The Scourge of the Swastika - A Short History of Nazi War Crimes, Lord Russell of Liverpool

The Scourge of the Swastika - A Short History of Nazi War Crimes, Lord Russell of Liverpool

Lord Russell of Liverpool was the Deputy Judge Advocate General of the British Army of the Rhine during the post-war war crimes trials. He was thus in a perfect position to write an account of the German war crimes. Surprisingly to a modern audience this book was rather controversial when it was first published in the mid 1950s, with some seeing it as an attempt to disrupt the re-integration of West Germany into the community of nations.

I was reading this book at the same time as some German works on the war, and it served as a useful reminder of just how utterly unjustified some of the actions being justified in those texts actually were (in particular the summary execution of Cretan civilians who found alongside the Greek army during the German invasion - under every rule of law they should have been given a full, fair trial, or the murder of 200 random Cretans in response to the mutilation of a number of Germans).

Many of the crimes committed by the Germans are now familiar to us, but this book is still valuable in two ways. Firstly it reminds us of the massive scale and variety of German war crimes, committed against civilians, POWs and of course the Jews, and ranging from mass murder to slave labour. Secondly Lord Russell's legal background means that we are given a clear account of what was legal and what wasn't. This is especially useful in areas such as hostage taking and reprisals, where the Germans had signed treaties limited what could be done and how, or with the U-Boat war, where surprise attacks on escorted or armed merchant ships were legal, but similar attacks against unarmed or undefended ships were very clear illegal, despite being at the heart of many early German successes.

This is not an easy read - the subject material means that it never could be, but it is a very valuable legally informed account of some of the most appalling atrocities ever committed, and a valuable reminder of why the Second World War had to be fought.


1 - Hitler's Instruments of Tyranny
2 - Ill-Treatment and Murder of Prisoners of War
3 - War Crimes on the High Seas
4 - Ill-Treatment and Murder of the Civilian Population in Occupied Territory
5 - Slave Labour
6 - Concentration Camps
7 - The Final Solution of the Jewish Question

Author: Lord Russell of Liverpool
Edition: Paperback
Pages: 272
Publisher: Frontline
Year: 1954

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