In the immediate aftermath of war, many efforts were made to cover up its traces. Near Singapore, where seven American prisoners-of-war had been executed eleven days before the surrender of Japan, Oka Harumitzu was told that as soon as one of the officers who had carried out those executions heard the news of the surrender, on 15 August 1945, he and the other executioners went at once to Niyusun airport, dug up the airmen’s bodies, brought them back to camp, cremated them on a big fire on the barrack square and threw the ashes into the sea. ‘The flames did not attract any undue attention’, Harumitzu later recalled, ‘as there were fires lit at all the different naval and military establishments at that time to burn all military documents and records before the Allied forces arrived’.
In Manchuria, and in particular around Mutanchiang, Japanese forces continued the struggle from August 16 until August 19 against the Soviet advance. When the Manchurian battles were over, 8,219 Soviet troops were dead. The Japanese had lost more than 40,000 men. On the night of August 19, after further Soviet advances at Hutou, several hundred Japanese blew themselves up with grenades, to avoid the disgrace of being captured.
On August 19, four days after the surrender of Japan, the Vietnamese Communist guerrilla leader, Ho Chi-minh, seized power in northern Indo-China; three days later, British aircraft parachuted a Free French military team into southern Indo-China. A new conflict had begun.
On August 23, the Russians occupied Port Arthur; their defeat at the hands of the Japanese Army forty years earlier had been avenged. The Russian conquest of southern Sakhalin was completed two days later. Russia, like the United States, was now a victor in the Pacific.
New conflicts were everywhere about to begin. On August 25, in China, a four-man American Special Services team, headed by Captain John Birch, was ordered to halt by a patrol of Chinese Communist troops; a tussle ensued, insults were exchanged, and Birch was shot. In the United States, there were those who called him, with pride, ‘the first casualty in the Third World War between Communists and the ever shrinking Free World’. The right-wing Society founded in his name was to become a leading opponent of Communism in all its aspects, not only in Europe and Asia, but also in the United States.
Over northern Malaya, Burma and Siam, under Operation Birdcage, thirty-three million leaflets were dropped on ninety prisoner-of-war camps, and on 150 other localities, to explain that the war was over, and that help was on its way. There followed, in the last week of August, Operation Mastiff, the dropping by parachute of medicines, principally Atabrine—the prophylactic against malaria—of which more than a million tablets were dropped in one week. Allied aircraft had also begun to bring back prisoners-of-war from the Far East; four thousand were flown back in that last week of August alone. In Britain, 394,000 German prisoners remained in captivity; more than half of them were engaged in agricultural work. Churchill’s farm in Kent was among those which were brought back into use with the help of German prisoners-of-war.
On August 25, ten days after the Japanese surrender, American troops entered a prisoner-of-war camp at Haichow, on Hainan Island. Of the original 273 Australian prisoners-of-war in the camp when it was set up, only 130 were still alive. Of the survivors, only eight were strong enough to be able to join the last burial parties.
No Allied soldier had yet set foot on the soil of mainland Japan. On August 28, the first American soldier did so; he was Colonel Charles Tench, one of General MacArthur’s staff. Landing with a small task force of 150 men at Atsugi airfield, near Yokohama, he telegraphed to MacArthur’s headquarters in Manila: ‘No hostile action encountered.’ On the following day, an American airborne division landed at the Yokosuka naval base. The occupation of Japan had begun. In Tokyo Bay, off Yokohama, Allied warships had begun to gather, among them, on August 29, the American battleship Missouri and the British battleship Duke of York.
On August 30, a British naval squadron reached Hong Kong. That day, British medical officers were parachuted into Changi prisoner-of-war camp, in Singapore; British troops were still on their way to Singapore by sea. As the doctors worked, the former Japanese guards remained on duty, in the service of their recent captives. Also on August 30, General MacArthur arrived in Japan; in an extraordinary scene, which alarmed many of the Americans who were with him, as MacArthur drove the fifteen miles from Atsugi airport to Yokohama, more than thirty thousand Japanese soldiers lined both sides of the road, with bayonets fixed.
On MacArthur’s second day in Yokohama, he was shocked by the sudden and emaciated appearance of Lieutenant-General Jonathan M. Wainwright, the officer whom he had left in command of Bataan and Corregidor in 1942, when he, MacArthur, had been ordered by Roosevelt to move his headquarters to Australia. General Wainwright had been found by the Russians in a prisoner-of-war camp in Manchuria, had travelled by train to Mukden, then by bomber to Chungking and on to Manila, then back by air across the Pacific to Yokohama. His four years in captivity had left him haggard and emaciated, with snow white hair and parchment-like skin. Deeply shocked, MacArthur could not eat that night, or sleep.
On August 31, the remote Japanese garrison on Marcus Island surrendered to the Americans. On September 1, Soviet troops completed their occupation of the Kurile Islands, which stretched from the northernmost island of Japan to the tip of the Soviet Far Eastern peninsula of Kamchatka. On September 2, the Japanese garrisons on Truk Island in the Carolines, on Pagan and Rota in the Marianas, and on the Palau Islands, surrendered to the Americans. That same day, in Tokyo Bay, on board the American battleship Missouri, the new Japanese Foreign Minister, Mamoru Shigemitsu, and the Chief of Staff of the Japanese Army, General Yoshijiro Umezu, signed the instrument of surrender in the presence of General MacArthur, who then signed it in the name of the Allies. At MacArthur’s wish, the signing was watched both by General Wainwright, and by General Percival, the British General who had surrendered to the Japanese at Singapore. ‘We are gathered here,’ MacArthur began, ‘representatives of the major warring powers, to conclude a solemn agreement whereby peace may be restored. The issues, involving divergent ideas and ideologies, have been determined on the battlefields of the world, and hence are not for our discussion or debate….’
