Judgement at Nuremberg

Episodes of orchestrated travesty or what is called miscarriage of justice resulting in sending victims to jail or to gallows on trumped up charges are not new phenomena to be surprised with. There had been instances in history where judicial system of the states were manipulated by governments of the time both in democracies and dictatorships. Such manipulation was also witnessed during Hitler’s regime in Germany. But normally it is quite difficult for a layman to understand if the judges under the so-called government dispensation are working with independence or under duress.

Recently, while travelling to Frankfurt during winter break, I had a chance to stop at Nuremberg and visit the Trial Courthouse where judges who served during the Nazi Germany were put on trial. It was a watershed moment in International Law being the first time such a trial was conducted for the ones who committed war crimes or were involved in any sort of crime either directly or indirectly. Many leaders of the Third Reich were tried while many committed suicide, fearing severe punishments.

Today, many consider the trials as “an act of the winning side” rather than the trial of mass murderers who participated in the state sponsored persecution and murder of six million Jews and other ethnic groups. The trials anyway raised a series of questions whether it was victor’s justice – prosecution of losers by the winners? And did we really learn anything from this turning point in the history?

Hans Rolfe – the defense counsel, in the movie “Judgement at Nuremberg” based on the Nuremberg trials, while presenting the arguments before the judge adjudicating the court session says: If the judges who worked under the Nazi regime were responsible for what happened, then Winston Churchill who said, “I have always said that if Great Britain were defeated in war I hoped we should find a Hitler to lead us back to our rightful position among the nations” is also responsible. Though except these lines nothing much has been said about Winston Churchill in the movie but there is a lot more which can be penned down. Madhusree Mukerjee, an Indo-American author, criticizes Winston Churchill in her book “Churchill’s Secret War” for neglecting Indo-Pak subcontinent during the 1940’s.

As it goes: “History is always written by the winners”. No doubt the trial of the Nazi judges was carried out to do justice with the victims but at the same time the trial should have included all those who in any way were responsible for the loss of lives not only in Europe but in the European colonies as well

Should it be called a coincidence or an irony, but the fact is that British who were part of these trials never faced any such tribulations for the massacre of people which took place due to the Britishers’ unwise decisions made before leaving subcontinent. What consequences did Britain face for the hasty partition they made resulting in approximately 1.5 million casualties that took place in the wake of tumultuous mass migration? Not only this but who is responsible for the famine in Bengal which occurred because of shortage of food as the British had sent out tons of wheat to Britain while neglecting the sub-continent. Famine had caused around three million human deaths. According to Mukherjee food shortage had occurred due to the fact that food was exported in huge quantity from India for use in the theatres of war and of course for consumption in Britain too. More than 70,000 tonnes of rice were shipped out of India between January and July 1943. With such an amount of rice 400,000 people could have lived for a year.

The story doesn’t end here. During the conquest of Burma by Japan that year, the government of Britain had announced a “denial policy” in Bengal, also known as scorched earth policy intended to deny Japan’s access to transport food if it invades Bengal. Therefore, thousands of tons of rice were thrown into the sea, 46,000 boats, including carts and elephants were also confiscated.

Be it the Bengal Famine, the denial policy or the Amritsar Massacre (1919) in which at least 1000 innocent civilians became a victim of Colonel Reginald Dyer’s rifles and lost their lives; someone must have the answers to these unfortunate series of events written in the darkest pages of history.

As it goes: “History is always written by the winners”. No doubt the trial of the Nazi judges was carried out to do justice with the victims but at the same time the trial should have included all those who in any way were responsible for the loss of lives not only in Europe but in the European colonies as well.

“Mothers had turned into murderers, village belles into whores, fathers into traffickers of daughters”, writes Mukerjee regarding Bengal famine. Such are the sorrowful tales of the sub-continent rarely mentioned in the history books in their true perspective. Holding someone accountable for that is in fact a far cry.

The writer studies International Relations at University of Pécs

Published in Daily Times, January 18th 2019.