War Criminals

– in the House of Commons at 9:43 pm on 14th March 1983.

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Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Douglas Hogg.]

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick , Walsall North 10:03 pm, 14th March 1983

Some people may find it strange that, 38 years after the last war, the matter of Nazi war criminals should be raised in the House tonight. But the time which has elapsed can make no difference to the need to ensure that those who committed the most terrible crimes against humanity should be brought to justice.

Earlier this year, I received an answer to a parliamentary question informing me that war-time and post-war agreements which provided for the arrest and bringing to judgment of Nazi war criminals remained in force.

I decided to apply for this Adjournment debate after reading in the press that Walter Rauff, one of the most notorious of war-time SS officers, was living in Chile and, apparently, under his own name. I said one of the most notorious war-time SS officers". I should have added "and killers". The Daily Telegraph correspondent, in the issue of that newspaper on 10 February, reported this case. Mr. Tony Allen-Mills wrote that Rauff, whom he described as one of the most notorious Nazi mass murderers known to be still alive, had become the focus of the continuing hunt for war criminals since Barbie was extradited from Bolivia.

This criminal, Rauff, who has been in Chile for many years, apparently lives in considerable comfort, and, according to Mr. Allen-Mills, Rauff's address is even in the telephone book. So there is no dispute that Rauff lives in Chile. He makes no secret of the fact, and he lives under his own name.

Why should we in this country be concerned, as I believe we should, about this Nazi criminal? Why have I taken this opportunity to apply for an Adjournment debate to deal with Mr. Walter Rauff? What crimes did he commit?

As I said, Rauff was a top SS officer, very close to Himmler and Heydrich. He is held responsible for the mass murders of hundreds of thousands of people. Again, there seems to be no doubt about his guilt. His particular speciality in mass murders was the mobile extermination trucks. Civilians, including young children, were locked into the vehicle, and exhaust gases were pumped into it, with the prisoners inside.

In a plea to the Chileans to extradite him, the noted hunter of Nazi war criminals, Simon Wiesenthal, stated that, between 1941 and 1942 alone, approximately 250,000 people were murdered by the method that I have just described, and that they were murdered in Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, the Ukraine and Yugoslavia. That is the type of person, criminal, and mass murderer, who today lives in Chile under his own name, and where apparently the western powers have shown little interest in bringing him to justice. During Eichmann's trial in Jerusalem, Rauff's name and crimes were mentioned.

What am I doing tonight? I am asking the Government to put pressure on the Chileans for Rauff to be extradited, and to request the United States authorities to do the same.

I received a reply from one of the Foreign Office Ministers—not the Under-Secretary of State who is to reply to this debate. In the letter that I received last week, I was told that the arguments against an official British initiative were compelling. I confess that I did not find the reasons compelling. Nor did I find compelling the arguments that were advanced in that letter—no doubt, drafted in the normal way by Foreign Office officials. It seems that the West Germans have had the responsibility since 1955 for bringing war criminals to justice. I accept that that is the legal position. I realised that when I wrote my letter to the Foreign Secretary in the first place. I was told in the letter that Britain has had no formal legal grounds for making representations to the Chileans. However, the Minister recognised that that did not necessarily prevent the Government from making representations. Of course it does not. However, the Minister concluded that it was doubtful whether there would be any point in pressing the Chilean authorities to extradite Rauff to West Germany.

It seemed to me, when I read that letter, that the Government were washing their hands of the whole matter. The letter referred to our broader interests. I am not sure what those broader interests with Chile are, but I should have thought that no interest was more important in this matter than that this country should do its utmost to see that that criminal in Chile is brought to justice. If Rauff were in Cuba, would I receive the same sort of reply? Would the Government be as non-committal as they are about Rauff being in Chile?

As for Britain's responsibilities and the legal grounds, I remind the Minister of the case of Mr. Shcharansky. I have no quarrel with the fact that the Government made representations to the Soviet authorities; they were right to do so. But on what basis did they do so? Presumably because of public opinion and deep concern in Britain about the way in which Mr. Shcharansky has been treated. If the Government made representations about the case of Mr. Shcharansky, how much more important it is that we, the first country with France to declare war against Germany because of Nazi aggression against Poland, who bore the brunt of responsibility before the United States and the Soviet Union entered the war and who made so much sacrifice to eliminate Nazism from Europe, should not shrug off our responsibilities in the way that was done in the reply to my letter. That response is rather like saying that it is unfortunate that the man has got away scot-free, but that so much time has elapsed that there are no legal grounds for taking action. I have no intention of accepting that as an argument.

