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The Nuremberg Trials

After the war, Allied powers—United States, Great Britain, France, and the Soviet Union—came together to form the International Military Tribunal (IMT). From 1945 to 1946, Nazi Germany leaders stood trial for crimes against peace, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and conspiracy to commit any of the foregoing crimes.

The Nuremberg Trials

Overview

The indictment against 24 major war criminals and seven organizations was filed on October 18, 1945 by the four chief prosecutors of the International Military Tribunal. On November 20, the trial began with 21 defendants appearing before the court. The United States held 12 additional trials in Nuremberg after the initial International Military Tribunal. In all, 199 defendants were tried, 161 were convicted, and 37 were sentenced to death.

Appointing the Court

In the days before Germany surrendered on May 8, 1945, President Harry S Truman appointed Associate Supreme Court Justice Robert H Jackson to be the chief prosecutor representing the United States in the proposed trials for the European Axis powers. Jackson helped lead the Allies—American, British, French, and Soviet governments—to an agreement called the London Charter, setting the procedures for the Nuremberg Trials. The London Agreement created the International Military Tribunal (IMT) on August 8, 1945, where each of the four Allied nations appointed a judge and a prosecution team. 

List of Judges
  • Francis Biddle (American)
  • John J Parker (American)
  • Edward Francis Carter (American)
  • Colonel Sir Geoffrey Lawrence, Lord Justice (British, President of the Tribunal)
  • Sir Norman Birkett (British)
  • Henri Donnedieu de Vabres (French)
  • Robert Falco (French)
  • Major General Iona Nikitchenko (Soviet)
  • Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Volchkov (Soviet)

 

List of Chief Prosecutors
  • Associate Justice Robert H Jackson (United States)
  • Attorney General Sir Hartley Shawcross (United Kingdom)
  • Francois de Menthon, later replaced by Auguste Champetier de Ribes (France)
  • Lieutenant General Roman Andreyevich Rudenko (Soviet Union)

 

Lord Justice Geoffrey Lawrence of Great Britain would serve as the court's presiding judge. The proceedings would be simultaneously translated into English, French, German, and Russian. The trial would make history being the first of its kind with judges from four countries. 

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Nuremberg, Germany 

During the Moscow Conference on October 30, 1943, the Declaration of Atrocities was signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin stating:

"The United Kingdom, the United States and the Soviet Union have received from many quarters evidence of atrocities, massacres and cold-blooded mass executions which are being perpetrated by Hitlerite forces in many of the countries they have overrun . . . those German officers and men and members of the Nazi party who have been responsible for or have taken a consenting part in the above atrocities, massacres and executions will be sent back to the countries in which their abominable deeds were done in order that they may be judged and punished according to the laws of these liberated countries and of free governments which will be erected therein..."

Nuremberg, Germany was chosen as the location of the trials for being a focal point of Nazi propaganda rallies leading up to the war. The Allies wanted Nuremberg to symbolize the death of Nazi Germany. The court convened in the Palace of Justice in Nuremberg that was previously expanded by German prisoners to fit up to 1,200 detainees. 

Indictment

The indictment of 24 Nazi government officials and organizations was filed on October 18, 1945 by the four chief prosecutors of the International Military Tribunal: Robert H Jackson of the United States, Sir Hartley Shawcross of Great Britain, Francois de Menthon of France, and Roman A Rudenko of the Soviet Union. The jurisdiction of the Tribunal included crimes against peace, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. The IMT defined crimes against humanity as "murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation...or persecutions on political, racial, or religious grounds." 

List of Defendants
  • Martin Bormann
  • Karl Dönitz
  • Hans Frank
  • Wilhelm Frick
  • Hans Fritzsche
  • Walther Funk
  • Hermann Göring
  • Rudolf Hess
  • Alfred Jodl
  • Ernst Kaltenbrunner 
  • Wilhelm Keitel
  • Gustav Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach
  • Robert Ley
  • Konstantin von Neurath
  • Franz von Papen
  • Erich Raeder 
  • Joachim von Ribbentrop
  • Alfred Rosenberg
  • Fritz Sauckel
  • Hjalmar Schacht
  • Baldur von Schirach 
  • Arthur Seyss-Inquart
  • Albert Speer
  • Julius Streicher 

 

List of Organizations
  • The Secret State Police (Gestapo)
  • The Protection Squad (SS)
  • The Reich Cabinet 
  • The Leadership Corps of the Nazi Party
  • The Stormtroopers (SA)
  • The Security Service (SD)
  • The General Staff and High Command of the German Armed Forces. 

 

The indictment was read on November 20, 1945 with 21 defendants appearing in court. The suicides of top Nazi leaders such as Adolf Hitler, Joseph Goebbels, and Heinrich Himmler prevented them from standing trial. Head of the German Labor Front, Robert Ley, committed suicide the day before the trial. 

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The Trial

Between November 20, 1945 to October 1, 1946, the Tribunal tried 24 of the most important military and political leaders of the Third Reich and heard evidence against 21 of the defendants. During the trial, the Tribunal—and the world—learned about the the Nazi Party and its "planning, initiating and waging of aggressive war" from the beginning. Footage of Nazi concentration camps taken by Allied military photographers during liberation was shown to the court. The graphic scenes of what had taken place in Europe were the most powerful evidence presented at the trial. Other memorable moments of the trial were the screenings of the Nazi Concentration and Prison Camps and The Nazi Plan filmsthe detailed description of the Final Solution, the murders of prisoners of war, atrocities in extermination camps, and countless cruel acts to prosecute Jews. 

 

Verdict and Executions

On October 1, 1946, the Tribunal convicted 19 of the defendants and acquitted three. Of those convicted, 12 were sentenced to death. Three defendants were sentenced to life imprisonment and four to prison terms ranging from 10 to 20 years. On October 16, executions were carried out by hanging in the gymnasium of the courthouse. Hermann Göring committed suicide the night before his execution. In 1947, the prisoners sentenced to incarceration were sent to Spandau Prison in Berlin.

List of Executions
  • Hermann Göring 
  • Joachim von Robbentrop
  • Wilhelm Keitel 
  • Ernst Kaltenbrunner
  • Alfred Rosenberg 
  • Hans Frank 
  • Wilhelm Frick 
  • Julius Streicher 
  • Fritz Sauckel 
  • Alfred Jodl 
  • Arthur Seyss-Inquart 

 

Subsequent Nuremberg Trials 

From December 1946 to April 1949, a series of twelve additional military tribunals for war crimes against Nazi Germany leaders were held by the United States in the Palace of Justice. The defendants were 177 high-ranking physicians, judges, industrialists, SS commanders and police commanders, military personnel, civil servants, and diplomats. The trials uncovered the German leadership that supported the Nazi dictatorship. Of the 177 defendants, 24 were sentenced to death, 20 to lifelong imprisonment, and 98 other prison sentences. Twenty five defendants were found not guilty. Many of the prisoners were released early in the 1950s as a result of pardons. Thirteen of the 24 death sentences were executed.

Additional Nuremberg Trials
  • Doctors' Trial
  • Milch Trial 
  • Judges' Trial 
  • Pohl Trial 
  • Flick Trial 
  • IG Farben Trial 
  • Hostages Trial 
  • RuSHA Trial 
  • Einsatzgruppen Trial 
  • Krupp Trial 
  • Ministries Trial 
  • High Command Trial 

 

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