- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 1, 2006

LONDON — Winston Churchill, Britain’s wartime prime minister, planned to execute Adolf Hitler in the electric chair if the Nazi leader fell into Allied hands.

Official documents declassified for the turn of the new year reveal that Churchill was opposed to Allied plans for war-crimes trials and wanted summarily to execute leading Nazi figures, including Hitler, whom he regarded as “the mainspring of evil” and a “gangster.”

They also show that he was willing, against the advice of his Cabinet colleagues, to “wipe out” defenseless German villages in retaliation for Nazi atrocities in Czechoslovakia.

The disclosures are contained in notebooks kept by Norman Brook, the former wartime deputy Cabinet secretary, who kept an account of proceedings in a form of shorthand.

On July 6, 1942, according to his notes, the prime minister said: “Contemplate [that] if Hitler falls into our hands, we shall certainly put him to death. Not a Sovereign who [could] be said to be in hands of Ministers, like Kaiser. This man is the mainspring of evil. Instrument — electric chair, for gangsters no doubt available on lend-lease.”

Churchill’s choice of the electric chair was unusual because it had never been used in Britain, which subsequently abolished the death penalty in 1965.

Brook’s notebooks, made public by the National Archives, reveal Churchill to be a ruthless commander, who was prepared to override moral and legal considerations to defeat Germany.

On July 7, 1943, Churchill argued passionately that leading Nazis who fell into British hands should be treated as “outlaws” and shot rather than put on trial.

“I suggested that U.N. to draw up a list of 50 or so [who would] be declared as outlaws by the 33 Nations. (Those not on the list might be induced to rat!) If any of these found by advancing troops, nearest [officer] of brigade rank [should] call a military court to establish identity and [should] then execute [without] higher authority.”

The papers also show that he was willing to “bump off” Nazi Heinrich Himmler and shoot German prisoners of war should Germany begin doing the same to British prisoners.

Churchill’s own six-volume history of the conflict, “The Second World War,” makes no reference to this disagreement over war-crimes trials and includes just a passing reference to “the unexpectedly ultra-respectable, ‘no executions without trial’ line being taken by [Josef] Stalin.”

Equally controversial will be the revelation in the notebooks that Churchill wanted the Royal Air Force to wipe out German villages in retaliation for the massacre of civilians in Lidice, a Czech village razed by the SS.

The prime minister abandoned his plan only because of opposition from Cabinet colleagues. On June 15, 1942, he said: “My instinct is strongly the other way … I submit (unwillingly) to the view of Cabinet against.”

Churchill might have lived to regret the raids. Within weeks of authorizing bombing raids on the German town of Dresden in 1945, he began to question the wisdom of the policy. He would later say that the deaths of up to 30,000 German civilians raised a “query against the conduct of Allied bombers,”

The notebooks also reveal Churchill’s preferred method for dealing with Mahatma Gandhi, the Indian nationalist leader who embarked on a hunger strike in 1942. Churchill, almost alone among his Cabinet colleagues, did not see the need to cave into Gandhi’s demands, even though many observers believed he only had days to live.

Churchill finally agreed to a reprieve on the condition that Gandhi’s release did not cause Britain to lose face. On Jan. 7, 1943, he asked colleagues: “Why give way to h-strike [hunger strike] by Gandhi?

“Let him out as an act of State, rather than an act of submission to [good] will. I [would] keep him there and let him do as he likes. But if you are going to let him out because he strikes, then let him out now. … Tell Viceroy.”

Churchill was equally dismissive of French Gen. Charles de Gaulle, one of Britain’s closest allies, whom he believed suffered from “an insensate ambition” and who was the “greatest living barrier to re-union and restoration of France.”

The notebooks reveal that the plight of Jewish communities in Europe and the Middle East was a frequent topic of discussion of the Cabinet. On Dec. 14, 1942, Churchill asked Anthony Eden, his foreign secretary, whether reports about “the wholesale massacre of Jews” by “electrical methods” were true.

Eden tells him that “Jews are being withdrawn from Norway and sent to Poland, for some such purposes evidently.” Eden, is, however, unable to “confirm the method” of killing.

Brook also records on June 11, 1945, that Churchill described the Soviet advance into Central Europe as “one of the most terrible events in history.”

Despite the Soviet advances, Churchill still believed British values had a place. On July 12, 1943, he said: “Propagate our language all over world is best method. Harmonizes with my ideas for future of world. This will be the English—speaking century.”

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