I mean no disrespect to the Minister. He has his brief. He is not in the Cabinet and must do his duty as any Under-Secretary would. However. if the Minister's reply today is the same as the reply that I have already received—as I assume it will be—I do not have the slightest intention of letting the matter go. With my right hon. and hon. Friends, I shall continue the campaign, and I shall certainly take the matter outside the House in trying to arouse public opinion about Rauff's war crimes.

The allied Governments pledged that those who committed such terrible crimes, such atrocities, on behalf of the Third Reich would be brought to justice. That clear pledge was made during the war years, and it was their right to make such a pledge. It would make a mockery of those pledges if Britain and the United States simply allowed Rauff to go scot-free and not to make the effort necessary to bring him to justice.

A few weeks ago some hon. Members, including myself, were worried that Barbie would not be extradited from Bolivia. There was some justified pessimism, but I am, of course, pleased that Barbie has been extradited. There must be no false sentiment about him. At long last he is in French custody and will shortly be tried in the same way as other war criminals have been tried—indeed, as Eichmann was tried 20 years ago in Israel. That is the right and proper course. Justice will take the course that one expects in a country, such as France, that is ruled by law. With Barbie in French custody, it is now necessary that Rauff should be extradited to one of the European countries—be it West Germany, Yugoslavia, Poland, or whatever country can try him—so that he can face justice according to the pledge that was made during the war years.

Three weeks ago the Prime Minister made a highly publicised speech in which she tried to draw an analogy between events in the 1930s and now. She was obviously on the offensive against the peace movement. As is to be expected, I disagreed with the Prime Minister's remarks. My view, and that of my right hon. and hon. Friends, was that she made a false analogy. Sadly, she refused to face the fact that she represented a party that was responsible for much appeasement of the Nazi dictators during the 1930s. Whatever the arguments of the Labour party over defence then, its worst critics could not say other than that from the very beginning we had warned of the dangers of Hitler, Mussolini and Franco. There was no fellow-travelling by us with the Fascist dictators. Some people may say that that is all in the past.

If the Prime Minister is concerned about the crimes of the Nazis, and leaving aside the Labour view that the Prime Minister was making a false analogy, a real Nazi by the name of Walter Rauff is alive and lives in Chile. He committed the most monstrous crimes against humanity. What will the Prime Minister do to ensure that that criminal is brought to justice?

I accept that the United States of America has more influence with the Chilean junta than Britain. I should like the Government to apply pressure on the United States so that it can apply as much pressure as possible on Chile —the ally that it is responsible for arming—for Rauff to be extradited.

If the pressure and representation for which I am asking occurred from Britain and the United States of America, there is little doubt in my mind that, as with Eichmann and Barbie, Rauff would be extradited to face justice. The sooner that that criminal faces justice, the better, and the more Britain and other powers will have honoured the pledge they gave in the war years—that the victims of Nazism would not be forgotten, and that their tormentors, torturers, persecutors and mass murderers would be brought to justice once Hitlerism was defeated.

Photo of Malcolm Rifkind Malcolm Rifkind Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Overseas Development) 10:17 pm, 14th March 1983

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) for raising this subject and enabling me to set out the Government's position on the important issue he has raised in this debate. I assure him that I do not believe that, after 40 years, these matters should be quietly forgotten. Nor is that the view of Her Majesty's Government. The subject of this Adjournment debate is not about one individual but the general queston of the discovery and prosecution of war criminals.

In the light of the hon. Gentleman's interest in this subject, I trust that he will agree with me that it would be appropriate for me to confine my remarks this evening to war crimes committed in the European theatre. I do not intend to comment on the position regarding war crimes in the Far East, although British personnel suffered worse and more severely through war crimes committed by the Japanese than by those in Germany. It is clear that the hon. Gentleman's interest for the purposes of this debate regards the European position. The hon. Gentleman made it clear in his comments that he is well informed about the discussions that took place in Whitehall between the wartime allies regarding the discovery and prosecution of major war criminals. He will be aware that these eventually led to the trial of 24 major war criminals before a quadripartite international military tribunal at Nuremberg. Of the criminals arraigned at Nuremberg, only one, Martin Bormann, is not definitely accounted for. He is presumed to be dead, although there has been no conclusive evidence of that fact.

