Written by Vladimir Moss



     The overriding question at Yalta, according to Simon Jenkins, “was once more what to do with Germany. The mistakes of Versailles had to be avoided. Germany had to be made secure for democracy, but few agreed on how. Churchill felt the need, as he had in 1918, for a strong Germany as a bulwark against Soviet communism. He had foreseen ‘a United States of Europe… with an international police force, charged with keeping Prussia disarmed.’ He did not say if Britain should be a member.

     “The Soviet Union had borne the brunt of the war and felt it should be duly rewarded. It got what Stalin wanted, a ‘sphere of influence’ over Germany’ east European conquests. France regained Alsace-Lorraine. For the time being, Germany was administered by the four Allied powers, America, Britain, France and the Soviets. Partitioned too was Austria and the German capital, Berlin, uncomfortably isolated within he Soviet sector.”[1] 

     As Bernard Simms writes, “Germany… was to pay extensive reparations, mainly in kind of such items as ‘equipment, machine tools, ships, rolling stock… these removals to be carried out chiefly for the purpose of destroying ‘the war potential of Germany’. The British, Americans and Russians promised to ‘take such steps, including the complete disarmament, demilitarization and dismemberment of Germany as they deem[ed] requisite for future peace and security’. A joint Allied Control Council of Germany would administer the country after victory had been achieved.”[2] 

     The terms dictated to Germany, unconditional surrender, were tough, but understandable. In 1919 justice had not really been done: Germany had not really paid for starting the First World War, for invading neutral countries, for the killing of civilians by aerial bombardment (from zeppelins), for enormous damage to industries, for wiping out whole nations (the Herero of South-West Africa), above all for attacking Orthodox Russia and paying for Lenin’s revolution. After all, although Germany had lost millions of men, her own territory had not been touched… And, most importantly, she had not repented of her sins, but insisted, on the contrary, that a great injustice had been done to her… But in 1945 it was a different matter: after still greater sins, including the murder of “six million Jews (two-thirds of the Jewish population of Europe), 3 million Russians, 3 million non-Jewish Poles, 750,000 Slavs, 500,000 Gypsies, 100,000 of the mentally ill, 100,000 Freemasons, 15,000 homosexuals and 5000 Jehovah’s Witnesses”[3], the German homeland was devastated, much of it occupied by the Soviets. This time, it seemed, justice had been done, and there were very few to argue to opposite.

     Moreover, the Western Allies did attempt to convict the leading Nazis in the Nuremburg trials and make the German people as a whole see the depths of their guilt through a compulsory programme of denazification. But there were practical obstacles to these laudable aims… Thus in May, 1945 there were eight million Nazi Party members, and if all top Nazis had been put on trial and purged, as the Allies wanted, the whole country would have ground to a halt. Moreover, the Allies simply did not have the personnel to conduct a thorough denazification. So most former Nazis were removed from their posts for a short while and then returned to them. Moreover, many scientists and engineers were whisked away to America where they lived a good life working for the American military. This manifest injustice caused resentment and mockery among the Germans themselves, which did not encourage repentance.

     Another manifest injustice was the failure to capture, let alone convict, the most serious criminals of the Jewish Holocaust Only a small proportion of the leading Nazis were brought to trial at Nuremburg; for others, like Adolf Eichmann, justice came, not at Nuremburg, but in Israel. He was arrested, tried and executed on May 31, 1962...

     Did the Germans repent? As Max Hastings writes, “among Germans in the summer of 1945, self-pity was a much more prevalent sensation than contrition: one in three of their male children born between 1915 and 1924 were dead, two in five of those born between 1920 and 1925. In the vast refugee migrations that preceded and followed VE-day, over fourteen million ethnic Germans left homes in the east, or were driven from them. At least half a million – modern estimates vary widely – perished during their subsequent odysseys; the historic problem of Central Europe’s German minorities was solved in the most abrupt fashion, by ethnic cleansing.”[4]

     Tony Judt writes that “throughout the years 1945-49 a consistent majority of Germans questioned in a survey of the American zone took the view that ‘Nazism was a good idea badly implemented’. In November 1946, 37 per cent of Germans questioned in a survey of the American zone took the view that the extermination of the Jews and Poles and other non-Aryans was necessary for the security of Germans’.

     “In the same poll of November 1946, one German in three agreed with the proposition that ‘Jews should not have the same rights as those belonging to the Aryan race.’ This is not especially surprising, given that respondents had just emerged from twelve years under an authoritarian government committed to this view. What does surprise is a poll taken six years later in which a slightly higher percentage of West Germans – 37 percent – affirmed that it was better for Germany to have no Jews on its territory. But then in that same year (1952) 25 percent of West Germans admitted to having a ‘good opinion’ of Hitler…”[5]

     Nevertheless, however imperfect the process of denazification was, in the longer term it had a good effect. Later generations of Germans, even though they were born only during or after the war, felt a certain collective guilt for the sins of their fathers. And the extraordinary success story that is Germany since the war surely witnesses to the fact that they had learned their lesson and that God had withdrawn His chastening hand…

     The Nuremburg war trials have been condemned as “victors’ justice”. If this is taken to mean that the legal process was often unwieldy, that it proved difficult for the victors to obtain completely convincing evidence in all cases, that they invented new crimes unknown to jurisprudence, and that they applied these definitions retrospectively to deeds committed before the definitions had been made, then this is true, but relatively trivial. After all, nobody doubts that the accused were guilty as charged, and that trials of this kind, however impromptu their juridical basis, were far better than no justice at all or the summary execution of 50,000 Germans as Stalin once demanded. Hastings puts it well: “The Nuremburg and Tokyo trials represented not injustice, but partial justice.”[6] 

