This Day In History: 11/20/1945 - Nuremberg Trials Begin

This Day In History: 11/20/1945 - Nuremberg Trials Begin

Watch what happened on November 20 throughout history in this This Day in History video. On November 20, 1947, Princess Elizabeth of England married Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten, who was once prince of Greece and Denmark. On November 20, 1962, President John F. Kennedy removed a month long naval blockade of Cuba. This ended the Cuban Missile Crisis. On November 20, 2003, singer Michael Jackson was arrested on charges of child molestation. Jackson was later acquitted of the charges. Lastly, on November 20, 1945, Nazi officials were put on trial in Nuremberg, Germany. This was the first time where military leaders had to answer to the actions. The trials led to twenty-two indictments, mostly for crimes against humanity.

Nuremberg trials begin

On this day in 1945, 24 high-ranking Nazis go on trial before the International Military Tribunal (IMT) at the Palace of Justice in Nuremberg, Germany, for atrocities committed during World War II.The Nuremberg Trials were conducted by an international tribunal made up of judges from the United States, the Soviet Union, France, and Great Britain. It was the first trial of its kind in history, and the defendants faced charges ranging from crimes against peace, to crimes of war, to crimes against humanity.

Lord Justice Geoffrey Lawrence, the British member, presided over the proceedings, which lasted 10 months and consisted of 216 court sessions.On 1 October 1946, 12 architects of Nazi policy were sentenced to death. Seven others were sentenced to prison terms ranging from 10 years to life imprisonment, and three were acquitted. Of the original 24 defendants, one, Robert Ley, committed suicide on 25 October 1945 (before he was brought to trial), and another, Gustav Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach, was deemed mentally and physically incompetent to stand trial. Martin Bormann, Personal Secretary to Hitler, was not present at the trial.

Among those condemned to death by hanging were Joachim von Ribbentrop, Nazi minister of foreign affairs Hermann Goering, leader of the Gestapo and the Luftwaffe Alfred Jodl, head of the German armed forces staff and Wilhelm Frick, Minister of the Interior.On 16 October, 10 of the architects of Nazi policy were hanged. Goering, who at sentencing was called the "leading war aggressor and creator of the oppressive programme against the Jews," committed suicide by poison on the eve of his scheduled execution. Nazi Party leader Martin Bormann was condemned to death in absentia (but is now believed to have died in May 1945).

Trials of lesser German and Axis war criminals continued in Germany into the 1950s and resulted in the conviction of 5,025 other defendants and the execution of 806.The Nuremberg trials attracted academic controversy as it was seen by some as ‘victor’s justice’. Nonetheless, Nuremberg confirmed many incontrovertible principles of human rights, and a clearer idea emerged of what constituted war crimes and crimes against humanity that could not be derogated from even during times of war. The trials also famously spawned the ‘Nuremberg defence’, wherein a defendant claims that he is absolved from blame because he was simply following orders issued by a superior. The court ruled that such a defence was not morally admissible.

"The Charbor Chronicles"

Once again, it should be reiterated, that this does not pretend to be a very extensive history of what happened on this day (nor is it the most original - the links can be found down below). If you know something that I am missing, by all means, shoot me an email or leave a comment, and let me know!

Nov 20, 1945: Nuremberg war-crimes trials begin

On this day in 1945, a series of trials of accused Nazi war criminals, conducted by a U.S., French, and Soviet military tribunal based in Nuremberg, Germany, begins. Twenty-four former Nazi officials were tried, and when it was all over, one year later, half would be sentenced to death by hanging.

These trials of accused war criminals were authorized by the London Agreement, signed in August 1945 by the United States, Great Britain, the Soviet Union, and the provisional government of France. It was agreed at that time that those Axis officials whose war crimes extended beyond a particular geographic area would be tried by an international war tribunal (a trial for accused Japanese war criminals would be held in Tokyo). Nineteen other nations would eventually sign on to the provisions of the agreement.

The charges against the 24 accused at Nuremberg were as follows: (1) crimes against peace, that is, the planning and waging of wars that violated international treaties (2) crimes against humanity, that is, the deportation, extermination, and genocide of various populations (3) war crimes, that is, those activities that violated the "rules" of war that had been laid down in light of the First World War and later international agreements and (4) conspiracy to commit any and all of the crimes listed in the first three counts.

The tribunal had the authority to find both individuals and organizations criminal in the event of the latter, individual members of that organization could then be tried. Each of the four original signatories of the London Agreement picked one member and an alternate to sit on the tribunal. The chief prosecutor was U.S. Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson, who was asked by President Harry S. Truman to create a structure for the proceedings. The defendants were arrayed in two rows of seats each of the indicted listened to a simultaneous translation of the arguments through a headset.

There were 216 court sessions. On October 1, 1946, verdicts on 22 of the 24 defendants were handed down (two were not present one had committed suicide in his prison cell, another was ultimately deemed mentally unfit): 12 of the defendants were sentenced to be hanged, including Julius Streicher (propagandist), Alfred Rosenberg (anti-Semitic ideologue and minister of the occupied eastern territories), Joachim von Ribbentrop (foreign affairs minister), Martin Bormann (Nazi Party secretary), and Herman Goering (Luftwaffe commander and Gestapo head). Ten of the 12 were hanged on October 16. Bormann was tried and sentenced in absentia (he was thought to have died trying to escape Hitler's bunker at the close of the war, but was only declared officially dead in 1973). Goering committed suicide before he could be hanged. The rest of the defendants received prison sentences ranging from 10 years to life. All of the defenses offered by the accused were rejected, including the notion that only a state, not an individual, could commit a war crime proper.

Nov 20, 1969: Seymour Hersh files follow-up to My Lai story

In the United States, Seymour Hersh, an independent investigative journalist, files a second My Lai story based on interviews with Michael Terry and Michael Bernhardt, who served under 1st Lt. William Calley during the action that was later dubbed the My Lai massacre.

Also on this day, the Cleveland Plain Dealer published explicit photos of the dead at My Lai. The American public was stunned. Hersh broke the story earlier in the month, describing how soldiers from the Americal Division conducting a sweep of My Lai indiscriminately shot people as they ran from their huts, and then systematically rounded up the survivors, allegedly leading them to a ditch where they were executed per Calley's orders.

Despite the fact that an Army board of inquiry found that 30 persons either participated in the atrocity or knew of it and failed to do anything, only 14 were charged with crimes. All eventually had their charges dismissed or were acquitted, except Calley, who was found guilty of murdering 22 civilians and was sentenced to life imprisonment. His sentence was reduced twice and he was paroled in November 1974.

Nov 20, 1789: New Jersey ratifies the Bill of Rights

On this day in 1789, New Jersey ratifies the Bill of Rights, becoming the first state to do so. New Jersey's action was a first step toward making the first 10 amendments to the Constitution law and completing the revolutionary reforms begun by the Declaration of Independence.

The Anti-Federalist critics of the U.S. Constitution were afraid that a too-strong federal government would become just another sort of the monarchical regime from which they had recently been freed. They believed that the Constitution gave too much power to the federal government by outlining its rights but failing to delineate the rights of the individuals living under it. Before the Massachusetts ratifying convention would accept the Constitution, then, which they finally did in February 1788, the document's Federalist supporters had to promise to create a Bill of Rights to be amended to the Constitution immediately upon the creation of a new government under the document. This helped to assuage the Anti-Federalists' concerns.