In 1945 Nazi war crimes were found to have been committed in all parts of Germany, in all the countries that had fallen under German rule and also on the high seas. The horror reached its greatest extent in territories under German control in the east. However, the extent of Nazi crimes was vast enough in the British zone. The military authorities at the time found themselves overwhelmed with evidence. They lacked neither the power nor indeed the will to proceed. The record shows that they did so diligently. It is not surprising that they fell some way short of completing what was probably an impossible task.

The evidence of the period from 1943, the time of the Moscow agreement, until 1945 suggests that many failed to foresee the enormity of mass murder for which the evidence confronted our troops as they entered Germany in the spring of 1945.

Many doubted that the Germans would divert vital scarce resources, notably of transport, military personnel and slave labour, to pursue the policy of extermination even after the tide of war had obviously turned against them. I am thinking particularly of the massive deportation to Poland of Jews from countries as far afield as Hungary and France.

It is useful to recall the circumstances in which the awful evidence of Nazi crimes was exposed as the allied armies entered Germany in the closing stages of the war. The central fact, which is highly relevant to this debate, about the discovery and prosecution of war criminals is that there was absolute confusion in Germany in the closing stages of the war. The cities were in ruins, transport was at a standstill and there were tens of thousands of displaced persons, deserters, refugees and others moving hither and thither, living where they could. There were no services, no government, and there was a threat of starvation and disease. In short, there was chaos.

It is thus not surprising that discovering and prosecuting war criminals in the British zone of occupation by the Judge Advocate General —but also in other zones—produced results which, in retrospect, seem very incomplete and which undoubtedly were very incomplete. The commanders on the spot frequently had to decide whether to allocate resources to bringing some order out of chaos and, in particular, to preventing epidemics, which could so easily have spread to their own troops, or to give top priority to the discovery and prosecution of war criminals. One can understand those who decided that it was more urgent to save the living than to exact vengeance for the dead at that time.

Our authorities also faced the considerable problem of extracting from mountains of captured records evidence that would stand up in court as proof of the guilt of particular individuals in respect of particular crimes. The hon. Gentleman will he well aware that many cases had to be dropped because of the absence of sufficient conclusive evidence that would satisfy a court of law. However, I have not yet dealt with the case of war criminals whose names, misdeeds and locations were discovered, and who were for various reasons protected or even employed by any one of the four occupying powers.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the case of Klaus Barbie, and he is an example of exactly that phenomenon. In a good many cases those concerned might feel today that they got their priorities wrong. It was a matter for their judgment at the time, and it it a matter for their consciences today. As the hon. Gentleman knows, with the exception of the major criminals arraigned at Nuremberg, responsibility for the discovery and prosecution of war criminals was soon transferred to the German authorities. The transfer was well under way by 1950 and was complete when the allied occupation of western Germany ended in 1955.

From his remarks, it seems that the hon. Gentleman may have doubts about the desirability of that transfer to the German authorities. He may believe that the British Government at least should have continued to play a more active role to keep the Germans up to the mark. I can understand his point of view. There were cases in the early years of the federal republic when civil servants, and others with records that invited investigation, were restored to senior posts. But, against that, I do not doubt that the basic decision to transfer responsibility for the prosecution of alleged war criminals to the federal German authorities was the correct one.

After the war the objectives of western allies were, or at least quickly became, rehabilitation and reconstruction, leading to the return of Germany to the family of democratic nations. By every standard that policy has turned out to be an unqualified success. One of its most important ingredients in the early years was that the Germans should themselves face up to the enormity of the crimes committed by their leaders and in their name. It must not be forgotten that a great many victims of the Nazis were Germans. I am not simply thinking of German Jews, although they were clearly one of the most important categories. The camp system, established immediately after the Nazis came to power in 1933, was horribly efficient by 1939. In some of the most notorious, such as the Buchenwald forced labour camp, the vast majority of the victims—even at the end of the war—were Germans.