     As A.T. Williams writes, although the justice obtained at Nuremburg may have been “symbolic, shambolic, illusory… it was essential for all that.”[7] For the desire for truth and justice is one of the ineradicable elements of human nature: it can be despised or overlooked only at great cost for future generations. A.N. Wilson writes, “The Nuremberg trials of the twenty-two surviving movers in the Third Reich made it clear, beyond any doubt, that this was a regime founded upon the idea of aggressive war, sustained by banditry, theft and the abolition of morality and justice, and glutted like some blood-feeding ogre on mass murder. The catalogue of crimes, the abuses of science by doctors, the systematic use of slave labour, and the detailed programme to eliminate the Jews, could not, after the trials, be in any doubt…

     “The first stage of the trials, then, the hearings about the twenty-two chief Nazis, was a purgative experience, for Germany, for the Allies, and for the world. The trial tried to set the precedent, alas too optimistic, that any future tyrant would know that one day he would stand answerable for his crimes before the bar of justice and the law.

     “Clearly, when it came to dealing with all the tens of thousands of underlings who had done the dirty work in the Third Reich, and, even more complicated, with the numberless thousands who had somehow or other colluded in the crimes while not actually perpetrating murder or theft, what was to be done? For several years after the war, many of the nastier individuals involved in labour and death camp atrocities and so on had escaped to South America. Most of them escaped justice altogether…”[8]

     The Germans, not unnaturally, were in general punished more severely than collaborators of other nationalities in the occupied territories[9], where the process of justice varied greatly from country to country and involved many compromises. Austria, for example, had willingly joined in the slaughter of the Jews, but was spared retribution since it had been invaded by Hitler. As Judt points out, “such compromises were probably inevitable. The very scale of destruction and moral collapse in 1945 meant that whatever was left in place was likely to be needed as a building block for the future. The provisional governments of the liberation months were almost helpless. The unconditional (and grateful) cooperation of the economic, financial and industrial elites seemed vital if food, clothing and food were to be supplied to a helpless and starving population. Economic purges could be counter-productive, even crippling. But a price for this was paid in political cynicism and a sharp falling away from the illusions and hopes of the liberation…”[10]

     The crux of the case at Nuremburg,” writes Niall Ferguson, “as agreed by the victorious powers in London in the summer of 1945, was that the leaders of Germany and Japan had premeditated and unleashed ‘aggressive war’ and ‘set in motion evils which [had left] no home in the world untouched’. They were accused, firstly, of the ‘planning, preparation, initiation, or waging of a war of aggression, or war in violation of international treaties, agreements and assurances, or participation in a common plan or conspiracy for the accomplishment of any of the foregoing’. Yet whose side had the Soviet Union been on in 1939?”[11]

     In fact, perhaps the greatest single injustice of the post-war settlement was the subjection of Poland to the power of the Soviets, who had forcibly occupied half of the country in 1939 with Hitler’s blessing, and now obtained the other half as well. At Potsdam in July, 1945, the West was in no position to resist Stalin on this point. As Jenkins writes, “Roosevelt had died and been replaced by his vice-president, Harry Truman (1945-53). Churchill was ousted by Labour’s Clement Attlee in an election held in the middle of the conference. With the west lacking in leadership experience, Stalin was cock of the walk. He ignored western demands for a larger Poland, and emphatically rejected democracy or self-determination in eastern Europe. ‘A freely elected government in every one of these countries,’ he said baldly, ‘would be anti-Soviet and we cannot permit that.’ The words echoed across the continent. A new Europe would clearly be two Europes…`”[12]

     Then there were the injustices done by the Soviets to their own countrymen. “In 1945,” writes Protodeacon Christopher Birchall, “there were some 4 million Russians in the former territory of the Third Reich. About 6 million Russian prisoners of war fell into German hands, most of them soon after the invasion of Russia in 1941. The Russian prisoners of war were kept in appalling conditions; some were simply herded into open fields in the winter and left to die of exposure. This treatment, so different from that accorded to British prisoners by the Germans, was explained largely by the fact that Joseph Stalin had renounced them, stating that anyone who allowed himself to be taken captive, rather than die fighting, was a traitor. As a result, most Russian prisoners died and only about 1 million survived by May 1945. Understandably most of these ‘traitors’ were terrified at the prospect of returning to the Soviet Union. In addition, there were the Ostarbeiter (“workers from the east”) – Russians who were brought to Germany to work in the war industries. Some had volunteered but most were conscripts. They were treated poorly and humiliated by the Nazis, who regarded them as Untermenschen (“subhumans”), close to the bottom of the racial hierarchy they devised. Whenever outside the camps, these workers were required to wear a badge with the OST (EAST) written on it to display their origin.

     “When the war ended, there were some 3 million Ostarbeiter in Germany. These formed the majority of the vast numbers of Russians liberated by the Allies in 1945. In addition, there were refugees who had decided to leave Soviet territory with the retreating German armies. Some were terrified of Soviet reprisals meted out to anyone ‘contaminated’ by contact with the invaders; others, especially those in areas where the Germans had behaved with a degree of restraint, simply seized the opportunity to escape from communist rule. The populations of entire districts, particularly Cossacks from the Caucasus, piled their possessions into wagons and evacuated to the west. Finally, there were those who agreed to fight with the Germans in the hope of overthrowing communism in Russia, approximately 800,000 in all. The largest group was the Russian Army of Liberation (ROA – Russkaya Osvoboditel’naya Armiya), nominally led by General Andrey Vlasov, who had been captured by the Germans in 1942 while trying to raise the siege of Leningrad. He was taken from a prisoner of war camp and made head of this organisation. However, the ROA existed more on paper than in the field because Vlasov had very little control over the units, most of which had German officers. The Germans distrusted these brigades of Slavic Untermenschen and sent many to the western front after the Normandy invasions.[13]

     In addition to the ROA, Cossack units were formed under the German General Helmuth von Pannwitz.

