Recently I read Antony Beevor's Berlin The Downfall:1945. The author has described wanton acts of looting, murder, arson and rape in the so-called liberated areas from German Occupation in Eastern-Central Europe - which after WWII was the Communist Bloc.

The behaviour of the Red Army Soldiers, NKVD and SMERSH was not much different from the behaviour of Wehrmacht, SS and Gestapo.

While Nuremberg Trials tried the war crimes of Germany and its allies, why were the war crimes of Allied Forces not tried?

This may be marked as duplicate of the question "What other war crimes trials, besides those of Nazi war criminals, were held after WWII?" or similar questions, but it is specific to Red Army since basically both Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia were birds of the same feather though at opposite ends of the spectrum.

This is my first question on the History site. In case of some discrepancies the question may be properly edited to be acceptable.

  • 27
    You are asking why? Because they won the war, obviously.
    – Tomas By
    Jun 27, 2018 at 8:19
  • 17
    Who had the power to prosecute them?
    – Semaphore
    Jun 27, 2018 at 8:34
  • 9
    Neither were Allied soldiers & commanders from the West. Who would try themselves?
    – xuq01
    Jun 27, 2018 at 9:11
  • 8
    "was not much different from the behaviour of Wermatch, SS and Gestapo." The main things that the Nazi's were tried on were in fact different to what the Soviets got up too.
    – user31561
    Jun 27, 2018 at 11:32
  • 3
    Were the war crimes trials about individual acts of "looting, murder, arson and rape", or were they about the extermination camps?
    – jamesqf
    Jun 27, 2018 at 16:23

6 Answers 6


There was zero political motivation to try Allied violators of the accepted laws of war:

  1. no one is going to surrender themselves to trial. As the military is basically in charge of reconstruction/de-Nazification/justice, etc., in the enemy states, they are not going to prosecute and try themselves. The same reason why Donald Trump is unwilling to submit himself to FBI investigation (why would he want to?);
  2. there was no demand for such trials in the Allied nations. The people were far more astounded by the Axis crimes of war, and the Allied counterparts were not comparable;
  3. the Allied forces had appealed to justice as their cause against Axis powers. Prosecuting Allied commanders would undermine that;
  4. they had no resources to hold more trials I am actually not sure about this; this has only been my guess by far;
  5. the former enemy states are not going to try them either. Why? Because they just can't.

So it should be quite obvious that there was no motivation to try Allied commanders who were in violation of the accepted laws of war. Many Allied operations and wartime conduct are highly controversial (American, Soviet, British and Chinese alike), but they were on a far smaller scale and much less disturbing than the Axis counterparts.

Also note that, as the other answers mentioned, many soldiers guilty of isolated cases of rape and looting have been tried in courts-martial, just as they usually would be. However, battle operations of questionable legality (such as the American air raids on Dresden and Tokyo), as well as outright war crimes (such as the Soviet massacre in Katyn), were never prosecuted in court. In some cases, the respective governments have issued formal apologies, but no, no one has been jailed for masterminding those incidents.

  • 5
    Decent answer, but your point number 4 (no resources to hold more trials) seems questionable to me. Do you have any sources to support it? Jun 27, 2018 at 9:41
  • @DanilaSmirnov No, I have no direct evidence. But it seems that the Allies have intended to try more defendants at the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials. So I suspect that resource was a consideration here.
    – xuq01
    Jun 27, 2018 at 13:11

Some Red Army officers were punished by their own commanders.

In a village close to Magdeburg

The officer began to talk, then a German man from a nearby town entered and told through a translator that a Russian soldier has raped his daughter. The man pointed to a soldier.

Then, for the first and hopefully last time, I saw how a person is being beaten to death. The high officer has trampled his soldier to death, all by himself.

Lieselotte B. remembers the victory celebration of the Redarmists on May 8th, 1945

Source: Mirjam Gebhardt, Als die Soldaten kamen; Dieter Hildebrandt, Felix Kuballa (Hg.), Mein Kriegsende. Erinnerungen an die Stunde Null, Berlin 2012, S. 221.

