Nuremberg Trials

Nuremberg Trials


Military Tribunals

    The Nuremberg Trials were a series of military tribunals, held by the victoriousAllied forces of World War II, most notable for the prosecution of prominent members of the political, military, and economic leadership of the defeated Nazi Germany.

    The trials were held in the city of NurembergBavariaGermany, in 1945-46, at the Palace of Justice. The first and best known of these trials was the Trial of the Major War Criminals before the International Military Tribunal (IMT), which tried 24 of the most important captured leaders of Nazi Germany, though several key architects of the war (such as Adolf HitlerHeinrich Himmler, and Joseph Goebbels) had committed suicide before the trials began.

    The October 1, 1946 Süddeutsche Zeitung announces "The Verdict in Nuremberg." Depicted are (left, from top): Göring, Hess, Ribbentrop, Keitel, Kaltenbrunner, Rosenberg, Frank, Frick; (second column) Funk, Streicher, Schacht; (third column) Dönitz, Raeder, Schirach; (right, from top) Sauckel, Jodl, Papen, Seyss-Inquart, Speer, Neurath, Fritzsche, Bormann. Image from Topography of Terror Museum, Berlin.

    The initial trials were held from November 20, 1945 to October 1, 1946. The second set of trials of lesser war criminals was conducted under Control Council Law No. 10 at the US Nuremberg Military Tribunals (NMT); among them included the Doctors' Trial and the Judges' Trial.

    1. Origin

    Nuremberg Trials. Defendants in the dock. The main target of the prosecution was Hermann Göring (at the left edge on the first row of benches), considered to be the most important surviving official in the Third Reich after Hitler's death.

    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. 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 leaders later in the war.

    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 denounced the idea of "the cold blooded execution of soldiers who fought for their country" and that he'd rather be "taken out in the courtyard and shot" himself than to partake in any action.

    However, he also stated that war criminals must pay for their crimes and that in accordance with the Moscow Document which he himself had written, they should be tried at the places where the crimes were committed. Churchill was vigorously opposed to executions "for political purposes."

    According to the minutes of a Roosevelt-Stalin meeting during the Yalta Conference, on February 4, 1945, at the Livadia Palace, President Roosevelt "said that he had been very much struck by the extent of German destruction in the 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."

    US Treasury SecretaryHenry Morgenthau, Jr., suggested a plan for the total denazification of Germany;  this was known as the Morgenthau Plan. The plan advocated the forced de-industrialisation of Germany. Roosevelt initially supported this plan, and managed to convince Churchill to support it in a less drastic form. Later, details were leaked to the public, generating widespread protest.

    Roosevelt, aware of strong public disapproval, abandoned the plan, but did not adopt an alternate 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 USSoviet 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.

    2. Creation of the courts

    Sir David Maxwell Fyfe (at lectern, left) and an unknown prosecutor

    On January 14, 1942, representatives from the nine occupying countries 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 Union of Soviet Socialist Republics 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, issued on August 8, 1945, 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 September 3, 1939.


    LeipzigMunich and Luxembourg were briefly considered as the location for the trial.  The Soviet Union had wanted the trials to take place in Berlin, as the capital city of the 'fascist conspirators',  but Nuremberg was chosen as the site for two specific reasons:

    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, and hosted annual propaganda rallies.  Thus, it was considered a fitting place to mark its 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.

    It was also agreed that France would become the permanent seat of the IMT and that the first trial (several were planned) would take place in Nuremberg.


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

    2. 2. 1. Judges

    The Nuremberg judges, left to right: John ParkerFrancis BiddleAlexander Volchkov,Iona NikitchenkoGeoffrey LawrenceNorman Birkett

    The chief prosecutors

    Assisting Jackson was the lawyer Telford TaylorThomas J. Dodd and a young US Army interpreter named Richard Sonnenfeldt. Assisting Shawcross wereMajor Sir David Maxwell-Fyfe and Sir John Wheeler-BennettMervyn Griffith-Jones, 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. Assisting de Menthon was Auguste Champetier de Ribes.