As promised, the newly elected Congress drafted the Bill of Rights on December 25, 1789. Drafted by James Madison and loosely based on Virginia's Declaration of Rights, the first 10 amendments give the following rights to all United States citizens:

1. Freedom of religion, speech and assembly
2. Right to keep and bear arms for the purpose of a well-regulated militia
3. No forcible quartering of soldiers during peacetime
4. Freedom from unreasonable search and seizure
5. Right to a grand jury for capital crimes and due process. Protection from double jeopardy, self-incrimination and public confiscation of private property without "just compensation"
6. Right to "speedy and public" trial by jury and a competent defense
7. Right to trial by jury for monetary cases above $20
8. Protection against "excessive" bail or fines and "cruel and unusual" punishments
9. Rights not enumerated are "retained by the people"
10. Rights not given to the federal government or prohibited the state governments by the Constitution, "are reserved to the States. or to the people"

Nov 20, 2003: Music producer Phil Spector indicted for murder of actress

On this day in 2003, Phil Spector, the influential, eccentric music producer who worked with a long list of performers including The Righteous Brothers, The Ronettes, Ike and Tina Turner, John Lennon and the Ramones, is indicted in the murder of actress Lana Clarkson. Spector pled not guilty to the charges.

The 40-year-old Clarkson was found dead from a single gunshot wound to the mouth in the foyer of Spector’s Alhambra, California mansion in the early hours of February 3, 2003. Clarkson, who appeared in a string of B-movies such as Barbarian Queen II: The Empress Strikes Back (1989), met Spector earlier that same night at the House of Blues in West Hollywood, where she worked as a hostess, and subsequently returned with him to his home. Police responded to a 911 call and found Clarkson’s body. Spector’s limo driver, who was waiting outside in the car at the time of Clarkson’s death, testified that the music producer came outside with a gun in his hand and told him, “I think I killed somebody.” However, Spector later stated that the actress’s death was an “accidental suicide.”

Spector, who was born on December 26, 1940, in New York City, rose to prominence in the music industry in the 1960s. He had enormous success as a songwriter and producer and pioneered a production technique known as the “Wall of Sound.” He also developed a reputation as an eccentric with a bad temper and a fascination with guns. By the time of Clarkson’s death, Spector lived a largely reclusive existence.

Following Spector’s indictment on second-degree murder charges, his case experienced a series of delays before opening statements finally began on April 25, 2007. During the high-profile trial, defense attorneys argued that at the time of Clarkson’s death, the tall, blonde actress was depressed over the state of her failing career and troubled personal life and therefore killed herself. The prosecution, in turn, put several female witnesses on the stand who testified about Spector’s history of violence toward women.

Throughout the trial, Spector appeared in court sporting flamboyant outfits and an array of dramatic hairstyles. He also worked his way through a series of well-known defense lawyers over the course of his legal troubles, including O.J. Simpson’s attorney Robert Shapiro, the Menendez brothers’ lawyer Leslie Abramson and the former John Gotti counselor Bruce Cutler.

Closing arguments in Spector’s trial were made on September 7, 2007. On September 26, the jury announced it was deadlocked (voting 10-2 in favor of conviction) and unable to reach a verdict and the judge declared a mistrial. However, a retrial began in October 2008, and April 2009, Spector was convicted of second-degree murder. He was sentenced to 19 years to life in prison in May 2009. Spector was 69 years old at the time of sentencing, and would be eligible for parole at age 88.

Here's a more detailed look at events that transpired on this date throughout history:

This Day In History: 11/20/1945 - Nuremberg Trials Begin - HISTORY

All 20 men pleaded not guilty. <br>

The trial lasted until 1 October 1946 when 11 of the Nazi leaders were sentenced to death by hanging. Martin Bormann was also sentenced to death in his absence. <br>

Three of the defendants, including Hess, were given life sentences and the remaining four were sentenced to jail terms of between 10 and 20 years. <br>

Verdicts of not guilty were recorded on three men, financial expert Hjalmar Schacht, Nazi politician and diplomat Franz von Papen and senior Nazi official Hans Fritzsche. The Soviet representative on the tribunal recorded his opposition to this decision and the verdict on Hess. <br>

Hermann Goering committed suicide the day before his planned execution by swallowing a cyanide pill. On 16 October 1946 the ten remaining defendants were hanged. <br>

A second set of trials of lesser war criminals was conducted at the US Nuremberg Military Tribunals and included the famous Doctors' Trial, which heard evidence against 23 German physicians who conducted experiments on concentration camp prisoners. <br>

Altogether there were four more military tribunals in Nuremberg, the last one of which finished in April 1949. <br>

On this day in 1945: The Nuremberg trials of 24 surviving senior Nazis begin

Herman Göring during his trial Credit: Bettman

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H itler killed himself on April 30, 1945. His successor, Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz, was keenly aware that Germany’s military position was hopeless, and ordered General Alfred Jodl to sign an instrument of unconditional surrender. The ceremony took place in a Reims schoolroom on May 7.

The Allies’ first plan – advocated by Churchill and Eden – was simply to shoot all captured senior Nazis as outlaws. “The guilt of such individuals is so black”, Eden announced, “that they fall outside . any judicial process”. The Americans and Russians preferred a public show trial.

In the end, in August, representatives from the UK, USA, France, and Russia met in London, and resolved to establish an International Military Tribunal. It was an unprecedented decision. No state had ever put the civilian government and military leadership of another state on trial.

Events moved swiftly. Charges were read out to 24 surviving senior Nazis in Berlin on October 18. The indictments alleged crimes against peace, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and conspiracy to commit the preceding crimes. Various organisations of the Nazi apparatus, like the Gestapo, were also charged.

T he city of Nuremberg was specifically chosen to host the trials because of its strong links to the Nazi party. It had been the site of the annual party rallies from 1923 to 1938, and the infamous racist Nuremberg Laws had been at the root of the persecution of various groups.

T he trial opened in courtroom 600 of the Nuremberg Palace of Justice on November 20, 1945. The president of the tribunal was Lord Justice Geoffrey Lawrence, a Welshman, who had been appointed to the Court of Appeal the previous year. His deputy was a High Court Judge, Sir Norman Birkett. The other three countries also each provided two judges.

On This Day: Nuremberg trials begin

Nov. 20 (UPI) -- On this date in history:

In 1789, New Jersey became the first state to ratify the Bill of Rights.

In 1910, the Plan de San Luis Potosi was issued by Francisco I. Madero calling for the overthrow of the Mexican government led by Porfirio Diaz. This marked the beginning of the 10-year Mexican Revolution.

In 1945, 24 German leaders went on trial at Nuremberg before the International War Crimes Tribunal.

In 1947, Princess Elizabeth, the future Queen Elizabeth II of England, married Philip Mountbatten.

In 1969, the Occupation of Alcatraz began as Native American activists seized control of the island prison. It took 19 months to remove the activists from the rock.

In 1975, Generalissimo Francisco Franco of Spain died.

In 1986, the World Health Organization announced a coordinated global effort against AIDS. WHO said there were 34,448 reported cases of AIDS worldwide.

In 1992, fire erupted at Windsor Castle, Queen Elizabeth's official residence west of London, causing much damage. The queen and Prince Andrew helped save priceless artworks and other valuables kept in the castle.

In 1998, Zarya, the first module that would make up the International Space Station, was launched from Kazakhstan.

In 2007, Ian Smith, the former Rhodesian prime minister who led his South African white-minority government through a violence-wracked era until the end of white rule in 1979, died at 88 after a long illness.

In 2009, Hamid Karzai was sworn in, to begin his second five-year term as president of Afghanistan vowing his army would have full control of the country's security by the time he left office.

In 2012, Church of England elders, in a close vote, decided not to allow women to become bishops.

In 2014, President Barack Obama took executive action to grant temporary legal status to millions of undocumented immigrants. His order created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans programs.

In 2019, Britain's Prince Andrew announced plans to step back from his public duties as a member of the royal family after facing criticism for his relationship with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.


