In February 1946, it was the USSR's turn to have its say at the Nuremberg Trials. Representatives of the Soviet prosecution were the last to take the podium, after their colleagues from the US, UK, and France. On 8 February, Courtroom 600 heard the opening speech of General Roman Rudenko, head of the Soviet prosecution team. Journalists and spectators clung to the headphones as the translation was broadcast. The defendants, on the other hand, removed their headphones, but not for long.
‘There is War In Every Little Thing’
“The defendants knew that cynical mockery of the laws and customs of war constituted the gravest of crimes. They knew it, but they hoped that total war, by securing victory, would also secure their impunity…
And just because the German people were made to participate in these outrages, because, prior to setting packs of dogs and executioners on millions of innocent people, the defendants for years had poisoned the conscience and the mind of an entire generation of Germans by developing in them the conceit of ‘the chosen,’ the morals of cannibals, and the greed of burglars, can it be said on account of these facts that the guilt of the Hitlerite conspirators is any less great or any less grave?
All branches of science were militarized. All aspects of art were subjected to the aims of aggression. ‘We approach science unbiased by knowledge and scholarly education’ – declared the fascist review Politische Wissenschaft, Number 3 in 1933 – ‘The student must come to college with the demand that science be as soldierly as his own bearing and that the professor possesses the qualities of a leader and the bearing of a soldier.’
‘We want arms again!’ – said Hitler – ‘Then indeed from the child's primer to the last newspaper, every theatre and every movie house, every advertising pillar and every billboard-all must be pressed into the service of this one great mission...’”
“Many languages of the peoples of the world have already sounded from the rostrum of the International Military Tribunal – as it was written by Boris Polevoi, who covered the trial for Pravda newspaper and wrote the book ‘The Final Reckoning – Nuremberg Diaries’ – The Russians, Americans, British, French, Czechs, Belgians, Spaniards, Dutch, and Norwegians were speaking. And under the pressure of irrefutable evidence, the Germans themselves were rising as witnesses to expose the details of a monstrous conspiracy against the peoples of the world, which was made up by a group of devil's deputies on earth, politely referred as ‘the main war criminals.’ Today the voice of the Soviet people sounded in the hall again. Chief Prosecutor R. A. Rudenko once again rose to the rostrum for the prosecution. When we heard the sound of our native language on our headphones, we involuntarily thought that on the platform, raised above the dock, were the Soviet people themselves.”
“The youth of Czechoslovakia was deprived of all opportunities for education. When, in 1942, a Czech delegation appealed to Frank for permission to reopen the higher Czechoslovak educational institutions, he cynically replied, ‘Should the war be won by England, you will reopen your schools yourselves; should Germany win, then five-grade elementary schools will be enough for you.’”
Soviet writer Polevoi was focused on his compatriot prosecutor, while the American military psychologist, who was working with the defendants, was focused on the criminals.
“During the address, Göring and Hess took off their headphones as a gesture that the address was not worth listening to” – Gilbert wrote in his book ‘Nuremberg Diary’ – “When I asked Göring why he hadn't been listening, he said that he knew in advance what the Russians were going to say. Hess said he didn't have to listen to foreigners slandering his country.”
“Yugoslavia, as well as Poland, was a victim of the German fascist aggressors who destroyed this flourishing state, and its fields, gardens, and ploughed land with corpses of many thousands of Yugoslav patriots who fell in the heroic struggle against the foreign invaders and enslavers, in the struggle for the freedom and independence of their native land.”
“The Soviet Prosecutor, in his calm speech dissected this multi-headed monster” – Polevoi stated, “showing not only his fangs and claws, the action of which the European peoples have experienced on themselves, but his inner poisonous glands, his monstrous stomach, that was ready to digest all non-Aryan peoples, showed the secret convolutions of his terrible brain, in which plans for new conspiracies against humanity ripened, showed the deeply hidden nerves that set this monstrous organism in motion.”
30 Million Slavs Cut Down
“All the defendants prepared, organised, and perpetrated indescribable and blasphemous crimes, such as have never before been committed in history, against humanity and against the principles of human ethics and of international law.”
