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Churchill wished Hitler in electric chair

Britain's wartime PM also felt strongly that senior Nazis should be summarily executed, rather than put on trial.

world Updated: Jan 01, 2006 20:04 IST
Agence France-Presse
Agence France-Presse

Britain's wartime prime minister Sir Winston Churchill wanted to see Adolf Hitler die in the electric chair as World War II drew to a close, according to official papers released on Sunday.

Churchill also felt strongly that senior Nazis should be summarily executed, rather than put on trial for war crimes, detailed minutes of meetings of his war cabinet in 1942 to 1945 suggest.

The papers -- once top secret -- were released Sunday by the National Archives in Kew, west London, and posted on its website.

Consisting of notes taken by deputy cabinet secretary Sir Norman Brook in his own style of shorthand, they offered the first detailed insight into what was said in the war cabinet during the global conflict.

Previously released minutes have only recorded the general tenor of discussions, without naming names.

At one war cabinet meeting in December 1942, when Hitler's grip on mainland Europe was at its strongest, Churchill commented: "Contemplate that if Hitler falls into our hands we shall certainly put him to death."

"Not a Sovereign who could be said to be in the hands of Ministers, like Kaiser. This man is the mainspring of evil."

While capital punishment in Britain at the time involved hanging, Churchill suggested that electrocution equipment could be obtained from the United States through the Lend-Lease arms supply programme.

"Instrument -- electric chair, for gangsters no doubt available on Lease Lend," the prime minister was quoted as saying

Two-and-a-half years later, with the Allies closing in on Berlin and Hitler trapped in the bunker where he would take his life, the question of whether Nazis deserved to be put on trial arose.

In April 1945, Home Secretary Herbert Morrison expressed the opinion -- seemingly popular with colleagues -- that a "mock trial" for Nazi leaders would be "objectionable".

"Better to declare that we shall put them to death," he said.

Churchill agreed that a trial for Hitler would be "a farce", saying: "All sorts of complications ensue as soon as you admit a fair trial."

Within weeks, however, it became clear that both the United States and the Soviet Union favoured court proceedings.

On May 3, the minister for civil aviation, Viscount Swinton, reported that "the situation has changed: if we can't agree on procedure for leaders, let us get agreed procedure on the others. The leaders are being liquidated anyhow."

Churchill proposed that they "negotiate" with figures such as Gestapo head Heinrich Himmler -- who had already sought secret peace talks with London -- and then "bump him off later".

When Secretary of State for War Sir Peter Grigg objected that activities at concentration camps such as Buchenwald -- which Himmler helped to operate -- did not qualify as "war crimes", the prime minister responded sharply.

"Don't quibble: he could be summarily shot, in respect of some of those in the camp," Churcill said.

First Published: Jan 01, 2006 18:47 IST