     “At the infamous Yalta Conference of February 1945, Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt reached an agreement with Stalin to hand over any ‘Soviet Nationals’ who fell into British or American hands. A Soviet National was defined as anyone who had lived in Soviet territory before September 1, 1939. Thus excluded were the old émigrés as well as inhabitants of western parts of Russia and Ukraine, which had been annexed to Poland during the Civil War. On arrival in the Soviet Union, the displaced persons were either shot or sent directly to labour camps, most in the Far North of Siberia. Alexander Solzhenitsyn described graphically the fate of many such people in his book The Gulag Archipelago.

     “One might wonder why the Soviet authorities were so determined to secure the return of these people. The explanation largely lies in the personal paranoia of Stalin, which infected the rest of the Soviet power apparatus. Another significant factor was the Soviets’ genuine fear of the existence of a strong, anti-Soviet emigration or even scattered groups of exiles. As one Soviet leaders observed, ‘That’s the way we got our start!’ Only thirty years previously, the émigré Russians were not ‘White’ Russian exiles but rather various groups of Bolsheviks, Mensheviks, and anarchists who were plotting the overthrow of Imperial Russia…”[14]

     Shortly after D-day, large numbers of Russian soldiers in German uniform began to be captured by the Allies. Of these, some had put on German uniform involuntarily, forced to it by the threat of death or the terrible conditions in the German POW camps. Others, the “Vlasovites”, had volunteered to fight in the German army, not out of love of Nazism, but simply in order to help in the destruction of the hated Soviet regime. Among the Vlasovites, some had been Soviet citizens, but others were former White soldiers who had fled from Russia after the Civil War and had never been Soviet.[15] Most of them did not want to be repatriated, but pleaded to stay in the West.

     This created a major problem for the British government. Lord Selborne, Minister for Economic Warfare, who was also in charge of secret espionage and sabotage (SOE), argued passionately that they should be allowed to stay because they had not voluntarily donned German uniforms, they had suffered terribly already, and would probably be shot if returned to Russia. Churchill was for a time inclined to listen to Selborne, but the Foreign Secretary, Anthony Eden, who had already made a verbal agreement with Molotov, argued that they had to return the prisoners if Stalin insisted on it, that to anger the Soviets would be dangerous for the war effort, that the British had “no legal or moral right” to interfere in the way they were treated in Russia, and that if they did not accede to Soviet demands British and American prisoners liberated from German camps by Soviet forces might not be repatriated to the West. 

     Unfortunately, by September, Eden had won the argument, and thousands of Russians began to be deported from Britain to Murmansk and Odessa, in accordance with the Yalta Conference agreement.

     However, well into 1945, writes S.M. Plokhy, the US State Department “continued to resist Soviet requests for the extradition of those Soviet citizens who had been captured in German uniform and claimed the protection of the Geneva Convention until the end of hostilities in Europe. But then the department’s position suddenly changed. As Joseph Grew explained in a a letter to Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal, he did not object to extradition ‘now that Germany has unconditionally surrendered, that all American prisoners of war held by the German armed forces have been liberated and that therefore there no longer exists any danger that the German authorities will take reprisals against American prisoners of war.’

     “On June 29, after learning of the decision to extradite them to the USSR, 154 Soviet prisoners of war in Fort Dix, New Jersey, shut themselves in their barracks and attempted to commit mass suicide. The American guards fired tear-gas grenades into the building, forcing the prisoners to break out of their quarters. Seven POWs were gunned down by the guards as they rushed at them. In the barracks they found three men hanging from the rafters next to fifteen nooses prepared for the next group. News of the revolt of Soviet prisoners who preferred death to extradition leaked out to the press, aborting the next attempt to ship POWs to the USSR. In August, however, James Byrnes, who succeeded Stettinius as secretary of state, authorized extradition ‘in conformity with commitments taken at Yalta’…”[16]

     A particularly tragic case of mass repatriation took place in May-June, 1945, in Lienz in Austria, when “the English occupying authorities handed over to Stalin to certain death some tens of thousands of Cossacks who had fought in the last months of the war on the side of Germany. Eye-witnesses of this drama recall that the hand-over began right during the time of the final liturgy, which Smersh did not allow to finish. Many Cossacks tried to hurl themselves into the abyss so as not to be delivered to the communists, and the first shots were heard from the Soviet occupational zone already a few minutes after the hand-over.”[17]

     Many of the British soldiers involved in the handover had come to like the Cossacks and were deeply distressed that they had to lie to them about the handover and had to use force against them. Some confessed that they had been wrong; but most justified themselves on the grounds that they were following orders. It is interesting to note, however, that in the Nuremburg trials this same excuse, in the mouth of Nazi defendants, was not considered sufficient…

     Another aspect of the tragedy is that among the Cossacks handed over were men who had never been Soviet citizens, including the famous White Generals Krasnov and Shkuro (who were hanged in Moscow in 1947). So the British “over-fulfilled” their “duty” according to the Yalta agreement, which specified only “Soviet nationals”…[18]

     The British were also involved in the handover of thousands of Croats and Slovenes, including the remnants of the Ustashi regime, to Tito’s Partisans, who shot 50-65,000 of them at Kocevje and Maribor without any kind of trial.[19]

     Mother Alexandra (Spektor) writes: “With the help of the English and American military authorities, by January 1, 1953 5 million, 457 thousand and 856 Soviet and ‘equated’ with them citizens had been repatriated. Of these 2 million 272 thousand were prisoners of war and their families. The cruellest of these repatriations were the handovers of the Cossack camp in Lienz (24 thousand military and civilians), the Caucasians in Oberdrauburg (4 thousand 800) and the Cossack cavalry corpus in Feldkirchen (about 35 thousand). All these people had been given the status of prisoners of war and were assured that the English would not hand them over to certain death. But their hopes were not realized.