A special place among the unheard-of crimes of the Hitlerites is occupied by the bloody butchery of the Slavic and Jewish peoples. Hitler said to Rauschning:
“After all these centuries of whining about the protection of the poor and the lowly, it is about time we decided to protect the strong against the inferior., It will be one of the chief tasks of German statesmanship for all times to prevent, by every means in our power, the further increase of the Slav races.”
In answer to a question by a representative of the Soviet Prosecution, the witness declared, “Himmler mentioned in his speech that it was necessary to cut down the number of Slavs by 30 million.”
The fascist conspirators planned the extermination to the last man of the Jewish population of the world and carried out this extermination throughout the whole of their conspiratorial activity from 1933 onwards.
In a speech by the Defendant Frank, published in the Krakow Gazette on 18 August 1942, it is stated:
“Anyone who passes through Krakow, Lvov, Warsaw, Radom, or Lublin today must in all fairness admit that the efforts of the German administration have been crowned with real success, as one now sees hardly any Jews.”
The bestial annihilation of the Jewish population took place in Ukraine, in Belorussia, and in the Baltic States. In the town of Riga, some 80,000 Jews lived before the German occupation. At the moment of the liberation of Riga by the Red Army, there were 140 Jews left there.
The President of the Tribunal, Lord Justice Sir Geoffrey Lawrence, adjourned. Gustave Gilbert used the moment to interview the defendants.
“Fritzsche mentioned, that one thing the Russians brought up which he had not known about, was the extermination camp behind the German lines, in which Russian women and children were exterminated in a pit, and no buildings to mark the site. Göring retorted that all the atrocities the Russians were bringing up were Russian atrocities, which they were blaming on the Germans.
“You will have a hard time proving that the Russians murdered their own citizens to blame you for atrocities,” Fritzsche said.
“How do you know what I can prove?” Göring snapped back fiercely. Fritzsche also asked him what he meant by that.
“I saw the official reports and pictures myself!” he bellowed.
“Where are they?” Fritzsche asked.
“In Geneva!” Göring roared, becoming increasingly irate.
"Oh, but that Geneva report is an entirely different matter,” Fritzsche explained, as if Göring didn't know it.
Looting – Göring's Pride
After the break, Roman Rudenko took the prosecution stand once again.
“We shall” – said Hitler to Rauschning – “have to develop a technique of systematic depopulation. If you ask me what I mean by 'depopulation,' I mean the removal of entire racial units. And that is what I intend to carry out – that, roughly, is my task. Nature is cruel; therefore we, too, may be cruel. If I can send the flower of the German nation into the hell of war without the smallest pity for the spilling of precious German blood, then surely I have the right to remove millions of an inferior race that breeds like vermin!”
Boris Polevoi described the atmosphere in the hall while the audience was listening to Roman Rudenko talk: “The court, the prosecutors, the defenders, the guests listened to the words of the Chief Soviet Prosecutor with excitement, and even the correspondents, who had seen and known everything, today were sitting quietly on their benches, diligently writing down the text of the speech. Here and there, hands were raised in the press box. Couriers were called to send urgent telegrams. During the break, the bar was empty, but from the press room one could hear such a crackle of typewriters that it was difficult to hear a word.”
“The Defendant Göring directed the predatory activities of the German military and economic detachments with the greatest zeal.
At a conference held on 6 August 1942 with the Reich commissioners and representatives of the military command, Göring demanded that the plunder of occupied territories be intensified:
“You are sent there” – Göring pointed out – “not to work for the benefit of the peoples entrusted to you, but in order to pump out of them all that is possible….I intend to plunder and to plunder effectively.”
Following the directives of the Defendant Göring, the local authorities mercilessly and completely plundered the population of the occupied territories. An order discovered at a number of places in the Kursk and Orel districts by units of the Red Army contains a list of property to be handed over to the military authorities. Things like scales, sacks, salt, lamps, saucepans, oilcloth, blinds, and gramophones with records are mentioned in the order. "All this property," the order states, "must be delivered to the commander. Those guilty of infringing this order will be shot.” Here is what Boris Polevoi saw: “Rosenberg, who knows Russian, took off his headphones and listened to the speech, putting his hand to his ear. After Göring’s was quoted as saying “I am going to rob and I will do it effectively” at the beginning of the speech, he angrily pulled off his headphones.
