Academic journal article American Jewish History

The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising at Nuremberg

Academic journal article American Jewish History

The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising at Nuremberg

Article excerpt

The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising is the prevailing symbol of Jewish resistance during the Holocaust. Remembrance and commemoration of the revolt are usually associated with memorial days, monuments, museums, history books, novels, and films. But in the first decade and a half after World War II the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising played a role also on another stage--in the courtroom. It figured prominently in the 1951 trial of SS commander Jurgen Stroop in Warsaw, a trial that has been largely forgotten, at least in the West, and in the iconic 1961 Eichmann Trial in Jerusalem. But there was an earlier, famous trial whose proceedings invoked the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising--the 1945-46 International Military Tribunal (IMT), or the Nuremberg Trial (or the Nuremberg War Crimes Trial), at which twenty-two of the "major war criminals," men who had been leading pillars of the Nazi regime, were charged by Allied prosecutors with conspiracy, crimes against peace, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, a new species of criminal offense codified in the IMT's charter. (Twenty-one defendants actually stood in the dock; one was tried in absentia.)

Stroop's report on the liquidation of the Warsaw Ghetto played an important role at the IMT. Stroop was the SS-Brigadefuhrer (major general) who spearheaded the final push by German troops to liquidate the Warsaw Ghetto in April and May 1943. (In recognition of his successful campaign to crush the ghetto uprising, Stroop was promoted to SS-Gruppenfuhrer [lieutenant general) in June 1943.) The "Stroop Report" was compiled by Stroop and his adjutant for Stroop's immediate superior, Friedrich Wilhelm Kruger, Higher SS and Police Leader in the so-called General Government or Nazi-occupied Poland, and Heinrich Himmler, head of the SS. With the self-congratulatory and smug inscription "The Jewish quarter of Warsaw no longer exists!" (Es gibt keinen judischen Wohnbezirk--in Warschau mehr.') emblazoned across its cover, the report describes the final liquidation of the Warsaw Ghetto and suppression of Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.

Historians are divided in their assessment of Allied prosecutors' representation of the Nazi genocide of the Jews at the Nuremberg Trial. Michael Marrus is the most resolute advocate of the argument that the IMT's prosecutors and judges were aware of the significance of the trial's Jewish dimension and that, as a result, the essential elements of the Holocaust were represented at length at Nuremberg. In this regard, Marrus maintains that the description of Stroop's report by American prosecutor Major William F. Walsh at the IMT and his reading of sections of it into the court's record, followed by the projection of dramatic photographs from the album appended to the report in the darkened courtroom, in December 1945, "was almost certainly the most extensive publicity the world had yet received of the 1943 Jewish revolt." (1) I argue, instead, that the world learned more about the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in the press between April 1943 and December 1945 than it did as a result of Walsh's presentation. Moreover, as opposed to the German liquidation of the Warsaw Ghetto, which did, indeed, make a deep impression on those who observed the trial and Walsh's presentation, the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising hardly registered either inside or outside the walls of the Nuremberg courtroom.

This was a result of the structure of the trial, molded largely by the Americans. The IMT was established and the proceedings in it were conducted jointly by the "Big Four"--the United States, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, and France. But, in many ways, the US was first among equals; its imprint on the IMT's charter and the prosecution's strategy was unmistakable. This is especially true of the conspiracy charge. A staple of criminal law in the US, the offense of conspiracy was foreign to the European Allies. Yet, at the insistence of the Americans, it was incorporated into the charter and became a linchpin of the prosecution's case. …

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