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The Nuremberg trials

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At the end of World War II, the Allied powers sought to bring those responsible for the Holocaust and World War II atrocities to justice. Low-level offenders were tried by court-martial, while Germans who primarily committed crimes in foreign countries would be tried in those countries.

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The Nuremberg trials

  1. 1. The Nuremberg Trials Held for the purpose of bringing Nazi war criminals to justice, the Nuremberg trials were a series of 13 trials carried out in Nuremberg, Germany, between 1945 and 1949. The defendants, who included Nazi Party officials and high-ranking military officers along with German industrialists, lawyers and doctors, were indicted on such charges as crimes against peace and crimes against humanity. Nazi leader Adolf Hitler (1889-1945) committed suicide and was never brought to trial. Although the legal justifications for the trials and their procedural innovations were controversial at the time, the Nuremberg trials are now regarded as a milestone toward the establishment of a permanent international court, and an important precedent for dealing with later instances of genocide and other crimes against humanity. the defendants and prevent later accusations that the defendants had been condemnedThe Road to the Nuremberg Trials without evidence.Shortly after Adolf Hitler came to power as There were many legal and proceduralchancellor of Germany in 1933, he and his difficulties to overcome in setting up theNazi government began implementing policies Nuremberg trials. First, there was nodesigned to persecute German-Jewish people precedent for an international trial of warand other perceived enemies of the Nazi criminals. There were earlier instances ofstate. Over the next decade, these policies prosecution for war crimes, such as thegrew increasingly repressive and violent and execution of Confederate army officer Henryresulted, by the end of World War II (1939- Wirz (1823-65) for his maltreatment of Union45), in the systematic, state-sponsored prisoners of war during the American Civilmurder of some 6 million European Jews War (1861-65); and the courts-martial held by(along with an estimated 4 million to 6 million Turkey in 1919-20 to punish those responsiblenon-Jews). for the Armenian genocide of 1915-16. However, these were trials conductedIn December 1942, the Allied leaders of Great according to the laws of a single nation ratherBritain, the United States and the Soviet than, as in the case of the Nuremberg trials, aUnion "issued the first joint declaration group of four powers (France, Britain, theofficially noting the mass murder of European Soviet Union and the U.S.) with different legalJewry and resolving to prosecute those traditions and practices.responsible for violence against civilianpopulations," according to the United States The Allies eventually established the laws andHolocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM). procedures for the Nuremberg trials with theJoseph Stalin (1878-1953), the Soviet leader, London Charter of the International Militaryinitially proposed the execution of 50,000 to Tribunal (IMT), issued on August 8, 1945.100,000 German staff officers. British Prime Among other things, the charter defined threeMinister Winston Churchill (1874-1965) categories of crimes: crimes against peacediscussed the possibility of summary (including planning, preparing, starting orexecution (execution without a trial) of high- waging wars of aggression or wars in violationranking Nazis, but was persuaded by of international agreements), war crimesAmerican leaders that a criminal trial would (including violations of customs or laws ofbe more effective. Among other advantages, war, including improper treatment of civilianscriminal proceedings would require and prisoners of war) and crimes againstdocumentation of the crimes charged against humanity (including murder, enslavement or http://www.myclinicalresearchbook.blogspot.com/
