740.00116 European War 1939/1197: Telegram

The Ambassador in the Soviet Union ( Harriman ) to the Secretary of State

2244. Moscow papers for December 16 devote one-half of their issues to an account of the trial of three Germans and a Russian [Page 847] accomplice before the Military Tribunal of the Fourth Ukrainian Front which began December 15 at Kharkov. The accused are Reinhard Retzlav, an official of the 560th Group of the German Secret Field Police, Hans Ritz, Deputy Commander of the Sonder Kommando SD of an SS company,60 Wilhelm Langheld, Captain in the German Military Counter-Espionage Service and Mikhail Petrovich Bulanov, a Russian who served as chauffeur for the Kharkov Sonder Kommando SD.

These persons are accused of the execution of thousands of Soviet citizens in specially constructed “gas cars”, acts of bestial persecution against peaceful Soviet citizens and the destruction of cities and towns in temporarily occupied territory, the mass slaughter of old people, women and children, and the shooting, burning, and maiming of Soviet wounded and prisoners of war. All the accused are stated to have made complete confessions. The trial is continuing.61

The leading article in Izvestia which is devoted to the trial, points out that this is the first instance in which members of the German armed forces have been brought to trial for their crimes. The proceedings have disclosed that the accused were carrying out the policy of Hitler and the orders of the German Government and the German High Command for the systematic extermination of the Slav peoples. The accusation charges not only the four accused who have been brought before the court but also the heads of the German Government and of the German High Command in general and the following German commanders in particular: Obergruppenfuehrer62 Dietrich, Commander of the Adolf Hitler SS Division, Gruppenfuehrer63 Simon, Commander of the SS Death’s Head Division, Sturmbannfuehrer64 Hanebitter, Chief of the Kharkov Sonderkommando SD, Police Commissioner Karchan, Chief of the German Secret Field Police at Kharkov, Police Commissioner Meritz, Chief of the 560th group of the Gefepo65 attached to the staff of the Sixth German Army, and Police Secretary Wolfu, Assistant Chief of the German Secret Field Police at Kharkov.

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The editorial states that more than 30,000 Soviet citizens were killed by the Germans at Kharkov and in the Kharkov oblast.66 The declaration of Roosevelt, Stalin and Churchill issued at the Moscow Conference67 warned the German criminals that they would be brought back to the countries where their crimes were committed for trial and punishment. Now three of the German criminals have fallen into Soviet hands and are being brought to justice. The German Fascists, fearing retribution, are now trying to cover their tracks but their crimes will be completely uncovered and not a single German who participated in them will escape responsibility and trial. The more hopeless the position of the Hitlerites becomes, the deeper they sink into bestiality and plunder. The Russian people will not forget these crimes of the German monsters and will hold them responsible for all their evil deeds.

In a special article from Kharkov describing the trial Zaslavski68 writes that the accused Langheld was calm, self-possessed and unrepentent as he described his ghastly crimes to the court. Langheld defended the Nazi thesis that the Germans are a superior race with a mission to enslave and exterminate inferior peoples. “Of course,” concludes Zaslavski, “the Hitlerite Germans are not a special race but a special breed of two-legged animals brought up in special conditions of artificial savagery. This is a dangerous breed. It should be annihilated and rendered harmless in the interests of humanity and compassion.” All papers publish gruesome photographs of the corpses of victims of the German crimes.

  1. Special detail of the Security Service (Sicherheitsdienst) of the Elite Corps (Schutzstaffel, Black Shirts) of the Nazi Party.
  2. Ambassador Harriman informed the Department in telegram No. 2269, December 18, that a group of American and British correspondents had left for Kharkov that day to attend the trial (740.00116 E.W. 1939/1196).
  3. A Storm Troop (Sturmabteilung, Brown Shirts) or Elite Corps rank equivalent to Lieutenant General.
  4. A Storm Troop or Elite Corps rank equivalent to Major General.
  5. A Storm Troop or Elite Corps rank equivalent to Major.
  6. German Secret Field Police.
  7. Region.
  8. For explanation of the issuance of this Declaration of German Atrocities at the Moscow Conference, see the Summary of the Twelfth Regular Session of the Tripartite Conference, October 30, 1943, 4 p.m., vol. i, p. 679. The text of the declaration is printed ibid., p. 768.
  9. David Iosifovich Zaslavsky, Soviet newspaper correspondent and writer.