A precedent for trying those accused of war crimes had been set at the end of World War I in the Leipzig War Crimes Trials held in May to July 1921 before the Reichsgericht (German Supreme Court) in Leipzig, although these had been on a very limited scale and largely regarded as ineffectual. At the beginning of 1940, the Polish government-in-exile asked the British and French governments to condemn the German invasion of their country. The British initially declined to do so however, in April 1940, a joint declaration was issued by the British, French provisional government, [4] and Polish. Relatively bland because of Anglo-French reservations, it proclaimed the trio's "desire to make a formal and public protest to the conscience of the world against the action of the German government whom they must hold responsible for these crimes which cannot remain unpunished." [5]

Three-and-a-half years later, the stated intention to punish the Germans was much more trenchant. On 1 November 1943, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States published their "Declaration on German Atrocities in Occupied Europe", which gave a "full warning" that, when the Nazis were defeated, the Allies would "pursue them to the uttermost ends of the earth . so that justice may be done. . The above declaration is without prejudice to the case of the major war criminals whose offenses have no particular geographical location and who will be punished by a joint decision of the Government of the Allies." [6] This intention by the Allies to dispense justice was reiterated at the Yalta Conference and at Potsdam in 1945. [7]

British War Cabinet documents, released on 2 January 2006, showed that as early as December 1944 the Cabinet had discussed their policy for the punishment of the leading Nazis if captured. The British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, had then advocated a policy of summary execution in some circumstances, with the use of an Act of Attainder to circumvent legal obstacles, being dissuaded from this only by talks with US and Soviet leaders later in the war. [8]

In late 1943, during the Tripartite Dinner Meeting at the Tehran Conference, the Soviet leader, Joseph Stalin, proposed executing 50,000–100,000 German staff officers. US President Franklin D. Roosevelt joked that perhaps 49,000 would do. Churchill, believing them to be serious, denounced the idea of "the cold-blooded execution of soldiers who fought for their country" and that he would rather be "taken out in the courtyard and shot" himself than partake in any such action. [9] However, he also stated that war criminals must pay for their crimes and that, under the Moscow Document which he had written, they should be tried at the places where the crimes were committed. Churchill was vigorously opposed to executions "for political purposes." [10] [11] According to the minutes of a meeting between Roosevelt and Stalin at Yalta, on 4 February 1945, at the Livadia Palace, President Roosevelt "said that he had been very much struck by the extent of German destruction in Crimea and therefore he was more bloodthirsty in regard to the Germans than he had been a year ago, and he hoped that Marshal Stalin would again propose a toast to the execution of 50,000 officers of the German Army." [12]

Henry Morgenthau Jr., US Secretary of the Treasury, suggested a plan for the total denazification of Germany [13] this was known as the Morgenthau Plan. The plan advocated the forced de-industrialisation of Germany and the summary execution of so-called "arch-criminals", i.e. the major war criminals. [14] Roosevelt initially supported this plan, and managed to convince Churchill to support it in a less drastic form. Later, details were leaked in the US generating widespread condemnation by the nation's newspapers and propaganda was published about the plan in Germany. Roosevelt, aware of strong public disapproval, abandoned the plan but did not adopt an alternative position on the matter. The demise of the Morgenthau Plan created the need for an alternative method of dealing with the Nazi leadership. The plan for the "Trial of European War Criminals" was drafted by Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson and the War Department. Following Roosevelt's death in April 1945, the new president, Harry S. Truman, gave strong approval for a judicial process. After a series of negotiations between Britain, the US, the Soviet Union, and France, details of the trial were worked out. The trials were to commence on 20 November 1945, in the Bavarian city of Nuremberg.

On 20 April 1942, representatives from the nine countries occupied by Germany met in London to draft the "Inter-Allied Resolution on German War Crimes". At the meetings in Tehran (1943), Yalta (1945), and Potsdam (1945), the three major wartime powers, the United Kingdom, United States, and the Soviet Union, agreed on the format of punishment for those responsible for war crimes during World War II. France was also awarded a place on the tribunal. The legal basis for the trial was established by the London Charter, which was agreed upon by the four so-called Great Powers on 8 August 1945, [15] and which restricted the trial to "punishment of the major war criminals of the European Axis countries".

Some 200 German war crimes defendants were tried at Nuremberg, and 1,600 others were tried under the traditional channels of military justice. The legal basis for the jurisdiction of the court was that defined by the Instrument of Surrender of Germany. Political authority for Germany had been transferred to the Allied Control Council which, having sovereign power over Germany, could choose to punish violations of international law and the laws of war. Because the court was limited to violations of the laws of war, it did not have jurisdiction over crimes that took place before the outbreak of war on 1 September 1939. The Soviet Union was one of the main driving forces behind the creation of a Special Military Tribunal, which evolved into the Nuremberg Trials by the creation of the legal framework to allow the charges against Nazi Germany to be applied. Soviet Lawyer Aron Naumovich Trainin, formed the legal framework for developing the concepts of aggressive war, genocide, and human rights.

Location Edit

Leipzig and Luxembourg were briefly considered as the location for the trial. [16] The Soviet Union had wanted the trials to take place in Berlin, as the capital city of the 'fascist conspirators', [16] but Nuremberg was chosen as the site for two reasons, the first being decisive: [17]

  1. The Palace of Justice was spacious and largely undamaged (one of the few buildings that had remained largely intact through extensive Allied bombing of Germany), and a large prison was also part of the complex.
  2. Nuremberg was considered the ceremonial birthplace of the Nazi Party. It had hosted the Party's annual propaganda rallies[16] and the Reichstag session that passed the Nuremberg Laws. [17] Thus it was considered a fitting place to mark the Party's symbolic demise.

As a compromise with the Soviets, it was agreed that while the location of the trial would be Nuremberg, Berlin would be the official home of the Tribunal authorities. [18] [19] [20] It was also agreed that France would become the permanent seat of the IMT [21] and that the first trial (several were planned) would take place in Nuremberg. [18] [20]

Most of the accused had previously been detained at Camp Ashcan, a processing station and interrogation center in Luxembourg, and were moved to Nuremberg for the trial.

Participants Edit

Each of the four countries provided one judge and an alternative, as well as a prosecutor.

Judges Edit

    Iona Nikitchenko (Soviet main) Alexander Volchkov (Soviet alternate) Sir Geoffrey Lawrence, Lord Justice (British main), President of the Tribunal (British alternate) (American main) (American alternate)
  • Professor Henri Donnedieu de Vabres (French main) (French alternate)

Chief prosecutors Edit

Assisting Jackson were the lawyers Telford Taylor, [22] William S. Kaplan [23] and Thomas J. Dodd, and Richard Sonnenfeldt, a US Army interpreter. Assisting Shawcross were Major Sir David Maxwell-Fyfe and Sir John Wheeler-Bennett. Mervyn Griffith-Jones, who was later to become famous as the chief prosecutor in the Lady Chatterley's Lover obscenity trial, was also on Shawcross's team. Shawcross also recruited a young barrister, Anthony Marreco, who was the son of a friend of his, to help the British team with the heavy workload.

Defence counsel Edit

The vast majority of the defense attorneys were German lawyers. [24] These included Georg Fröschmann, Heinz Fritz (Hans Fritzsche), Otto Kranzbühler (Karl Dönitz), Otto Pannenbecker (Wilhelm Frick), Alfred Thoma (Alfred Rosenberg), Kurt Kauffmann (Ernst Kaltenbrunner), Hans Laternser (general staff and high command), Franz Exner (Alfred Jodl), Alfred Seidl (Hans Frank), Otto Stahmer (Hermann Göring), Walter Ballas (Gustav Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach), Hans Flächsner (Albert Speer), Günther von Rohrscheidt (Rudolf Hess), Egon Kubuschok (Franz von Papen), Robert Servatius (Fritz Sauckel), Fritz Sauter (Joachim von Ribbentrop), Walther Funk (Baldur von Schirach), Hanns Marx (Julius Streicher), Otto Nelte (Wilhelm Keitel), and Herbert Kraus/Rudolph Dix (both working for Hjalmar Schacht). The main counsel were supported by a total of 70 assistants, clerks and lawyers. [25] The defense witnesses included several men who took part in war crimes themselves during World War II, such as Rudolf Höss. The men testifying for the defense hoped to receive more lenient sentences. [ clarification needed ] All of the men testifying on behalf of the defense were found guilty on several counts. [26] [ dubious – discuss ]

The International Military Tribunal was opened on 19 November 1945 in the Palace of Justice in Nuremberg. [27] [28] The first session was presided over by the Soviet judge, Nikitchenko. The prosecution entered indictments against 24 major war criminals and seven organizations – the leadership of the Nazi party, the Reich Cabinet, the Schutzstaffel (SS), Sicherheitsdienst (SD), the Gestapo, the Sturmabteilung (SA) and the "General Staff and High Command", comprising several categories of senior military officers. [avalon 1] These organizations were to be declared "criminal" if found guilty.

