1939: The Balance Sheet: Paradoxes and Imponderables -- Part 10
The total number of Jews put to death, or who died as a result of Nazi oppression, has been the subject of sometimes passionate debate, but the estimate of 4 to 6 million is most widely accepted by scholars.
Estimates of the number of Jews who died as a direct result of Nazi oppression must be kept in mind, as must the number of other deaths, most notably of non-Jews in Poland and the Soviet Union.
In 1944, with the help of the Red Army, the Nazi authorities closed and destroyed the camps at Auschwitz, and the surviving inmates were moved to western camps.
Many thousands of people died in the western camps from overwork, neglect, and disease before the Allied armies arrived.
They were in a weakened state after liberation.
In most of the areas liberated from Nazi rule, there was some kind of reprisal against captured Germans.
Over 100,000 people were brought before special courts in France, and 1500 of them were sentenced to death.
Over 700 traitors, collaborators, and Fascist elements received the death penalty from special courts in Czechoslovakia, with equal numbers sentenced to life in prison, and 20,000 others to lesser prison sentences.
The majority of Germans who were active in the Nazis were driven out of the Czechoslovak state in accord with agreements reached at Potsdam.
The areas of former eastern Germany that are now allocated to Poland had larger numbers.
Some 12 million ethnic Germans were obliged to move from eastern and central Europe to what is now West Germany.
It was one of the most extensive examples of ethnic cleansing.
The extent to which the special trials in other countries were fair was not a major concern at the time.
Mob rule prevailed, and even where there were formal hearings, they hardly correspond to rigorous standards of due process.
Executions were carried out after a verdict was reached.
The death penalty was temporarily restored in countries that had abolished it.
In Germany, local trials were held in different occupied zones, but they were not always concerned with legal niceties and rarely maintained consistency of punishment.
The Allies wanted to spread the word about the crimes of the Nazi leaders.
After lengthy negotiations, it was agreed that a series of trials would be held at Nuremberg and that they would respect American notions of due process.
The Soviet leaders had their own show trials of the late 1930s that they had in mind when they were in favor of formal trials.
Two judges from Britain, France, the Soviet Union, and the United States will be part of the International Military Tribunal.
The Trial of the Major War Criminals was the most famous of the trials.
Understanding the inner workings of the Nazi state was limited at this point, so the prosecution had its work cut out for it.
There was a lot of information gained in the interrogations of the accused, but the significance of that information could not have been adequately understood within the allotted time.
The decisions about the exact procedures and underlying legal principles of the trials were flawed because of the compromises necessary.
There were moral issues and legal issues.
The lack of justice at Nuremberg became a contentious issue.
The trials' violation of a number of widely recognized legal principles caused some observers and legal experts to be upset.
There was a double standard in punishing Germans for crimes that the Allies had committed, such as bombing civilian centers, torturing spies, executing prisoners of war or using them as slave labor.
Nazi defendants were not allowed to claim in their defense that they had done what the Allies had done.
The Soviet Union was accused of applying a double standard since it was an ally of Nazi Germany in 1939 and the attack on Poland was denounced by the Nuremberg prosecutors.
The lack of judicial independence in the Soviet Union made appointing Soviet judges a travesty.
The "crimes against humanity" committed by the Nazis had been equaled by the Soviets, according to many.
Even if the trials at Nuremberg failed to live up to high ideals of jurisprudence, they were preferable to lining up against a wall and shooting the Nazis.
Many more Nazi leaders would have been freed, including some of the worst, if the trials had been more rigorous in observing due process.
There were other dilemmas linked to more fundamental issues.
When defending the interests of the state, the leaders of modern nations like the kings of old could do no wrong.
The idea of applying Christian standards to the actions of states in regard to one another was considered laughable by most statesmen at the Congress of Vienna.
Europe's states did not readily recognize external limits to their sovereignty, especially when national defense or the survival of the nation was in question, even though there had been many refinements in the way that the monopoly of violence was exercised.
The chief prosecutor of the first trial, Robert H. Jackson, did not think that the murder of the Jews was the most important crime of the Nazi regime.
He believed that the most fundamental crime was the war.
National aggrandizement through warfare by states recognizing no limit to their sovereignty was the most serious crime of modern times, he believed; other crimes, such as the murder of minorities, emerged from it.
The Jews were killed because they got in the way of a war of expansion that the Nazis saw as a war of survival.
Jackson believed that future world peace could only be assured if aggressive war was recognized as criminal.
It was argued that military conquests should no longer confer rights on a victorious state since most of Europe's states had waged aggressive war for national aggrandizement.
Both "crimes against peace" and "crimes against humanity" were common in the British and French empires, which were based on the rights of conquest.
Territorial changes at the end of the war were based on the right of conquest of the Big Three.
In the war-time conferences, decisions about borders and population transfers were made by them, and they often paid little or no attention to what the affected populations wanted.
There was resistance to Jackson's reasoning.
It raised a lot of questions about what military action was acceptable.