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Nuremberg Trials

The Nuremberg Trials were a series of 13 trials held in Nuremberg, Germany, from 1945 to 1949. In these trials, leaders of Nazi Germany were accused of crimes against international law. Some of the defendants were charged with causing World War II deliberately, and with waging aggressive wars of conquest. Nearly all were charged with murder, enslavement, looting, and other atrocities against soliders and civilians of occupied countries. Some were also charged with responsibility for the persecution of Jews and other racial and national groups.

Overview

The International Military Tribunal, the body responsible for conducting the trials, was set up under an agreement signed by representatives of the United States, Great Britain, France, and the Soviet Union at London in August 1945. Each nation designated one chief judge and one chief prosecutor, as well as one alternate for each position.

President Harry S. Truman designated Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson as U.S. representative and chief counsel. Jackson planned and organized the trial procedure and served as Chief Prosecutor for the United States. He recommended Nuremberg because the city's Palace of Justice was spacious (about 22,000 square meters of usable space, 530 offices, and 80 courtrooms), had suffered minimal damage during the war, and included a large, undestroyed prison within its confines.

the Palace of Justice in Nuremberg

The International Military Tribunal held its first session on October 18, 1945, in the Supreme Court Building in Berlin. At this session, which was presided over by Soviet judge Iola T. Nikitschenko, indictiments were entered against 24 individuals and 6 organizations.

The first trial began on November 20, 1945, and lasted through September 29, 1946. During this period some 360 witnesses were either heard from, and about 200,000 affidavits were evaluated as evidence. Verdicts were announced on September 30 and October 1 -- 19 individuals and 3 organizations were found guilty, 2 individuals and 3 organizations were acquitted, charges against 1 individual were dropped due to his ill health, and 1 man committed suicide the day before the trial began. Of those individuals who were convicted, 7 were sentenced to prison and 9 to death by hanging. The executions were carried out at Nuremberg on October 16, 1946. Prison sentences were served at Berlin's Spandau prison.

The Indictments

Count One: Conspiracy to Wage Aggressive War Accused various individuals of plotting to commit war crimes even before war was ever declared. Evidence for this crime was presented by the American prosecutors.
Count Two: Waging Aggressive War, or "Crimes Against Peace" "The planning, preparation, initiation, and waging of wars of aggression, which were also wars in violation of international treaties, agreements, and assurances"; based on allegations that the Germans had violated international agreements such as the Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928, despite the fact that no treaty or pact actually defined "aggressive war," nor provided penalties for violation. Evidence was presented by the British prosecutiors.
Count Three: War Crimes For acts that violated traditional concepts of the law of war -- use of slave labor, bombing of civilian populations, ill treatment of prisoners of war, refusal to aid survivors of ship attacks, plunder of public or private property, wanton destruction of cities, towns, or villages or devastation not justified by military necessity, etc. Evidence was presented by Russian and French prosecutors.
Count Four: Crimes Against Humanity Applied to defendants responsible for death camps, concentration camps, labor camps, and killing rampages in the East. Evidence was presented by the Russians and French.

the defendants at the Nuremberg War Crimes Trial

The Defendants

Martin Bormann Head of the staff of Rudolf Hess and Chief of the Party Chancellery -- indicted on counts 1, 3 and 4 -- found guilty of 3 and 4 -- sentenced to death. Bormann was tried and sentenced in absentia. He was believed to have been killed when the Soviets entered Berlin, but his remains were not found until 1972.
Karl Doenitz
Supreme Commander of the Navy -- Hitler's last will and testament made him Third Reich President and Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces -- indicted on counts 1, 2 and 3 -- found guilty of 2 and 3 -- sentenced to 10 years in prison -- released in 1956.
Hans Frank Governor-General of occupied Poland -- indicted on counts 1, 3 and 4 -- found guilty of 3 and 4 -- sentenced to death.
Wilhelm Frick Minister of the Interior -- indicted on all four counts -- found guilty of 2, 3 and 4 -- sentenced to death.
Hans Fritzsche Ministerial Director and head of the radio division of the Propoganda Ministry -- indicted on counts 1, 3 and 4 -- acquitted of all charges -- subsequently tried in a military court and sentenced to 9 years -- released in 1950.
Walther Funk Minister for Economic Affairs and President of the Reichsbank -- indicted on all four counts -- found guilty of 2, 3 and 4 -- sentenced to life -- released for health reasons in 1957.
Hermann Goering Reichsmarschall, Chief of the Air Force, creator of the Gestapo -- indicted on all four counts -- found guilty of all charges -- sentenced to death -- committed suicide night before execution.
Rudolf Hess Deputy to Hitler -- indicted on all four counts -- found guilty of 1 and 2 -- sentenced to life -- committed suicide in 1987.
Alfred Jodl Chief of Army Operations -- indicted on all four counts -- found guilty of all charges -- sentenced to death.
Ernst Kaltenbrunner Chief of Reich Main Security Office (Gestapo and SS) -- indicted on counts 1, 3 and 4 found guilty of 3 and 4 -- sentenced to death,
Wilhelm Keitel Chief of Staff of the High Command of the Armed Forces -- indicted on all four counts -- found guilty of all charges -- sentenced to death.

