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UK favoured execution over trial for Nazis

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

world Updated: Oct 27, 2012 00:29 IST

Britain wanted Nazi leaders and executors imprisoned without trial and opposed the establishment of the Nuremberg war crimes tribunals at the 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.

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 diary has been declassified.

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 made a diary entry, “personally I think the whole procedure is quite dreadful.”