     “What was their fate in the homeland? 20% of the prisoners of war returned to the USSR received the death penalty or 25 years in the camps; 15-20% - 5-10 years in the camps; 10% were exiled to distant regions of Siberia for a minimum of 6 years; 15% were sent to forced labour in regions destroyed by war, of whom only 15-20% returned to the places of their birth after their labour. Of the remaining 15-20%, some were killed or died on the road, while others fled…”[20] 

     Plokhy summarises the difference between the western and Soviet attitudes to prisoners of war: “There was no higher priority for soldiers of the Western democracies at the end of the conflict than to save their prisoners of war. There was no greater crime in the Soviet code than that of falling into enemy hands…”[21]

     Alexander Soldatov writes: “The memory of the ‘Vlasovites’ is dear to many children of the Russian Church Abroad (ROCOR)… In the memorial cemetery of ROCOR in Novo Diveyevo near New York there stands an obelisk which perpetuates the memory of all the officers and soldiers of the Russian Army of Liberation, who perished ‘in the name of the idea of a Russia free from communism and fascism’...”[22] The slogan, “Russia free from communism and fascism” is as relevant now as it was in 1945…

     And so “from 1945 to 1947, 2,272,000 people were handed over by the Allies to the USSR. Of these more than 600,000 had served in the ‘eastern forces’ of the German army. About 200,000 managed to remain in the West.”[23]

     According to Sergei Shumilo, however, “more than 6 million ‘Soviet’ prisoners of war, ‘Osty’ workers, refugees and émigrés were forcibly repatriated to the U.S.S.R. up to 1948. The majority of them perished within the walls of Stalin’s NKVD.”[24] Ferguson calculates that by 1953 the West “had sent nearly five and a half million people back to the Soviet Union. Of these around a fifth were executed or sentenced to the maximum of twenty-five years in labour camps.”[25]

     Protopriest Michael Ardov writes: “I remember quite well the years right after the war, 1945, 1946, and how Moscow was literally flooded with cripples, soldiers who were missing arms and legs, returning from the war, and then, suddenly, they all disappeared. Only later did I learn that they were all picked up and packed off to die on the island of Valaam, in order not to spoil the view in the capital. There was no monastery there then. You can just imagine for yourselves the conditions that they had to endure there while living out their last days. They were so poor, and were reduced to begging in order to survive. This is how they were treated, just so that the capital should not be spoiled by their presence! This I remember quite well. Besides this, as we all know that, because of Stalin and his military leaders, an enormous number of Soviet citizens were taken out of the country as prisoners. The government immediately disowned them; they were immediately branded traitors. And the consequences of this were that when they, for some reason or another, came back to our country, most of them were whisked off to Stalin’s labour camps. This is how they treated the veterans then…

     “Under the pretext of restoring ‘socialist legality’ whole families, and even settlements, were sent to Siberia, mainly from Western Ukraine, Belorussia and the Baltic region. By the end of the 40s, Soviet Marshal Zhukov had ordered the forcible removal from Western Ukraine to Siberia, Kazakhstan and other regions of more than 600,000 people.”[26]


     Norman Davies writes: “The Strategic Bombing Offensive, which killed perhaps half a million civilians, has long been the subject for charges of ‘excessive force’, and if the German raid on Coventry, which killed 380 persons, is judged a crime, it is hard to see why the British raids on Cologne, Hamburg, Kassel, Berlin and Dresden should not be classed in the same way. In morality, two wrongs do not make a right, and pleas of justified response do not wash. If a criminal kills another man’s brother, the injured party is not entitled, even in the middle of a just war, to go off and kill all the criminal’s neighbours and relatives. And there are further matters to be examined. One of them would be the forcible and large-scale repatriation of Soviet citizens in 1945 to near-certain death at the hands of Stalin’s security organs. Another would the joint decision that was reached at Potsdam to expel by force several million German civilians from lands newly allotted to Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary. To contemporary sensitivities, the Potsdam decision put into motion a campaign that looks suspiciously like ‘ethnic cleansing’.”[27]

     The Allies condemned the Germans for bombing civilians at Guernica in the Spanish Civil War and for the Blitz over London, Coventry and other cities in 1940-41, and the Japanese for bombing the Chinese in 1937. However, Churchill himself had ordered such bombing in the Iraqi rebellion in 1920.[28] And even before that, “Lord Weir, secretary of state for air, instructed air staff Hugh Trenchard, on 10 September 1918, ‘If you could start up a really big fire in one of the German towns. If I were you, I would not be too exacting in regard to accuracy in bombing railway stations in the middle of towns. The German is susceptible to bloodiness and I would not mind a few accidents due to inaccuracy.’”[29] 

