Hidden in the Glare of the Nuremberg Trial: Impunity for the Wola Massacre as the Greatest Debacle of Post-War Trials

Dr. Hab. Iur. Patrycja Grzebyk

MPILux Working Paper 7 (2019)

Abstract: During the Warsaw Uprising in August 1944 German soldiers within a few days murdered 30 000 – 65 000 civilians. The Wola massacre (the slaughter took place in Wola – one of boroughs of Warsaw) was described by a historian Alexandra Richie as ‘the largest single battlefield massacre of the Second World War’. Despite the fact that names of commanders responsible for conduct of hostilities in Warsaw were well known to historians and prosecutors (including Robert Jackson and Telford Taylor), none of the perpetrators belonging to German armed forces was prosecuted for crimes committed in Wola before any international or national court. Some of the main perpetrators, like Heinz Reinefarth, had even pursued a successful political career in Germany in post-war period.

The present article describes the circumstances of the Wola massacre, it discusses legal qualification of the Wola massacre as a war crime, a crime against humanity or as a genocide taking into account the wording of Hitler/Himmler’s order (‘Warschau wird glattrasiert’). The article refers to legal bases of responsibility of persons involved in the massacre, including responsibility of both - commanders and their subordinates. It explains main reasons behind non-prosecution of perpetrators of the massacre in the Nuremberg trial as well as in subsequent trials which took place before national courts in Germany and in Poland. It argues that the impunity of perpetrators of the Wola massacre is an example of the greatest debacle of the post-war trials and should impact our assessment of the post-war justice achievements. It proves that even in case of mass atrocities political interests could prevail over justice which creates an obstacle to the full reconciliation between societies.


Keywords: Nuremberg, subsequent Nuremberg trials, war crimes, genocide, crime against humanity, Wola