The United States, Germany and the problem of convicted war criminals, 1946-1955

Frank Michael Buscher, Marquette University

Abstract

During World War II the administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt concluded that the crimes such as the Holocaust and other atrocities committed by Nazi Germany must be punished. For that purpose, the United States implemented a war crimes trial program consisting of two parts. First, high-ranking bureaucrats, military officers, government officials and industrialists were tried on the basis of a procedure agreed upon by the Allies. Second, those responsible for the murders of Allied, and particularly American, military personnel were prosecuted before courts of the U.S. Army. The operation as a whole involved over 1,800 defendants. In addition to punishing convicted perpetrators, American occupation authorities also attempted to use the war crimes program for a second purpose: to convince the Germans that their society with its militaristic and authoritarian traditions needed to be reformed. U.S. officials had failed to draw up plans for the post-trial treatment of convicted war criminals, but had stipulated that verdicts and judgments could not be appealed. Sentences, however, could be reduced by the Military Governor and, later, the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany. The war crimes program was plagued with defense allegations of judicial impropriety and wrong-doing on the part of U.S. investigators and prosecutors as early as 1946. The lack of an appellate court to rectify these matters was criticized by American jurists, including Justices on the Supreme Court. In the Congress, conservative Congressmen used these controversies involving war crimes trails to embarrass the Truman administration. To avoid further criticism in the U.S. and in Germany and to ensure that comparable offenses received equal punishment, U.S. authorities resorted to administrative sentence reviews and set up several clemency boards in the late 1940's. Until January 1951 these clemency boards served as substitutes for an appellate court, allowing the United States to reduce sentences without questioning the validity of the war crimes program. Legal considerations became a political burden for both the Western Allies and the West German government of Konrad Adenauer. Consequently, the Allies, including the United States, created additional clemency commissions, with German members, in the early 1950's. (Abstract shortened with permission of author.)

Recommended Citation

Frank Michael Buscher, "The United States, Germany and the problem of convicted war criminals, 1946-1955" (January 1, 1988). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. Paper AAI8904265.
http://epublications.marquette.edu/dissertations/AAI8904265

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