In chapter 5 of the same book (Mirjam Gebhardt, Als die Soldaten kamen / When the soldiers came) the author quotes memories of Eva Ebner, a German woman who was raped, reported the crime to Soviet authorities, and had to identify the rapists:

Now [the Soviet officer] asked me: "Who did that?"

I looked at all of them, seven or eight, and thought: "Now you have the opportunity to pay back for all that pain, for fear and humiliation." This was my first thought. But my second thought was: "Eva, get real. These are people as well. These are the Russians, for which you waited."

I looked from one to another, recognized them, also the small, plump one. He was particularly mean. I looked all of them into the eyes and in them I saw only one thing: fear.

Then I told to myself: "It doesn't pay off, that because of you and your suffering, another one human life is wasted."

According to the author, these rapists would have faced death penalty, had Eva Ebner confirmed their identities.

That's why they were afraid.

  • 3
    This is generally how such things work. Soldiers are under the judicial jurisdiction of their commanders, who are oftentimes empowered to dole out summary judgments, including execution, or refer the person to military courts. Sure, that system is known for covering up crimes, but its also known for rather harsh punishments. All-in-all, an accused might vastly prefer civilian courts.
    – T.E.D.
    Jun 27, 2018 at 14:11
  • 2
    That is a fair point: you do not need an international tribunal to judge your own soldiers, and as long as you can keep the crime quiet, it avoids bad PR.
    – SJuan76
    Jun 27, 2018 at 14:14
  • If I remember correctly, the first wave of Soviets were very well-led, but subsequent waves were far far worse.
    – user31561
    Jun 27, 2018 at 16:26
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    @Orangesandlemons It would make a lot of sense: the first wave tends to be more elite because the initial offence is more challenging. That would correlate with discipline...
    – xuq01
    Jun 27, 2018 at 16:38
  • 1
    this does not answer the (too broad and opinion based and generally poor quality) question in any way Jul 9, 2018 at 7:25

Your question is based on a false premise. I think it is fair to say that the Red Army soldiers were more violent than the western Allies. Absolute statements like "were [...] not tried" are wrong, however.

And I also think that the Nazis were worse than the Red Army -- as mentioned below, the Soviet leadership wanted to create Communist puppet states, while the German leadership wanted to create Lebensraum.

Two factors regarding the commission and prosecution of war crimes. The first factor explains why crimes might be perpetrated:

  • Soviet soldiers had witnessed bitter fighting and German atrocities.
  • Soviet war propaganda had highlighted German atrocities and the need for 'payback' to motivate Soviet citizens.

That will explain (but not excuse) why Soviet soldiers committed atrocities, and why Soviet authorities might have been reluctant to investigate and punish. There is a proverb that says never give an order if you know it will not be obeyed.

The second factor explains why crimes might be punished:

  • Any army needs to maintain discipline to maintain combat efficiency. A soldier who loots and rapes is not available to fight, and might get into the habit of ignoring orders.
  • The Soviet government planned on systematic looting in the form of war reparations and also on the inclusion of Soviet-occupied areas in a Communist zone of influence. The new government followed on the footsteps of the Red Army.
  • @ o.m. I differ - your answer sounds more like officialspeak - that is not the answer I was looking for. Jun 28, 2018 at 4:46
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    @SureshRamaswamy, I tried to give a balanced view rather than an extremist rant. If you consider that "officialspeak" I cannot help you.
    – o.m.
    Jun 28, 2018 at 19:34
  • @ o.m. The Stalinist Government justified the excesses as revenge for the atrocities and excesses committed by Nazis against Russia in 1941-42. Hence my comment that it was officialspeak. I have no objections on your second point. The fact remains excesses are excesses whether by Nazis or Communists - and it definitely is not an extremist rant. I too was a member of the student wing of Communist Party in India. Hence there is no anti communist view in the question or comment. Jun 29, 2018 at 5:12
  • 2
    @SureshRamaswamy, consider the Nazi "Barbarossa Decree" -- it basically gave carte blanche for crimes against the occupied population, but even it allowed the prosecution of crimes that endangered military efficiency. I'm not trying to whitewash Stalin's sense of justice, I'm crediting him with at least as much common sense as the Nazis had in that regard.
    – o.m.
    Jun 29, 2018 at 17:01
  • @ o.m. Gebhardt's book (already cited in some of the above posts) was recently translated into English. "Gebhardt, M. Crimes Unspoken. The Rape Of German Women At The End Of The Second World War". Better read it for yourself before repeating anti-Russian claims most of which now seem to be politically motivated (because of Cold War).
    – JimT
    Sep 20, 2018 at 22:26

