740.00116 EW/9–2644: Telegram

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

3675. ReEmbtel 3654, September 25.95 For past several days the Soviet press has been devoting considerable space to articles urging stern justice for war criminals. The determination of the Soviet Government to hold German war criminals to strict accountability is reinforced by the frequent and prominent publication in the press of reports of the extraordinary state commission concerning atrocities committed by Germans in various parts of Soviet territory and also by reports of the German military and civil officials who have been detained by the Red Army in the Balkans as “suitable candidates” for inclusion in the category of war criminals.

In view of the emphasis now given to these matters in the Soviet press, I think I should point out that the Russian conception of war crime as of most other things is apt to be rather political than legal. Basically the Soviets recognize no law of war. Just as they reserve the right of the state to interpret on basis of political expediency the degree of guilt or innocence of every Soviet citizen so they will seek the interpretation of what constitutes war crime in the interests of the Soviet state as they see them. They will not hesitate to consider as war criminals persons who have committed no direct violations of the rules of war as we know them if they feel this is to be politically justified. Their action in arresting regular German army officers and [Page 1365] diplomats in the Balkan countries as “suitable candidates for war criminal lists” seems to indicate that they view war crime as consisting not only in ordinary offenses against the laws of war but also on occasions in any prominent association with German wartime policies which appear to them particularly odious. It is clear in any case that they will be inclined to consider each case on its merits as they see them rather than to adhere strictly to classification by categories. There has as yet been no talk of war guilt in connection with the high-ranking German officers who have been signing anti-Hitlerite articles for publication in the Soviet press although the past responsibilities of many of these could not have differed very must [much] from those of the officers detained in the Balkans.

I believe that it would be well if our people who are giving consideration to these matters were to bear in mind these divergencies between Russian conceptions and our own.

Sent to Department as 3675, repeated to London for Pell as 187.

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