  1. Participation in a common plan or conspiracy for the accomplishment of a crime against peace
  2. Planning, initiating and waging wars of aggression and other crimes against peace
  3. Participating in war crimes

The 24 accused were, with respect to each charge, either indicted but not convicted (I), indicted and found guilty (G), or not charged (—), as listed below by defendant, charge, and eventual outcome:

Photos Name Count Penalty Notes
1 2 3 4
Martin Bormann I G G Death (in absentia) Successor to Hess as Nazi Party Secretary. Sentenced to death in absentia. [avalon 2] Remains found in Berlin in 1972 and eventually dated to 2 May 1945 (per Artur Axmann's account) committed suicide or was killed while trying to flee Berlin in the last few days of the war.
Karl Dönitz I G G 10 years Leader of the Kriegsmarine from 1943, succeeded Raeder. Initiator of the U-boat campaign. Briefly became President of Germany following Hitler's death. [avalon 3] Convicted of carrying out unrestricted submarine warfare in breach of the 1936 Second London Naval Treaty, but was not punished for that charge because the United States committed the same breach. [29] Released 1 October 1956. Died 24 December 1980. Defense attorney: Otto Kranzbühler
Hans Frank I G G Death Reich Law Leader 1933–45 and Governor-General of the General Government in occupied Poland 1939–45. Expressed repentance. [avalon 4] Hanged 16 October 1946.
Wilhelm Frick I G G G Death Hitler's Minister of the Interior 1933–43 and Reich Protector of Bohemia and Moravia 1943–45. Co-authored the Nuremberg Race Laws. [avalon 5] Hanged 16 October 1946.
Hans Fritzsche I - I I Acquitted Popular radio commentator head of the news division of the Nazi Propaganda Ministry. [avalon 6] Released early in 1950. [30] Fritzsche had made himself a career within German radio, because his voice was similar to Goebbels'. [31] Died 27 September 1953.
Walther Funk I G G G Life
Hitler's Minister of Economics succeeded Schacht as head of the Reichsbank. Released because of ill health on 16 May 1957. [avalon 7] Died 31 May 1960.
Hermann Göring G G G G Death Reichsmarschall, Commander of the Luftwaffe 1935–45, Chief of the 4-Year Plan 1936–45, and original head of the Gestapo before turning it over to the SS in April 1934. Originally the second-highest-ranked member of the Nazi Party and Hitler's designated successor, he fell out of favor with Hitler in April 1945. Highest ranking Nazi official to be tried at Nuremberg. [32] Committed suicide the night before his scheduled execution. [avalon 8]
Rudolf Hess G G I I Life
Hitler's Deputy Führer until he flew to Scotland in 1941 in an attempt to broker peace with the United Kingdom. Had been imprisoned since then. After trial, incarcerated at Spandau Prison, where he committed suicide in 1987. [avalon 9]
Alfred Jodl G G G G Death Wehrmacht Generaloberst, Keitel's subordinate and Chief of the OKW's Operations Division 1938–45. Signed orders for the summary execution of Allied commandos and Soviet commissars. [avalon 10] Signed the instruments of surrender on 7 May 1945 in Reims as the representative of Karl Dönitz. Hanged 16 October 1946. Posthumously rehabilitated in 1953, which was later reversed.
Ernst Kaltenbrunner I G G Death Highest-ranking SS leader to be tried at Nuremberg. Chief of RSHA 1943–45, the Nazi organ comprising the intelligence service (SD), Secret State Police (Gestapo) and Criminal Police (Kripo) and having overall command over the Einsatzgruppen. [avalon 11] Hanged 16 October 1946.
Wilhelm Keitel G G G G Death Head of Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (OKW) and de facto defence minister 1938–45. Known for his unquestioning loyalty to Hitler. [33] Signed numerous orders calling for soldiers and political prisoners to be executed. Expressed repentance. [avalon 12] Hanged 16 October 1946.
Gustav Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach I - I I No decision Major industrialist. C.E.O. of Friedrich Krupp AG 1912–45. Medically unfit for trial he had been partially paralyzed since 1941. Due to an error, Gustav, instead of his son Alfried (who ran Krupp for his father during most of the war), was selected for indictment. [34] The prosecutors attempted to substitute his son in the indictment, but the judges rejected this due to proximity to trial. However, the charges against him remained on record in the event he should recover (he died in February 1950). [35] Alfried was tried in a separate Nuremberg trial (the Krupp Trial) for the use of slave labor, thereby escaping worse charges and possible execution.
Robert Ley I - I I No decision Head of DAF, German Labour Front. Committed suicide on 25 October 1945, before the trial began. Indicted but neither acquitted nor found guilty as trial did not proceed.
Baron Konstantin von Neurath G G G G 15 years Minister of Foreign Affairs 1932–38, succeeded by Ribbentrop. Later, Reich Protector of Bohemia and Moravia 1939–43. On furlough since 1941, he resigned in 1943 because of a dispute with Hitler. Released (ill health) 6 November 1954 [avalon 13] after suffering a heart attack. Died 14 August 1956.
Franz von Papen I I Acquitted Chancellor of Germany in 1932 and Vice-Chancellor under Hitler in 1933–34. Ambassador to Austria 1934–38 and ambassador to Turkey 1939–44. Not charged as a war criminal at Nuremberg, von Papen was classified as one in 1947 by a German de-Nazification court, and sentenced to eight years' hard labor. He was acquitted following appeal after serving two. [avalon 14]
Erich Raeder G G G Life imprisonment Commander In Chief of the Kriegsmarine from 1928 until his retirement in 1943, succeeded by Dönitz. Released (ill health) 26 September 1955. [avalon 15] Died 6 November 1960.
Joachim von Ribbentrop G G G G Death Ambassador-Plenipotentiary 1935–36. Ambassador to the United Kingdom 1936–38. Minister of Foreign Affairs 1938–45. [avalon 16] Expressed repentance. [36] Hanged 16 October 1946.
Alfred Rosenberg G G G G Death Racial theory ideologist. Later, Minister of the Eastern Occupied Territories 1941–45. [avalon 17] Hanged 16 October 1946.
Fritz Sauckel I I G G Death Gauleiter of Thuringia 1927–45. Plenipotentiary of the Nazi slave labor program 1942–45. [avalon 18] Hanged 16 October 1946. Defense attorney: Robert Servatius.
Dr. Hjalmar Schacht I I Acquitted Prominent banker and economist. Pre-war president of the Reichsbank 1923–30 & 1933–38 and Economics Minister 1934–37. Admitted to violating the Treaty of Versailles. [avalon 19] Many at Nuremberg alleged that the British had brought about Schacht's acquittal to safeguard German industrialists and financiers Francis Biddle revealed Geoffrey Lawrence had argued that Schacht, being a "man of character", was nothing like the other "ruffians" on trial. [37] By 1944, he had been imprisoned in a concentration camp by the Nazis, and he was outraged to be put on trial as a major war criminal. [38]
Baldur von Schirach I G 20 years Head of the Hitlerjugend from 1933–40, Gauleiter of Vienna 1940–45. Expressed repentance. [avalon 20] Released 30 September 1966. Died 8 August 1974.
Arthur Seyss-Inquart I G G G Death Instrumental in the Anschluss and briefly Austrian Chancellor 1938. Deputy to Frank in Poland 1939–40. Later, Reichskommissar of the occupied Netherlands 1940–45. Expressed repentance. [avalon 21] Hanged 16 October 1946.
Albert Speer I I G G 20 years Hitler's friend, favorite architect, and Minister of Armaments from 1942 until the end of the war. In this capacity, he was ultimately responsible for the use of slave laborers from the occupied territories in armaments production. Expressed repentance. [avalon 22] Released 1 October 1966. Died 1 September 1981.
Julius Streicher I G Death Gauleiter of Franconia 1922–40, when he was relieved of authority but allowed by Hitler to keep his official title. Publisher of the anti-Semitic weekly newspaper Der Stürmer. [avalon 23] Hanged 16 October 1946.

