What has been achieved by prosecuting Nazis alleged to have committed crimes against the Jews?
"While fighting for victory the German soldier will observe the rules for chivalrous warfare. Cruelties and senseless destruction are below his standard" , or so the commandment printed in every German Soldiers paybook would have us believe. Yet during the Second World War thousands of Jews were victims of war crimes committed by Nazi's, whose actions subverted the code of conduct they claimed to uphold and contravened legislation outlined in the Geneva Convention. It is this legislature that has paved the way for the Jewish community and political leaders to attempt to redress the Nazi's violation, by prosecuting individuals allegedly responsible. Convicting Nazi criminals is an implicit declaration by post-World War II society that the Nazi regime's extermination of over five million Jews won't go unnoticed.
Many of the alleged Nazi war criminals that were captured had attempted to evade prosecution shortly before the end of the war. Some opted for suicide, rather than risk capture while others used the Austrian and German Underground offers of fake passports and other means of forged identification to assume a new identity . A choice opted for by many, that virtually guaranteed them a new life with remote chance of detection was to travel to the Anglo-American countries after immigration quotas were raised. Over 4000 Nazi criminals sought refuge in Australia . Many lied about their history to gain entry into their new home and proceeded to blend in, unnoticed by our government. They were no longer Nazi criminals but new citizens with a hidden past. Lists of suspected criminals were compiled and alleged perpetrators systematically captured and put to trial.
In 1943, under Soviet leadership the first war crime trials were conducted, however the first trial to involve the Allied powers was the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal in 1945 . The International Military Tribunal (IMT), set out to prosecute 22 defendants comprising largely of the administration arm of the Third Reich . The American's initially wished to indict whole Nazi organisations for their crimes. This focus was soon altered to determine the accountability of particular individuals. The accused were tried under at least two of the following four headings devised for indictment. The first count was the "formulation of a common plan or conspiracy"; two, "crimes against peace (planning and waging a war of aggression in violation of international treaties)"; three, "war crimes (any destruction or ill-treatment of POW's not justified by military necessity)"; and four, "crimes against humanity (inhumane acts, including persecution on racial or political grounds, committed on a civilian population" . Using these laws the IMT, and trials conducted by various other legal organisations around the globe, managed to incarcerate or execute thousands of the Holocaust perpetrators. Due to the outbreak of the Cold War in the 1950's the Allies grew increasingly disinterested in the Nazi's and released all the criminals still being detained.
The trials conducted during and post-Nuremberg
were a source of heated debate as to their effectiveness. Firstly, the prosecution in all trials faced the difficulty of establishing guilt. Prosecutors had difficulty ascertaining which particular acts qualified as murder and which were defined as manslaughter (which has a statute of limitations). Could they prosecute a Nazi because he watched the death of a thousand Jews? How could they prove if a criminal was not forced to participate in the genocide but completed orders willingly? These and many other problems arose creating much doubt as to their effectiveness.
The prosecution of criminals was significant to a large proportion of the Jewish community, not as a form of justice but as a means of revenge. It can be argued that there can be...
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