Gustav Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach industrialist -- judged too frail to stand trial.
Robert Ley Head of the German Labor Front -- hanged himself the day before the trial began.
Constantin von Neurath Prosecutor of Bohemia and Moravia -- indicted on all four counts -- found guilty of all charges -- sentenced to 15 years -- released for health reasons in 1954.
Franz von Papen one-time Vice-Chancellor of Germany -- indicted on counts 1 and 2 -- acquitted on both charges -- subsequently tried in a military court and sentenced to 8 years -- released in 1949.
Erich Raeder Grand Admiral of the Navy -- indicted on counts 1, 2 and 3 -- found guilty of all charges -- sentenced to life -- released for health reasons in 1955.
Joachim von Ribbentrop Minister of Foreign Affairs -- indicted on all four counts -- found guilty of all charges -- sentenced to death.
Alfred Rosenberg Minister of the Occupied Eastern Territories -- indicted on all four counts -- found guilty of all charges -- sentenced to death.
Fritz Sauckel plenipotentiary for the mobilization of labor (forced labor camps) -- indicted on all four counts -- found guilty of 3 and 4 -- sentenced to death.
Horace Greely Hjalmar Schacht Minister of the Economics -- indicted on counts 1 and 2 -- acquitted of all charges -- subsequently imprisoned by German officials until 1948.
Baldur von Schirach Reich Youth leader -- indicted on counts 1 and 4 -- found guilty of all charges -- sentenced to 20 years -- released in 1966.
Arthur Seyss-Inquart Commissar of the Netherlands -- indicted on all four counts -- found guilty of 2, 3 and 4 -- sentenced to death.
Albert Speer Minister of Armaments and War Production -- indicted on all four counts; found guilty of 3 and 4 -- sentenced to 4-20 years -- released in 1966.
Julius Streicher editor of newspaper Der Sturmer, Director of the Central Committee for the Defense Against Jewish Atrocity and Boycott Propaganda -- indicted on counts 1 and 4 -- found guilty of all charges -- sentenced to death.

Corps of the Political Leaders of the Nazi Party found guilty
General Staff and High Command of the German Armed Forces acquitted
Gestapo found guilty
Reichsregierung (Cabinet) acquitted
SA (Brownshirts) acquitted
SS
found guilty

The Judges

Colonel Right Honourable Sir Geoffrey Lawrence British main and President of the Tribunal
Sir Norman Birkett British alternate

Francis Biddle U.S. main
John Parker U.S. alternate

Professor Henri Donnedieu de Vabres French main
Robert Falco French alternate

Major-General Iona Nikitchenko Soviet main
Lieutenant-Colonel Alexander Volchkov Soviet alternate

The Prosecutors

Robert H. Jackson Chief U.S. prosecutor
Thomas J. Dodd Associate and later Deputy U.S. prosecutor
William Baldwin Assistant U.S. prosecutor
Whitney Harris Assistant U.S. prosecutor
Thomas Lambert Assistant U.S. prosecutor
Daniel Margolies
Assistant U.S. prosecutor
Drexel Sprecher Assistant U.S. prosecutor, later prosecutor at subsequent war crimes trials

Sir Hartley Shawcross Chief British prosecutor
Major Sir David Maxwell-Fyfe assistant
Sir John Wheeler-Bennett assistant
Anthony Marreco assistant

Lieutenant-General R.A. Rudenko Chief Russian prosecutor
V.Y. Pokrovsky Deputy Soviet prosecutor

François de Menthon Chief French prosecutor
Auguste Champetier de Ribes assistant

The Defense Attorneys

Rudolf Dix for Hjalmar Schacht
Franz Exner for Alfred Jodl
Hans Flachsner for Albert Speer
Martin Horn for Joachim von Ribbentrop (second chair)
Kurt Kauffmann for Ernst Kaltenbrunner
Otto Kranzbuehler for Karl Doenitz
Otto Nelte
for Wilhelm Keitel
Gunther von Rohrscheidt for Rudolf Hess
Fritz Sauter for Joachim von Ribbentrop, Walther Funk and Baldur von Schirach
Alfred Seidl for Rudolf Hess (second chair) and Hans Frank
Otto Stahmer for Hermann Goering

Other Principals

John Harlan Amen U.S. Colonel, associate trial counsel, head of interrogations
Murray Bernays War Department lawyer who drafted the initial proposal for prosecuting international war criminals
Daniel Kiley Office of Strategic Services officer, architect who restored the Palace of Justice
James Rowe Legal advisor to Francis Biddle
Robert Stewart U.S. major, legal advisor to alternate justice John Parker
Robert Storey U.S. colonel, head of the U.S. prosecution team under Robert Jackson
Telford Taylor U.S. general, prosecutor of the High Command case, later chief prosecutor at subsequent trials
Herbet Wechsler Chief legal advisor to American justice Francis Biddle

Subsequent Trials

The four nations occupying Germany decided that additional war crimes trials should be held in each of the occupation zones. In the American zone, 12 trials were held in Nuremberg from 1946 to 1949. There were 3 trials of military leaders, 3 of principal SS officers, 3 of industrialists, 1 of government officials and diplomats, 1 of Nazi judges, and 1 of doctors who had conducted "medical experiments" in concentration camps. Altogether about 200 defendants were tried. Many were convicted and either sentenced to prison or death, and a few were acquitted.

German industrialists on trial


Famous World Trials: Nuremberg Trials, 1945-1949 www.law.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/nuremberg/nuremberg.htm
The Nuremberg War Crimes Trials http://avalon.law.yale.edu/subject_menus/imt.asp


President Harry S. Truman
World War II

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This page was last updated on July 19, 2016.

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