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The Execution of Nazi War Criminals

John Simkin

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Do members believe that Nazi War Criminals should have been executed?

I thought it might be interesting to look at the case of Karl Brandt. He was a doctor and in August 1933, was summoned to Upper Bavaria to treat Wilhelm Bruckner, Hitler's adjutant's, who had been hurt in an automobile accident. Hitler was so impressed with his work that he invited Dr. Brandt to become his personal physician.

Brandt joined Hitler's inner circle and was given the rank of major-general in the Waffen-SS. He was also appointed Reich Commissioner for Health and Sanitation. Brandt was responsible for the Law for the Protection of Hereditary Health that was used to introduce compulsory sterilization. In August, 1939 the Reich Committee for the Scientific Registration of Serious Hereditary and Congenially Based Diseases was established. Euthanasia was employed to deal with the incurably insane or the physically handicapped. Karl Brandt and Philip Bouhler were put in charge of this programme that Hitler said would result in the "racial integrity of the German people."

The euthanasia programme was known as T-4 and began in autumn 1939. According to Ulf Schmidt, the author of Karl Brandt: The Nazi Doctor, the first person to die as a result of the T-4 programme was Gerhard Kretschmar, a child born on 29th February 1939. Documents show that the parents, who lived in the south-eastern region of Saxony, petitioned Adolf Hitler asking for the child to be "put to sleep". Brandt claimed "it was a child who was born blind, an idiot - at least it seemed to be an idiot - and it lacked one leg and part of one arm."

Carbon monoxide gas was selected as the means of death and several asylums were equipped with chambers for this purpose. Between October 1939 and August 1941, T-4 killed over 70,000 people.

Karl Brandt was one of the defendants in the trial of 23 physicians and scientists that began at Nuremberg on 9th December, 1946. Alongside him stood Viktor Brack, another senior member of the euthanasia programme. Philip Bouhler had committed suicide at the same time as Hitler.

Karl Brandt was interrogated by the Allies on 1st October 1945. This included him making this statement:

I think that everybody who has any imagination will turn away shudderingly (sic) from the misdevelopment of nature. These people live under cruel imagination and persecution manias, partly without any consciousness, and one can safely say that every one of these people if they for one clear moment would be able to see their real condition would be very grateful to be dead... I do not feel that I am incriminated. I am convinced that I can bear the responsibility for what I did in this connection before my conscience. I was motivated by absolutely humane feelings. I never had any other intention. I never had any other belief than that those poor miserable creatures-that the painful lives of these creatures were to be shortened. The only thing that I regret in this connection is that external circumstances brought it about that pain was inflicted on the relatives. But I am convinced that these relatives have overcome this sorrow today and that they themselves feel that their dead relatives were freed from suffering.

This is a letter Karl Brandt wrote to his wife on 8th July, 1947:

Why I did not know anything, well, the answer lies in the matter itself. The implementation was just none of my business. For this Bouhler had his organisation. He signed for it. However, the prosecution will now attempt to make me responsible, because only I am now here. Moreover, the prosecution will try to blame me for all the killings in the concentration camps and in Poland. I don't know how they propose to prove this... In any case, I would like to give you once more the inner reassurance that I was in no way informed about these things and that I in no way ever initiated anything even remotely of this nature. In retrospect, I have to add: what would have happened, if I had known? Could I have influenced it? Could it have been prevented? Not through me, I believe. Even my channels would have been limited: Hitler, Bormann, Bouhler - I could not have approached anyone else. So today I must say - whether it was for good or bad - that fate protected me from having to make difficult choices.

This is the statement that Karl Brandt made in court at Nuremberg on 19th July, 1947:

Can I, as an individual, remove myself from the community? Can I be outside and without it? Could I, as a part of this community, evade it by saying I want to thrive in this community, but I don't want to sacrifice anything for it, not bodily and not with my soul? I want to keep my conscience clear. Let them try how they can get along...

Would you believe that it was a pleasure to me to receive the order to start euthanasia? For fifteen years I had laboured at the sick-bed and every patient was to me like a brother, every sick child I worried about as if it had been my own. And then that hard fate hit me. Is that guilt? Was it not mv first thought to limit the scope of euthanasia? Did I not, the moment I was included, try to find a limit as well as finding a cure for the incurable? Were not the professors of the Universities there? Who could there be who was more qualified?