Among the 250 Allied warships in Tokyo Bay that September 2 was the British destroyer Whelp; its First Lieutenant, Prince Philip of Greece, was about to ferry British prisoners-of-war from the small boats which had brought them from the shore to the Escort Carriers which were to take them home. Three days later, Indian troops reached Changi prisoner-of-war camp in Singapore, taking the Japanese guards into custody.
Another island surrender took place in the Pacific on September 4, when 2,200 Japanese soldiers on Wake Island laid down their arms. During the nearly two years during which the Japanese garrison on Wake had been left unchallenged, 1,300 soldiers had died from starvation, and a further 600 from occasional American air attacks. Three days after the surrender of Wake Island, the Japanese forces on the Ryukyu Islands surrendered.
The evacuation of prisoners-of-war was now in full swing. On September 7, Allied warships entered port Kiirun, on Formosa, to take off 1,200 prisoners. Eighty-nine of those liberated were survivors of the Bataan ‘Death March’ of 1942. On the southern coast of Burma, near Moulmein, Japanese soldiers continued to fight against British Special Operation forces, part of Operation Character, until September 8; several hundred Japanese were killed in this conflict in the first month of peace.
As Operation Character came to an end in Burma, Operation Masterdom began in Indo-China, the attempt by the French, with British and Indian troops, starting on September 8, to forestall the local Communist guerrillas, and to restore the French colonial administration. In this first direct anti-Communist struggle of the post-war world, the French commander, Colonel Cedile, made use of 1,400 Japanese troops, former prisoners-of-war, who had just been released. The British commander, Major General D. D. Gracey, also enlisted large numbers of Japanese troops, who until three weeks earlier had been the occupying power. Two weeks after Operation Masterdom had been launched, French troops overthrew the interim Vietnamese Government in Saigon; Vietnamese retaliation was swift, with more than a hundred Westerners, including the commander of the wartime clandestine American forces, being killed. By the time the British troops had left Indo-China, in May 1946, a civil war was raging.
On September 12, in Singapore, Lord Louis Mountbatten was the senior Allied officer present at the signing of the Japanese surrender document by the Japanese General, Seishiro Itagaki. ‘I have come today’, Mountbatten declared, ‘to receive the formal surrender of all Japanese forces within South East Asia Command. I wish to make this plain; the surrender today is no negotiated surrender. The Japanese are submitting to superior forces, now massed here.’
As Mountbatten was speaking, General Slim, whose forces had carried out the long, arduous, costly reconquest of Burma, ‘looked’, as he later recalled, ‘at the dull impassive masks that were the faces of the Japanese generals and admirals seated opposite. Their plight moved me not at all. For them, I had none of the sympathy of soldier for soldier, that I had felt for Germans, Turks, Italians, or Frenchmen that by the fortune of war I had seen surrender. I knew too well what these men and those under their orders had done to their prisoners. They sat there apart from the rest of humanity’.
General Slim’s account continued: ‘If I had no feeling for them, they, it seemed, had no feeling of any sort, until Itagaki, who had replaced Field Marshal Tarauchi, laid low by a stroke, leant forward to affix his seal to the surrender document. As he pressed heavily on the paper, a spasm of rage and despair twisted his face. Then it was gone and his mask was as expressionless as the rest. Outside, the same Union Jack that had been hauled down in surrender in 1942 flew again at the masthead. The war was over’.
On September 18, General MacArthur moved his command headquarters to Tokyo, where, in the former Japanese Army headquarters for the Tokyo region, he established his Supreme Command Allied Powers. Nine days later, he was visited there by the Emperor Hirohito. ‘You are very, very welcome, Sir!’ was MacArthur’s greeting. ‘It was the first time I had ever heard him say “Sir” to anyone,’ MacArthur’s aide—interpreter, Faubion Bowers, later recalled.
Hirohito, no longer divine, was to remain Emperor of Japan. His country, guided towards democracy and modernity, gradually outstripped in productivity and wealth each of its wartime adversaries. In western Germany, new leaders were chosen to restore democracy and the economic and international fortunes of the now divided State. Eastern Germany, like Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Roumania, Bulgaria and Albania, became an integral part of the Soviet bloc; only Yugoslavia broke away, in 1948, to pursue its own form of Communism.
In the aftermath of so destructive a war, there were many claims for reparations and restitution. On September 20, the senior member of the Jewish Agency for Palestine, Dr Chaim Weizmann, whose son had died on active service in 1943 fighting for Britain, sent a letter to the victorious powers, asking for ‘restitution, indemnification and compensation’ from Germany, for the crimes committed against the Jews. Nine days after Dr Weizmann’s request, the New York Times reported the disembarkation of sixteen ‘Reich technicians’ from a troop ship in Boston harbour. One of the sixteen was the German rocket expert, Dr Wernher von Braun.
The British, as well as the Americans, had begun to examine and to build upon the German technical expertise of war. On October 2, in Operation Backfire, a German V2 rocket was launched under British direction, at Altenwalde, in the British zone of Germany. But it was the United States, not Britain, which continued to offer the rocket scientists the most interesting prospects of research and achievement. In all, 457 German scientists went to the United States in the two and a half years following the end of the war in Europe.
