'Britain favoured execution over Nuremberg trials for Nazis'



London: Britain wanted Nazi leaders executed or imprisoned without trial and opposed the establishment of the Nuremberg war crimes tribunals at end of World War II, according to contemporary diaries declassified on Friday.

Winston Churchill made the proposal at the "Big Three" conference at Yalta in February 1945, according to the account, but was overruled by Franklin D Roosevelt, who believed the US public would demand proper trials, and Joseph Stalin, who argued that public trials possessed excellent propaganda value.

The British eventually agreed to the war crimes trials despite the misgivings of some senior government officials who believed the decision to prosecute the surviving Nazi leadership for waging a war of aggression would set a dangerous precedent, the Guardian reported.

They also feared the prosecutions would be on a par with the high-profile show trials in Stalin's Russia.

The insight into British thinking at the time that allied leaders were attempting to reach agreement over the political shape of postwar Germany is in a diary that Guy Liddell, head of counter-espionage at MI5, kept during the 1940s and 50s.

Codenamed 'Wallflowers' and supposedly kept in a safe in the office of successive MI5 director-generals, the wartime volumes of the diary have been declassified, and redacted copies of the postwar volumes are available at the National Archive.

Liddell supported a plan drawn up by the director of public prosecutions, Theobald Mathew, for selected Nazis to be "bumped off" rather than put on trial, after a commission of inquiry had "come to the conclusion" this was the preferred option.

On June 21 1945, Liddell dictated a diary entry to his secretary about a visit to his office by a British War Crimes Executive official, and representatives of MI6 and the Special Operations Executive, looking for evidence to support a war crimes prosecution.

"Personally I think the whole procedure is quite dreadful. The DPP had recommended that a fact-finding committee should come to the conclusion that certain people should be bumped off and that others should receive varying terms of imprisonment, that this should be put to the House of Commons and that the authority should be given to any military body finding these individuals in their area to arrest them and inflict whatever punishment had been decided on. This was a much clearer proposition and would not bring the law into disrepute," the diary entry said.

"Winston had put this forward at Yalta but Roosevelt felt that the Americans would want a trial. Joe supported Roosevelt on the perfectly frank grounds that Russians liked public trials for propaganda purposes. It seems to me that we are just being dragged down to the level of the travesties of justice that have been taking place in the USSR for the past 20 yrs," it added.

PTI