The Fuhrer In The Dock
by Chris Nuttall
It was the trial of the century. Everyone wanted to be there. Notables such as Winston Churchill, a noted anticommunist, rubbed shoulders with Vyacheslav Mikhailovich Molotov, Stalin’s foreign minister. Americans, Frenchmen, Chinese and dozens of delegates from the British Empire held seats in the gallery, looking down on the dock and the man who was now being escorted by a guard into the defence box. The man’s lawyer stood next to him, head bowed; Hans Michael Frank, who had played a role, so long ago, in having Hitler confirmed as a German citizen had to be considering the irony of his role now.
The defendant himself looked almost pitiful. Gone was the figure that had aroused the passions of thousands upon thousands of Germans to go forward and try to conquer the world. Gone was the iron determination and self-conviction that had led him to overcome the objections of his trained military professionals and commit the German Army to destruction. And yet, many wondered, would the Fuhrer’s luck remain with him on one final day? Adolph Hitler, former Chancellor of Germany, Dictator of Germany, stood before his judges and showed no sign of remorse.
Cold eyes watched him as the judges assembled. It had been six months since Hitler and a handful of his closest associates had made a daring breakout from Berlin, a desperate mission commanded by Otto Skorzeny that had nearly made it to the mythical location of an SS Panzer Korps that might have broken out of Germany and taken the Fuhrer to Argentina or another location that might not have been so inhospitable. Instead, the Fuhrer had finally run into the arms of an American infantry patrol and, after a brief gun battle, had been arrested. Since then, he had been held in a prison while the judges wrangled over what was to happen to him…and, more importantly, what he was to be charged with before the eyes of the world.
"The court will now come to order," Geoffrey Lawrence – the President of the Court – said, as the doors were closed. Hitler’s face glanced once towards the doors – perhaps he had hoped, at the end, that some of his fanatical adherents would come to rescue him – and then he straightened, meeting Lawrence’s eyes with a touch of his old determination. "The Prosecution will read the charges."
Robert H. Jackson stood up. The Americans had been the leading voice in the effort to put the Fuhrer in the dock; the Soviets and the British had been more inclined to simply have Hitler shot and dumped in an unmarked grave. Jackson was well aware of the legal and international concerns caused by putting a head of state, however evil, on trial and rejoiced in them. President Roosevelt – it was hard, even now, to think of President Truman – had insisted on seeing Hitler put on trial, if only to set precedents. Not everyone wanted to see the precedents made…
"We have before us the former ruler of Germany, Adolph Hitler," Jackson said, after he had presented his preliminary statements. "We know that Hitler became the effective leader of Germany in 1933, and since then he embarked upon a design to dominate the world, which included a series of wars of aggression, mounted against defenceless civilians and nations. We know that the death toll of Hitler’s regime can never be calculated, but it included millions of lives lost, not through the normal and respected acts of war, but through a deliberate policy of mass slaughter and genocide. We know that Hitler’s regime, far from avoiding the war, desired armed conflict, to which extent the defendant worked towards causing the war. The sole responsibility for the conflict in Europe, which ended when the Allied armies took the defendant into custody, lies with him."
He pointed one long finger towards Hitler. "That man, who stands before you now, caused the war that devastated Europe and Russia," he proclaimed. "That man’s will shaped the course of the war and ensured that nothing other than a mighty Götterdämmerung could result, in which millions of lives were lost, many – I dare say even most – of whom could have been spared. The responsibility lies with him!"
He turned, briefly, to face the judges. All of them, the forerunners and their designated alternates, had been assembled. "The Prosecution wishes to bring the following charges against the defendant," he said, his voice hardening. "We charge him with deliberately provoking and launching wars of aggression against other nations. We charge him with crimes against peace. We charge him with war crimes directed against Allied personnel and citizens, but also citizens within occupied nations and, even, war crimes against his own people!"