But it was punishment, not research, which dominated the autumn and winter months of 1945. On October 6, at Pentonville Prison in London, five Germans, found guilty of the murder of a fellow prisoner after an attempted prisoner-of-war breakout in 1944, were hanged. They had believed the man they killed to have been an informer. On October 6, in a prison cell at Nuremberg, Dr Leonardo Conti, one of the German doctors who had conducted medical experiments on concentration camp inmates, committed suicide. The former French Foreign Minister, Pierre Laval, found guilty of treason by a court in Paris, also tried to commit suicide that October; he failed, and was shot by a French firing squad on October 15.
Three days after Laval’s execution, the International Military Tribunal met in Berlin, where American, British, French and Russian representatives agreed to proceed with four indictments against the leading Nazis now in captivity. The four indictments were: ‘1. A common plan or conspiracy to seize power and establish a totalitarian regime to prepare and wage a war of aggression. 2. Waging a war of aggression. 3. Violation of the laws of war. 4. Crimes against humanity, persecution and extermination.’
On October 20, twenty-two Nazis were indicted on these charges. As there was no building in Berlin large enough and sufficiently undamaged to serve as a courthouse, it had been decided to hold the principal War Crimes Trials in Nuremberg, and other trials at particular concentration camp sites. Meanwhile, national trials, like that of Laval in France, continued; on October 24, Vidkun Quisling, found guilty of ‘criminal collaboration’ with Germany, was shot by a Norwegian firing squad in Oslo. That same day, in his prison cell at Nuremberg, Robert Ley, one of Hitler’s earliest supporters, committed suicide.
In India, the British were determined to bring to trial the leading members of the Indian National Army. Subhas Chandra Bose could not be charged; he had been killed in an air crash over Formosa in the closing days of the war. For Indian nationalists, the imminent trial of these men, despite their having joined the Japanese war effort, created considerable unease. ‘India adores these men,’ wrote Gandhi, while Nehru, who in 1942 had strongly opposed the Indian National Army’s alliance with Japan, now described what its followers had done as ‘a brave adventure’, sprung from ‘a passionate desire to serve the cause of India’s freedom’.
The first of the Indian National Army trials began on November 5, at the Red Fort in Delhi. Three of those charged, Shah Nahwaz, P. H. Sahgal and G. S. Dhillon, were found guilty of ‘waging war’ against the King, and were sentenced to transportation. Their sentences were subsequently remitted, and they were released. In protest against the original sentences, there were several acts of violence in Calcutta, Bombay and Delhi, when Hindus and Muslims joined forces to set lorries and tramcars on fire. In the riot in Calcutta, forty-five Indians were killed, and martial law imposed on the city. Within three months, 11,000 Indian National Army soldiers had been released from internment. They returned to their homes as heroes. ‘The hypnotism of the INA has cast its spell upon us’ was Gandhi’s comment.
Throughout October 1945, and into November, Japanese commanders on isolated islands and in coastal enclaves had been surrendering. On October 6, the Japanese garrison at Jesselton, in Borneo surrendered; on October 9, the garrison on the Andaman and Nicobar Islands; on October 19, the Japanese naval forces at Mergui, in Burma; on October 21, the forces at Padang, on Sumatra; on October 25, the forces at Thaton, in Burma. Some small forces remained in isolated parts of the jungles; it was not until February and March of 1946 that the last of these were able to find an Allied officer to whom they could offer their swords, and their capitulation.
On October 30, in an American shipyard, at Portland, Maine, the Albert H. Boe was ready for sea. She was the last of 2,742 Liberty ships, built on the production line system. More than two hundred Liberty ships had been sunk by enemy action. Now they were among the ships that helped to bring home Allied prisoners-of-war from the Far East; within nine months, 96,575 military prisoners and civilian internees had been returned.
November 1 marked the day on which the Americans had intended to launch Operation Olympic, against the Japanese home island of Kyushu. That day marked the seventy-eighth day since Japan’s surrender. Japanese civilians were still dying every day in Japan, as a result of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Former Allied prisoners-of-war were also dying, though far fewer, as a result of the treatment which they had received while in Japanese captivity, the victims of deliberate, prolonged and sadistic cruelty. Details of such cruelty were beginning to be documented. On November 5, sixteen Japanese officers and men, suspected of the execution of American prisoners-of-war on Wake Island, were taken to Kwajalein for trial. During the voyage, two of them committed suicide. The third, Lieutenant Commander Torashi Ito, wrote while in prison a statement describing the executions in full. He then also took his own life.
Atrocities in Europe were also being documented in the course of the many war crimes trials. In Germany, on November 15, the trial began of the Commandant, forty guards, and one civilian doctor, from Dachau camp. The trial was held at Dachau. During the course of the trial, the doctor, Klaus Karl Schilling, a former professor of parasitology at the University of Berlin and, before the war, a member of the Malaria Commission of the League of Nations, pleaded to be allowed to write up the result of his medical experiments, in the interests of medical science. Those experiments had been carried out on human beings. Dr Schilling was sentenced to death.
