The Wehrmacht War Crimes Bureau, 1939-1945 is the second book by Alfred-Maurice de Zayas. It was published in 1979 in Germany by Universitas/Langen Müller under the title Die Wehrmacht-Untersuchungsstelle..
The American version of the book was published under the title The Wehrmacht War Crimes Bureau, 1939-1945 (University of Nebraska Press) with a preface by Professor Howard S. Levie, an expert in international humanitarian law. This book describes some of the work of the Wehrmacht-Untersuchungsstelle, a special section of the legal department of the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht, which investigated alleged Allied and German war crimes. Examples include the murder of Ukrainians in Lviv by the NKVD in 1941, the murder of Polish prisoners of war at Katyn in 1940, executions of German PoWs by French irregulars in 1944, and the sinking of the German hospital ship "Tübingen" by the British in 1944. De Zayas was the first researcher to see and evaluate the extant 226 volumes (only about half of the total records, the rest apparently having been burned in Langensalza, Germany near the end of the war, according to de Zayas; pp. xiii-xiv), which had been classified documents in the United States for several decades, and had just been returned by the US National Archives to the German Bundesarchiv in 1975.
De Zayas was head of a special unit on international humanitarian law, the "Arbeitsgruppe Kriegsvölkerrecht", at the Institute of International Law of the University of Göttingen, and together with a Dutch colleague from the University of Amsterdam, Dr. Walter Rabus, he undertook the evaluation of the recently declassified record group, as well as the related records of the Wehrmachtführungsstab, Fremde Heere Ost, and Kriegstagebücher (war diaries of army units). Between 1976-1979, de Zayas and his team sought out and interviewed hundreds of the witnesses who had given sworn testimony before the German military judges in 1939-45, as well as more than a hundred of the judges who had been involved in the investigations. Two international conferences were held to discuss the project, one at the Institute of International Law in Göttingen, hosted by Professor Dietrich Rauschning (subsequently Judge in the Human Rights Chamber in Sarajevo, established under the Dayton Accords), and the second one at the Institute of International law of the University of Cologne, hosted by Professors Ignaz Seidl Hohenfeldern and Andreas Hillgruber, and attended by international experts, the Director of the German Bundesarchiv, witnesses, and judges.
The result of the research conducted by the de Zayas team was a 520-page book in German, consisting of two parts: a history of the bureau, its members, working methods, etc.; and a second part consisting of case studies. It became the basis of a prime-time television documentary by the ARD/WDR (German channel 1), the broadcast receiving the largest number of viewers on 18 March and 21 March 1983. The 364-page English edition of the book was translated by de Zayas and published by the University of Nebraska Press in November, 1989, with a preface by Professor Howard Levie, an expert in prisoner of war law. De Zayas gave a series of guest lectures on the Wehrmacht-Untersuchungsstelle at universities in Germany, the Netherlands, and Great Britain, including All Souls College, Oxford, upon an invitation of Professor Ian Brownlie, and at the German Historical Institute in London. Notwithstanding criticism from some historians, the book and the television documentary were well-received. At the same time, they were savagely attacked in the media of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. In the 1990s, the book became controversial in the context of a debate on war crimes committed by the Wehrmacht. While the de Zayas book does mention investigations of German war crimes in Poland, the Soviet Union and elsewhere, about half of the archival records of the Wehrmacht War Crimes Bureau are missing, accord to de Zayas, and those extant concern primarily Soviet war crimes. The book has remained in print for nearly thirty years and reached the 7th revised edition in Germany and the 4th revised edition in the United States, with Picton Press in Rockland, Maine.