He turned back to face Hitler. "In the days to come, I will bring before you witnesses to some of the crimes committed by people under his government," he concluded. "I will show you evidence to prove how the Fuhrer himself was responsible for their actions. I will show you how his actions went far, far, beyond anything that could be excused and forgiven…and why, in the end, we must ask for nothing less than the death penalty for Hitler. Nothing less will suffice for his crimes."
Hitler showed no reaction. "The Defendant’s representative is called to the stand," Lawrence said. "We invite him to present his rebuttal of the charges."
Hans Frank shuffled his notes nervously as a low rumble ran through the chamber. "My lord, my…client would like to address the court," he said.
Lawrence nodded. "The defendant may speak."
Hitler had been given the best possible medical care ever since he had fallen into Allied hands, intended to keep him healthy enough to put on trial. It showed as he gazed up, defiantly refusing to rise to his feet, and in his voice as he spoke in slow, sharp, German.
"I am the legitimate leader of Germany," Hitler said, his voice growing stronger as he spoke. A steady diet and freedom from the questionable medical skills of Theodor Morell had given him back much of his former health. "What right have you to put me on trial? I stand before you charged with crimes, but where are those who committed such crimes themselves? Where stands Bomber Harris and his Terror Fliers? Where are those who slaughtered thousands of Poles at Katyn? Where is Stalin, for his war with the Finns? Where is Churchill for his actions against German civilians? What gives you the right to try me on such charges when others are feted?"
There was a pause.
"Our right to try you may be in dispute," Lawrence said finally, "but the fact that you are in the dock, Mr Hitler, should not be in dispute. Please confine yourself to the facts. Do you intend to plead guilty, or not guilty?"
Hitler stared at him. "Not guilty," he said, defiance ringing in his voice.
"Thank you," Lawrence said. "Mr Jackson?"
"I call my first witness to the stand," Jackson said. "I call Otto Frank."
The older Jewish man looked tired and old, but grimly determined as he stepped forward, wearing a simple suit and a Star of David, proudly glaring out over his breast. The symbolism could not be missed.
"Mr Frank," Jackson said. "Please will you tell us about your experiences during the war?"
Otto Frank spoke softly. The tale was a new one to many of the observers; the Frank Family had fled Germany back in 1933, after Otto had had a successful career in the German Army, before the rise of Hitler to supreme power. The Nazis had followed them and Frank and his family had gone into hiding, only to be caught and taken away to a concentration camp. His children, Anne and Margot, and his wife, had all died in the camps, only a few days before liberation. His daughter had left a diary of her life in hiding, but little else remained of Otto’s pre-war life.
"I would like to say that Otto’s case is unique," Jackson said, when Otto had finished. Hitler had tried to interrupt twice; Hans Frank had tried three times. "I wish I could, but I would be lying; Otto’s case is merely one of millions. His life was destroyed, his children were killed, by a twisted whim of that man." He pointed to Hitler. "There can be no denying his impact on the lives of millions of innocents; his own book warns of the planned fate he had in mind for the German Jews…and for thousands upon thousands of other Jews."
"I wish to question the witness," Hans Frank said, after a long moment. "Mr Frank, is it true that you happen to be a Jew?"
Otto nodded once. "And yet, you showed your disloyalty to Germany by leaving the Reich when she was in desperate need of your service," Hans Frank continued. "You chose, rather than report for service, to go into hiding and remain in defiance of the state. The state needed your service…Mr Frank…and you chose not to provide it. You and your family were nothing more than criminals."
"Otto is not the only victim," Jackson repeated. "The actions of the defendant towards Jews was nothing less than homicidal. There is evidence of just what happened to those stupid enough to report for service; Otto Frank made the right decision."
"He’s a Jew," Hitler said. He showed, once again, no remorse for his crimes. "Is it not an established fact that the new…Russian Government was riddled with Jews? Is it not a fact that an American Jew planned to completely deindustrialise Germany and leave us forever at the mercy of the enemy from the east? The Jews have worked for centuries to bring down the Aryan Race; today, Germany, tomorrow, America."
