The Color-Coded Blame Game
At the same time the Nazis were mass-murdering Jews, Gypsies, partisans and millions of innocent civilians during World War II, the Wehrmacht Bureau on War Crimes (1939–1945) was collecting evidence to prove that there were also crimes carried out by the Allies. Realizing that the winners would indeed hold the vanquished nation’s feet to the war crimes fire, all sides carefully created dossiers to show they were not alone in their misdeeds. Often these investigations were used for propaganda purposes, to show the world the darker sides of the enemy.
In Germany the Wehrmacht Bureau on War Crimes was administered by judges who claimed independence from the Nazi party. Their findings were compiled in what was dubbed “White Books.” These documents showed that atrocities were committed by the Allies against Germans and non-combatant civilians on both the Eastern and Western fronts. Some of these, like the massacre of over 4,000 Polish officers by the Soviet NKVD in the Katyn Forrest near Smolensk, would have proved embarrassing for the Allies. But nearby the SS carried out their own mass murders of Jews.
Color-coded books were common as evidence of the horrors of the war. The White Books proved German claims. The Brown Book was a Western introduction to Hitler’s terror and the rationale for Jewish persecution. And after the war, the Black Book assembled many but not all the crimes committed by the Nazis.
The Brown Book of the Reichstag Fire and Hitler Terror was first published in Paris in August 1933 and put forth the theory that Nazis were behind the Reichstag fire of Feb. 27, 1933. A second volume, The Brown Book of the Hitler Terror, was published by Alfred Knopf and pre-figured the death camps, which were revealed in The Black Book.
The White Books kept a running record of war crimes committed against the Germans, their allies, and civilians.
The Black Book: The Nazi Crime Against The Jewish People by the World Jewish Congress, the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee, the Vaad Leumi, and the American Committee of Jewish Writers, Artists and Scientists, published by Duell, Sloan and Pearce (1946), was the first to itemize the crimes of the holocaust. However, as Hannah Arendt wrote in Commentary, “if the authors of The Black Book thought the story of the last decade an easy one to tell, they are sadly mistaken. The awkwardness of their book, for all its good intentions, is sufficient proof of that. It is not, however, simply a matter of technical skill. True, the material could have been better organized, the style less journalistic, and the sources selected more scientifically. But such and other improvements would have made even more obvious the discrepancy between the facts themselves and any possible use of them for political purposes.”