Year
1942

Allies promise prosecution of war criminals

On this day, representatives of nine German-occupied countries meet in London to declare that all those found guilty of war crimes would be punished after the war ended. Among the signatories to the declaration were Polish Gen. Wladyslaw Sikorski and French Gen. Charles de Gaulle. The core of the declaration was the promise of “the punishment, through the channels of organized justice, of those guilty of, or responsible for, these crimes, whether they have ordered them, perpetrated them, or participated in them.”

Knowledge of German atrocities occurring in Poland and Russia were reaching both the Allied governments and the exiles from the countries in which the butchering of innocents was taking place. News of Jews, political dissidents, and clergy being systematically murdered, tortured, or transported to labor camps as the Nazi ideology advanced along with Hitler’s armed forces increased the resolve and solidarity among the Allies to defeat the Axis.

Also on this day: President Franklin D. Roosevelt establishes the U.S. War Production Board, with business executive Donald M. Nelson as its chairman.

This was not the first time Roosevelt called on Nelson. In 1940, the president asked Nelson, then executive vice president of Sears, Roebuck and Co., to head up the National Defense Advisory Commission. As Roosevelt established agency after agency to coordinate the transition of industry from peacetime to wartime production, Nelson skipped among jobs, becoming director of purchases for the Office of Production Management and, in August 1941, director of the Supply Priorities and Allocations Board. The War Production Board, created to establish order out of the chaos of meeting extraordinary wartime demands and needs, replaced the Supply Priorities and Allocations Board.

As chairman, Nelson oversaw the largest war production in history, often clashing with civilian factories over the most efficient means of converting to wartime use and butting heads with the armed forces over priorities. Despite early success, Nelson made a major judgement error in June 1944, on the eve of the Normandy invasion, when he allowed certain plants that had reached the end of their government/military production contracts to reconvert to civilian use. The military knew the war was far from over and feared a sudden shortage of vital supplies. A political battle ensued, and Nelson was eased out of his office and reassigned by the president to be his personal representative to Chiang Kai-shek in China.

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