1945
NUREMBERG WAR CRIMES
 
Assignment
Background
Timeline
WWW sites
Recommended Books
Related Events

The NAZI Defendants
 
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Assignment
 
What types of evidence did the allied prosecutors bring against the Nazi leaders in the proceedings at Nuremberg?
 

Background
 
It had been agreed during the war, that those responsible for the war and the atrocities committed during the war would be held accountable for their actions afterwards. The Nuremberg International Military Tribunal (1945-46) was the most famous of the many trials held after the war.  The authority of the tribunal derived from the London Agreement of 8 August 1945 which established an international tribunal to conduct trials of the major Axis war criminals whose offenses had no particular geographic location. The tribunal was given the authority to find any individual guilty of war crimes and to declare any group or organization to be criminal in character.
 
Judges from Great Britain, France, the Soviet Union and the United States tried the Nazi leaders.  The first session opened under the presidency of General I. Nikitchenko, the Soviet judge, on 18 October 1945 in Berlin.  After 20 November, all sessions of the tribunal were held in Nürnberg under the presidency of the British judge, Lord Justice Geoffrey Lawrence (later Baron Trevethin and Oaksey).
 
Twenty-four former Nazi leaders were charged with war crimes, and various groups, such as the Gestapo, were charged with being criminal in character. The indictment lodged against the defendants contained four counts:  (1) crimes against peace (the waging of a war of aggression in violation of international agreements); (2) crimes against humanity (the Holocaust); (3) war crimes (violations of the rules of war); and (4) "a common plan or conspiracy to commit" the criminal acts listed in the three counts.
 
On 1 October 1946, the tribunal announced the verdicts on twenty-two of the original defendants. (Robert Ley committed suicide while in prison, and Gustav Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach's mental condition prevented his trial.)  Three of the defendants were acquitted (Hjalmar Schacht, Franz von Papen and Hans Fritzsche). Four received sentences of imprisonment ranging from ten to twenty years (Karl Dönitz, Baldur von Schirach, Albert Speer and Konstantin von Neurath). Three received the sentence of life imprisonment (Rudolf Hess, Walther Funk and Erich Raeder). Twelve of the defendants were sentenced to be hanged (done on 16 October 1946):  Hans Frank, Wilhelm Frick, Julius Streicher, Alfred Rosenberg, Ernst Kaltenbrunner, Joachim von Ribbentrop, Fritz Sauckel, Alfred Jodl, Wilhelm Keitel and Arthur Seyss-Inquart.  Martin Bormann was condemned to death in absentia, and Hermann Göring committed suicide before he could be executed.
 
In reaching these verdicts, the tribunal rejected the various defenses offered by the defendants:  (1) the contention that only a state, and not an individual, could be found guilty of war crimes (The tribunal held that crimes against international law are committed by men.); (2) the argument that the trial and adjudication were ex post facto (The tribunal responded that such acts as had been committed by the defendants had long been regarded as criminal.).
 
Another war tribunal, conducted (1946-47) in Tokyo by eleven countries, tried and sentenced Japanese war criminals.  In Europe, 177 more former Nazis stood trial in twelve other proceedings (not to mention the many who stood trial in various national settings), but the entire process of exacting retribution by the late 1940s had become ensnarled in the unfolding events of the Cold War.
 

Timeline
  • 20 November 1945. International Military Tribunal opened its work in Berlin.
  • 1945, Marshal Petain and Pierre Laval (shot) trial in France.  Victor Quisling (shot) trial in Norway.
  • 1 October 1946, verdicts announced in Nuremberg.
  • 15 October 1946, Hermann Goering committed suicide.
  • 16 October 1946, ten Nazis hanged.
  • 12 November 1948, verdicts returned in Japanese war trials.
  • 23 December 1948, Tojo and six other wartime leaders executed in Japan (eighteen others imprisoned).
 

WWW sites
 
The documents for the trials are bulky, including the charter for the International Military Tribunal for Germany, 8 August 1945 and the charter for the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, that began January 19th, 1946.  Another site of interest is a close English translation of the IMTFE judgement. The Nuremberg Trials, from the American Experience series on PBS, is a good place to begin as it gives the indictments, brief biographies of the defendants and selected transcripts. It also includes interviews, photos, and conections to sites for further reading. The Nuremberg War Crimes Trial also has essentially all of the relevant documentary material, although it is not easily usable.  Famous World Trials: Nuremberg Trial is another helpful site and even includes quotes from some of the notable people involved. Harvard's Nuremberg Trials Project has about one million pages of documents on this topic. And if you read German, Die Nürnberger Prozesse, 1945-1949, has documents describing the goals of Nazi politics and the sentencing at the trials.
 

Some important holocaust resources include:  the  Cybrary of the Holocaust, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Yad Vashem (the Holocaust memorial of the Jewish people), Auschwitz Alphabet Excerpts (from the writings of concentration camp survivors about daily life in the camps), and the Holocaust Center. For further study, A Teacher's Guide to the Holocaust has links to many documents from the period, dozens of first hand accounts of the Holocaust as well as links to many other helpful sites. (Please be aware that not all of the links work.)

BBC Nuremburg Trials (video)

 
Two other interesting articles are Bulgaria and The Fate of the Bulgarian Jews. (Not a single Bulgarian Jew was deported to a Nazi death camp).
 

Recommended Books
 
The most interesting document is the Final Report to the Secretary of the Army on the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials under Control Council Law no. 10 (by Telford Taylor, chief counsel for war crimes, 1950).
 
Highly recommended are two movies about the Holocaust:  Night and Fog (1955), directed by Alain Resnais, and Schindler's List (1993), directed by Steven Spielberg.
 
A number of good books have appeared about the Holocaust and the war crimes proceedings:  Joseph Persico, Nuremberg:  Infamy on Trial (1994); Telford Taylor, The ANatomy of the Nuremberg Trials:  A Personal Memoir (1992); Lucy Dawidowicz, The War against the Jews, rev. ed. (1986); Martin Hirsch, Norman Paech and Gerhard Stuby, eds., Politik als Verbrechen:  40 Jahre "Nürnberger Prozesse" (1986); Rudolf Kolchanov, In the Labyrinths of Revenge-Seekers:  The 40th Anniversary of the Trials of the Major Nazi War Criminals in Nuremberg (1986); Casamayor, Nuremberg: 1945, la guerre en procès (1985); Lucien Corosi, Il y a quarante ans, Nuremberg: autopsie d'un procès raté (1985); Ann Tusa and John Tusa, The Nuremberg Trial (1984); Bradley Smith, ed., The American Road to Nuremberg:  The Documentary Record, 1944-1945 (1982); Werner Maser, A Nation on Trial (1979); Philip Piccigallo, The Japanese on Trial:  Allied War Crimes Operations in the East, 1945-1951 (1979); and Eugene Davidson, The Trial of the Germans:  An Account of the Twenty-Two Defendants before the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg (1966).
 

Related Events
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