German Violations of the Law of War

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Book chapter in The Routledge History of the Second World War (ISBN 9781138317086).

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Historically, the Law of War comprised the protections that combatants and civilians enjoyed under the Geneva and Hague Conventions. In the relatively brief span of time that the Second World War lasted, the Germans accomplished a remarkable feat, plumbing the depths of human depravity in a manner seldom glimpsed in the annals of warfare. This chapter examines the massive human rights violations committed by the Germans on a continent-wide scale. As violations of the Law of War – in many cases merging with genocidal crimes and crimes against humanity – the Germans murdered prisoners of war, shot hundreds of thousands of civilians (including children), gassed Jews by the millions, burned people alive, killed infants in front of their mothers, liquidated the disabled, and launched one illegal and unprovoked attack after another on countries posing no threat to German national security. As the chapter shows, no country that felt the footprint of conquest and occupation was unscarred by German violations of the Law of War.