"If that were true, an admission I do not make, how could the young Anna be guilty of such a crime?" Jackson asked quietly. "Your punishment was far, far, worse than the crime."
Days passed as other charges were brought. Soviet partisans spoke of losing their villages and towns to German counter-insurgency efforts. Czechoslovakians spoke of losing Lidice and Ležáky. British survivors of the Blitz spoke about London and Coventry. Italians spoke about German actions in support of Mussolini. A handful of Russian women talked about their rape at the hands of SS squads. Polish women testified to their lost children, taken for the Lebensborn experiment and brought up as Germans. One by one, patiently, details emerged into the limelight, while Hitler and Hans Frank strove to prove, one by one, how such actions had been necessary. The judges kept their own consul.
"Mr Hitler, during 1936, you broke the terms of the Versailles Treaty and moved armed units into the Rhineland," Jackson said, two weeks after the trial had begun. "How do you intend to defend such actions?"
Hitler stood up. "The Versailles Treaty was forced on Germany by the victors in the war," he said. "A treaty signed under duress cannot be considered binding on any later government, particularly when responsibility for the war clearly lay with all parties involved in the conflict."
"Regardless," Jackson said. "Two years later, you bullied the Czechs into giving up territory to you, which allowed you to seize the remainder of their country a few months later, before launching an armed attack on Poland."
"The Poles benefited from our defeat in the war and helped themselves to our territory," Hitler snapped. "The jackals should have allowed us to reclaim what was ours, but you encouraged them to be unreasonable."
"And then, later, you attacked France…"
"Which had declared war on us," Hitler injected.
"…And launched an attempt to strangle Britain," Jackson continued remorselessly. "A year later, you launched the largest land invasion in history, an assault into Russia that almost destroyed the Russian regime…"
"Which was preparing to launch an attack on us," Hitler snapped. Jackson lifted an eyebrow. "How else do you explain their dispositions when we attacked?"
Jackson cleared his throat noisily. "That issue has no bearing on the matter at hand," he said. "You were permitted to recover most of the territory taken from Germany in the aftermath of the war of 1914-18, although you showed little interest in the former overseas colonies. You launched wars of aggression, not to recover what was once yours, but to take from other people. You are a thief on a colossal scale.
"And you chose," he continued, "to declare war on the United States. That choice was yours, and yours alone. You chose to commit further acts of aggression, regardless of your own position or even your ability to carry out your plans. Your post-war planning, such as it was, has already been discussed; for those unlucky enough not to meet your racial criteria, there would have been nothing, but slavery and death. There is no possible justification for what you have done."
A week passed as other witnesses were called and other matters were discussed. Hitler’s team summoned several witnesses, including men who had lost their families to the blockade of Germany during the Great War, women who had been raped by Russian soldiers and children who had lost their families to the bombing of German cities. The arguments raced backwards and forwards, a duel between Jackson and Hitler, with Hans Frank pushed further and further into the background. Finally, the final day came…
Jackson thought he would almost miss it.
"The Prosecutor may make his final statement," Lawrence said.
Jackson took a breath. "You have all heard the statements made by the defendant and the witnesses, those who were called here to face the court, and the writings of many more who were unable to see the end of the war in Europe," he said, remembering Anne Frank and silently resolving that she would not be forgotten. "There can be no doubt that the defendant not only knew of such events, such war crimes, but created the conditions for them to exist. He may have been ignorant of specific cases, he may have known nothing about the existence of Otto Frank and his daughters, he may even have meant them no specific harm…but he created the nightmare that engulfed them all.
"Nor can he claim innocence on charges of crimes against peace," he continued. "Those who tried to appease him may have been weak and foolish men, or they may have meant well, but they gave him the chance to prove his desire for peace. He had most of what he wanted before he chose to start the war; his decisions ensured that the war would not only start, but that it would end only in the annihilation of one side."
