Your honor, on some occasion in your life, it you haven’t already, you will likely face a time when you make a very important choice. You will face a time when you must make a choice in which you must act in a manner that is outside of your normal character. I hope that you are never faced in a ‘Catch 22’ as my clients were while they occupied Berlin in World War II. Today, at a time that the Defendant’s are not participating in fighting a war, I beg the Court to understand they are different. The Defendant’s are changed men now, and most have families, honorable jobs, and do not so much as speak of memories of that time.
I stand before you in the defense of these upstanding men, and ask that you and I place their behavior into context. During World War II, and immediately afterward, these men had responsibilities. They were soldiers then, and will die having been soldiers, fighting a war. Remember, they were not fighting a war that they necessarily believed in and certainly did not wage. I concede that my clients did participate in some mean and nasty things. I concede these facts only in conjunction with the fact that they may have committed some of these things not during a time of peace, nor did they do them by their own volition.
The soldiers were away from their families and in fact, they did not know if they would ever return to their homes. Survival was questionable to everyone at that time. The balance each Defendant was forced to weigh, whether they did it consciously or not, was whether to commit acts that they might have known to be wrong acts if done during peacetime. The campaign of fear was instilled from soldier to soldier, not only to the enemies. Realize that propaganda was a tool utilized at that time, and these men were subjected to a barrage of daily propaganda.
In essence, the activities they participated in were really done in true self-defense. Afterall “the question of individual responsibility is never easy. ” (McAuley, 1981). Realize that many of these men never believed that they would survive to see the end of war, and acted as if they were dogs running in a pack. The Defendants in this case carried out the activities that they knew to be right at the time. They were participating in behavior that was acceptable during the time and circumstance of war. Perhaps they may have traded sexual favors with certain women and gave them gifts in return.
It is not an activity that is unfamiliar to some men in our society today. The stresses that they suffered were of the caliber that none of us would understand unless we walked in their shoes during World War II. I am sure that “…despite their convictions that in general they had done what was right and necessary… ” (McAuley, 1981). If you ask the Defendant’s why they participated in enforcing concentration camps, for example, they will tell you that it is “because they were forced to believe that activity was necessary to maintain order. ” “It was a question of removing danger. ” (Goering, 1946).
In fact, many of the Defendant’s today have told you that they had no knowledge of activities that they are accused of participating in. These men should not be punished, as they were acting as any of us would have acted in an identical situation. Your honor, I argue that these Russian men, who served their country at the time of war, have already paid for all of their mistakes. Some of them have suffered from physical maladies, and others have suffered from post-traumatic stress syndrome. Your honor, my clients cannot change what has happened in the past, but they are truly sorry for what they have done.