  • 20 November 1945: The trials begin.
  • 21 November 1945: Robert H. Jackson opens for the prosecution with a speech lasting several hours, leaving an impression on both the court and the public.
  • 26 November 1945: The Hossbach Memorandum (of a conference in which Hitler explained his war plans) is presented.
  • 29 November 1945: The film Nazi Concentration and Prison Camps is screened. [39]
  • 30 November 1945: Witness Erwin von Lahousen testifies that Keitel and von Ribbentrop gave orders for the murder of Poles, Jews, and Russian prisoners of war.
  • 11 December 1945: The film The Nazi Plan is screened, showing long-term planning and preparations for war by the Nazis.
  • 3 January 1946: Witness Otto Ohlendorf, former head of Einsatzgruppe D, admits to the murder of around 90,000 Jews.
  • 3 January 1946: Witness Dieter Wisliceny describes the organization of RSHA Department IV-B-4, in charge of the Final Solution.
  • 7 January 1946: Witness and former SS-ObergruppenführerErich von dem Bach-Zelewski admits to the organized mass murder of Jews and other groups in the Soviet Union.
  • 28 January 1946: Witness Marie-Claude Vaillant-Couturier, member of the French Resistance and concentration camp survivor, testifies on the Holocaust, becoming the first Holocaust survivor to do so.
  • 11–12 February 1946: Witness and former Field Marshal Friedrich Paulus, who had been secretly brought to Nuremberg from Soviet captivity, testifies on the question of waging a war of aggression.
  • 14 February 1946: The Soviet prosecutors try to blame the Katyn massacre on the Germans.
  • 19 February 1946: The Soviet film Cruelties of the German-Fascist Intruders, detailing the atrocities in the extermination camps, is screened.
  • 27 February 1946: Witness Abraham Sutzkever testifies on the murder of almost 80,000 Jews in Vilnius by the Germans occupying the city.
  • 8 March 1946: The first witness for the defense testifies – former General Karl Bodenschatz.
  • 13–22 March 1946: Hermann Göring takes the stand.
  • 15 April 1946: Witness Rudolf Höss, former commandant of Auschwitz, confirms that Kaltenbrunner had never been there, but admits to having carried out mass murder.
  • 21 May 1946: Witness Ernst von Weizsäcker explains the German-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact of 1939, including its secret protocol detailing the division of Eastern Europe between Germany and the Soviet Union.
  • 20 June 1946: Albert Speer takes the stand. He is the only defendant to take personal responsibility for his actions.
  • 29 June 1946: The defense for Martin Bormann testifies.
  • 1–2 July 1946: The court hears six witnesses testifying on the Katyn massacre the Soviets fail to pin the blame for the event on Germany.
  • 2 July 1946: Admiral Chester W. Nimitz provides written testimony regarding attacks on merchant vessels without warning, admitting that Germany was not alone in these attacks, as the US did the same.
  • 4 July 1946: Final statements for the defense.
  • 26 July 1946: Final statements for the prosecution.
  • 30 July 1946: Start of the trial of the "criminal organizations".
  • 31 August 1946: Last statements by the defendants.
  • 1 September 1946: The court adjourns.
  • 30 September – 1 October 1946: The sentencing occurs, taking two days, with the individual sentences read out on the afternoon of 1 October. [40]

The accusers were successful in unveiling the background of developments leading to the outbreak of World War II, which cost around 50 million lives in Europe alone, [41] as well as the extent of the atrocities committed in the name of the Hitler regime. Twelve of the accused were sentenced to death, seven received prison sentences (ranging from 10 years to life sentence), three were acquitted, and two were not charged. [42]

The death sentences were carried out on 16 October 1946 by hanging using the standard drop method instead of long drop. The U.S. Army denied claims that the drop length was too short, which may cause the condemned to die slowly from strangulation instead of quickly from a broken neck, [43] but evidence remains that some of the condemned men choked in agony for 14 to 28 minutes. [44] [45] The executioner was John C. Woods. [46] The executions took place in the gymnasium of the court building (demolished in 1983). [47]

Although the rumor has long persisted that the bodies were taken to Dachau and burned there, they were incinerated in a crematorium in Munich, and the ashes scattered over the river Isar. [48] The French judges suggested that the military condemned (Göring, Keitel, and Jodl) be shot by a firing squad, as is standard for military courts-martial, but this was opposed by Biddle and the Soviet judges, who argued that the military officers had violated their military ethos and were not worthy of the more dignified death by shooting. [49] The prisoners sentenced to incarceration were transferred to Spandau Prison in 1947.

Of the 12 defendants sentenced to death by hanging, two were not hanged: Martin Bormann was convicted in absentia (he had, unknown to the Allies, died while trying to escape from Berlin in May 1945), and Hermann Göring committed suicide the night before the execution. The remaining 10 defendants sentenced to death were hanged.

The definition of what constitutes a war crime is described by the Nuremberg principles, a set of guidelines which were created by the International Law Commission of the United Nations as a result of the trial.

Principle I Edit

Any person who commits an act which constitutes a crime under international law is responsible therefor and liable to punishment.

Principle II Edit

The fact that internal law does not impose a penalty for an act which constitutes a crime under international law does not relieve the person who committed the act from responsibility under international law.

Principle III Edit

The fact that a person who committed an act which constitutes a crime under international law, acted as Head of State or responsible government official, does not relieve him from responsibility under international law.

Principle IV Edit

The fact that a person acted pursuant to order of his Government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law, provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him.

Principle V Edit

Any person charged with a crime under international law has the right to a fair trial on the facts and law.

Principle VI Edit

The crimes hereinafter set out are punishable as crimes under international law:

(a) Crimes against peace: (i) Planning, preparation, initiation or waging of a war of aggression or a war in violation of international treaties, agreements or assurances (ii) Participation in a common plan or conspiracy for the accomplishment of any of the acts mentioned under (i). (b) War crimes: Violations of the laws or customs of war which include, but are not limited to, murder, ill-treatment or deportation to slave labor or for any other purpose of civilian population of or in occupied territory murder or ill-treatment of prisoners of war or persons on the Seas, killing of hostages, plunder of public or private property, wanton destruction of cities, towns, or villages, or devastation not justified by military necessity. (c) Crimes against humanity: Murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation and other inhumane acts done against any civilian population, or persecutions on political, racial, or religious grounds, when such acts are done or such persecutions are carried on in execution of or in connection with any crime against peace or any war crime. Leaders, organizers, instigators and accomplices participating in the formulation or execution of a common plan or conspiracy to commit any of the foregoing crimes are responsible for all acts performed by any persons in execution of such plan.

Principle VII Edit

Complicity in the commission of a crime against peace, a war crime, or a crime against humanity as set forth in Principle VI is a crime under international law.

The medical experiments conducted by German doctors and prosecuted in the so-called Doctors' Trial led to the creation of the Nuremberg Code to control the future trials involving human subjects, a set of research ethics principles for human experimentation.

The American authorities conducted subsequent Nuremberg Trials in their occupied zone.