  2. 2. deportation of civilians or persecution on of victors justice--the Allies were applying apolitical, religious or racial grounds). It was harsh standard to crimes committed bydetermined that civilian officials as well as Germans and leniency to crimes committedmilitary officers could be accused of war by their own soldiers.crimes. As the accused men and judges spoke fourThe city of Nuremberg (also known as different languages, the trial saw theNurnberg) in the German state of Bavaria was introduction of a technological innovationselected as the location for the trials because taken for granted today: instantaneousits Palace of Justice was relatively undamaged translation. IBM provided the technology andi by the war and included a large prison area. recruited men and women from internationalAdditionally, Nuremberg had been the site of telephone exchanges to provide on-the-spotannual Nazi propaganda rallies; holding the translations through headphones in English,postwar trials there marked the symbolic end French, German and Russian.of Hitlers government, the Third Reich. In the end, the international tribunal found allThe Major War Criminals Trial: 1945-46 but three of the defendants guilty. Twelve were sentenced to death, one in absentia, andThe best-known of the Nuremberg trials was the rest were given prison sentences rangingthe Trial of Major War Criminals, held from from 10 years to life behind bars. Ten of theNovember 20, 1945, to October 1, 1946. The condemned were executed by hanging onformat of the trial was a mix of legal October 16, 1946. Hermann Göring (1893-traditions: There were prosecutors and 1946), Hitlers designated successor and headdefense attorneys according to British and of the "Luftwaffe" (German air force),American law, but the decisions and committed suicide the night before hissentences were imposed by a tribunal (panel execution with a cyanide capsule he hadof judges) rather than a single judge and a hidden in a jar of skin medication.jury. The chief American prosecutor wasRobert H. Jackson (1892-1954), an associate Subsequent Trials: 1946-49justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Each of thefour Allied powers supplied two judges--a Following the Trial of Major War Criminals,main judge and an alternate. there were 12 additional trials held at Nuremberg. These proceedings, lasting fromTwenty-four individuals were indicted, along December 1946 to April 1949, are groupedwith six Nazi organizations determined to be together as the Subsequent Nurembergcriminal (such as the "Gestapo," or secret Proceedings. They differed from the first trialstate police). One of the indicted men was in that they were conducted before U.S.deemed medically unfit to stand trial, while a military tribunals rather than the internationalsecond man killed himself before the trial tribunal that decided the fate of the majorbegan. Hitler and two of his top associates, Nazi leaders. The reason for the change wasHeinrich Himmler (1900-45) and Joseph that growing differences among the fourGoebbels (1897-45), had each committed Allied powers had made other joint trialssuicide in the spring of 1945 before they could impossible. The subsequent trials were held inbe brought to trial. The defendants were the same location at the Palace of Justice inallowed to choose their own lawyers, and the Nuremberg.most common defense strategy was that thecrimes defined in the London Charter were These proceedings included the Doctors Trialexamples of ex post facto law; that is, they (December 9, 1946-August 20, 1947), in whichwere laws that criminalized actions 23 defendants were accused of crimes againstcommitted before the laws were drafted. humanity, including medical experiments onAnother defense was that the trial was a form prisoners of war. In the Judges Trial (March 5- http://www.myclinicalresearchbook.blogspot.com/
  3. 3. December 4, 1947), 16 lawyers and judgeswere charged with furthering the Nazi plan for On Nov. 20, 1945, the International Militaryracial purity by implementing the eugenics Tribunal began proceedings against 22 high-laws of the Third Reich. Other subsequenttrials dealt with German industrialists accused ranking Nazis indicted for war crimes; theof using slave labor and plundering occupied Nuremberg Trials set a precedent incountries; high-ranking army officers accused international human rights law.of atrocities against prisoners of war; and SSofficers accused of violence againstconcentration camp inmates. Of the 185people indicted in the subsequent Nuremberg Trials of Nazi War Criminals Begintrials, 12 defendants received deathsentences, 8 others were given life in prisonand an additional 77 people received prison At the end of World War II, the Allied powersterms of varying lengths, according to the sought to bring those responsible for theUSHMM. Authorities later reduced a number Holocaust and World War II atrocities toof the sentences. justice. Low-level offenders were tried by court-martial, while Germans who primarilyAftermath committed crimes in foreign countries would be tried in those countries.The Nuremberg trials were controversial evenamong those who wanted the major criminals The most serious offenders would be triedpunished. Harlan Stone (1872-1946), chief under the Charter of the International Militaryjustice of the U.S. Supreme Court at the time, Tribunal, also known