Leonid Leonov arrived in the ruined city of Nuremberg in the autumn of 1945 at the height of his fame. His report, in the Pravda newspaper, entitled “The Fascist Snake” (The Serpent of Nuremberg), was one of the most brilliant press statements about the Nuremberg Trials.
The starting point for the piece, its primary metaphor, was the Serpent, the snake of temptation from the biblical Christian story of Adam and Eve. As soon as Leonov entered and looked around, he saw a snake design on a bas-relief in the courtroom of the Nuremberg Palace of Justice. In his essay, Leonov extended the image of the biblical Eve to Europe. Twelve countries on the European continent, like Eve, were caught in nets neatly set for them by the Fascist Serpent (The Serpent of Nuremberg).
The Serpent of Nuremberg by Leonid Leonov (Pravda newspaper, 2 December 1945).
“As I started for Nuremberg, I took a pledge not to brand war criminals with strong words. However apt, truth does not need them, and contempt takes the edge off hatred. Every Soviet citizen out of the 200 million shares my feelings – and my talent will not suffice to make them 200 million times stronger”.
“Follow me, my reader. I will take you to the Nuremberg law court. We will go from the Grand Hotel right to the northwest, along an endless line of fantastic ruins. When you see them, it is hard to believe that pilgrims came here recently to admire Dürer's house and Hirschvogel’s stained glass windows. We don't have any precious recollections in Nuremberg; neither Dürer nor Melanchthon will be able to whiten the later sins of Nuremberg; that's why we won't be touched by these broken potsherds and the brushes of torn fittings."
"We will have to walk for a long time until we feel sick of the sight of devastation and the oncoming shadows that will lower their decrepit thousand-year-old eyes before us, so that these eyes will not burn our clothes; we will walk until a sentry stops us in front of a grey edifice with doors like tombstones. The American sentry will look askance at your striped pass and drop a careless, “Okay”. And we will get lost in a labyrinth of stairways and corridors, in a multilingual crowd, who has brought here piles of charge sheets and material evidence from the whole wide world. By 10 a.m., all will take their assigned seats, and the intricate mechanism of the International Military Tribunal will be put into action”.
“We are no guests in Germany or pilgrims in Nuremberg. From this ill-fated city, we want to appeal to the women of the world, to prevent harmful and corrupting lies from reaching their ears, to the women from whom tomorrow's generations of their poets, scientists, and soldiers will come. Time tends to flow; history – to laugh, and children – to reach the service age. Today, you will have ample experience to continue this thought to the end. If, during World War I, putting up with the horror that loomed over you, it was no longer to the sky that you prayed for your children's happiness, but only if they were fed, it wasn't even the satiety that we were talking about recently, but only if we were left in one piece, even in a slum, even if it was one for five! This is what the Serpent has done to Europe”.
“They are taking their seats 15 feet from me: grey-haired, yellow-faced, washed out. They looked quite different, athletic and cheerful, when they worked on instructions for the Germanization of Europe and elaborated the Barbarossa Plan. They began to lose colour much, much later, when the premonition of the end came. These are not rank-and-file executioners from Belsen and Auschwitz: these are the elite, the top-ranking theory-mongers. Animal cunning, this mind of villainy, shines in everyone's eyes, and Satan would hire any one of them as his minister”.
“There is a strange, well-known, almost hypnotic fascination in the contemplation of a creep, when you wish and cannot take your eyes off him. And so, we spend hours looking at these amphibians, trying to read their current thoughts. But the creep lives in the ground and tries to dodge the human gaze, as if ashamed of its nudity and ugliness”.
“I have no idea what awaits them. The whole lot might be hanged in front of the Reichstag or the lenient court might sentence them to be shot, or, using Göring’s method, they will be put on their backs and have their necks chopped off, so they will see the retaliation axe until the last breath”.
“What I do know is that they are already dead in the eyes of mankind.”