Other trials conducted after the first Nuremberg trial include the following:

While Sir Geoffrey Lawrence of Britain was the judge who was chosen to serve as the president of the court, arguably, the most prominent of the judges at the trial was his American counterpart, Francis Biddle. [50] Before the trial, Biddle had been Attorney General of the United States but had been asked to resign by Truman earlier in 1945. [51]

Some accounts argue that Truman had appointed Biddle as the main American judge for the trial as an apology for asking for his resignation. [51] Ironically, Biddle was known during his time as Attorney General for opposing the idea of prosecuting Nazi leaders for crimes committed before the beginning of the war, even sending out a memorandum on 5 January 1945 on the subject. [52] The note also expressed Biddle's opinion that instead of proceeding with the original plan for prosecuting entire organizations, there should simply be more trials that would prosecute specific offenders. [52]

Biddle soon changed his mind, as he approved a modified version of the plan on 21 January 1945, likely due to time constraints, since the trial would be one of the main issues which were to be discussed at Yalta. [53] At trial, the Nuremberg tribunal ruled that any member of an organization convicted of war crimes, such as the SS or Gestapo, who had joined after 1939 would be considered a war criminal. [54] Biddle managed to convince the other judges to make an exemption for any member who was drafted or had no knowledge of the crimes being committed by these organizations. [51]

Justice Robert H. Jackson played an important role in not only the trial itself but also in the creation of the International Military Tribunal, as he led the American delegation to London that, in the summer of 1945, argued in favor of prosecuting the Nazi leadership as a criminal conspiracy. [55] According to Airey Neave, Jackson was also the one behind the prosecution's decision to include membership in any of the six criminal organizations in the indictments at the trial, though the IMT rejected this because it was wholly without precedent in either international law or the domestic laws of any of the Allies. [56] Jackson also attempted to have Alfried Krupp be tried in place of his father, Gustav and even suggested that Alfried volunteer be tried in his father's place. [57] Both proposals were rejected by the IMT, particularly by Lawrence and Biddle, and some sources indicate that this resulted in Jackson being viewed unfavorably by the latter. [57]

Thomas Dodd was a prosecutor for the United States. There was an immense amount of evidence backing the prosecutors' case, especially since meticulous records of the Nazis' actions had been kept. There were records taken in by the prosecutors that had signatures from specific Nazis signing for everything from stationery supplies to Zyklon B gas, which was used to kill the inmates of the death camps. Thomas Dodd showed a series of pictures to the courtroom after reading through the documents of crimes committed by the defendants. The showing consisted of pictures displaying the atrocities performed by the defendants. The pictures had been gathered when the inmates were liberated from the concentration camps. [58]

Henry F. Gerecke, a Lutheran pastor, and Sixtus O'Connor, a Roman Catholic priest, were sent to minister to the Nazi defendants. [59] Photographs of the trial were taken by a team of about a dozen US Army still photographers, under the direction of chief photographer Ray D'Addario. [60]

The Tribunal is celebrated for establishing that "crimes against international law are committed by men, not by abstract entities, and only by punishing individuals who commit such crimes can the provisions of international law be enforced." [61] The creation of the IMT was followed by trials of lesser Nazi officials and the trials of Nazi doctors, who performed experiments on people in prison camps. It served as the model for the International Military Tribunal for the Far East which tried Japanese officials for crimes against peace and crimes against humanity. It also served as the model for the Eichmann trial and present-day courts at The Hague, for trying crimes committed during the Balkan wars of the early 1990s, and at Arusha, for trying the people responsible for the genocide in Rwanda.

The Nuremberg trials had a great influence on the development of international criminal law. The Conclusions of the Nuremberg trials served as models for:

    , 1948.
  • The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948.
  • The Nuremberg Principles, 1950. , 1968.
  • The Geneva Convention on the Laws and Customs of War, 1949 its supplementary protocols, 1977.

The International Law Commission, acting on the request of the United Nations General Assembly, produced in 1950 the report Principles of International Law Recognized in the Charter of the Nürnberg Tribunal and in the Judgement of the Tribunal (Yearbook of the International Law Commission, 1950, vol. II [62] ). See Nuremberg Principles.

The influence of the tribunal can also be seen in the proposals for a permanent international criminal court, and the drafting of international criminal codes, later prepared by the International Law Commission.

Tourists can visit courtroom 600 on days when no trial is on. A permanent exhibition has been dedicated to the trials. [63]

Establishment of a permanent International Criminal Court Edit

The Nuremberg trials initiated a movement for the prompt establishment of a permanent international criminal court, eventually leading over fifty years later to the adoption of the Statute of the International Criminal Court. This movement was brought about because, during the trials, there were conflicting court methods between the German court system and the U.S. court system. The crime of conspiracy was unheard of in the civil law systems of the Continent. Therefore, the German defense found it unfair to charge the defendants with conspiracy to commit crimes, while the judges from common-law countries were used to doing so. [64] [ page needed ]

It [IMT] was the first successful international criminal court, and has since played a pivotal role in the development of international criminal law and international institutions. [65]

Though the guilt of the sentenced parties is generally considered beyond doubt, the trials themselves have been criticised on several procedural points.

A contemporary German jurist said:

That the defendants at Nuremberg were held responsible, condemned and punished, will seem to most of us initially as a kind of historical justice. However, no one who takes the question of guilt seriously will be content with this sensibility. Justice is not served when the guilty parties are punished in any old way, even if this seems appropriate concerning their measure of guilt. Justice is only served when the guilty are punished in a way that carefully and conscientiously considers their criminal errors according to the provisions of valid law under the jurisdiction of a legally appointed judge. [66]

Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court Harlan Fiske Stone called the Nuremberg trials a "fraud". [67] "[Chief U.S. 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", Stone wrote. [67]

Associate Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas wrote that the Allies were guilty of "substituting power for principle" at Nuremberg. "I thought at the time and still think that the Nuremberg trials were unprincipled. Law was created ex post facto to suit the passion and clamor of the time." [68] Another prominent American who raised the ex post facto criticism was Robert A. Taft, a US Senate Majority Leader from Ohio and son of William Howard Taft. This position contributed to his failure to secure the Republican nomination for President in 1948. [69]

Ex post facto charges Edit

Critics of the Nuremberg trials argued that the charges against the defendants were only defined as "crimes" after they were committed and saw the trial as a form of "victor's justice". [70] [71] Quincy Wright, writing eighteen months after the conclusion of the IMT, explained the opposition to the Tribunal thus:

The assumptions underlying the Charter of the United Nations, the Statute of the International Court of Justice, and the Charter of the Nuremberg Tribunal are far removed from the positivistic assumptions which greatly influenced the thought of international jurists in the nineteenth century. Consequently, the activities of those institutions have frequently been vigorously criticized by positivistic jurists . [who] have asked: How can principles enunciated by the Nuremberg Tribunal, to take it as an example, be of legal value until most of the states have agreed to a tribunal with jurisdiction to enforce those principles? How could the Nuremberg Tribunal have obtained jurisdiction to find Germany guilty of aggression, when Germany had not consented to the Tribunal? How could the law, first explicitly accepted in the Nuremberg Charter of 1945, have bound the defendants in the trial when they committed the acts for which they were indicted years earlier? [72]

In 1915, Britain, France, and Russia jointly issued a statement explicitly charging, for the first time, another government (the Sublime Porte) of committing "a crime against humanity". However, it was not until the phrase was further developed in the London Charter that it had a specific meaning. As the London Charter definition of what constituted a crime against humanity was unknown when many of the crimes were committed, it could be argued to be a retroactive law, in violation of the principles of the prohibition of ex post facto laws and the general principle of penal law nullum crimen, nulla poena sine praevia lege poenali. [avalon 24]

The Tribunal itself strongly disputed that the London Charter was ex post facto law, pointing to existing international agreements signed by Germany that made aggressive war and certain wartime actions unlawful, such as the Kellogg-Briand Pact, the Covenant of the League of Nations, and the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907. [avalon 25]

One criticism that was made of the IMT was that some treaties were not binding on the Axis powers because they were not signatories. This was addressed in the judgment relating to war crimes and crimes against humanity, [avalon 26] which contains an expansion of customary law: "the [Hague] Convention expressly stated that it was an attempt 'to revise the general laws and customs of war,' which is thus recognized to be then existing, but by 1939 these rules laid down in the Convention were recognized by all civilized nations and were regarded as being declaratory of the laws and customs of war which are referred to in Article 6 (b) of the [London] Charter."