      In the Second World War Weir’s cynical experiment could be made on a proper scale. Already in October, 1940 Churchill declared: “The civilian population around the target areas must be made to feel the weight of war.” Throughout 1941 he “repeatedly emphasized the need for Bomber Command to target the morale of ordinary Germans.”[30] In March, 1942 it was decided to adopt the plan of the government’s scientific advisor Lindemann to bomb working-class German homes with the final aim of destroying 50 percent of all houses in the larger cities.[31] With the Americans in full agreement, - at Casablanca in 1943 the Allies agreed that their aims should be “the progressive destruction and undermining of the morale of the German people to a point where their capacity for armed resistance is fatally weakened”[32] - this paved the way for the horrific Allied bombings of Hamburg (45,000 killed, 250,000 homes destroyed in July, 1943), Lubeck, Cologne, Berlin, Dresden (35,000 killed, 95,000 homes destroyed in February, 1945), Pforzheim and Wurzburg (February-March 1945).[33] In all, writes Hastings, “between 1940 and 1942, only 11,228 Germans were killed by Allied bombing. From January 1943 [the month in which Roosevelt declared the “unconditional surrender” policy in Casablanca] to May 1945, a further 350,000 perished, along with unnumbered tens of thousands of foreign PoWs and slave labourers. This compares with 60,595 British people killed by all forms of German air bombardment including V-weapons between 1939 and 1945.”[34]

     Of course, military targets were also hit; by the spring of 1943 this forced 70 percent of the German fighter force to be diverted from the east to the west, thereby helping the Soviet advance considerably. And by D-Day most of the remaining planes had been shot down, thereby helping the Anglo-American advance. Speer called the air war “the greatest lost battle on the German side”.[35] 

     However, in Speer’s opinion the Allies lost a great opportunity to shorten the way by concentrating on cities rather than oil stores and ball bearings factories. “Bomber Command under Harris,” writes Jonathan Glover, “resisted the priority given to oil. In October 1944, 6 per cent of the effort was directed against oil. Between October and December, 14 per cent was directed against oil and 58 per cent against cities.”[36]For the killing of soldiers and military equipment was not the main aim of the bombing campaign: it was civilian casualties that were seen, not as inevitable, albeit regrettable “collateral damage”, but as essential to the main purpose of the bombing, which was, in Churchill’s words, “the progressive destruction and undermining of the morale of the German people to a point where their capacity for armed resistance is fatally weakened”.[37] 

     But, as Bishop George Bell of Chichester, a friend both of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Bishop Nikolai Velimirović,said in 1943: “To bomb cities as cities, deliberately to attack civilians, quite irrespective of whether they are actively contributing to the war effort, is a wrong deed, whether done by the Nazis or by ourselves.”[38] Notwithstanding, on February 16, 1945, just after the Dresden bombing, the Allies announced that the new plan was to “bomb large population centres and then to attempt to prevent relief supplies from reaching and refugees from leaving them – all part of a programme to bring about the collapse of the German economy”…[39]

     After Dresden, even Churchill began to have doubts: “The moment has come when the question of the bombing of German cities simply for the sake of increasing the terror… should be revised… The destruction of Dresden remains a serious query against the conduct of Allied bombing.” However, Sir Arthur Harris “remained impertinent and uncomprehending. ‘In Bomber Command we have always worked on the assumption that bombing anything in Germany is better than bombing nothing.’…”[40]

     Niall Ferguson is right to point out that “Allied bombing was as indiscriminate as Nazi racial policy was meticulously discriminating. The moral difference – which has lately been forgotten by some German writers – is that the crews of Bomber Command were flying their missions in order to defeat Nazi Germany and end the war. Whether or not this was the best means of advancing that end was not for them to decide; their intent was not dishonourable. For the Nazis, let it be reiterated, the murder of Jews and other ‘alien’ civilians was an end in itself. Hatred filled the minds of the SS men at Belzen; it was absent from the thought of the Allied airmen.”[41]

     However, while this may mitigate, it does not remove the guilt of the Allied airmen; for the ends do not justify the means…


     The other Axis power that was mightily punished in 1945 was, of course, Japan, whose appalling treatment especially of the Chinese, who suffered fifteen million dead[42], but also of Allied prisoners of war and Korean women, and, last but not least, of their own people, as when they induced or coerced 100,000 Okinawans to commit suicide before the American invasion of Okinawa, merited severe punishment. 

     And they got it…

     However, as we shall see, this did not make the Americans’ bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki anything other than mass murder, and no justice was obtained for that… We recall President Roosevelt’s appeal to the governments of Great Britain, France, Italy, Germany and Poland on September 1, 1939, urging them to affirm that their armed forces “shall in no event, and under no circumstances, bombard civilian populations or unfortified cities from the air”.[43]

     The repentance of the Japanese was more superficial than that of the Germans, perhaps because they lacked the Germans’ Christian heritage… “In the aftermath of the war,” wrote Kazutoshi Hando in 2007, “blame was placed solely on the Japanese army and navy. This seemed just, because the civilian population had always been deceived by the armed forces about what was done. Civilian Japan felt no sense of collective guilt – and that was the way the American victors and occupiers wanted it. In the same fashion, it was the Americans who urged that no modern Japanese history should be taught in schools. The consequence is that very few people under fifty have any knowledge of Japan’s invasion of China or colonisation of Manchuria…”[44] 

     As regards Japanese war crimes trials, Sebestyen writes: “In the Asian countries that Japan had occupied during the war, 984 Japanese had already been executed, many without proper trials, including 236 by the Dutch, 223 by the British, 153 by the Australians, 140 by the Americans. Nearly all were Japanese soldiers who had mistreated and killed prisoners of war. The trials of the Japanese leaders charged with ‘waging a war of aggression’ were an altogether more complex matter. The primary issue, as two of the judges noted, was that the greatest war criminal was not in the dock. The Australian judge Sir William Webb said: ‘The leader of the crime, though available for trial, was granted immunity. The Emperor’s authority was required for war. If he did not want war, he should have withheld his authority.’