From the liberated concentration camps, and from the newly established Displaced Persons camps throughout central Europe, Jews were on the move, some returning to towns which had been destroyed, or in which they were no longer welcome, others seeking new havens in Western Europe and the United States. But most desired to go to Palestine. On November 13, however, the British Foreign Secretary, Ernest Bevin, announced that the pre-war British immigration restrictions would continue; 13,000 Jews would be allowed into Palestine that year, and no more. But at least 100,000 Jewish survivors, determined not to remain in what they considered the cemetery of Europe, were on the march, travelling in groups across the frontiers, rivers and mountain passes of Europe. This exodus, known as Operation Flight, was organized by Jews who had survived inside German-occupied Europe, and by Jews from Palestine who were serving in the British Army. ‘We dressed our people in uniforms,’ one of them, Abba Geffen, later recalled, ‘with the insignia “CAJR” on the left sleeve. Neither the Austrians nor the Americans knew much about what it was. We gave them certificates, bearing their pictures in uniform, with an official seal. And we sent off the transports. At the borders they were sometimes sent back because some stamp or other was missing. We didn’t argue. We would ask the border guards to explain things to us precisely, and perhaps even give us a genuine certificate with the required stamp as an example. We would go back, summon our two stamp-makers, and make sure that the next time, we’d have the stamps we needed—and it worked!’
‘CAJR’ meant, simply, ‘Committee for Assistance to Jewish Refugees’.
As Jews tried to leave Europe, those of their persecutors who failed to slip through the net continued to face trial. At Lüneberg, a British military court was trying the thirty-eight-year-old Commandant of Belsen, Josef Kramer, who had earlier served at Auschwitz, Mauthausen and Dachau. During his trial, Kramer had described how, at Auschwitz, he had participated in the gassing of a group of eighty women in August 1943. Asked how he had felt about it at the time, he told the Court: ‘I had no feelings in carrying out these things because I had received an order. That, incidentally, is the way I was trained.’
Kramer was sentenced to death, and hanged. Also on trial, and later sentenced to death, were thirteen of the twenty-two leading Nazis whose trial opened at Nuremberg on November 20, and was to continue for almost a year, bringing before the court, and the world, documentary evidence of mass murder and atrocities throughout German-occupied Europe. More than 100,000 captured documents had been examined before the trial began; of these, 4,000 had been translated from German into English, Russian and French, and were to be used in evidence.
Beginning on November 25, the British naval authorities carried out Operation Deadlight, the assembling and sinking of German submarines. Eighty-six U-boats were assembled in western Scotland, in Loch Ryan, and twenty-four off Lisahally, in Northern Ireland; they were then sunk by air attack. Throughout Britain, and Europe, bomb disposal experts were risking their lives to defuse the thousands of unexploded bombs and shells of the war years; on November 27, British experts removed the last bomb from the underground bomb storage chambers at Fauld, which had blown up a year earlier.
No day passed during the winter of 1945 without the newspapers reporting on a war crimes trial; on December 10, at Aurich in Germany, SS General Kurt Meyer was charged by a Canadian court martial with the massacre of at least forty-one Canadian prisoners-of-war in June 1944. That same day, in an American prison camp at Bad Tölz, Theodor Dannecker, one of the Nazi officials responsible for the deportation of Jews from both France and Greece, committed suicide. In London, a young Englishman, John Amery, was being brought to trial. His father Leo had been a member of Churchill’s wartime administration. His brother Julian had parachuted behind German lines in Albania, to play an active part in the rallying of guerrilla forces and the disruption of the German lines of communication. John Amery was charged with trying to persuade British prisoners-of-war in Germany to join the British Free Corps. After he had pleaded guilty, he was hanged on December 19.
With retribution came reconstruction; on December 27, an International Bank for Reconstruction and Development was set up, the aim of which was to provide both government and private financing for ‘the restoration of economies destroyed or disrupted by war, the reconversion of productive facilities to peacetime needs and the encouragement of the development of productive facilities and resources in less developed countries’.
The employment of German scientists by both East and West was another aspect of reconstruction; eight days after the establishment of the International Bank, a group of eight German submarine experts, headed by Helmuth Walter, reached the British naval research station at Barrow-in-Furness; they were preceded by one of Germany’s most recent hydrogen-peroxide powered submarines, which had been scuttled on Germany’s surrender, but then raised.
On 1 January 1946, on Corregidor, a soldier in the American Graves Registration Company was surprised to see a file of about twenty Japanese soldiers coming towards him, waving white pieces of cloth in a gesture of surrender; since the end of the war four and a half months earlier, they had been living in one of the deep underground tunnels on the island, unaware that the war had ended. It was while coming out one night, to look for water, that one of the soldiers had found a newspaper from which it was clear that Japan had surrendered.
The pace of retribution did not slacken with the coming of the first New Year of full peace for six years. On 3 January 1946, in London, the broadcaster William Joyce, Lord Haw-Haw, was hanged. So, too, was a former member of the British Union of Fascists, Private Church, who had deserted to the Italians in North Africa, and offered his services to Italian Intelligence. His claim to be a Swiss citizen having been dismissed, he was hanged on January 5. Across the English Channel, in Lille, Jacques Desoubrie, who had betrayed his fellow Frenchmen to the Gestapo in the summer of 1943, was also hanged that winter. On January 9, in Paris, two French policemen came to question Harold Cole, the man who had betrayed the wartime ‘Pat’ escape and evasion line. Cole opened fire, wounding one of the policemen; the other shot him dead.
Honours, too, came in the aftermath of war to those whose suffering and courage only became known in detail as eye-witnesses came forward with testimony. On 16 January 1946, the Croix de Guerre with Gold Star was awarded posthumously to the British Agent, Noor Inayat Khan who, although betrayed to the Gestapo shortly after her arrival in France in 1943, had refused to co-operate with her captors in any way, and had been shot a year later. Three years after this French award, Britain awarded Noor the George Cross.
