‘Germans are the Lords and Poles are the Servants’: The Trial of Arthur Greiser in Poland, 1946
20 Pages Posted: 13 Oct 2011 Last revised: 27 Jan 2014
Date Written: August 1, 2013
In the aftermath of World War II, the first conviction of an influential Nazi German official for the crime of waging aggressive war was delivered not by the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg, but, rather, by the Supreme National Tribunal of Poland sitting in Poznán. The accused was Arthur Greiser. Beginning in September 1939, Greiser served as Gauleiter (i.e. Governor) of the Warthegau, a large expanse of western Poland that had been illegally annexed to Nazi Germany. The Warthegau's residents suffered brutally under Greiser's boot.
The Polish Tribunal sentenced Greiser to death on July 9, 1946. His execution by public hanging from a plain wooden gallows took place in the early hours of the morning of July 21, 1946. Fifteen thousand spectators attended.
The Greiser judgment was a forerunner not only on the crime of aggression. It also liberally incorporated Raphael Lemkin’s understanding of genocide – including cultural and social aspects – although it did so within the framework of the charge of 'exceeding the rights accorded to the occupying authority by international law'.
The Greiser judgment, nevertheless, has received very little attention in international legal or policy circles. It remains largely overlooked.
This essay intends to bring Greiser's trial, judgment, and conviction more directly to the attention of international criminal lawyers, professionals committed to transitional justice, and a general readership concerned with redressing mass atrocity.
Contemporary law and policy can learn much from Greiser's conviction, in particular regarding the contours of the crime of aggressive war, as well as who, exactly, should be held responsible for such acts and how.
Keywords: War crimes trials, Holocaust, Crimes against the peace, Poland, Criminal Justice, Genocide
JEL Classification: K10, K33
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation