Nuremberg Trials

The Nuremberg Trials, known as the greatest trial in history, were military tribunals held by the leaders of the victorious Allied forces (the United States, Great Britain and the Soviet Union) at the end World War II. After the war ended in 1945, the international community decided that something needed be done to the Nazi war criminals who committed acts of atrocity during the war.

The trials came to fruition from the pleas of victims of the Nazi crimes against humanity. As the war was in its final stages in late summer 1945, America and Britain debated about how best to address the Nazi atrocities. The British at first favored a method where high-ranking Nazi criminals would be identified and then shot.

After the death of American President Franklin Roosevelt in April 1945, President Harry Truman accepted the idea of a military tribunal proposed by the War Department. He was able to convince the British, Russians and the French, who were brought in as advisers.

A tentative agreement was made at the United Nations founding conference in San Francisco. A meeting was scheduled in London in June 1945 to finalize plans. On August 8, 1945, after a collective agreement by the occupying countries, the International Military Tribunal (IMT) was formed "for the just and prompt trial and punishment of the major war criminals of the European Axis." The IMT later became known as the Nuremberg Trials.

The accusations against the defendants were: conducting aggressive wars, slave labor, extermination of racial and religious groups and war crimes.

Twelve defendants received death by hanging, seven were sent to prison ranging from 10 years to life and three were found not guilty. Hermann Goering (commander of the German Air Force) was the highest-ranking defendant sentenced to execution. He committed suicide in his prison cell before being executed.

The Nuremberg Trials were named after both the city of Nuremberg and the Nuremberg laws that were passed in summer 1935. In an effort to rebuild the German economy, a conference of ministers was held on August 20, 1935, to determine the effects of actions passed against Jews.

A month later, two laws (prohibitions) were passed by the ministers. The first law was the Law for the Protections of German Blood and German Honor. This prohibited intermarriage of Jews and German citizens and also forbade employment of German women under 45 in Jewish homes.

The Reich Citizenship Law was the second law passed. This law took away German citizenship from all Jews. The two laws were an effort to afflict Jews living in Germany and to deprive them of rights afforded to other German citizens.

The initial trials were held in the city of Nuremberg, in Bavaria, Germany, from November 1945 to October 1946. The most well-known of these trials was the first to take place. The trial consisted of 24 high-ranking officials in Nazi Germany. Several of the German leaders had committed suicide before the trials could begin. Among them were Adolf Hitler (chancellor of Germany), Heinrich Himmler (minister of the interior, head of the Gestapo) and Joseph Goebbels (minister of propaganda).

The second set of trials consisted of lesser war criminals. The trials included the Doctors' Trial and the Judges' Trial. Trials for war crimes involving surviving members of the military were held in the Palace of Justice from 1946 to 1949. All the judges and prosecutors in the Nuremberg trials were American. Brig. Gen. Telford Taylor was chief of counsel for the prosecution.

The aftermath of the Nuremberg Trials had a dramatic effect on the international justice system and world opinion concerning war crimes. The success of the trials marked the first time an international military tribunal court had been successful.

International human rights laws have been established as a result of the Nuremberg trials. No longer can countries commit mass murder and crimes against humanity in the name of war (or defense) and not be held accountable for their conduct. A state in war or peace is held to international standards of humanity regarding the conduct of the men of that state. This was an important step toward the establishment body of world law -- a body that monitors nations and their behavior during times of crises, defense, war and peace.

The United Nations and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) like Human Rights Watch have been founded to prevent future atrocities. These organizations are responsible for monitoring all situations of conflict anywhere in the world.

Nuremberg Trials: Selected full-text books and articles

Atrocities on Trial: Historical Perspectives on the Politics of Prosecuting War Crimes By Patricia Heberer; Jürgen Matthäus University of Nebraska Press, 2008
Librarian's tip: Part II "Allied Courts and German Crimes in the Context of Nuremberg"
Robert H. Jackson: Nuremberg's Architect and Advocate By Meltzer, Bernard D Albany Law Review, Vol. 68, No. 1, Fall 2004
From Nuremberg to the Hague: The Future of International Criminal Justice By Philippe Sands Cambridge University Press, 2003
Librarian's tip: Chap. 1 "The Nuremberg Trials: International Law in the Making"
Genocide in International Law: The Crimes of Crimes By William A. Schabas Cambridge University Press, 2000
Final Judgment: The Story of Nuremberg By Victor H. Bernstein Boni & Gaer, 1947
Trial of War Criminals: Documents: 1. Report of Robert H. Jackson to the President. 2. Agreement Establishing an International Military Tribunal. 3. Indictment By Robert H. Jackson U. S. Government Printing Office, 1945
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