Allied declarations condemning German atrocities in occupied territories (1941)

U.S. Department of State (October 22, 1941)

51.00/2406: Telegram

The Ambassador in the United Kingdom to the Secretary of State

London, October 22, 1941 — 5 p.m.
[Received 6:30 p.m.]

5040.

The following signed note from the Foreign Office dated October 21 has been received:

His Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom have been considering the situation created by the measures of repression being exercised by the German authorities in the Occupied Territories of Europe and in particular by the practice which is growing up of shooting hostages in alleged retaliation for acts of resistance by the population of those territories.

His Majesty’s Government have reached the conclusion that some formal notice ought to be taken of this situation, and that it might be well to issue a collective declaration concerning the German action. At the same time His Majesty’s Government consider that it would be inadvisable in such a declaration to make at this stage any specific threats of reprisal.

I am, therefore, approaching the Allied Governments and General de Gaulle and sending them the draft of a declaration which we consider suitable. I enclose a copy of this draft herewith. I should be grateful if Your Excellency would inform the United States Government of this proposal and inquire whether they would be willing to associate themselves in some form with the declaration. If the United States Government found such a course possible, the effect of the declaration would undoubtedly be greatly enhanced.

Terms of the declaration read as follows:

The Governments of the United Kingdom, et cetera, and the Free French National Committee make the following declaration:

  1. When the German invaders, in their lust for conquest attacked and enslaved the various European countries now under the German yoke, they no doubt hoped that the peoples of these countries, in the depths of their despair, would yield without resistance; would allow themselves to be pillaged and starved in the name of Hitler’s New Order; and would passively submit to the destruction of their national heritage.

  2. These hopes have been falsified. The German authorities now realize that they cannot destroy the souls of these peoples even though they may possess themselves of their bodies, lands and possessions. Thus, thwarted in their plans, and alarmed at the intense and passionate hatred that these have aroused, they are now in panic resorting to acts of undisguised terrorism and murder. Innocent persons are held as hostages and murdered indiscriminately in alleged retaliation for the action of patriots endeavoring to uphold their national independence against the German oppressors. Germany, who has claimed “living room” for her own people, shows that this means expulsion and massacre of the inhabitants of the homeland. Germany, who has claimed colonies, shows that Germans can only be established by the obliteration of the subjected race.

  3. The sound of despots have hardly died down when the firing squad takes up the felonious work, and in the rear of the German armies there is the rattle of death in Belgium, in Czechoslovakia, in France, in Greece, in Crete, in the Netherlands, in Luxemburg, in Norway, in Poland, in Soviet Russia and in Yugoslavia. These methods will not break the spirit of the enslaved peoples. But it is certain that they have earned for the German name scorn and disgust throughout the world. Each barbarity stiffens the will of these heroic peoples to endure and to resist.

  4. We, therefore, publicly declare that the brutalities which are being committed in the Occupied Countries are contrary to the dictates of humanity; are a reversion to barbarism; and will meet with sure retribution. To this end we are united in our resolve to win the freedom of the oppressed peoples and to execute justice. The method of oppression and terror used by Hitler are such that many people, including the Germans and Italians, are ignorant of the full facts. When these things are known, world opinion will not allow the criminals to escape just punishment for their crimes. Careful record is being kept of the facts so that in due time the world may pronounce judgment. With victory will come retribution.”

WINANT

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U.S. Department of State (October 24, 1941)

851.00/2406: Telegram

The Secretary of State to the Ambassador in the United Kingdom

Washington, October 24, 1941 — 8 p.m.

4691.

You may inform the Foreign Office that the President will make a public statement along the following lines as soon as word is received that the contemplated Allied declaration has been issued or at 12 noon, EST October 25 if the declaration has not then been issued in London.

The practice of executing scores of innocent hostages in reprisal for isolated attacks on Germans in countries temporarily under the Nazi heel revolts a world already inured to suffering and brutality. Civilized peoples long ago adopted the basic principle that no man should be punished for the deed of another. Unable to apprehend the persons involved in these attacks the Nazis characteristically slaughter fifty or a hundred innocent persons. Those who would ‘collaborate’ with Hitler or try to appease him cannot ignore this ghastly warning.

The Nazis might have learned from the last war the impossibility of breaking men’s spirit by terrorism. Instead they attempt to develop their ‘lebensraum’ and ‘new order’ by depths of frightfulness which even they have never approached before. These are the acts of desperate men who know in their hearts that they cannot win. Frightfulness can never bring peace to Europe. It only sows the seeds of hatred which will one day bring fearful retribution.

HULL

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U.S. Department of State (October 25, 1941)

851.00/2414: Telegram

The Ambassador in the United Kingdom to the Secretary of State

London, October 25, 1941.
[Received October 25 — 7:10 p.m.]

5096.

Following the President’s statement on the German practice of executing hostages, the Prime Minister as reported in the late press issued the following statement this evening.

His Majesty’s Government associate themselves fully with the sentiments of horror and condemnation expressed by the President of the United States upon the Nazi butcheries in France. These cold-blooded executions of innocent people will only recoil upon the savages who order and execute them. The butcheries in France are an example of what Hitler’s Nazis are doing in many other countries under their yoke. The atrocities in Poland, in Yugoslavia, in Norway, in Holland, in Belgium and above all behind the German fronts in Russia surpass anything that has been known since the darkest and most bestial ages of mankind. They are but a foretaste of what Hitler would inflict upon the British and American peoples if only he could get the power. Retribution for these crimes must henceforward take its place among the major purposes of the war.

WINANT

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The Pittsburgh Press (October 25, 1941)

Roosevelt denounces Hitler for 'slaughtering hostages’

Executions of ‘innocent’ men is attempt to break Europe’s spirit, he says

Washington, Oct. 25 (UP) –
President Roosevelt today condemned German executions of “innocent hostages” in Europe as an attempt by the Nazis to break the spirit of the European people by terrorism.

The President’s denunciation of the reprisal executions in France, Belgium and other nations was contained in a formal statement released by White House Secretary Stephen Early.

The President said:

The practice of executing scores of innocent hostages in reprisal for isolated attacks on Germans in countries temporarily under the Nazi heel revolts a world already inured to suffering and brutality.

Warning to appeasers

Civilized peoples long ago adopted the basic principle that no man should be punished for the deed of another. Unable to apprehend the persons involved in these attacks the Nazis characteristically slaughter fifty or a hundred innocent persons. Those who would ‘collaborate’ with Hitler or try to appease him cannot ignore this ghastly warning.

The statement was released without explanation, although it coincided with a wave of new executions in France.

Dispatches today from Vichy reported that the Germans temporarily had halted the slaughter of French hostages coincident with rumors that the elderly Marshal Henri Philippe Pétain planned to offer himself as a hostage to the Germans.

50 given respite

Fifty French hostages were shot at Bordeaux and 50 more are scheduled to die but have been given a brief respite through intervention of Adolf Hitler, according to reports from Vichy.

Mr. Roosevelt said:

The Nazis might have learned from the last war the impossibility of breaking men’s spirit by terrorism. Instead they attempt to develop their ‘lebensraum’ and ‘new order’ by depths of frightfulness which even they have never approached before. These are the acts of desperate men who know in their hearts that they cannot win. Frightfulness can never bring peace to Europe. It only sows the seeds of hatred which will one day bring fearful retribution.

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