In Tokyo, on January 19, General MacArthur established the International Military Tribunal for the Far East; eleven nations were to participate in its prosecutions. That day, in Dachau, five hundred American and Polish troops used tear gas to help them carry out Operation Keelhaul, the forcible repatriation of 339 Soviet citizens who, having served in the German forces during the war, were being held in Dachau as prisoners-of-war. The Russians fought against being sent back to the Soviet Union, but were overpowered.
In the Philippines, in the town of Los Banos, General Tomoyuki Yamashita was hanged on February 23, having been found guilty by an American Army tribunal of brutality against Americans and Filipinos. A week later, in the same courtyard, General Masaharu Homma was executed by firing squad. He had been found guilty of responsibility for the Bataan ‘Death March’.
American anxieties had turned from the four year long focus on Germany and Japan to a new focus on the Soviet Union. On February 28, the day before the Americans would—but for the atom bomb—have launched Operation Coronet against the principal Japanese island of Honshu, James F. Byrnes, United States Secretary of State, in a speech in New York, declared: ‘If we are to be a great power, we must act as a great power, not only to ensure our own safety but to preserve the peace of the world.’ Six days later, at Westminster College, Fulton, Missouri, Winston Churchill pointed out the danger of Soviet pressures against Turkey and Iran, and warned: ‘From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe. Warsaw, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade, Bucharest and Sofia, all these famous cities and the populations around them lie in what I must call the Soviet sphere, and all are subject in one form or another, not only to Soviet influence but to a very high and, in many cases, increasing measure of control from Moscow. Athens alone—Greece with its immortal glories—is free to decide its future at an election under British, American and French observation’.
Churchill went on to advocate the need for ‘a new unity in Europe’, from which no nation should be ‘permanently outcast’; a ‘grand pacification of Europe’, he called it, ‘within the structure of the United Nations and in accordance with its Charter’. The need for it was, he believed, an urgent one. Even ‘in front of the iron curtain’, in Italy and in France, in places far from the Russian frontiers, and ‘throughout the world’, including the Far East, Communist parties or Communist fifth columns ‘constitute a growing challenge and peril to Christian civilization’. As for the Soviet aim, ‘I do not believe’, he said, ‘that Soviet Russia desires war. What they desire is the fruits of war and the indefinite expansion of their power and doctrines. But what we have to consider here today, while time remains, is the permanent prevention of war and the establishment of conditions of freedom and democracy as rapidly as possible in all countries’.
New alliances, and new groups of confronting States, were already emerging dominated by the ‘Eastern’ and ‘Western’ blocs, the West setting up a defence system under a North Atlantic Treaty Organization in 1949, of which the United States was by far the strongest member, the East under the Warsaw Pact, signed six years later, in which the Soviet Union was predominant.
Meanwhile, the retribution which had become an integral part of victory and defeat continued; on April 27, in Singapore, Major-General Shempei Fukuei, found guilty of the murder of Allied prisoners-of-war, was taken to the exact location of one of the executions which he had ordered, and shot. His last word, like that of so many hundreds of thousands of Japanese soldiers as they had charged the Allied lines, was ‘Banzai!’—‘Ten Thousand Years!’, a reference to the longevity of the divine Emperor. Now the Emperor was no longer divine. Like Hitler’s Thousand-Year Reich, his New Order in Asia had been a short-lived but devastating era.
The victor nations, and the former captive peoples, found some small solace in the continuing trials and sentences of the immediate post-war years, although there was no way in which those trials and executions could ever bring back those who had been murdered against all the accepted rules and codes of war. On 7 May 1946, Anton Mussert, founder of the Dutch National Socialist Movement, and a staunch supporter of Nazi rule in Holland, was hanged in The Hague. Two weeks later, on May 22, Karl Hermann Frank, Hitler’s former Chief of Police in Bohemia and Moravia, found guilty of several hundred murder charges, was hanged in Prague, his execution witnessed by five thousand spectators. In the Polish city of Poznan, on June 20, Artur Greiser, the former Gauleiter of the German province of the Warthegau, was sentenced to death, paraded around Poznan in a cage, and then hanged in the square in front of his former palace.
Not only trials, but celebrations, marked the transformation from war to peace; on June 8, in London, a victory parade was held. But Soviet, Polish and Yugoslav representatives had refused to come.
The weapon with which Japan had been defeated was not to be buried together with the debris which it had created; on 1 July 1946, the United States exploded its first post-war atomic bomb at Bikini Atoll, in the Marshall Islands. Among the warships on whom the impact of the new bomb was being tested was the German warship, Prinz Eugen. She survived the blast, unlike five other ships in the test. Five months later, she was scuttled.
On 4 July 1946, on American Independence Day, the Republic of the Philippines was inaugurated as an independent State after more than fifty years of American rule. She thus became the first of the Far Eastern victims of Japanese attack in 1941 to obtain their freedom from those who had ruled them before the war, and whose forces had subsequently defeated Japan. British-ruled Burma, Malaya and Singapore, Dutch-ruled Indonesia and Borneo, Australian New Guinea and French Indo-China, were each to become independent in the following decades.
As well as independence—often achieved only after bitter and violent civil war—the events of the immediate post-war years produced many of what Churchill had called, after the First World War, the ‘ugly creatures of the aftermath’. July 4 was a day of tragedy for forty-two Jews in the Polish town of Kielce, all of them survivors of Nazi tyranny, and now killed by an anti-Semitic mob. One of those murdered had no identification on him. The only clue to his past was the tattoo number on his arm, B 2969. The numbers B 2903 to B 3449 had been given to those Jews who reached Auschwitz on 2 August 1944 from the Polish town of Radom, fifty miles from Kielce. At least five hundred other Jews on that train, mostly women, children and old people, had been gassed that day. Now the unknown survivor had himself become a victim, fourteen months after the end of the war in Europe, and nearly two years since the Germans had been driven from Kielce.
