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HISTORY

After the war, some of those responsible for crimes committed during the Holocaust were brought
to trial. Nuremberg, Germany, was chosen as a site for trials that took place in 1945 and 1946.
Judges from the Allied powers—Great Britain, France, the Soviet Union, and the United States—
presided over the hearings of twenty-two major Nazi criminals.
Twelve prominent Nazis were sentenced to death. Most of the defendants admitted to the crimes
of which they were accused, although most claimed that they were simply following the orders of
a higher authority. Those individuals directly involved in the killing received the most severe
sentences. Other people who played key roles in the Holocaust, including high-level government
officials, and business executives who used concentration camp inmates as forced labourers,
received short prison sentences or no penalty at all.
The Nazis' highest authority, the person most to blame for the Holocaust, was missing at the trials.
Adolf Hitler had committed suicide in the final days of the war, as had several of his closest aides.
Many more criminals were never tried. Some fled Germany to live abroad, including hundreds
who came to the United States.
Trials of Nazis continued to take place both in Germany and many other countries. Simon
Wiesenthal, a Nazi-hunter, provided leads for war crimes investigators about Adolf Eichmann.
Eichmann, who had helped plan and carry out the deportations of millions of Jews, was brought
to trial in Israel. The testimony of hundreds of witnesses, many of them survivors, was followed
all over the world. Eichmann was found guilty and executed in 1962.

The IMT was established on August 8, 1945 by the United Kingdom (UK), the United States of
America, the French Republic, and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (U.S.S.R.) for the trial
of war criminals whose offenses had no particular geographical location. The defendants were
indicted for crimes against peace, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and of a common plan or
conspiracy to commit those aforementioned crimes. The trial began on November 20, 1945 and a
total of 403 open sessions were held. The prosecution called thirty-three witnesses, whereas the
defence questioned sixty-one witnesses, in addition to 143 witnesses who gave evidence for the
defence by means of written answers to interrogatories. The hearing of evidence and the closing
statements were concluded on August 31, 1946.
The Nuremberg Trials is the general name for two sets of trials of Nazis involved in crimes
committed during the Holocaust of World War II. The first, and most famous, began on November
20, 1945. It was entitled the Trial of the Major War Criminals before the International Military
Tribunal, which tried the most important leaders of Nazi Germany. The second set of trials, for
lesser war criminals, was conducted under Control Council Law No. 10, at the U.S. Nuremberg
Military Tribunals.
Several times during World War II, the Allies met to discuss the postwar treatment of Nazi leaders.
Near the end of the war, President Franklin D. Roosevelt asked the War Department to devise a
plan for bringing war criminals to justice. Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau suggested an "eye
for an eye" approach: to shoot prominent Nazi leaders and banish others to far corners of the
world. Secretary of War Henry Stimsonendorsed a plan to try responsible Nazi leaders in court.
The War Department plan labeled as war crimes the atrocities committed by Nazis, as well as
waging a war of aggression. In April 1945, just two weeks after Roosevelt's sudden death,
Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson was chosen to be the chief prosecutor for the United
States at a war-crimes trial to be held in Europe soon after the war ended.
The International Military Tribunal was set up by the four principal
Allied countries: the United States, Great Britain, France, and Russia.
It was decided that judge and one alternate judge would be appointed
from each prosecuting country.
The Allied countries wanted the war crimes trial to be held in
Germany, but in 1945, few German cities had standing courthouses in
which a major trial could take place. One of the few cities that did was
Nuremberg — ironically, the site of some of Adolf Hitler’s most
sensational rallies. It was also at Nuremberg that the Nazi leaders had
proclaimed the Nuremberg Laws, which stripped Jews of their property
and basic rights. The city was 91 percent destroyed, but the “Palace of
Justice" was miraculously spared.
Twelve trials, involving more than a hundred defendants and several
different courts, took place in Nuremberg. By far the most attention
has focused on the first Nuremberg trial of 21 major war criminals.
Although many infamous Nazi leaders were brought to justice because of the Nuremberg Trials,
several others escaped trial and punishment by taking their own lives. On April 30, 1945, with
Soviet Troops just 300 yards away and advancing, Hitler shot himself in his underground bunker.
Soon thereafter, Heinrich Himmler, one of the most powerful men in Nazi Germany and
commander of the SS, took a cyanide crystal while being examined by a British doctor and died
within minutes. Hermann Goering, head of the Luftwaffe, committed suicide with a poison capsule
on the day he was to be hanged. Labor leader, Robert Ley, hanged himself before the trial began.
Martin Bormann, Adolf Hitler’s private secretary, had disappeared. He was tried in absentiaand
sentenced to death. There are many differing accounts of Bormann's death. Some say he died
while trying to cross Russian lines, while others claim he committed suicide. He was declared dead
by a German court in 1973. Many other important Axis leaders had fallen into Allied hands by
surrender or capture.
Brought to justice
On the opening day of the main trial, the 21 indicted war defendants took their seats. The trial
began with the reading of indictments, which involved four counts:

 Count One, “conspiracy to wage aggressive war," addressed crimes committed before
the war officially began.

 Count Two, “waging an aggressive war," addressed the undertaking of war in violation
of international treaties.

 Count Three, “war crimes," addressed more traditional violations of the laws of war,
including the killing or mistreatment of prisoners of war and the use of outlawed
weapons.