     “The French judge Henri Bernard stated that the entire proceedings were flawed and he couldn’t pass judgement at all. The absence of the Emperor in court was ‘a glaring inequity… Japan’s crimes against peace had a principal author who escaped all prosecution. Measuring the Emperor by different standards undermines the cause of justice.’ 

     “Many of the Americans who organised the trial later said that it backfired. MacArthur was doubtful about the hearings in the first place. He told Truman that it was ‘comparatively simple’ where the Nazis were concerned to prove genocidal intent and apportion guilt, but in Japan ‘no such line of demarcation has been fixed.’ One of the officers who interrogated the defendants to decide who should face trial, Brigadier-General Elliot Thorpe, told MacArthur that the entire proceedings were ‘mumbo-jumbo… we made up the rules as we went along.’ Later, Thorpe wrote that ‘we wanted blood and by God we got blood’.

     “For many others, the trials were not only victor’s justice; they were white man’s justice. People in the occupied countries had suffered the most, but not one was represented on the panel of judges. A British judge represented the Malays, a French judge acted for the Vietnamese and the Cambodians. Korea had been colonised with brutal rapacity by Japan for nearly fifty years; there was no Korean judge. Among the charges faced by the two dozen defendants was that they ‘engaged in a plan or conspiracy to regain their colony in Vietnam against an independence movement led by Ho Chi Minh; the Dutch fought the nationalists in an attempt to repossess their Indonesian territories, and the British fought guerrillas seeking independence in Malaya. 

     “Only one of the judges, the Indian Radhabinod Pal, pointed out the double standard involved. He agreed that the Japanese had committed vile crimes during their invasion and occupation of various countries but, he argued, they were neither unique nor without precedent. ‘It would be pertinent to recall… that the majority of the interests claimed by the Western prosecuting powers in the Eastern hemisphere were acquired by such aggressive methods.’ They claimed ‘national honour’ or ‘the protection of vital interests’ or concepts of ‘manifest destiny’ similar to the Japanese. The Japanese conquerors were guilty of crimes, but those crimes should be set in context. For much of Asia, the end of the Pacific war was only the beginning of the process of liberation, not the end. The trials opened up the entire question of how long the old European powers could maintain their empires. This was not the message the Allies wanted to hear – or to send to the world – when, in 1948, they executed seven military chiefs of the former Japanese empire, including the Prime Minister Hideki Tojo, who had earlier tried, and failed, to commit suicide…”[45]


     So how are we to evaluate what was for many the greatest war crime, the dropping of the Atomic Bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki?

     On the one side is the argument that dropping the Bomb saved many American lives that would have been lost in an invasion of the Japanese mainland. In support of this argument is the fact, only recently established and cited by Antony Beevor, “that the Imperial Japanese Army could never contemplate surrender, having forced all their men to fight to the death since the start of the war. All civilians were to be mobilised and forced to fight with bamboo spears and satchel charges to act as suicide bombers against Allied tanks. Japanese documents apparently indicate that their army was prepared to accept up to 28 million deaths.”[46] Again, Richard Frank writes: “The fact is that there was no historical record over the past 2,600 years of Japanese surrendering, nor any examples of a Japanese unit surrendering during the war. This was where the great American fear lay.”[47]

     However, as against this argument, we now know that the Japanese were on the verge of surrender long before the nuclear bombs were dropped. Thus MacArthur told Roosevelt as early as January, 1945 that the Japanese were ready to surrender on terms very similar to those eventually accepted. Some flexibility in the terms offered to the Japanese then would have saved hundreds of thousands both of American and Japanese lives later. Moreover, it would have obviated the need to ask the Soviets to intervene in the north – with massive consequences for the future of the Far East. Thus as John J. McLaughlin asks: “Was Roosevelt's curt dismissal of MacArthur's warning the ‘nail’ that cost us the loss of not only thousands of soldiers and sailors at Iwo Jima and Okinawa, but also the Communist victory in the Chinese Civil War, the Korean War, and Vietnam?..”[48]

     In support of this argument is Dwight Eisenhower’s witness: ‘During his [Secretary of War Henry Stimson’s] recitation of the relevant facts [about the plan for using the atomic bomb], I had been conscious of a feeling of depression and so I voiced to him my grave misgivings, first on the basis of my belief that Japan was already defeated and that dropping the bomb was completely unnecessary, and secondly because I thought that our country should avoid shocking world opinion by the use of a weapon whose employment was, I thought, no longer mandatory as a measure to save American lives. It was my belief that Japan was, at that very moment, seeking some way to surrender with a minimum loss of ‘face’…”[49]

     “In all probability,” writes Ferguson, “it was the Soviet decision to dash Japanese hopes of mediation and to attack Japan that convinced all but the most incorrigible diehards that the war was over. Defeat in the Pacific mattered less to the Japanese generals than the collapse of their much longer-held position in Manchuria and Korea. Indeed, it was the Soviet landing on Shikotan, not far from Japan’s main northern island of Hokkaido, that forced the military finally to sign the instrument of surrender.”[50]

     As A.N. Wilson points out, “Albert Einstein, as early as 1946, stated the true reason for dropping the Bomb, namely that it was ‘precipitated by a desire to end the war in the Pacific by any means before Russia’s participation…’”[51]