On 1 August 1946, in Washington, in an attempt to make constructive use of the vast mass of American war surplus, an amendment was passed to the Surplus Property Act of 1944, to enable American wartime supplies to be sold, and their proceeds to be used for a world-wide scholarship programme. This diversion to educational purposes of resources created for war purposes was the brainchild of Senator J. William Fulbright, whose name the scholarships were to bear; educational exchange agreements were subsequently signed with more than sixty States, of which China, the Philippines and Greece were the first.
Throughout 1946, the trial and execution of war criminals had continued throughout Germany’s former conquered territories. On August 14, Robert Wagner, the wartime Chief of the German Civil Administration in Alsace, who in 1940 had carried out the deportation of German Jews to camps in the Pyrenees, was sentenced to death by a French military court in Strasbourg, and hanged.
That September, the Allies began the repatriation of German prisoners-of-war; 394,000 were repatriated from Britain alone. In Cyprus, where more than five thousand Germans were held, their last task was to build a light railway from Nicosia to the Caraolos camp, where thousands of Jewish survivors were being detained behind barbed wire, having been caught by the British authorities while trying to enter Palestine illegally, by boat.
As the German prisoners-of-war began to go home, the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg sentenced twelve German wartime leaders to death. On October 8, after a separate trial, four of those who had murdered the Jewish children at Bullenhuser Damm were hanged in Hameln Prison by the British executioner, Albert Pierrepoint. At Nuremberg, Herman Goering escaped the hangman by committing suicide on October 15. The rest of those sentenced to death were hanged on the following day, among them Ernst Kaltenbrunner, who in 1943 and 1944 had been in charge of the concentration camp system; Field Marshal Keitel, who in 1941 and 1942 had authorized the execution of Soviet commissars and the mass killing of women and children in German-occupied Russia; Hans Frank, the ‘slayer of Poles’ and murderer of Jews; Julius Streicher, whose virulently anti-Semitic magazine, Der Stürmer, had done so much to stir up race hatred; General Jodl, Chief of the Operations Staff of the High Command of the German Armed Forces from 1939 to 1945; and Joachim von Ribbentrop, the German Foreign Minister from 1938 to 1945. Their hangman was the American Master Sergeant, John C. Wood. On the following morning, the bodies of those who had been hanged were taken to Dachau, where the crematorium ovens were ignited and the bodies cremated; that night their ashes were dropped into a river on the outskirts of Munich.
On October 26, Otto Thierack, Reich Minister of Justice from 1942 to 1945, hanged himself in Neumunster internment camp, to avoid being brought to trial. Six weeks later, on December 9, the trial began in Nuremberg of twenty-three SS physicians and scientists who were accused of carrying out medical experiments on the inmates of concentration camps, including Jews, Gypsies and Russian prisoners-of-war. Seven of the twenty-three were sentenced to death, and hanged, among them Victor Brack, Chief Administrative Officer at Hitler’s Chancellery, and holding the rank of colonel in the SS; Dr Karl Brandt, Hitler’s personal physician and also Minister for Health and Sanitation and a major-general in the SS; and Dr Karl Gebhardt, personal physician to Himmler, Chief Surgeon to the SS, and President of the German Red Cross.
‘This is nothing but political revenge,’ Dr Brandt declared on the scaffold. ‘I served my Fatherland as others before me….’ As he was speaking these words, the black hood was placed over his head, and he was hanged.
The Nuremberg Trials were to become the object of much controversy. In particular, the charge of ‘waging a war of aggression’ was to be criticized as one which could have been applied equally to the Soviet Union for its attack on Finland. There was anger, too, in some Western circles, that the Katyn Forest massacre of Polish prisoners-of-war was, at Soviet insistence, excluded from the investigations. There were also those who argued that Britain and France, by their acquiescence, albeit reluctant, in Hitler’s annexations of Austria and the Sudetenland in 1938, and Bohemia and Moravia in 1939, had been parties to the initial phases of aggression. But, despite these controversies, the evidence of specific and deliberate acts of war and terror was overwhelming. Men like Dr Brandt, who had been involved at the highest level in Germany’s euthanasia programme, could speak of ‘political revenge’, but for the millions who had suffered and survived, and for the liberators who had been given a glimpse of the results of the Nazi racial policies, his protestations were hypocritical and absurd.
On 11 December 1946, as a measure designed to try to heal the massive deprivations caused throughout the world between 1939 and 1945, the United Nations established a Children’s Emergency Fund, UNICEF, to aid both mothers and children in need as a result of war. The trials and executions also continued; among those executed in 1947 were Karel Curda, the Czech whose treachery had led to the death of his fellow Czechs who had assassinated Heydrich in 1942; Max Knipping, head of the French Milice in northern France, and the man responsible for the murder of the former French Minister of the Colonies, Georges Mandel; and General Helmuth von Pannwitz, hanged in Moscow on 16 January 1947, for his part in the mass murder of tens of thousands of Russian civilians behind the lines on the Eastern Front.