With the deepest devotion I have tortured myself again and again, but no philosophy and no other wisdom helped here. There was the decree and on it there was my name. I do not say that I could have feigned sickness. I do not live this life of mine in order to evade fate if I meet it. And thus I affirmed Euthanasia. I realise the problem is as old as man, but it is not a crime against man nor against humanity. Here I cannot believe like a clergyman or think as a Jurist. I am a doctor and I see the law of nature as being the law of reason. From that grew in my heart the love of man and it stands before my conscience...

I am deeply conscious that when I said "Yes" to euthanasia I did so with the deepest conviction, just as it is my conviction today, that it was right. Death can mean relief. Death is life - just as much as birth. It was never meant to be murder. I bear this burden but it is not the burden of crime. I bear this burden of mine, though, with a heavy heart as my responsibility. Before it, I survive and prevail, and before my conscience, as a man and a doctor.

Judgement of Karl Brandt at Nuremberg (20th August, 1947):

Karl Brandt admits that after he had disposed of the medical decision required to be made by him with regard to the initial program which he maintains was valid, he did not follow the program further but left the administrative details of execution to Bouhler. If this be true, his failure to follow up a programme for which he was charged with special responsibility constituted the gravest breach of duty. A discharge of that duty would have easily revealed what now is so manifestly evident from the record; that whatever may have been the original aim of the program, its purposes were prostituted by men for whom Brandt was responsible, and great numbers of non-German nationals were exterminated under its authority.

We have no doubt but that Karl Brandt - as he himself testified - is a sincere believer in the administration of euthanasia to persons hopelessly ill, whose lives are burdensome to themselves and an expense to the state or to their families. The abstract proposition of whether or not euthanasia is justified in certain cases of the class referred to, is no concern of this Tribunal. Whether or not a state may validly enact legislation which imposes euthanasia upon certain classes of its citizens, is likewise a question which does not enter into the issues. Assuming that it may do so, the Family of Nations is not obligated to give recognition to such legislation when it manifestly gives legality to plain murder and torture of defenceless and powerless human beings of other nations.

The evidence is conclusive that persons were included in the program who were non-German nationals. The dereliction of the defendant Brandt contributed to their extermination. That is enough to require this Tribunal to find that he is criminally responsible in the program.

We find that Karl Brandt was responsible for, aided and abetted, took a consenting part in, and was connected with plans and enterprises involving medical experiments conducted on non-German nationals against their consent, and in other atrocities, in the course of which murders, brutalities, cruelties, tortures and other inhumane acts were committed. To the extent that these criminal acts did not constitute War Crimes they constitute Crimes against Humanity...

The Military Tribunal finds and adjudges the defendant Karl Brandt guilty under Counts Two, Three, and Four, of the Indictment...

Karl Brandt, the Military Tribunal has found and adjudged you guilty of War Crimes, Crimes against Humanity, and membership in an organisation declared criminal by the judgement of the International Military Tribunal, as charged under the indictment heretofore filed against you. For your said crimes, on which you have been, and now stand convicted, the Military Tribunal sentences you, Karl Brandt, to death by hanging. And may God have mercy on your soul.

Karl Brandt wrote a letter to the authorities on 21st August, 1947, concerning the manner of his death:

In order to raise the significance of this death sentence above the level of mere execution of a judicial principle to the level of a deliberate act in the interest and to the benefit of mankind, I am of my free will willing to submit myself to a medical experiment offering no chance of survival. Being convinced that some of my colleagues sentenced together with me will join in my plea, there will not only be the possibility of a single experiment, but that of a collective one. I appeal to the public of the whole world not only to support my request but to demand compliance with it.

This is the speech Karl Brandt made on the scaffold (2nd June, 1948)

How can the nation which holds the lead in human experimentation in any conceivable form, how can that nation dare to accuse and punish other nations which only copied their experimental procedures? And even euthanasia! Only look at Germany, and the way her misery has been manipulated and artificially prolonged. It is, of course, not surprising that the nation which in the face of the history of humanity will forever have to bear the guilt for Hiroshima and Nagasaki, that this nation attempts to hide itself behind moral superlatives. She does not bend the law: Justice has never been here! Neither in the whole nor in the particular. What dictates is power. And this power wants victims. We are such victims. I am such a victim.