Some (not all) of Beevor's claims contradict common sense while not showing much in terms of supporting documentation. If you can read Russian, perhaps you should review the following article by N.Mendkovich http://actualhistory.ru/51

I mean, two million raped women in East Germany (Soviet zone of occupation)? Every sixth woman there (including infants and ancient crones) was raped? Anyways, the point is that Beevor bases too much of his writing on anecdotal evdience of the sort "everybody knows that" etc. Of course, everybody knows. Cold war propaganda made sure that everybody in the West knew that USSR was empire of evil that killed and raped evrything in sight. It's kind of tough to try and find reasonable factual basis for all of that now, but who cares? Evrybody knows that's what happened.

  • In other Eastern Bloc countries were also common knowledge of the large scale of rapes. I am kind of sure that was not Cold War propaganda - for obvious reasons. And yes, those are anecdotal evidence, because the Red Army occupying most of those countries for decades somehow magically blocked any kind of research on the subject.
    – Greg
    Dec 27, 2020 at 11:09
  • I am all for reasonable, evidence-supported, research in that area (as in many other controversial ones). However, saying "the government suppressed the truth (for obvious reasons)" does not a logical argument make. Even if everyone knows (and agrees) that Soviet government did not really allow any research into that (or others) particular subject. Otherwise we could make all sorts of very strange claims based on the absence of such information.
    – JimT
    Jan 2, 2021 at 4:36
  • A very simplistic analogy - as is well known, there is a US law on the books which prohibits using federal funds for any research into link between gun restrictions and level of violent crimes. Imagine now someone writes internet article claiming (with some fancy-looking "math") that banning private ownership of assault weapons would lower the murder rate in the US by the factor of 300. We cannot just say that govt suppressed real info about it and so this must be true. Well, we want this guy to be right... but the number is ridiculous if you think about it ... so do we believe him or not?
    – JimT
    Jan 2, 2021 at 4:44
  • You do not need to believe it, you do not need to acknowledge reality beyond the walls you know. If that is your preference, that is your preference.
    – Greg
    Jan 2, 2021 at 7:34
  • I think you misunderstood my comment. It is a sort of a very general point: saying that something is "common knowledge" while not providing any substantial supporting data is rather closer to religion, not to science. Claiming that the actual data was suppressed is also not a good enough argument (it could be true, though). Millions of people around the world will tell you that "it is a common knowledge" that aliens and UFOs are real, and the fact that government keeps denying this is actually a proof of the conspiracy. It is more or less the same reasoning.
    – JimT
    Jan 5, 2021 at 3:42

1) The Soviet Union had a functional system for trying their own troops. Euromaidan claims the official statistics support 2.5 million Soviet citizens tried (http://euromaidanpress.com/2018/05/15/soviets-executed-three-times-as-many-red-army-soldiers-as-nazis-executed-german-ones/). Not all of these crimes were against the Soviet Union, though many were.

2) Many war crimes were dealt with summarily, such as the reimposition of order on Soviet troops in Berlin after the traditional three days.

3) As part of the constitutive authority for Nuremberg and other European trials the Soviet Union restricted the scope of the trials to their enemies.

4) Many Geneva war crimes were not war crimes under the traditional laws of war and reciprocity that held in the East. As such they could have been acted upon as criminality, or have not been pursued at all.


There is a one word answer to your question: WINNING!

Historically, since the beginning of time, war crimes are for the losers.

And that will never really change.


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