740.00116 European War/1308

The American Representative on the United Nations War Crimes Commission (Pell) to the Secretary of State

No. 13526

Sir: I have the honor to report at various meetings of the War Crimes Commission, and in private discussions among the members, there has been a certain amount of talk of the so called Technical Committee, which was proposed at the meeting of the diplomatic representatives in London before my arrival. At the time of this proposal the whole situation was very vague.

Sixteen representatives have so far been appointed to the War Crimes Commission,14 which has met and in order to carry on its work at all has done a good deal of the work which might have been referred to the Technical Committee had it been called into existence. The majority of the members of the Commission feel that the Commission itself is quite able to handle the entire question of war guilt, and it appears to be the opinion of their governments, including that of Great Britain, that the work would be better done by a single organization with a few special standing committees.

The Chairman suggested the uselessness of the Technical Committee, and at the meeting Tuesday, January 25, as reported in my telegram 716, Norway, China, Belgium, Australia, Poland and Great Britain concurred in this point of view.

The Commission has decided to appoint committees to consider the various aspects of the work and to bring in recommendations. These committees will examine the facts of all cases of outrages presented by the various governments to the Commission, and will recommend what is to be done with them.

It seems to be the unanimous opinion that offences committed against the citizens of any one country, or against their property, would be reserved for consideration and trial in the courts of the offended country. This would apply not only to Germans, Japanese or other foreigners, but with a special force to those citizens who have [Page 1276] cooperated with the enemy. There remain, however not only the high German officials, but a good many more in lower places, who have committed offences against more than one nation, whose disposition will have to be decided. It is generally assumed that the interested governments will set up some sort of a tribunal to take care of cases which do not fall within the jurisdiction of any particular nation. Questions of capture, and the particularly thorny one of extradition, will, of course, be settled by joint action of the governments concerned. In its consideration of these matters the Commission may make some recommendations binding on nobody.

I am, myself, convinced that unless some serious preparation be made for the just punishment of ascertained offenders, we will see a carnival of massacre, when Germany is finally entered by the troops of nations which have for four years suffered from the excessive brutality of foreign occupation. These men will not be restrained by the hope that in the future something may be done. It will be difficult enough to keep them in order if they know that the machinery is prepared and ready to start.


Herbert Pell
  1. For list of the personnel of the United Nations War Crimes Commission, see History of the United, Nations War Crimes Commission and Development of the Laws of War (London, His Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1948), Appendix I, pp. 499 ff.