    Defense Counsel

    The majority of defense attorneys were German lawyers.

    The main trial

    The International Military Tribunal was opened on October 18, 1945, in the Palace of Justice in Nuremberg.  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, theSchutzstaffel (SS), Sicherheitsdienst (SD), the Gestapo, the Sturmabteilung (SA) and the "General Staff and High Command," comprising several categories of senior military officers.

    The indictments were for:

    1. Participation in a common plan or conspiracy for the accomplishment of acrime against peace
    2. Planning, initiating and waging wars of aggression and other crimes against peace
    3. War crimes
    4. Crimes against humanity

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

    NameCountPenaltyNotes 1234

    Martin Bormann I O G G Death Successor to Hess as Nazi Party Secretary. Sentenced to death in absentia. Remains found in Berlin in 1972 and dated to 1945. [14]

    Karl Dönitz I G G O 10 years Leader of the Kriegsmarine from 1943, succeeded Raeder. Initiator of the U-boat campaign. Briefly becamePresident of Germany following Hitler's death. [15]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. [16]Defense attorney: Otto Kranzbühler

    Hans Frank I O G G Death Reich Law Leader 1933-1945 and Governor-General of the General Government in occupied Poland 1939-1945. Expressed repentance. [17]

    Wilhelm Frick I G G G Death Hitler's Minister of the Interior 1933-1943 and _Reich_Protector of Bohemia-Moravia 1943-1945. Authored theNuremberg Race Laws. [18]

    Hans Fritzsche I I I O Acquitted Popular radio commentator; head of the news division of the Nazi Propaganda Ministry. Tried in place ofJoseph Goebbels. [19]

    Walther Funk I G G G Life Imprisonment Hitler's Minister of Economics; succeeded Schacht as head of the Reichsbank. Released because of ill health on 16 May 1957. [20] Died 31 May 1960.

    Hermann Göring
    G G G G Death Reichsmarschall, Commander of the Luftwaffe 1935-1945, Chief of the 4-Year Plan 1936-1945, and original head of the Gestapo before turning it over to the SS in April 1934. Originally Hitler's designated successor and the second highest ranking Nazi official. [21] By 1942, with his power waning, Göring fell out of favor and was replaced in the Nazi hierarchy by Himmler. Committed suicide the night before his execution. [22]

    Rudolf Hess
    G G I I Life Imprisonment Hitler's Deputy Führer until he flew to Scotland in 1941 in attempt to broker peace with Great Britain. After trial, committed to Spandau Prison; died in 1987. [23]

    Alfred Jodl
    G G G G Death Wehrmacht Generaloberst, Keitel's subordinate and Chief of the OKW's Operations Division 1938-1945. [24]

    Ernst Kaltenbrunner
    I O G G Death Highest surviving SS-leader. Chief of RSHA 1943-45, the Nazi organ made up of the intelligence service, Secret State Police, Criminal Police and had overall command over the Einsatzgruppen. [25]

    Wilhelm Keitel
    G G G G Death Head of Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (OKW) 1938-1945. [26]

    Gustav Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach
      I I I ---- Major Nazi industrialist. C.E.O. of Krupp A.G. 1912-45. Medically unfit for trial (died January 16, 1950). The prosecutors attempted to substitute his son Alfried (who ran Krupp for his father during most of the war) in the indictment, but the judges rejected this as being too close to trial. [27] Alfried was tried in a separate Nuremberg trial for his use of slave labor, thus escaping the worst notoriety and possibly death.

    Robert Ley
    I I I I ---- Head of DAF, The German Labour Front. Suicide on 25 October 1945, before the trial began.

    BaronKonstantin von Neurath
    G G G G 15 years Minister of Foreign Affairs 1932-1938, succeeded byRibbentrop. Later, Protector of Bohemia and Moravia1939-43. Resigned in 1943 because of a dispute with Hitler. Released (ill health) 6 November 1954 [28] after having a heart attack. Died 14 August 1956.