 Count Four, “crimes against humanity," addressed the crimes committed against Jews,
ethnic minorities, physically and mentally disabled persons, civilians in occupied
countries, and others.
The prosecution's case was divided into two main phases. The first
phase focused on establishing the criminality of various
components of the Nazi regime, while the second sought to
establish the guilt of individual defendants. The prosecution first
presented the case that the Austrian annexation (Anschluss)
constituted an aggressive war, then proceeded to show the same
for invasions of Czechoslovakia, Poland, Denmark, Norway,
Belgium, Holland, Luxembourg, Greece, Yugoslavia, and the
Soviet Union. A second part of the prosecution case concerned the
use of slave labor and concentration camps by the Nazis.
Evidence introduced during that part of the prosecution case
brought to light the true horror of the Holocaust. U.S. prosecutor
Thomas Todd displayed a tanned and tattooed human skin from
concentration camp victims, a possession of the the Buchenwald
commandant's wife, who liked to have the flesh fashioned into
lampshades and other household objects for her home.
Lawyers for each of the defendants presented their evidence.
Many defendants who took the stand tried to put their actions in as
positive a light as possible. The majority of the defendants claimed
to know little or nothing of the existence of concentration camps,
while others testified that the concentration camps were necessary to preserve order.
On October 1, 1946, the defendants filed into the courtroom for the last time to receive the verdicts
of the tribunal. In all, 18 defendants were convicted on one or more counts and three were found
not guilty. Eleven were sentenced to death by hanging. Three were acquitted, and others were
given prison sentences of 10 to 15 years, or life imprisonment. Ten men were hanged in November
1946. One of those sentenced to death committed suicide just hours before his scheduled
execution.
In addition to prosecuting individuals, the International Military Tribunal also issued indictments of
such Nazi organizations as the SS, the SA (stormtroopers or brownshirts), and the High Command
of the German Army. A major problem was what to do about the hundreds of thousands of people
who had been members of those organizations. The indictment of the organizations raised the
fundamental legal question of the legitimacy of creating a system of guilt by association. The
International Military Tribunal spent a month hearing testimony about the organizations. Three of
the six indicted organizations were found guilty: the SS, Gestapo, and the Corps of the Political
Leaders of the Nazi Party. Although members of the convicted criminal organizations were later
tried by German denazification courts, no one was ever punished solely on the basis of the tribunal
convictions.
Although the main trial was over, subsequent trials continued in Nuremberg for more than two
years. The 12 U.S. trials before the NMT took place from December 6, 1946, to April 13, 1949. In
all, 142 of the 185 defendants were found guilty. Twenty-four persons received death sentences, of
which 11 were converted to life imprisonment, 20 were sentenced to life imprisonment, 98 were
given prison sentences of varying lengths, and 35 were acquitted. Four defendants had to be
removed from trial due to illness, and four more committed suicide during the trials. Three trials
were especially compelling because of the horrific events described by the prosecution witnesses.
The Doctors’ Trial was the first of the 12 trials for war
crimes the U.S. authorities held in their occupation zone
in Nuremberg after the end of the World War II. The 23
defendants were all medical doctors accused of having
been involved in the horrors of Nazi human
experimentation. The trial lasted eight months, from
December 9, 1946, to August 20, 1947. Of the 23
defendants, five were acquitted, seven received death
sentences, and the remaining received prison sentences
ranging from 10 years to life imprisonment. Those
sentenced to death were hanged on June 2, 1948, in
Landsberg Prison, Bavaria.
The Judges Trial was held from March 5 to December 4,
1947. The defendants were 16 German jurists and
lawyers. Nine had been officials of the Reich Ministry of
Justice and the others were prosecutors and judges of the Special Courts and the People’s Courts
of Nazi Germany. They were held responsible for implementing and furthering the Nazi “racial
purity" program through the eugenic and racial laws. Ten of the defendants were found guilty; four
received sentences for lifetime imprisonment, and the rest received prison sentences of varying
lengths. Four were acquitted of all charges. The general public considered the sentences to be too
lenient. Most of the convicts were released in the early 1950s. Some even received retirement
pensions in West Germany.
The Einsatzgruppen Trial brought to justice members of the Einsatzgruppen, or death squads,
operating behind the front lines in eastern Europe. They killed Jews and other civilians in large
numbers. From 1941 to 1943 alone, they murdered more than one million Jews and tens of
thousands of political commisars, disabled persons, and gypsies. The 24 defendants in that trial
were all officers and faced mass murder charges. The trial lasted from September 29, 1947, until
April 10, 1948. The tribunal found them guilty on all counts, except two who were found guilty on
only one count. Fourteen were sentenced to death, but only four were carried out. The others were
commuted to prison terms of varying lengths. In 1958, all inmates were released from prison.
Article 6 of the charter described the jurisdiction, or authority, of the tribunal:

The following acts, or any of them, are crimes coming within the jurisdiction of the
Tribunal for which there shall be individual responsibility:

1. CRIMES AGAINST PEACE: namely, planning, preparation, initiation or


waging of a war of aggression, or a war in violation of international
treaties, agreements or assurances, or participation in a common plan or
conspiracy for the accomplishment of any of the foregoing;
2. WAR CRIMES: namely, violations of the laws or customs of war. Such
violations shall include, but not be limited to . . . murder, ill-treatment of
prisoners of war or persons on the seas, killing of hostages, plunder of
public or private property, wanton destruction of cities, towns or villages,
or devastation not justified by military necessity;
3. CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY: namely, murder, extermination,
enslavement, deportation, and other inhumane acts committed against
any civilian population, before or during the war; or persecutions on
political, racial or religious grounds in execution of or in connection with
any crime within the jurisdiction of the Tribunal, whether or not in
violation of the domestic law of the country where perpetrated.

Leaders, organizers, instigators and accomplices participating in the formulation or


execution of a common plan or conspiracy to commit any of the forgoing crimes are
responsible for all acts performed by any persons in execution of such plan.