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Nuremberg Trials

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Trial of the Major War Criminals Before the International Military Tribunal November 14, 1945 - October 1, 1946

At the meetings in Tehran (1943), Yalta (1945) and Potsdam (1945), the three major wartime powers of the USA, USSR and Britain had agreed the format to punish those responsible for war-crimes during World War II. France managed to gain a place on the tribunal too. Some 200 German war crimes defendants were tried at Nuremberg, but it is often overlooked that 1,600 German war crimes defendants were tried under the traditional channels of military justice.

The Soviet Union had wanted the trials to take place in Berlin, however Nuremberg was chosen as the site for the trials for several reasons

  • convenient location in the American sector
  • the Palace of Justice there was spacious and largely undamaged and a large prison was part of the complex
  • because Nuremberg had been appointed "City of the party rallies", there was symbolic value in making it the place of the party's demise.

It was also agreed that Berlin would become the permanent seat of the IMT and that the first trial (several were planned) would take place in Nuremberg. Because of the Cold War there were no subsequent trials.

Each of the four countries provided one judge and an alternate; and the prosecutors. The judges were:

Table of contents

The validity of the court

The defendants were not allowed to complain about the selection of judges. Some people argue that, because of this, the Tribunal was not impartial and could not be regarded as a court in the true sense. A.L. Goodheart, Professor at Oxford, refuted this view, writing:

"Attractive as this argument may sound in theory, it ignores the fact that it runs counter to the administration of law in every country. If it were true then no spy could be given a legal trial, because his case is always heard by judges representing the enemy country. Yet no one has ever argued that in such cases it was necessary to call on neutral judges. The prisoner has the right to demand that his judges shall be fair, but not that they shall be neutral. As Lord Writ has pointed out, the same principle is applicable to ordinary criminal law because 'a burglar cannot complain that he is being tried by a jury of honest citizens." The Legality of the Nuremberg Trials, Juridical Review, April 1946

The main Soviet judge, Nikitchenko, had taken part in Stalin's show trials of 1936-38, something which in later years have damaged the credibility of the Nuremberg trials somewhat. The trials were conducted under their own rules of evidence; the indictments were created ex postfacto and were not based on any nation's law; the tu quoque defense was removed; and the entire spirit of the assembly was "victor's justice". All this did little to help the credibility of trials. But the spirit of the time was well reflected at Nuremberg - a long, brutal and extraordinarily costly war had been fought and the surviving leaders of the losing side could not expect to simply walk away from the disaster they had created.

The main trial The International Military Tribunal was opened on October 18, 1945, in the Supreme Court Building in Berlin. The first session was presided over by the Soviet judge, Nikitchenko. The prosecution entered indictments against 24 major war criminals and six "criminal organizations" - the leadership of the Nazi party, the SS and SD, the Gestapo, the SA and the High Command of the army. The indictments were for:

  1. Conspiracy to commit crimes against peace
  2. Planning, initiating and waging wars of aggression
  3. War crimes
  4. Crimes against humanity

The definition of what constitutes a war crime is described by the Nuremberg Principles, a document which came out of this trial.


Defendants in the dock:
Front row: Göring, Hess, von Ribbentrop, and Keitel;
second row: Dönitz, Raeder, Schirach, Sauckel.

The twenty-four accused were:

  1. Martin Bormann. Indicted for 1, 3 and 4, he was found guilty of 3 and 4 and sentenced in absentia to death.
  2. Karl Doenitz, the initiator of the U-boat campaign and Hitler's designated successor. Indicted for 1, 2 and 3, he was found guilty of 2 and 3 and sentenced to 10 years of imprisonment.
  3. Hans Frank. Indicted for 1, 3 and 4, he was found guilty of 3 and 4 and sentenced to death.
  4. Wilhelm Frick. Indicted on all counts, he was found guilty of 2, 3 and 4 and sentenced to death.
  5. Hans Fritzsche. At the trial he was in a way a substitute for Joseph Goebbels. Indicted for 1, 3 and 4, he was acquitted.
  6. Walter Funk. Indicted on all counts, he was found guilty of 2, 3 and 4 and sentenced to life imprisonment.
  7. Hermann Göring, Commander of Luftwaffe. Indicted on all four counts, he was found guilty and sentenced to death. On the night before his execution he committed suicide.
  8. Rudolf Hess, Hitler's deputy, flew to England in 1941. Indicted on all four counts, he was found guilty of 1 and 2 and sentenced to life imprisonment.
  9. Alfred Jodl. Indicted and found guilty on all four counts, he was sentenced to death.
  10. Ernst Kaltenbrunner. Indicted for 1, 3 and 4, he was found guilty of 3 and 4 and sentenced to death.
  11. Wilhelm Keitel. Indicted and found guilty on all four counts, he was sentenced to death.
  12. Gustav Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach. He was indicted on all four counts as representative of German heavy industry and for armament production. Charges against him were dropped for health reasons. But the "Krupp Trial" took place before a US military court in Nuremberg in 1948. Krupp's son Alfried was sentenced to 12 years of imprisonment.
  13. Robert Ley. Indicted on all four counts, he committed suicide on October 26, 1945.
  14. Konstantin von Neurath. Indicted and convicted on all four counts, he was sentenced to 15 years of imprisonment.
  15. Franz von Papen. Indicted on counts 1 and 2, he was acquitted.
  16. Erich Raeder. Indicted on 1, 2 and 3, he was sentenced to life imprisonment.
  17. Joachim von Ribbentrop, the Minister of Foreign Affairs. Indicted and convicted on all four counts, he was sentenced to death.
  18. Alfred Rosenberg, the race theory[?] evangelist. Indicted and found guilty on all four counts, he was sentenced to death.
  19. Fritz Sauckel[?]. Indicted on all four counts, he was found guilty of 3 and 4 and sentenced to death.
  20. Hjalmar Schacht[?]. Indicted on 1 and 2, he was acquitted.
  21. Baldur von Schirach, head of the Hitlerjugend, expressed repentance. Indicted on 1 and 4, he was found guilty and sentenced to from four to twenty years of imprisonment. Served twenty.
  22. Arthur Seyss-Inquart. Indicted on all four counts, he was found guilty of 2, 3 and 4 and sentenced to death.
  23. Albert Speer, responsible for several aspects of industry and a central figure in leadership, expressed repentance. Indicted on all four counts, he was found guilty of 3 and 4 and sentenced to from four to twenty years of imprisonment. Served twenty.
  24. Julius Streicher. Indicted on 1 and 4, he was sentenced to death.

The medical experiments conducted by German doctors lead to the creation of the Nüremberg code to control future trials involving human subjects.

Influence on the development of international criminal law The Nuremberg trials had a great influence on the development of international criminal law[?]. 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 Judgment of the Tribunal (Yearbook of the International Law Commission, 1950, vol. III). The influence of the tribunal can also be seen in the proposals for a permanent international criminal court, and the draft international criminal codes, later prepared by the International Law Commission.

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.

See Also

External Links

  • Official page (http://www.museen.nuernberg.de/english/reichsparteitag_e/pages/prozesse_e)
  • The Avalon Project (http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/imt/proc/judcont.htm)



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