Hypocrisy of Allied nations Edit

Jackson, in a letter discussing the weaknesses of the trial, in October 1945 told U.S. President Harry S. Truman that the Allies themselves "have done or are doing some of the very things we are prosecuting the Germans for", including violations of the Geneva Convention and the Soviet Union's aggression against the Baltic states. [73] [74] One of the charges, brought against Keitel, Jodl, and Ribbentrop, included conspiracy to commit aggression against Poland in 1939. However, Soviet leaders were not tried for their part in the German-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact. [75] The main Soviet judge, Iona Nikitchenko, had presided over some of the most notorious of Stalin's show trials during the Great Purges of 1936 to 1938, where he, among other things, sentenced Kamenev and Zinoviev, [76] as part of a regime that executed 681,692 people arrested for "counter-revolutionary and state crimes" in 1937 and 1938 alone. [77] [78] [79] Though the ICTY later held it to be "flawed in principle", [80] the tu quoque argument, adduced by German defendants, was admitted as a valid defense during the trials, and the admirals Dönitz and Raeder were not punished for waging unrestricted submarine warfare. [80]

Legitimacy Edit

The validity of the court has been questioned on several grounds.

The trials were conducted under their own rules of evidence. The Charter of the International Military Tribunal permitted the use of normally inadmissible "evidence". Article 19 specified that "The Tribunal shall not be bound by technical rules of evidence . and shall admit any evidence which it deems to have probative value". Article 21 of the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal (IMT) Charter stipulated:

The Tribunal shall not require proof of facts of common knowledge but shall take judicial notice thereof. It shall also take judicial notice of official governmental documents and reports of the United [Allied] Nations, including acts and documents of the committees set up in the various allied countries for the investigation of war crimes, and the records and findings of military and other Tribunals of any of the United [Allied] Nations.

The chief Soviet prosecutor submitted false documentation in an attempt to indict defendants for the murder of thousands of Polish officers in the Katyn forest near Smolensk. However, the other Allied prosecutors refused to support the indictment and German lawyers promised to mount an embarrassing defense. No one was charged or found guilty at Nuremberg for the Katyn Forest massacre. [81] In 1990, the Soviet government acknowledged that the Katyn massacre was carried out, not by the Germans, but by the Soviet secret police. [82]

Luise, the wife of Alfred Jodl, attached herself to her husband's defense team. Subsequently interviewed by Gitta Sereny, researching her biography of Albert Speer, Luise alleged that in many instances the Allied prosecution made charges against Jodl based on documents that they refused to share with the defense. Jodl nevertheless proved some of the charges made against him were untrue, such as the charge that he helped Hitler gain control of Germany in 1933. He was in one instance aided by a GI clerk who chose to give Luise a document showing that the execution of a group of British commandos in Norway had been legitimate. The GI warned Luise that if she did not copy it immediately she would never see it again. [83]

November 20, 1945: The Nuremberg Trials of Nazi War Criminals Begin

November 20, 2015

Nuremburg defendants listen to the trial proceedings via translators. (Wikimedia Commons)

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On this day in 1945, the Nuremberg trials began. In a brief editorial comment in this same issue, The Nation argued that the trials featured “the trappings of legality with little of its essence.” Two weeks later in The Nation, the German-born Jewish science-fiction writer Peter de Mendelssohn wrote about the trials and the men who were being tried.

Against the immeasurable agony they caused, the twenty shabby men who sit on hard wooden benches in the courthouse facing the eight just men of the tribunal seem almost out of proportion…. Clearly, they do not measure up to the tremendous significance of the trial. One can’t help feeling one would have liked to see bigger men—bigger in every sense—answer for the calamity which will be unfolded by the evidence laid before the tribunal. These are very little men, and that is perhaps what makes their conspiracy the outrageous thing it was.

Hitler, of course, isn’t there. Those who are there are a ragged, spiritless, motley crew of second-rate characters. The light, if ever it shone in them, has certainly gone out. What was that light? Was it Hitler? Something undoubtedly held the group together. What the trial would have been like if Hitler had been taken alive it is difficult to imagine. In trying twenty of his closest friends and associates is the tribunal also trying him? It doesn’t seem so. He seems far removed from it all. One can’t help feeling that in a way the tribunal is trying the bulb and not the light, an empty cartridge and not the explosive that fired. But the course of the trial may change that impression. It may or may not place Hitler finally in history, reveal him as he really was.

To mark The Nation’s 150th anniversary, every morning this year The Almanac will highlight something that happened that day in history and how The Nation covered it. Get The Almanac every day (or every week) by signing up to the e-mail newsletter.

Richard Kreitner Twitter Richard Kreitner is a contributing writer and the author of Break It Up: Secession, Division, and the Secret History of America's Imperfect Union. His writings are at

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November 20, 1945: Nuremberg Trials, Nazi war criminals go on trial

With the recent move by President Trump to issue pardons to some U.S. soldiers that were either charged with or convicted of war crimes, it is fitting that the largest war crimes trials in history and the ones that changed how the world treats war crimes began on this day in 1945.

These trials would last from November 20, 1945 to October 1, 1946. Of the initial 24 men tried, 12 would be found guilty (one in absentia) and hanged. Of the rest, three were acquitted one was found unfit for trial by reason of bad health one committed suicide before the trial could commence and one was indicted incorrectly and not tried. The rest were given long prison sentences.

This trial was significant because something of this scope had never been attempted before. (Of a smaller scale, in the United States, Henry Wirz was convicted of war crimes and executed over the maltreatment of Union prisoners of war at Andersonville prison during the Civil War. The Turks also held a trial in 1920 for the 1915-1916 Armenian Genocide.)

But besides its scope, another novelty of the trial was that four different legal systems (British, French, American, and Soviet) would be applied to try the alleged illegal and criminal activities of a fifth nation (Nazi Germany). Therefore, the rules of the trial had to be worked out beforehand.

After the Germans surrendered on May 7, 1945, the four countries went to work on the laws and procedures that they would use to conduct the trial. Eventually, on August 8, 1945, the Allies agreed on the London Charter of the International Military Tribunal (IMT).

The London Charter defined three categories of crimes:

  • Crimes Against Peace (which included the planning, preparing, starting or waging wars of aggression or wars in violation of international agreements)
  • War Crimes ( violations of customs or laws of war, including improper treatment of civilians and prisoners of war)
  • Crimes Against Humanity (including murder, enslavement or deportation of civilians or persecution on political, religious or racial grounds).

When producing the charter, the Allies decided that civilian officials as well as military officers, could be accused of war crimes. The results of the trial were important in establishing principles of international law regarding war crimes, crimes against humanity and wars of aggression. The trial was also instrumental in the eventual (50 years later) development of the International Criminal Court.

Read Next: On this day, Nazi mastermind of Holocaust is found guilty

The Nuremberg trials also tried genocide for the first time. The Nazis were tried for “the extermination of racial and national groups, against the civilian populations of certain occupied territories in order to destroy particular races and classes of people and national, racial, or religious groups, particularly Jews, Poles, and Gypsies and others.”

The Soviets wanted to hold the trial in Berlin, which was the capital of the “fascist conspirators,” but eventually it was decided to use Nuremberg.

The Palace of Justice in Nuremberg was both large enough and nearly undamaged by the Allied bombing campaign. It also included a large prison area as part of the complex. Nuremberg also had symbolic value, since it was there that for 15 years the Nazis had been holding their annual rally.

