SOAS University of London

Sealed UNWCC WWII archives opened to public after decade long campaign by SOAS academic

20 April 2017

Dr Dan Plesch, Director of the Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy at SOAS University of London has published his latest book looking into the once-inaccessible archive of the UN War Crimes Commission, which opened to the public for the first time earlier this week.

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Above and below: images from the UNWCC archives

Dr Plesch, obtained special permission to access the sealed documents of the UNWCC and helped persuade diplomats, including the then US ambassador at the UN, Samantha Power, to release the material to the public as part of the SOAS UNWCC project

His new book ‘Human Rights After Hitler’ reveals thousands of forgotten US and Allied war crimes prosecutions against Hitler and other Axis war criminals. Founded in the darkest moments of WWII, the UNWCC was a little-known United Nations agency which identified, classified, and assisted national governments trying war criminals in Europe and Asia. Dwarfing in scope its more famous contemporaries in Nuremberg and the Far East, it coordinated the trials of generals and footsoldiers alike.

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The book explores this largely unknown history of the UNWCC, delving into histories of global legal organisations, secret dossiers of crimes smuggled from death camps, and pioneers in international humanitarian law developing key concepts even as V2 rockets rained from the sky. Drawing upon newly-unsealed UN documents, it describes the UNWCC’s structures, activities, and approaches, demonstrating a proven alternative model for international law today.

The book is published alongside the opening of an archive at The Wiener Library containing files which establish that some of the first demands for justice came from countries including China and Poland, rather than the USA, Russia and Britain.

This large archive contains a wide variety of documentation relating to the handling of war crimes by the Allied powers between 1943 and 1949, including: lists of alleged war criminals, files of charges brought against them, minutes of meetings, reports, correspondence, trial transcripts and other related materials.