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Soviet judges at Nuremberg, left to right: Alexander Volchkov, Iona Nikitchenko. The British judge, Norman Birkett is at the extreme right.

Major-General Iona Timofeevich Nikitchenko (Russian: Иона Тимофеевич Никитченко) (June 28, 1895 – April 22, 1967) was a judge of the Supreme Court of the Soviet Union.

Early life and career

Iona was born to a peasant family in khutor Tuzlukov (now Rostov Oblast). He studied at his local Agricultural Institute and from 1916 was a Bolshevik. His court experience started in May 1920 when he was appointed as the chairman-deputy of the Military Court of Semirechye Army Group during the Civil War. During the Russian Civil War, he participated on the frontlines in Central Asia. In 1924, he was appointed as the member of the Military Court Collegiate of the Moscow Military District.

Nikitchenko presided over some of the most notorious of Joseph Stalin's show trial during the Great Purges from 1936 to 1938 and notably sentenced Lev Kamenev and Grigory Zinoviev.[1][2]

Nuremberg trials

Nikitchenko was one of the three main drafters of the London Charter. He was also the Soviet Union's judge at the Nuremberg trials and was president for the session at Berlin. Nikitchenko's prejudices were evident from the outset. Before the Tribunal had convened, Nikitchenko explained the Soviet perspective of the trials:

"We are dealing here with the chief war criminals who have already been convicted and whose conviction has been already announced by both the Moscow and Crimea [Yalta] declarations by the heads of the [Allied] governments.... The whole idea is to secure quick and just punishment for the crime."[3]

His statements in that respect call to mind the statements of US Supreme Court Chief Justice Harlan Fiske Stone, who wrote, "Chief US prosecutor Jackson is away conducting his high-grade lynching party in Nuremberg, I don't mind what he does to the Nazis, but I hate to see the pretense that he is running a court and proceeding according to common law. This is a little too sanctimonious a fraud to meet my old-fashioned ideas."[4]

Nikitchenko dissented against the acquittals of Hjalmar Schacht, Franz von Papen and Hans Fritzsche, and argued for a death sentence for Rudolf Hess. Nikitchenko said, in the lead-up to the trials, "If... the judge is supposed to be impartial, it would only lead to unnecessary delays." Hess, formerly Hitler's deputy fuhrer, the man charged by Hitler with implementing Nazi Germany's Nuremberg Laws, the man who signed the decree establishing the notorious German occupation government of Poland, and since May 1941 in a British prison, was sentenced to life in prison by the tribunal. In this respect, he was by far the most senior surviving Nazi official to escape a death sentence. Nikitchenko also found the majority judgments incorrect with regard to the Reich Cabinet, the German General Staff and the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht. Having never before written a dissenting opinion—these being unheard of in Soviet jurisprudence—and being unsure of the form of such an opinion, Nikitchenko was assisted in writing his dissents by his fellow judge Norman Birkett.

Nikitchenko feared a compromise on too lenient a level. At the point of final deliberation he reexamined Hess' case and voted for a life sentence so that the opportunity for Hess to get away with a lesser degree of punishment did not occur.


  1. Encyclopedia Krugosvet[dead link] (in Russian)
  2. Реабилитирован посмертно (in Russian)
  3. on June 29, 1945 Archived December 10, 2004, at the Wayback Machine. (8. Report of Robert Jackson, United States Representative to the International Conference on Military Trials, London, 1945 (Washington, DC: US State Dept., 1949), pp. 104-106, 303.; Whitney R. Harris, Tyranny on Trial: The Evidence at Nuremberg (Dallas: S.M.U. Press, 1954), pp. 16-17.)
  4. Alpheus T. Mason, Harlan Fiske Stone: Pillar of the Law, New York, Viking, 1956, p. 716. Quoted by Louise Arbour, "The Rule of Law and the Reach of Accountability", in Cheryl Saunders and Katherine Le Roy (ed.), The Rule of Law, Federation Press, 2003, p. 104 and p. 125, note 2.

Judges of the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg
United Kingdom Geoffrey Lawrence (president) Norman Birkett (alternate) United Kingdom
United States Francis Biddle (judge) John Parker (alternate) United States
France Henri de Vabres (judge) Robert Falco (alternate) France
Soviet Union Iona Nikitchenko (judge) Alexander Volchkov (alternate) Soviet Union

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