He sat down.
Hitler stood up, glaring around the courtroom; few met his gaze. "This court has no right to try me," he said, repeating his position. "I was elected leader of Germany by the German people, who will still consider me to be their leader in their hearts. You have charged me with crimes when your hands are equally covered in blood; German blood, Italian blood, Russian blood, the blood of your own people…what gives you the moral right to try me? And yet, how much of the conditions that allowed me to come to power occurred because of you? Have you not heard from those who lived through the days following the surrender of Imperial Germany? Why do you allow the claim that we deserved to suffer, back during those days, to stand?
"And look, now, at the world you have created," he snapped. "The entire eastern area of Europe is in the hands of Communist Jews. The British Empire and French Empire totters. How can you Americans" – he looked at Jackson – "claim to be disgusted at our actions when you treat your own subhuman races with scorn and brutality? We said that we intended to form the west’s shield against godless communism; look now, and wonder if you did the right thing! We were prepared to accept peace, peace on terms of equality, but you made the choice to insist on nothing less than surrender. We remember how we were betrayed at Versailles and knew that we could not risk surrendering to you. The ending of the war is your work.
"In ten years, perhaps less, Europe will be communist, absorbed by the monster in the east that you have feted as your ally," he concluded. "Did you forget, so quickly, that Stalin aided us when we punished the Polish Jackals? It will not be long before you feel the weight of Russian power…and then you will know that we were right, and you were wrong. You have no legal right to try me; I reject your court and your rules. It is nothing more than victor’s justice."
Two hours later, the court was assembled for the final time.
"We acknowledge, for the moment, that our legal right to try you is limited," Lawrence said, reading the court’s decision. "There is little precedent for trying a head of state; both Napoleon and the Kaiser were sent into exile, although the Tsar was tried and then executed by the Russians. Regardless, the nature of your regime and the utter inability of anyone in your nation to remove you from power must be considered; there was no other way you could be removed. We believe that, as your victims, we have the right to try you.
"We accept, furthermore, that our own hands are not clean. As you yourself stated, there were Allied war crimes against Germans, Italians and Japanese – and, yes, many of them were innocent. However, such actions were not generally carried out to exterminate your people, and in many cases the individuals responsible for the crimes were dealt with by their own people. Finally, at the risk of sounding childish, you did it to us first; Dresden was proceeded by Coventry, the Russian ravages in the east of Germany were preceded by the German ravages in the west of Russia…and your navy made a determined effort to starve Britain. Your objection is noted, but it cannot be allowed to stand.
"The first issue brought before us, that of your personal responsibility for the war, and therefore your conviction on charges of crimes against peace, can only lead to the conclusion that the charge is justified. You were offered dozens of opportunities to take what was once Germany’s and become a respectable member of the world community, but instead you chose war. There were no migrating factors in your invasion of Norway and Denmark, still less Greece and Yugoslavia. The charge is sustained.
"The second issue, that of crimes against humanity, is equally simple to judge. You created the regime that allowed it to happen; you have a share of responsibility for what was carried out in your name. Your own writings condemn you; you conceived a personal hatred for the Jews and everyone else who didn’t meet your standards. You may not have known every little detail, you may not have intended all of the results to happen, but you created the regime that allowed such crimes to happen. Your soldiers committed vast crimes against humanity, your internal security personnel tormented your own people, when a word from you could have prevented so many little tragedies, or ensured punishment for those who committed the crimes. The charge is sustained."
Lawrence gazed around the courtroom. "One day, it is likely that there will be people who will believe that you were not responsible, or that there was nothing, but victor’s justice here," he concluded. "We gave you a chance to defend yourself and listened to your defence; nothing, but nothing, justifies the actions that took place on your watch. The decision was not an easy one to make, but there was no other choice.
"Adolph Hitler, it is the judgement of this court that you will be taken from this place and hung until you are dead," Lawrence said. "May the Good Lord have mercy on your soul."