Well before 1939, German Communists, Social Democrats, Jews, homosexuals, Jehovah's Witnesses, religious leaders, academics, artists, gipsies and others had all met the same death, which the Nazis were later to mete out in so many other countries beyond the frontiers of Germany. In the last nine months of the war, following the attempt on Hitler's life in July 1944, several hundred more Germans were rounded up and executed. Thus the German authorities, established in what became the Federal Republic of Germany, did not lack either motivation or interest in discovering and prosecuting Nazi criminals. As is well known, and as the hon. Gentleman said, a number of the most notorious Nazis escaped from Europe to the Middle East and South America. The hon. Gentleman argued eloquently that the precepts of justice, honour and good international relations require the wartime allies in general, and the United Kingdom in particular, to keep up the pressure on the authorities in countries such as Bolivia, the Argentine, Chile and Paraguay to extradite known Nazi criminals.

As my noble Friend Lord Belstead, the Minister of State, said in the letter to the hon. Gentleman to which he has referred, the arguments against an official British initiative are compelling". I shall explain that statement, using in particular the case of Walter Rauff to which the hon. Gentleman has referred. I in no way dissent from the hon. Gentleman's description of that gentleman and the allegations of war crimes levelled against him.

I ask the hon. Gentleman to reflect on the prospects for a successful British initiative, bearing in mind that there have already been three German requests to the Chilean authorities for his extradition. The hon. Gentleman talked about pressure on the Chilean junta. I know that the hon. Gentleman does not have a complimentary opinion of the present Chilean authorities but I hope he will bear in mind that at least one of the representations made by the Federal German authorities to the Chilean Government for the extradition of Walter Rauff was to the late President Allende, and that it had as little success as the other representations.

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick , Walsall North

I knew that the Minister would make that point. Would he accept that if Chile had remained a democracy there would have been greater opportunities for pressure to be mounted? Obviously at that time the case of Rauff was not so well known in the West. Certainly it was not raised in Britain or the United States. It is interesting to note that, since the change of Government in Bolivia, Barbie was extradited.

Photo of Malcolm Rifkind Malcolm Rifkind Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Overseas Development)

That is reasonable as a general proposition. As a general proposition, a democratic regime is more likely to understand, to be sympathetic to and to respond to the desire of the Federal Republic of Germany to extradite war criminals than a military junta would be, but that is by no means a guarantee, as my reference to the late President Allende shows. Even a head of state of Chile, with clearly Left-wing views, and an elected president rather than a dictator, was not prepared to respond to representations from the Federal German Government. That factor has to be taken into account.

More important than the prospects of success or failure is the point that, after handing over responsibility in the matter to the Federal German Republic 30 years ago, it is not for us now to resume that responsibility. We are not in the same position as the French in the case of Barbie, to which the hon. Gentleman referred. Barbie was convicted by a French court in absentia before the occupation of Germany came to an end. The Germans themselves have welcomed—and, I do not doubt, discreetly supported—the French efforts, now successful, to secure the extradition of Barbie from Bolivia.

As my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary have made clear in replies to questions from the hon. Member, there is British legal machinery available to deal with any cases that may arise where prosecution by the British authorities would be appropriate, but I remind the hon. Gentleman that neither my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence nor I are aware of any outstanding case that could fall within our jurisdiction under any treaty to which we are party. I believe that it is right for us, none the less, to stand ready to help others with the resources of our experience and our archives, if indeed our help should be sought.

Clearly, the primary responsibility for representations to the Chilean authorities in the case to which the hon. Gentleman has referred must rest with the Federal German Republic. If they believed that any assistance that we could give them might assist them in the objects that they are pursuing, obviously we would give very careful consideration to any requests for assistance that the Federal German Republic might make to us. That is the least we could do, and clearly our own record in matters of this kind would show that we would respond as sympathetically as possible to requests of that kind.

I ask the hon. Gentleman to accept that, where there is not a direct British legal responsibility, the primary responsibility in a matter of this kind must rest with the Federal German Government. It is for them to decide what is the most realistic way to seek to make progress. For me to say that does not imply any lack of interest on our part, nor any lack of agreement with the basic argument that the hon. Gentleman has made as to the desirability of war criminals who have committed the most horrendous crimes being brought to justice, before a court of law, which can judge their guilt and pass sentence if they are convicted. There is no disagreement between us on that, but I ask the hon. Gentleman to accept, in regard to the making of representations in the case to which he has referred, that it is only sensible and appropriate for the Federal German Government—a democratic Government who believe in the rule of law, and who are as concerned as the hon. Gentleman to see war criminals brought to justice—to take the lead in a case of this kind. As I have said, our view and our actions will obviously take into account any requests received from them. That, I believe—I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept it—is the proper course to take, and a proper response for Her Majesty's Government.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at half-past Ten o'clock.