On April 7, Rudolf Hoess, the former Commandant at Auschwitz, was hanged next to the house inside the camp where he had lived with his wife and five children. On April 12, in Belgium, sixteen Belgian citizens who had participated in sadistic tortures at Breendonk camp, near Antwerp, were executed; because of the nature of their crimes, they were shot in the back. In Prague, on May 4, Paul Rafaelson, a former labour camp prisoner, and a Jew, was sentenced to death and hanged for cruelties perpetrated on his fellow prisoners. ‘He is the first Jewish criminal’, noted a Press Agency report from Prague, ‘to be hanged for atrocities.’
Also on May 4, the first of 82,000 German prisoners-of-war were sent back to Germany from camps in Egypt. ‘Those who are still enthusiastic Nazis and Fascists,’ the Palestine Post reported on May 4, ‘numbering 5,000, will be the last to be removed.’
Not all those sentenced to death for war crimes were in fact executed. Field Marshal Kesselring, sentenced to death by a British court-martial on May 6, for having allowed the shooting of 335 Italian civilians as a reprisal against an Italian partisan action, later had his penalty commuted to life imprisonment, and, five years after his initial sentence, was pardoned and freed. Less fortunate was General Friedrich-Wilhelm Müller, recipient of the Knight’s Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords, found guilty by a Greek court of brutality towards civilians in Greece, and executed in Athens on May 20. That same day also saw the execution in Athens of Bruno Brauer, the former Governor of Crete, who had waged a ruthless war against the Cretan partisans.
In seeking to rebuild both the ruins and the security of Europe, defence and material help went hand in hand. On 4 March 1947, the French and British Governments signed a treaty, at Dunkirk, binding the two signatories to come to each other’s aid if attacked by Germany. At the same time, the former Chief of the American Defence Staff, now Secretary of State, General George C. Marshall, launched a comprehensive plan to bring American economic aid to Europe. On June 5, this aid was offered to all the former warring nations; not only did the Soviet Union refuse to accept American help, but it prevailed upon all the Communist bloc countries, including Czechoslovakia which had hitherto enjoyed a degree of independence, to do likewise. The Czechoslovak Cabinet had actually voted unanimously, on July 7, to accept Marshall Aid, but its leaders, summoned at once to Moscow, then turned it down. This example of the nature of Soviet leadership in the Eastern bloc was not lost on Western observers. The division of the victors into opposing blocs was complete.
In the Far East, there were likewise new, and increasingly bloody alignments. On July 29 the self-styled ‘Indonesian Republican Air Force’ carried out its first combat operations against the Dutch, bombing two towns in Java, Semarang on the north coast and Salatiga in the eastern sector. During the Semarang raid, seven Indonesians were killed.
The Dutch, who, except for a brief period during the Napoleonic wars, had ruled the Netherlands East Indies since the early seventeenth century, first fought against the Indonesian nationalist movement and then negotiated with it. Three years after these first bombing raids, a United States of Indonesia were inaugurated, and one more of the former European Colonial territories conquered by Japan in 1942 achieved its independence. Burma was to do so, from the British, on 4 January 1948, and Malaya on 31 May 1957.
On 25 October 1947, the coffins of the first 6,300 American war dead to leave Europe from their graves in France reached New York aboard ship. Five days later, a second ship, with several thousand more coffins, left Antwerp for the United States. But the bodies of many of the dead were never found; of the 42,000 British airmen reported missing over Europe between 1939 and 1945, nearly 20,000 were still undiscovered four years after the end of the war, despite thorough searches by the specially established Missing Research and Enquiry Service, in which 118 searchers were employed.
In Europe, 1948 saw more trials, and more escapes from justice. On February 5, in his prison cell in Nuremberg, the Commander of the German forces in Holland at the time of the surrender, General Blaskowitz—who at the end of 1939 had protested to Hitler about Nazi atrocities in Poland—committed suicide shortly before he was to be brought to trial. On the following day, in the Cherche—Midi Prison in Paris, the first Military Governor of Paris, Otto von Stuelpnagel, committed suicide rather than face trial for his actions while he was effective ruler of the French capital.
On 12 November 1948, in the former War Ministry building in Tokyo, before the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, seven Japanese wartime leaders, including General Tojo, were sentenced to death, and sixteen others to life imprisonment. The sentences, reviewed by General MacArthur two weeks later, were upheld in their entirety, and the death sentences carried out, by hanging, on 23 November 1948.
On 28 January 1949, after a British Military trial in Hamburg, Fritz Knoechlein, who had been responsible for the shooting down in cold blood of British prisoners-of-war at Paradis in 1940, was hanged in the Hamburg garrison prison. His Defence Counsel’s appeal—‘Spare the life of the accused. He has a wife and four children who are dependent upon him for support. Consider the fact that he is a soldier, and the Court is composed of members of the British Army’—had been in vain.
Also executed that day was Joseph Kieffer, Knoechlein’s deputy at Gestapo headquarters in Paris in 1943 and 1944, found guilty of the execution of British paratroopers in Normandy in 1944. It was Kieffer who had interrogated Noor Inayat Khan, the British agent captured in France in 1943; following her interrogation, she had been sent to Dachau and shot.
A trial of a different sort took place early in 1950, that of Klaus Fuchs, the German refugee scientist and Soviet spy who, during the war, had worked on the Anglo-American atomic bomb programme. On 1 March 1950 he was sentenced to fourteen years’ imprisonment; after serving his sentence, he went to live in East Germany, becoming a member of the Communist Party establishment.
In the search for reparations, the German Government refused to recognize the Gypsies as meriting compensation. ‘It should be borne in mind’, the Interior Ministry of the West German province of Württemberg wrote on 9 May 1950, ‘that Gypsies have been persecuted under the Nazis not for any racial reason but because of an asocial and criminal record.’
