|Court||Soviet military tribunal|
Kharkov, Soviet Union
|Decided||18 December 1943|
|Related action(s)||Moscow Declarations|
The Kharkov Trial was a war crimes trial held in front of a Soviet military tribunal in December 1943 in Kharkov, Soviet Union. Defendants included one Soviet collaborator, as well as German military, police, and SS personnel responsible for implementing the occupational policies during the German–Soviet War of 1941–45. The trial was the first time that German personnel had been tried for war crimes by the Allies during and after World War II.
Units of the German Wehrmacht first occupied Kharkov on 23–24 October 1941. German forces, including the Einsatzgruppen (mobile death squads), killed tens of thousands of Jews, as well as Communists, Soviet prisoners of war, and other "undesirables". Shooting, hanging, and gas vans were used. Fifteen thousand Jews were murdered on 15 December 1941 in a mass shooting in Drobytsky Yar.
The city was temporarily retaken by the Red Army in February 1943 and then by the Wehrmacht in April 1943. Already in the spring of 1943 Soviet authorities discovered mass graves of the victims, mostly Jews. By the time that Kharkov was liberated for good in August 1943, virtually no Jews survived in the city.
The tribunal heard the case against four defendants, one Soviet collaborator and three Germans, members of the Wehrmacht, police, and SS forces, respectively. They were charged both under the Soviet and international law, the Moscow Declarations. The defendants were accused in participating in the murders of Soviet citizens, while the collaborator was charged with treason. Prosecutors, defence counsel, and judges were military. A six-person forensic team provided expert testimony and a report concluding that the manner of killings was consistent with shootings and the use of gas.
The defendants admitted to the crimes and described them in detail, including the use of the gas vans, mass shootings, and murder of women and children, encouraged and rewarded by their superiors. Defence counsel's strategy amounted to arguing that the accused were following orders. The prosecution acknowledged that the defendants were indeed acting on superior orders, but rejected this as a valid defence, using the decision of the Leipzig War Crimes Trials as a precedent. The trial concluded on 18 December 1943 with guilty verdicts. The convicted were executed the next day.
The proceedings were published in English for an international audience.