1749: Samuel Henzi, excluded 1824: Agustin de Iturbide, Emperor of Mexico

1943: Eight from the Krasnodar Trials

July 18th, 2010 Headsman

On July 18, 1943, eight Soviet citizens who were among 11 tried for collaboration with the recently expelled German occupiers were hanged before tens of thousands in the main square Krasnodar.

The proceedings from July 14-17 were the first major, open war crimes tribunals of World War II … which, of course, was still ongoing at this point.

But the previous winter, the Soviet Union had turned the tide by winning the Battle of Stalingrad, which victory presaged the liberation of the nearby north Caucasus city where we lay our scene.

The Russians proceeded to put the murderous Nazi occupation on trial, but did so not by trying Germans or their allies — but by trying eleven Soviet citizens for collaboration. Indeed, until the end of the war, thousands of Russians were prosecuted for crimes of collaboration, but only a relative handful of Germans for actually authoring those crimes.

These eleven were mostly* men who had served the Sonderkommando 10a (part of Einsatzgruppe D) in “guarding Gestapo buildings that held arrested Soviet citizens, executing arrests, going on military searches and expeditions against the partisans and peaceful Soviet citizens, [and] exterminating Soviet citizens by hanging, mass shootings, and use of poison gases.”

That “Soviet citizen” stuff, technically accurate, soft-pedaled the Einsatzgruppe‘s predictable primary target: local Jewry.

Sonderkommando 10a arrived in the town of Krasnodar when it fell to the Germans on August 12, 1942. On August 21 and 22, all the Jews were ordered to report for transfer to a certain neighborhood in the city. They were taken to the Pervomaisk woods, where they were shot. Many of the city’s Jews did not obey the order, but they, too, were eventually caught and shot. According to a Soviet committee of inquiry report, the number of civilians — women, old people, and children — murdered in Krasnodar was in excess of 13,000. Almost all were Jews. (Source)

This in a city that was occupied for only six months.

Under any description of the victims, these depredations were plenty to condemn collaborators with even the vaguest of associations. Only a few of the men had specific acts charged against them; evidence establishing frightful Nazi atrocities in the region (not hard to find) plus confessions to having worked for the Nazis (not hard to wring out) forged a sufficient evidentiary chain without getting lost in the weeds of such minutiae as: was the collaboration really voluntary? did these collaborators themselves actually carry out war crimes? was that confession actually reliable? (good luck with that one.)

In this military tribunal, the public prosecutor had a free hand for grandstanding, the defense had almost no scope of action, and (the USSR being an old hand at the show trial game) the accused knew their own part to play with craven self-denunciations and pleas for the “mercy” of being sent to the most dangerous part of the front. This made great headlines in Pravda and Izvestia (and update memos straight to the Kremlin) about Nazi bestiality,** and great copy with inquisitorial slam dunks like,

Today Soviet law will mete out justice to the traitors, fascist hirelings, and boot-lickers now in the prisoners’ dock. Tomorrow the court of history, the court of freedom-loving nations of the world, will pronounce its inexorable verdict on the bloodthirsty rulers of Hitlerite Germany and all its associates — on the enemies of mankind who have plunged the world into the welter of the present war. Not one of them will escape stern retribution! Blood for blood, death for death!

All were convicted; three drew long prison sentences and eight hanging, and since the tribunal permitted no appeal, those sentences were executed the day after the court finished its business.

The period quotes, and much of the information about this otherwise somewhat inaccessible trial, comes from Ilya Bourtman’s 2008 article for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, “‘Blood for Blood, Death for Death': The Soviet Military Tribunal in Krasnodar, 1943.”


It may have been a first, but one need hardly add that it was hardly the last such prosecution.

Several others war crimes show trials took place in other Soviet cities over the next few months, and these would obviously continue after the war.

Long, long after the war.

* The one exception was a 60-year-old former kulak who had illicitly escaped the deportation prescribed for this class in the 1930s. His “collaboration” consisted of having been a doorman whom a German soldier asked a question of.

** e.g., “Death to Hitler’s Butchers and Their Vile Accomplices”

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Crimes Against Humanity,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Execution,Germany,Hanged,History,Mass Executions,Milestones,Notable Jurisprudence,Occupation and Colonialism,Public Executions,Russia,Soldiers,The Worm Turns,Torture,USSR,War Crimes,Wartime Executions

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