Each of the Allied countries had one judge and one alternate. Each also had one chief prosecutor. The Nazi defendants were mainly represented by German lawyers.

The initial trial began on Nov. 20, 1945. 24 suspected major war criminals were to be tried, along with seven organizations including the leadership of the Nazi party. These were the Reich Cabinet, the Schutzstaffel (SS), Sicherheitsdienst (SD), the Gestapo, the Sturmabteilung (SA) and the “General Staff and High Command.” They comprised several categories of senior military officers. These organizations were to be declared “criminal” if found guilty.

The four major indictments against the defendants were for:

  • Participation in a common plan or conspiracy for the accomplishment of a crime against peace
  • Planning, initiating and waging wars of aggression and other crimes against peace
  • Participating in War crimes
  • Crimes against humanity

Because the defendants, judges, and prosecutors spoke different languages, the trial saw the introduction of instantaneous translation. All of the court members were issued headphones while translators provided on-the-spot translations in English, French, German and Russian.

Robert Jackson, the American prosecutor gave the opening statement, which has since become famous and encapsulates what the Allies were trying the Germans for. This was followed by Albert Speer’s opening remarks, which lasted two hours. In his remarks Speer said: “The trial began with the grand, devastating opening address by the Chief American Prosecutor, Justice Robert H. Jackson. But I took comfort from one sentence in it which accused the defendants of guilt for the regime’s crimes, but not the German people.”

Read Next: 1SG John Hatley: Paroled and now fighting for a full pardon

Part of Jackson’s opening remarks:

What makes this inquest significant is that these prisoners represent sinister influences that will lurk in the world long after their bodies have returned to dust. We will show them to be living symbols of racial hatreds, of terrorism and violence, and of the arrogance and cruelty of power. They are symbols of fierce nationalisms and of militarism, of intrigue and war-making which have embroiled Europe generation after generation, crushing its manhood, destroying its homes, and impoverishing its life…. Civilization can afford no compromise with the social forces which would gain renewed strength if we deal ambiguously or indecisively with the men in whom those forces now precariously survive.

Here is a list of the defendants and the outcomes of their trial.

Hermann Göring – Reichsmarschall and Hitler’s deputy – Sentenced to death – Committed suicide the night before his execution.

Joachim von Ribbentrop – Foreign Minister – Sentenced to death – Hanged October 16, 1946.

Wilhelm Keitel – Chief of the Armed Forces High Command – Sentenced to death – Hanged October 16, 1946.

Ernst Kaltenbrunner – Chief of the Reich Main Security Office – Sentenced to death – Hanged October 16, 1946.

Alfred Rosenberg – Reich Minister for the Occupied Eastern Territories and Leader of the Foreign Policy Office – Sentenced to death – Hanged October 16, 1946.

Hans Frank – Governor-General of Occupied Poland – Sentenced to death – Hanged October 16, 1946.

Wilhelm Frick – Minister of the Interior – Sentenced to death – Hanged October 16, 1946.

Julius Streicher – F ounder and publisher of the anti-Semitic newspaper “Der Stürmer”- Sentenced to death – Hanged October 16, 1946.

Fritz Sauckel – General Plenipotentiary for Labour Deployment – Sentenced to death – Hanged October 16, 1946.

Alfred Jodl – Chief of the Operations Staff of the Armed Forces High Command – Sentenced to Death – Hanged October 16, 1946.

Arthur Seyss-Inquart – Reichskommissar for the Occupied Dutch Territories – Sentenced to death – Hanged October 16, 1946.

Martin Bormann – Chief of the Nazi Party Chancellery – Sentenced to death in absentia – Later his bones were found in Berlin. He died in May 1945 while trying to escape Berlin.

Rudolf Hess – Deputy Führer of the Nazi Party – Sentenced to Life Imprisonment – Committed suicide in prison in 1987.

Walther Funk – Reich Minister of Economics – – Sentenced to Life Imprisonment – Released because of ill health, May 16, 1957.

Erich Raeder – Grand Admiral – Sentenced to Life Imprisonment – Released because of ill health, September 26, 1957.

Karl Doenitz – Raeder’s successor and briefly President of the German Reich – Sentenced to 10 years – Released October 1, 1956.

Baldur von Schirach – National Youth Leader (Hitler Youth) – Sentenced to 20 years – Released September 30, 1966.

Albert Speer – Minister of Armaments and War Production – Sentenced to 20 years – Released October 1, 1966.

Konstantin von Neurath – Protector of Bohemia and Moravia Sentenced to 15 years – Released because of ill health (heart attack) November 6, 1954.

Hjalmar Schacht -Reich Minister of Economics – Acquitted.

Franz von Papen – Chancellor of Germany – Acquitted.

Hans Fritzche – Ministerialdirektor in the Ministry for Popular Enlightenment and Propaganda – Acquitted.

Robert Ley – Head of DAF, German Labor Front – No Decision – Committed suicide on October 26, 1945 prior to the trial starting.

Gustav Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach – German Industrialist – No Decision – Medically unfit for trial. Due to an error, Gustav, instead of his son Alfried (who ran Krupp for his father during most of the war), was selected for indictment.

1945: On This Day in History, Nuremberg Nazi war-crimes trials begin

Twenty-four former Nazi officials were tried, and when it was all over, one year later, half would be sentenced to death by hanging.

On this 20th day of November in 1945, a series of trials of accused Nazi war criminals, conducted by a U.S., French, and Soviet military tribunal based in Nuremberg, Germany, begins.

Twenty-four former Nazi officials were tried, and when it was all over, one year later, half would be sentenced to death by hanging.

These trials of accused war criminals were authorized by the London Agreement, signed in August 1945 by the United States, Great Britain, the Soviet Union, and the provisional government of France.

It was agreed at that time that those Axis officials whose war crimes extended beyond a particular geographic area would be tried by an international war tribunal (a trial for accused Japanese war criminals would be held in Tokyo). Nineteen other nations would eventually sign on to the provisions of the agreement.

The charges against the 24 accused at Nuremberg were as follows:

(1) crimes against peace, that is, the planning and waging of wars that violated international treaties

(2) crimes against humanity, that is, the deportation, extermination, and genocide of various populations

(3) war crimes, that is, those activities that violated the “rules” of war that had been laid down in light of the First World War and later international agreements and

(4) conspiracy to commit any and all of the crimes listed in the first three counts.

Buy on – A key member of the prosecution team at the Nuremberg war crimes trials offers an eyewitness account of the tribunal, shedding new light on the accused top-echelon Nazis, the events of the trials, the verdicts, and more.

The tribunal had the authority to find both individuals and organizations criminal in the event of the latter, individual members of that organization could then be tried. Each of the four original signatories of the London Agreement picked one member and an alternate to sit on the tribunal.

The chief prosecutor was U.S. Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson, who was asked by President Harry S. Truman to create a structure for the proceedings. The defendants were arrayed in two rows of seats each of the indicted listened to a simultaneous translation of the arguments through a headset.

There were 216 court sessions. On October 1, 1946, verdicts on 22 of the 24 defendants were handed down (two were not present one had committed suicide in his prison cell, another was ultimately deemed mentally unfit):

12 of the defendants were sentenced to be hanged, including Julius Streicher (propagandist), Alfred Rosenberg (anti-Semitic ideologue and minister of the occupied eastern territories), Joachim von Ribbentrop (foreign affairs minister), Martin Bormann (Nazi Party secretary), and Herman Goering (Luftwaffe commander and Gestapo head). Ten of the 12 were hanged on October 16.

Bormann was tried and sentenced in absentia (he was thought to have died trying to escape Hitler’s bunker at the close of the war, but was only declared officially dead in 1973).

Goering committed suicide before he could be hanged. The rest of the defendants received prison sentences ranging from 10 years to life.

All of the defenses offered by the accused were rejected, including the notion that only a state, not an individual, could commit a war crime proper.

Watch the video: This Day in History, July 1, 2019