     Another argument in favour of the Bomb and against the invasion of Japan was that “the Japanese had sent out an instruction to all prison commanders that in the event of an Allied landing on the home islands, all PoWs were to be killed. A copy was found in a vault in Taiwan (then Formosa) after the war and the original is now in an American archive.” (C.E.C. Lowry, letter to The Daily Mail, August 10, 2015, p. 58). The existence of such an order was confirmed in a book published in 1970 by Laurens van der Post, The Night of the New Moon. It would seem to indicate that the bomb saved perhaps a million lives of Allied PoWs in South-East Asia.”[52] This is a powerful argument, but one that was not and could not have been used at the time because the decision-makers did not know about this instruction…

     We come back, then, to the alternative of a blockade by sea that would very likely have starved the Japanese into surrender quite quickly, especially if a formula amounting to slightly less than unconditional surrender had been proposed enabling the Emperor to remain as the formal head of the Japanese government. His retention as the figurehead was necessary since the Army would have surrendered only at his command. In the end, such a compromise was made with regard to the Emperor, which led to the Japanese surrender. The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it would seem, played no significant part in the Japanese decision to surrender when they did.

     The conclusion, then, must be that Truman committed mass murder in order to end the war before the Russians intervened. The Japanese surrendered when they did, not because of the bomb, but because the Russians were about to intervene. For, as Daniel Jonah Goldhagen writes, Truman knew that each bomb “would kill tens of thousands of Japanese civilians who had no direct bearing on any military operation, and who posed no immediate threat to Americans. In effect, Truman chose to snuff out the lives of approximately 300,000 men, women and children. Upon learning of the bomb’s annihilation of Hiroshima, Truman was jubilant, announcing that ‘this is the greatest thing in history’. He then followed up in Nagasaki with a second greatest thing. It is hard to understand how any right-thinking person could fail to call slaughtering unthreatening Japanese mass murder.[53]

     Of course, few would say that Truman was as bad a man as his ally of the time, Stalin, or his enemies of the time, Hitler and the Japanese militarists. The evaluation of the man – any man – belongs to God alone. However, we must define the act for what it was. As Goldhagen continues, “The failure to distinguish between defining an act, explaining it, and morally judging it likely leads many to recoil at putting Truman in the dock with the greatest monsters of our age. Nevertheless, that Truman should have found himself before a court to answer for his actions seems clear. How such a court’s judgement and essence would read – compared to those of the other four {Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot] can be debated. Truman was not a Hitler, Stalin, Mao or Pol Pot. In this sense, people’s intuitions are correct. But that should not stop us from seeing his deeds for what they are…”[54]


     So was justice done at the end of the Second World War? Could the savage vengeance carried out on the Germans by the Soviets, with the connivance of the Americans and the British, or on the Japanese by the Americans with the connivance of the British and the Soviets, be justified on the basis of the defeated states’ undoubted criminality? By no means. If this was justice, it was terribly partial and flawed: some of the criminals were condemned, many went scot-free (like the Emperor of Japan). Still more important, it was also grossly hypocritical: almost every crime that the Germans committed, except the wholesale slaughter of Jews, was imitated by the Soviets and the Anglo-Americans. For, as Niall Ferguson writes, “the charges against the Japanese leaders who stood trial in Tokyo included ‘the wholesale destruction of human lives, not alone on the field of battle… but in the homes, hospitals, and orphanages, in factories and fields’. But what else had the Allies perpetrated in Germany and Japan in the last months of the war?”[55]

     However, the victors were the judges, and so could not be brought to justice; they were above the law – contrary to the first principle of liberal democracy. True justice for the atrocities of the war was not done in 1945…

     Schiller said: “World history is the world’s court (of judgement)” (Die Weltgeschichte ist Weltegericht). But this cannot be true unless history includes the very last moment of history, - the moment that goes beyond history - the Last and most Terrible Judgement. True justice will have to wait until then, until the verdict of the only Just Judge…


April 25 / May 8, 2020.

St. Mark the Evangelist.

75th Anniversary of VE Day.

[1] Jenkins, A Short History of Europe, London: Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 2018, pp. 268-269.

[2] Simms, Europe: The Struggle for Supremacy, London: Allen Lane, 2013, p. 385.

[3] Montefiore, Titans of History, London: Quercus, 2012, p. 545.

[4] Hastings, All Hell Let Loose, London: HarperPress, 2011, pp. 653-654.

[5] Judt, Postwar: A History of Europe since 1945, London: Pimlico, 2007, p. 58.

[6] Hastings, op. cit., p. 672.

[7] Williams, A Passing Fury: Searching for Justice at the End of World War II, London: Jonathan Cape, 2016.

[8] Wilson, After the Victorians, London: Hutchinson, 2003, pp. 482, 483.

[9] Willing collaborators in the Holocaust in occupied countries included Poles, Ukrainians, Latvians, Croats, Vichy Frenchmen and others. See Judt, “The ‘Problem of Evil’ in Postwar Europe”, in When the Facts Change, London: Vintage, 2015, p. 131.

[10] Judt, op. cit., p. 51.

[11] Ferguson, The War of the World, London: Penguin, 2006, pp. 578-579.

[12] Jenkins, op. cit., p. 269.

[13] “Vlasov’s crucial weakness,” writes Hosking, “was that Hitler had no intention of promoting Russians nationalism, and would not allow him to set up his own army or political movement until the autumn of 1944, when it was far too late to make any difference to the course of events. Many Soviet officers in captivity who sympathized with his aims refused to join him for this reason. The project of a Russian national liberation movement independent of both Stalin and Hitler was simply impractical. In the end, ironically, almost the only combat which Vlasov’s army saw was against  the Germans : his men fought to help the Czechs free their capital from the S.S.  in May 1945” (Russia and the Russians, p. 500). Vlasov had been ordered by the Germans to burn Prague down to the ground, but he refused amd cooperated with Czech nationalists in saving the old city. Rejected by the Allies and captured by the Soviets, he was sentenced and hanged on August 1 1946. 