Was it right to execute Karl Brandt? Should his body have been used for scientific experimentation? Was Brandt right to compare his crimes with the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki?

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Do members believe that Nazi War Criminals should have been executed?

Was it right to execute Karl Brandt? Should his body have been used for scientific experimentation? Was Brandt right to compare his crimes with the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki?

No, No, No and No.

Fairly obvious really unless you are some kind of relativist :huh:

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For me it is a tough one.

I would certainly want some type of revenge; if I had had family members tortured or killed by the Nazis then I would be thinking an eye for an eye. On cooler reflection though, execution may not be the answer. I agree with Peter that permanent incarceration may well be a 'harsher' punishment, and can be reversed (to a degree) if circumstances show that the original verdict was flawed or wrong.

Still, I never had family members in that position so for me it is just a hypothetical.

Those comments would have to apply to Karl Brandt as well.

If he was to be executed, then the offer to be a human guinea pig might be worth considering. His death might be used to gain knowledge which would save lives. So perhaps he should have been allowed to die that way. There are two arguments against that though: firstly, it might add a dignity to his death which victims would object to, and it opens the way for people to be used like that. Give condemned persons that option, then the state might decide a few more condemned is what is needed to help solve some problems...

Safer to stay on this side of the fence, I think.

On the last point, I agree with Andy - there is no comparison.

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Do members believe that Nazi War Criminals should have been executed?

Was it right to execute Karl Brandt? Should his body have been used for scientific experimentation? Was Brandt right to compare his crimes with the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki?


No. Not even Hitler, had the opportunity existed.

No one. Ever. For any reason.

Obviously, then, "no" to Brandt question one. Ditto for two.

Those who ordered the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are indeed war criminals.

You is or you ain't.

The Geneva Conventions are themselves abominations -- or, if you prefer, war crimes -- insofar as they make palatable the ultimate crime itself.



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Do members believe that Nazi War Criminals should have been executed?


Was it right to execute Karl Brandt?


Should his body have been used for scientific experimentation?

By logical extension, no.

Was Brandt right to compare his crimes with the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki?

Smacked of desperation to me. And it stunk a little to cry "victim", although I agree with Peter, it was winner's justice.

Expanding the debate slightly, I don't think Hussein and his muscle squad should have been executed either.

All of which makes me realise how much the intervening years have changed my opinion on many things: in my teens I remember extolling the virtues of capital punishment. Youth, it's wasted on the young...

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Excellent responses all around IMO.

State sponsored killing just like murder is (or should be) a crime.

Revenge deprives the victims and families of the blessings of forgiveness irrespective of whether the forgiven becomes aware of it.

(God said you ARE forgiven, the problem is realising it and facing healing that follows)

Mistakes, if made, cannnot be reversed. If only one wrongful execution occurs it condemns all executions. Justice is an ass and mistakes WILL be made. IE the only solution is that state sponsored murder the same as serial killing or war crimes are outlawed.

The cost of incarceration must be accepted as a responsibility of nations, and it must be humane, ultimately offering the possibilities of redemption and the healing powers of forgiveness.

The cycle of cause and effect, the planting of fields of thistles and expecting to harvest sweet mango winds down and humanity evolves towards sanity and a right to rule (or rather participate in the proper place of natures heierarchy) nature and the things within it.

This man, as so many others, was insane and should have been recognised and treated as such.

All such crimes are signs of insanity, including where it is state sponsored or not, and should be treated as such.

Economics is no excuse. It's an insane expediency, debasing the perpetrators of involuntary euthanasia, murder, genocide or execution.

If you want sweet mango you plant sweet mango seed, protect the seedlings and when strong and independent trees, you reap what you have sown.

These laws of nature, as the great humaitarians of human history such as buddha, christ, MLK, Ghandi, et.c. understood, is the path to take in human affairs.

Naure has a way or redressing imbalance, it ALWAYS ultimately triumphs and prevails, with or without humanitys presence, whether it be through ice ages, or regarding the results of humanitys inhumanity. Until this is universally recognised and an alignment with this dialectic flow forms part all human affairs, the insanity will coninue to seed new generations of insanity and the pendulum swings out of control and a correction is naturally imposed which no-one can withstand. The concern at present is the ultimate extinction of all life on earth.

The world we leave to our children is the product of the thinking and actions of us today and it always has been, and always will be.

Edited by John Dolva
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