In the forty and more years following the end of the Second World War, the discovery of documents, and the writing of testimonies, was continuous. On 1 December 1950, Polish building workers discovered part of an eye-witness report of the mass murder at Treblinka; the report had been hidden there by the Polish Jewish historian, Dr Emanuel Ringelblum, in 1943.
Even as more and more perpetrators of crimes were brought to trial, more and more were able to evade prosecution. On 19 December 1950 the principal German organizer of the massacre of Jews in Kovno, Helmut Rauca, left the German port of Bremerhaven for St John, New Brunswick, becoming a Canadian citizen. Other killers who fled as he did, to most of the countries of the Western world, were never brought to trial; Rauca himself was extradited to Germany thirty-three years later. He died in a prison hospital in Frankfurt-on-Main while awaiting trial.
On 15 January 1951, Ilse Koch was sentenced to prison in West Germany for the second time. In 1947 she had received a four-year sentence for her activities at Buchenwald, as the sadistic wife of the camp’s Commandant, Karl Koch, whom the SS had themselves executed for corruption in 1944. In her second trial, Ilse Koch was sentenced to life imprisonment; sixteen years later, she committed suicide in prison.
Three weeks after Ilse Koch’s second sentence, the American High Commissioner in Germany, John J. McCloy, issued a general amnesty for all convicted industrialists who had used slave labour, and for all generals. Among those released as a result of the amnesty was Alfred Krupp von Bohlen, whose Krupp factories had employed, and terribly ill-treated, slave labour, on a vast scale. Originally sentenced at Nuremberg in July 1948 to twelve years’ imprisonment, he became a free man two and a half years later.
On 7 March 1951, in Brussels, General Alexander von Falkenhausen, the former German Military Governor of Brussels, was found guilty of ordering the execution of several hundred Belgian hostages and the deportation of 25,000 Belgian Jews to Auschwitz. He was sentenced to twelve years’ imprisonment, then released after three weeks as an act of clemency, and in recognition of the fact that he had also protected Belgians from the SS. In July 1944 he had been imprisoned by Hitler for alleged leniency as Military Governor. Indeed, in May 1945, he was liberated by the Americans just as he was about to be executed by the SS in Dachau for having sympathized with those who had organized the July Plot. Between his arrest by Hitler in July 1944 and his release by the Belgians in April 1951, he had been confined in forty-three different prisons.
Oswald Pohl, the man who had been in charge of the goods and chattels of those murdered in concentration camps, and who had supervised the melting down of gold teeth taken from the corpses of the dead at Auschwitz, was tried by a United States military tribunal and hanged at Landsberg Prison on 8 June 1951. That same day Otto Ohlendorf was also hanged; he had been in charge of several special killing squads in German-occupied Russia which had murdered 90,000 people, most of them Jews. In his defence, he cited the historical precedence of the killing of Gypsies in the Thirty Years’ War. Also executed by the Americans that June 8 was another special killing squad commander, Wernher Braune. Following his execution, the Bavarian welfare authorities gave him the status of ‘war victim’, thus qualifying his widow for an automatic pension.
Reconciliation and retribution continued to march hand in hand. On September 8, in Warsaw, the commander of the SS troops who suppressed the Warsaw ghetto uprising, Jürgen Stroop, was executed, on the site of the former ghetto. Before being extradited from Germany to Poland, he had already been sentenced to death by an American military tribunal for shooting American pilots and hostages in Greece.
On 28 August 1951, Japan had become a beneficiary of a bi-national agreement with the United States, as a member of the Fulbright educational exchange programme. Eleven days later, in San Francisco, a peace treaty was signed between Japan and most of the nations which had been at war with her, but not by the Soviet Union. In the treaty, the Japanese Government declared that ‘the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation, and the threat and use of force as a means of settling international disputes’. That same day, a security treaty was signed between Japan and the United States, allowing the United States to maintain armed forces ‘in and about Japan’.
The Jewish search for reparation reached its fulfilment that same year, when, after a secret meeting in a London hotel between the West German Chancellor, Dr Konrad Adenauer, and the head of the World Jewish Congress, Dr Nahum Goldmann, Dr Adenauer agreed to the principle of a substantial payment by the West German Government. The Government of East Germany declined to make any similar commitment, then or later.
In the spring of 1952, the west German territory occupied by the Western Allies became a separate State. The Transition Agreement of 26 May 1952, which established this, included a clause recognizing West Germany’s obligation to make amends. Later that year, on 1 August 1952, as part of the integration of the new Federal German Republic with Western Europe, Britain and Germany signed the London Debt Agreement, resolving Germany’s long outstanding First World War reparations debts which had been first agreed in 1930, on the eve of Hitler’s coming to power. In 1935 Hitler had declared a moratorium on these debt repayments. Now the West German Government agreed to make token repayments, thus clearing the way for future economic loans designed to revive the West German economy.
On 10 September 1952, in Luxemburg City Hall, at a silent ceremony lasting only thirteen minutes, Israel and West Germany signed an agreement, known as the Luxemburg Treaty, under which the West German Government agreed to pay 3,000 million German marks to the recently established State of Israel, and a further 450 million German marks to Jewish organizations, as reparation for ‘material damage’ suffered by the Jews at the hands of the Nazis.
There was much for reparations money to be used for; that summer there were still 1,845 Displaced Persons, among them five hundred children, living in what—seven years earlier—had been Dachau concentration camp.