Keitel put them on and did not take them off until the very end, thrusting his finger behind the collar of his tunic, pulling it back with an automatic movement, as if the rope was already tightening on his neck.”
‘Drang Nach Osten’
“All Germany's aggressive actions against a number of European states, during the period between 1938 and 1941, were actually only preliminary measures for the main blow in the East. For fascist Germany had conceived the criminal design of seizing the territory of the Soviet Union in order to plunder and to exploit the peoples of the USSR… This tendency of predatory German imperialism is expressed in the well-known formula ‘Drang nach Osten.’”
I revert for evidence to the official documents of the Hitlerite Government, which fully disclose the defendants' guilt in committing the criminal actions with which they are charged under the present Indictment.
According to the Defendant Keitel's statement, Hitler decided to attack the USSR at the end of 1940. Already in the spring of 1940, a plan of assault had been worked out. Conferences on this subject had been held during the summer.
This is also confirmed by the statement of the Defendant Jodl, who at his preliminary examination testified that the plans of attack on the USSR were actually worked out in the months of November-December 1940 and that during that period the first directives were given to the Army, to the Navy, and to the Air Force. Speaking of these directives, Jodl refers to a document known as the Case Barbarossa. This document is signed by Hitler, Jodl, and Keitel.
This directive, intended only for the High Command of the German Army, contains an elaborate and detailed plan for a sudden attack on the USSR.
Less than a month after the perpetration of this perfidious act Hitler called a conference, which was attended by Rosenberg, Göring, Bormann, Lammers, and Keitel. At this conference Hitler instructed those present not to disclose to the outside world the true aims of the war begun by the Hitlerites.
"Therefore” – said Hitler – "we shall emphasise again that we were compelled to occupy a region to establish order and security there... our method of regulation is the natural outcome of this. Thus it must not be revealed that this may bring about a final solution. However, despite and notwithstanding this, we shall take all necessary measures such as mass shootings, deportation, et cetera.”
Any kind of violence against the peaceful population, deportation into German slavery, shooting, and looting were called "regulation" in the words of Hitler and his accomplices.
“On this day of the triumph of the Soviet prosecution only Hess retained a calm and indifferent look”, Boris Polevoi pointed out, “By this, he seemed to emphasise that he did not take part in the development of the Barbarossa Plan or in Operation Typhoon and did not want to be responsible neither for the successes nor for the defeats of the German army.”
“Now, when as a result of the heroic struggle of the Red Army and of the Allied forces, Hitlerite Germany is broken and overwhelmed, we have no right to forget the victims who have suffered We have no right to leave unpunished those who organized and were guilty of monstrous crimes.
In sacred memory of millions of innocent victims of the fascist terror, for the sake of the consolidation of peace throughout the world, for the sake of the future security of nations, we are presenting the defendants with a just and complete account which must be settled. This is an account on behalf of all mankind, an account backed by the will and the conscience of all freedom-loving nations
May justice be done!”
On 8 February, the Soviet prosecutor spoke all day both in the morning and in the evening sessions. Some media managed to come out with “hot” reports from the courtroom on the same day. The newspapers recounted the brightest moments of the speech of the Soviet prosecutor. But sometimes they were distracted by details. So, the correspondent of the Parisian Le Monde described Rudenko's appearance and uniform: “A short and stocky general is dressed in a dark brown uniform with wide shoulder straps with silver stars” – very French. And the New York Times journalist reproached the Soviet prosecutor for giving Greece disproportionately little attention – quite in an American way.
Opening Statement by General R.A. Rudenko, Chief Prosecutor for the USSR at the International Military Tribunal, Transcript of the session dated 8 February 1946.
State Archive of the Russian Federation. F. R-7445. Series 1. Case. 1890. Pg. 1–80.