as the London Charter, adescribed the proceedings as a body of laws drafted by judges from the"sanctimonious fraud" and a "high-grade United States, United Kingdom, Soviet Unionlynching party." William O. Douglas (1898- and France in August 1945. The main trials1980), then an associate U.S. Supreme Court under the new legislation were held at thejustice, said the Allies "substituted power for Palace of Justice in Nuremberg, Germany.principle" at Nuremberg. The four Allies divided the workload for theNonetheless, most observers considered the prosecution. The United States handled thetrials a step forward for the establishment of charges of conspiracy, Britain handled crimesinternational law. The findings at Nuremberg against peace, and France and the Sovietled directly to the United Nations Genocide Union shared war crimes and crimes againstConvention (1948) and Universal Declaration humanity.of Human Rights (1948), as well as the GenevaConvention on the Laws and Customs of War In the first and most famous of the 12 trials at(1949). In addition, the International Military Nuremberg, 24 Nazi war criminals wereTribunal supplied a useful precedent for the indicted. Industrialist Gustav Krupp was ruledtrials of Japanese war criminals in Tokyo too ill to face trial and labor leader Robert Ley(1946-48); the 1961 trial of Nazi leader Adolf committed suicide before trial. The tribunalEichmann (1906-62); and the establishment of began proceedings against the remaining 22tribunals for war crimes committed in the men—including with Hitler’s deputy Martinformer Yugoslavia (1993) and in Rwanda Bormann, who was tried in absentia—on Nov.(1994). 20, 1945. The first day was spent reading the 24,000- word indictment against the defendants, broadcast through headphones in four different languages. The defendants sat together in a two-level dock, guarded by a http://www.myclinicalresearchbook.blogspot.com/
  4. 4. row of white steel-helmeted American 19 Convicted, 12 Sentenced tomilitary personnel. The following day eachdefendant pleaded not guilty and the Deathprosecution, headed by U.S. Supreme Court Over the next month, the prosecutionJustice Robert Jackson, began its case. presented evidence of Nazi atrocities, including a film with footage from“The privilege of opening the first trial in concentration camps and the Warsaw ghetto.history for crimes against the peace of the In a 1992 interview, interrogator Henryworld imposes a grave responsibility,” Jackson Kellermann, a Jew who emigrated frombegan. “The wrongs which we seek to Germany 1937, spoke of the defendants’condemn and punish have been so calculated, reactions to the film.so malignant, and so devastating, thatcivilization cannot tolerate their being “It was amazing how they fell apart,” he said.ignored, because it cannot survive their being “[Hermann] Goering never looked at it,repeated. That four great nations, flushed neither did [Rudolf] Hess. [Hans] Frank, thewith victory and stung with injury, stay the ‘Butcher of Poland,’ broke into tears.”hand of vengeance and voluntarily submittheir captive enemies to the judgment of the The prosecution began their cases againstlaw is one of the most significant tributes that each individual defendant in January and,Power has ever paid to Reason.” from March to June, most of the defendants would testify. Final statements were madeThe Defendants Aug. 31 and the justices reached their verdicts on Oct. 1.Many of the men most responsible for theatrocities under the Third Reich, including Twelve of the defendants were sentenced toChancellor Adolf Hitler, SS head Heinrich death, including Bormann. Seven were givenHimmler and propaganda minister Joseph prison sentences and three were acquitted.Goebbels, had committed suicide to avoid Goering evaded the hangman by swallowing abeing captured. poison capsule the day before his scheduled execution.The 24 men chosen to face trial includedDeputy Fuhrer Rudolph Hess, Hans Frank, the“Butcher of Poland,” Foreign Minister Joachimvon Ribbentrop, and Hermann Goering, theformer head of the Luftwaffe, president of the i Taken fromReichstag and Hitler’s chosen successor. 1. http://www.history.com/topics/nuremberg- trialsGoering held no remorse for his actions andthought he committed no crimes. His 2. http://www.findingdulcinea.com/news/on-this-testimony was one of the most well-known day/November/Nuremberg-Trials-Begin.html#2moments of the trial; “Göring obviously 3. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuremberg_Trialsenjoyed himself as he kept the courtroomspellbound for days,” wrote Life magazine.“Göring was anxious, whatever his fate, thathistory record him as an important worldfigure and as a German hero.” http://www.myclinicalresearchbook.blogspot.com/