[14] Birchall, Embassy, Emigrants, and Englishmen: The Three Hundred Year History of a Russian Orthodox Church in London, Jordanville, N.Y.: Holy Trinity Publications, 2014, pp. 321-323.

[15] The following account is taken mainly from Nicholas Bethell’s The Last Secret(London: Futura, 1976) and Victor Sebastyen, 1946: The Making of the Modern World, London: Pan, 2014, ch. 13.

[16] Plokhy, Yalta: The Price of Peace, London: Penguin, 2010, p. 304.

[17] Archbishop Savva (Raevsky), “Lienz”, Orthodox Life, vol. 56, N 4, 2005, pp. 2-8.  The head of ROCOR, Metropolitan Anastasy, blessed the Cossacks who had formally ended their lives through suicide because they did not want to fall into the hands of the Reds, to be given a church burial. ‘Their actions,’ he wrote, ‘are closer to the exploit of St. Pelagia of Antioch, who hurled herself from a tall tower so as escape desecration [rape].’…”

[18] Protopresbyter Michael Polsky, Novie Mucheniki Rossijskie (The New Martyrs of Russia), Jordanville, volume 3, chapter 26, in http://cliuchinskaya.blogspot.co.uk/2017/01/iii-xxvi-1944-1946.html.

[19] Sebastyen, op. cit., p. 150. Tony Judt gives a figure of 40,000 Croats killed and 10,000 Slovenes handed over (op. cit., pp. 23, 30, notes).

[20] Spektor, Facebook communication, June 2, 2016.

[21] Plokhy, op. cit., pp. 305-06.

[22] Soldatov, “Radosti Paskhi i Skorb’ Pobedy” (The Joys of Pascha and the Sorrow of Victory), Moskovskie Novosti (Moscow News) and Vertograd, N 520, May 14, 2005.

[23] Soldatov, op. cit., p. 11, footnote 6.

[24] Shumilo, “Sovietskij Rezhim i ‘Sovietskaia Tserkov’’ v 40-e-50-e gody XX stoletia” (The Soviet Regime and the ‘Soviet Church’ in the 40s and 50s of the 20th Century), http://catacomb.org.ua/modules.php?name=Pages&go=page&pid=678.

[25] Ferguson, op. cit., p. 588.

[26] Shumilo, op. cit.

[27] Davies, Europe at War 1939-1945, London: Pan, 2006, pp. 67-68.

[28] Ferguson, The War of the World, London: Penguin, 2007, p. 558.

[29] Hew Strachan, The First World War, London: Pocket Books, 2006, pp. 206-207.

[30] Ferguson, op. cit., p. 559.

[31] Count Léon de Poncins, State Secrets, Chulmleigh: Britons Publishing Company, 1975, p. 57.

[32] Ferguson, op. cit., p. 562.

[33]  “More people had perished,” writes James Barker, “in the July 1943 Hamburg firestorm than in Dresden; and Pforzheim and Wurzheim, savaged by RAF bombing in February and March 1945, would suffer disproportionately more destruction and more loss of life” (“Sowing the Wind”, History Today, March, 2005, p. 57).

[34] Hastings, op. cit., p. 480. With regard to Dresden, as Ferguson writes, “the latest research suggests that 25,000 victims died there on 13-14 February, rather than the hundreds of thousands once supposed” (Hastings, op. cit., p. 610, note).

[35] Ferguson, op. cit., pp. 566-568. Nevertheless, “post-war assessment,” writes Simon Jenkins, “was that barely seven per cent of German industrial plants were put out of action.” (A Short History of Europe, London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 2018, p. 267).

[36] Glover, Humanity. A Moral History of the Twentieth Century, London: Jonathan Cape, 1999, pp. 75-76.

[37] Ferguson, op. cit., p. 562.

[38] Ferguson, op. cit., p. 570.  

[39] De Poncins, op. cit., p. 41.

[40] Wilson, p. cit., p. 418.

[41] Ferguson, op. cit., p. 571.

[42] Hastings, op. cit., p. 669.

[43] Roosevelt, in Gavin Mortimer, “Countdown to Conflict”, BBC History, September, 2019, p. 34.

[44] Hando, in Hastings, op, cit., p. 673.

[45] Sebestyen, op. cit., pp. 363-365.

[46] Beevor, “Yes, Truman had little choice”, BBC History Magazine, August, 2015, p. 58.

[47] Frank, “Yes. It saved millions of lives in Japan and Asia”, BBC History Magazine, August, 2015, p. 59.

[48] McLaughlin, “The Bomb was not Necessary”, History News Network, http://historynewsnetwork.org/article/129964.

[49] Eisenhower, in Daniel Goldhagen, Worse than War: Genocide, Eliminationism, and the Ongoing Assault on Humanity, London: Abacus, 2012, pp. 3-4.

[50] Ferguson, op. cit., p. 574.

[51] Wilson, op. cit., pp. 471-472.

[52] Christopher Booker, “The terrible Bomb really saved millions of lives”, The Sunday Telegraph, August 9, 2015, p. 20).

[53] Goldhagen, op. cit., p. 3.

[54] Goldhagen, op. cit., p. 7.

[55] Ferguson, The War of the World, p. 579.

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