    Franz von Papen
    I I O O Acquitted Chancellor of Germany in 1932 and Vice-Chancellor under Hitler in 1933-1934. Ambassador to Austria 1934-38 and ambassador to Turkey 1939-1944. Although acquitted at Nuremberg, von Papen was reclassified as a war criminal in 1947 by a German de-Nazification court, and sentenced to eight years' hard labour. He was acquitted following appeal after serving two years. [29]

    Erich Raeder
    G G G O Life Imprisonment Commander In Chief of the Kriegsmarine from 1928 until his retirement in 1943, succeeded by Dönitz. Released (ill health) 26 September 1955. [30] Died 6 November 1960.

    Joachim von Ribbentrop
    G G G G Death Ambassador-Plenipotentiary 1935-1936. Ambassador to the United Kingdom 1936-1938. Nazi Minister of Foreign Affairs 1938-1945, [31]

    Alfred Rosenberg
    G G G G Death Racial theory ideologist. Later, Minister of the Eastern Occupied Territories 1941-1945. [32]

    Fritz Sauckel
    I I G G Death Gauleiter of Thuringia 1927-1945. Plenipotentiary of the Nazi slave labor program 1942-1945. [33] Defense attorney: Robert Servatius

    Dr. Hjalmar Schacht
    I I O O Acquitted Prominent banker and economist. Pre-war president of the Reichsbank 1923-1930 & 1933-1938 and Economics Minister 1934-1937. Admitted to violating the Treaty of Versailles. [34]

    Baldur von Schirach
    I O O G 20 years Head of the Hitlerjugend from 1933 to 1940, _Gauleiter_of Vienna 1940-1945. Expressed repentance. [35]

    Arthur Seyss-Inquart
    I G G G Death Instrumental in the Anschluss and briefly Austrian Chancellor 1938. Deputy to Frank in Poland 1939-1940. Later, Reich Commissioner of the occupied Netherlands 1940-1945. Expressed repentance. [36]

    Albert Speer
    I I G G 20 Years Hitler's favorite architect and close friend, 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. [37]

    Julius Streicher

    The accusers were successful in unveiling the background of developments that had led to the outbreak of World War II, which cost at least 40 million lives in Europe alone, [39] 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, and three were acquitted.

    Throughout the trials, specifically between January and July 1946, the defendants and a number of witnesses were interviewed by American psychiatrist Leon Goldensohn. His notes detailing the demeanor and comments of the defendants survive; they were edited into book form and published in 2004.

    Oct 17, 1946 U.S. Newsreel of Nuremberg Trials Sentencing

    The death sentences were carried out 16 October 1946 by hanging using the standard drop method instead of long drop. [42] [43] The U.S. army denied claims that the drop length was too short which caused the condemned to die slowly from strangulation instead of quickly from a broken neck. [44]

    The executioner was John C. Woods. Although the rumor has long persisted that the bodies were taken to Dachau and burned there, they were actually incinerated in a crematorium in Munich, and the ashes scattered over the river Isar. [45] The French judges suggested the use of a firing squad for the military condemned, as is standard for military courts-martial, but this was opposed by Biddle and the Soviet judges. These argued that the military officers had violated their military ethos and were not worthy of the firing squad, which was considered to be more dignified.[citation needed] 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: Hermann Göring committed suicide the night before the execution and Martin Bormann was not present when convicted (he had, unbeknownst to the Allies, committed suicide in Berlin in 1945). 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 document which was created as a result of the trial. 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 future trials involving human subjects, a set of research ethics principles for human experimentation.

    Of the organizations the following were found not to be criminal:


    O O G Death Gauleiter of Franconia 1922-1940. Publisher of the weekly newspaper, D

    Additional Info
    bgill - Anyone can contribute
    View count:
    105 (recently viewed: 4)