ of which Stalin was in charge from July 10, 1941 onward (Vierteljahrshefte für Zeitgeschichte, Heft 4, 2000, p. 667):

“The Stavka of the Supreme Commander orders the following:

1. All villages situated in the hinterland of the German forces, to a depth of 40 to 60 kilometres from the front line and 20 to 30 kilometres to the left and right of the roads, are to be destroyed and reduced to rubble. Air forces are to be immediately brought in to assist in the destruction of the villages in the required operational radius, and also sufficient artillery and mortar fire, reconnaissance and ski details, together with partisan sabotage groups equipped with incendiary bottles,

2. In each regiment special details of 20 to 30 men are to be formed in order to dynamite and burn down die villages. Particularly courageous men who act boldly in destroying the villages are to be recommended for a government decoration...”

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The aforementioned “Vierteljahrshefte...” by the IfZ (Institute for Contemporary History) has a full copy of the order in German, as discovered in Moscow archives. There is some controversy swirling around this order, though not about the above wording: some allege that it contained a section about the Soviet soldiers/partisans having to dress in German uniforms, to stir up hatred toward the Germans, because many Russians welcomed the arrival of the Germans. The authors of the IfZ article, Christian Hartmann and Jürgen Zarusky, discard this; what they found in Russian archives as well as in the Washington National Archives (Series 429, Roll 461) contains nothing of the sort. I do not doubt this order was given, but Stalin was surely not foolish enough to put it on paper. There is ample evidence, however, of partisans et al. wearing German uniforms, since German soldiers were routinely found naked and mutilated. Prof. Seidler, for instance, writes that more and more partisans were wearing German uniforms and that the number of foreigners, who had been employed as helpers (HIWIS) or as local policemen, deserting in German uniforms was steadily increasing (Seidler, p.34; Report by the Reichskommisar for Ukraine of June 25, 1943, Bundesarchiv Berlin, BDC O.217 II, Bl.108ff).

These Stalin orders were followed, with civilians the targets. Efforts were then made to make it look like Germans committed these crimes, this cannot be proven for obvious reasons, but the destruction was real: the Tätigkeits und Lageberichte (Action and situation reports, TuL) issued by the EG provide ample evidence of the destruction left behind by the retreating Red Army troops as well as acts of sabotage committed while the territory was occupied by the Germans (the TuL are contained in Die Einsatzgruppen in der besetzten Sowjetunion 1941/1942, by Peter Klein. I have copies of them; the book itself seems to have fallen into the black hole, as I am not able to find a copy). Wearing of German uniforms by enemy soldiers and partisans is also mentioned in the book under discussion—part of the subject in the next chapters. But rest assured that all the destruction and killings done by the Russians were blamed on the Germans after the war. Marina Sorokina, a Russian historian, published a related article in Kritika titled “People and Procedures”, a very informative essay critical of the “investigations” undertaken by the “Extraordinary State Commission” (ESC) formed by the Soviets to collect evidence of alleged German crimes.

She writes in regard to this issue:

At the same time, the postwar years saw the publication in the USSR of a number of memoirs, written in the genre of the heroic saga by local Soviet and party figures who had participated firsthand in fulfilling Stalin’s directive. These memoirs contain a multitude of examples of the destruction of industrial and agricultural enterprises before the arrival of the enemy...Nearly a half-century later, it must be recognized that the Stalinist plan to create the phantom of a “public prosecutor” of fascism was a success. The ChGK (ESC) fulfilled its representational function during the war years, and in the postwar years faithfully kept the topic of “war crimes” sealed off from Soviet society. The documentary materials it created and collected, however, have turned out to be the latest Russian mass grave. In the process of excavating it, historians will for a long time to come be faced with the sometimes fruitless task of distinguishing “ours” from “others,” and executioners from victims.” (Marina Sorokina, People and Procedures, Slavica Publishers, Indiana University, Kritika Fall 2005, p.830, footnote 107 and p. 831, as well as a series of IV articles available at

Efforts are now made by some Russian historians to separate “ours” from “others”, but too much rests on the official version of history -  as presented - to be maintained. Therefore I have little hope that the truth will be told anytime soon.

To be continued….

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Author(s): Wilfried Heink
Title: The suppressed History of Crimes committed on German soldiers in WWII. Part II
Published: 2012-03-29
First posted on CODOH: March 29, 2012, 7:27 a.m.
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