In his review in the American Journal of International Law, Benjamin B. Ferencz, an American prosecutor at Nuremberg wrote: "Every victim of inhumanity, regardless of nationality, race or creed, should be entitled to the equal protection of the law. The stated primary purpose of this interesting and well-written work is to minimize the violations of international law in any future armed conflicts. If that goal is to be achieved, it is not enough merely to know that the rules are often broken by all sides. Americans learned that lesson at My Lai. There must be continued improvement in the codes in order to meet the changing modes of warfare. There must be inculcation and acceptance of humanitarian values, even in time of war. Most important, there must be a more certain, objective and effective judicial machinery, national and international, to improve the enforcement of international law and the rules of war. The de Zayas book sheds light on a problem that has not yet been resolved." The review by Professor Christopher Greenwood in the Cambridge Law Journal notes: "This is an excellent book...all the cases examined have to be seen against the background of the Holocaust and the atrocities committed by the German armed forces and SS...nevertheless...atrocities do not excuse the kind of crimes detailed in this book." Concerning the methodology of this remarkable book, Professor Riedlsperger wrote: "Dr. de Zayas first came upon the previously undiscovered 226 volumes of WUSt documents as a Fulbright fellow on leave from his studies in International Law at Harvard. After concluding his legal studies, de Zayas subsequently earned a Ph.D. in history and the University of Göttingen, where he later became an associate. The Institute supported the research on which this study is based and arranged for the assistance of a Dutch international law specialist, Dr. Walter Rabus...Mindful that the WUSt might have been manipulated by Goebbels's Propaganda Ministry, the authors were punctilious in their verification. They carefully examined the documents for internal consistency and continuity and then verified the reports and testimony, where possible, with judges, medical examiners and witnesses still alive. In addition, they compared WUSt documents with those of other German agencies in seven additional German archives, and with documents in British, Dutch, Swiss, and American archives. In this exhaustive analysis, it becomes clear that the WUSt operated with scrupulous objectivity and therefore that its documents constitute a valuable new source for the study of the conduct of war. This carefully documented administrative history together with its excellent bibliography will therefore become an important introduction to this extensive archive. The Wehrmacht-Untersuchungsstelle is at once an interesting history of an internal agency of the Third Reich and an important archival and historiographical contribution to the study of the war." German Studies Review, Vol. 4, No. 1 (Feb., 1981), pp. 150-151.
In the Preface to the first German edition of the book, the Director of the Institute of International Law of the University of Göttingen, Professor Dr. Dietrich Rauschning (subsequently judge in the Human Rights Chamber of Bosnia and Herzegovina under the Dayton Accords) wrote about the close supervision of the project by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft and the experts of the five principal archives where the research was conducted, and about the distance and care taken by de Zayas and the members of his team in evaluating the records of the Wehrmacht-Untrsuchungsstelle. "Als US-Amerikaner und Angehöriger einer gegenüber dem Hitler-regime kritischen Generation musste de Zayas die Authentizität der Akten zunächst in Zweifel ziehen. Andererseits vermitteln die Akten nicht den Eindruck eines Propaganda-Erzeugnisses--aber war es möglich, in Deutschland während des Krieges mit richterlicher Objektivität Völkerrechtsverletzungen zu dokumentieren? Wollten und konnten die OKW-Untersuchungsstelle und helfend die Wehrmachtrichter die Ermittlungen rechtlich einwandfrei durchführen, oder unterlagen sie politischen oder propagandistischen Pressionen oder Rücksichten? Liessen sich diese Fragen nicht nur noch weinige Jahre, solgange noch eine Anzahl der beteiligten Richter, Opfer und Zeugen lebten, klären? Und musste man, wenn man auf dieses Material stiess, diese Untersuchung nicht führen und auch auf das Material aufmerksam machen? Aus wissenschaftlichem, aber wohl auch aus ethischem Engagement heraus hat de Zayas diese Fragen mit der Leitung des Bundesarchivs, mit Historikern und Juristen erörtert und sie weiter verfolgt. Er hat für die Durchführung der Untersuchung dann meine Unterstützung, auch als Direktor der Abteilung für allgemeines Völkerrecht des Instituts für Völkerrecht der Universität Göttingen, erhalten....So erschien est sinnvoll, das Vorhaben junger ausländischer Wissenschaftler zu unterstützen, gerade als Juristen die justizförmigen Beweisaufnahmen der Wehrmacht-Untersuchungsstelle über Völkerrechtsverletzungen utner rechtlichen Aspekten zu untersuchen und auf ihre Ordnungsmässikeit zu überprüfen. Das Institut gab die räumliche und die organisatorische Grundlage für diese Unterssuchung, und alle Beteiligten sind der Deutschen Forschungsgemeinschaft zu Dank verpflichtet, dass sie auf meinen Antrag hin durch die Förderung des Vorhabens seine Durchführung ermöglichte....Auf dieser Grundlage bin ich von der wissenschaftlichen Achtbarkeit und Lauterkeit der Untersuchung überzeugt."
de Zayas published a summary article on the book in the Historical Journal, Vol. 35, pp. 383-400 (1992) under the Title "The Wehrmacht Bureau on War Crimes"
This book is the first scholarly book on war crimes by non-Germans (primarily Soviets) during World War II. Although the taboo has been broken, the follow-up by historians and lawyers in the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, Poland, and Russia has been slow and circumspect. Only now are more books being published in which the Germans are seen not exclusively in their role as perpetrators, but also as the victims of war crimes. (Norman Naimark, The Russians in Germany, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1995; Joachim Hoffmann, Stalins Vernichtungskrieg, Berlin 2001; Joerg Friedrich, Der Brand, Propylaen Verlag, 2002)
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