Little Bits of History

War Crimes

Posted in History by patriciahysell on November 20, 2014
Nuremberg Trials

Nuremberg Trials

November 20, 1945: The Nuremberg Trials begin. These military tribunals were held between this date and October 1, 1946 in Nuremberg, Germany. The Allied forces prosecuted prominent members of the political, military, and economic leadership of Nazi Germany during World War II. A precedent had begun after the end of World War I when the Leipzig War Crimes Trials were held in May to July 1921. These were small scale and mostly ineffective. Poland’s government in exile had asked for sanctions against Germany as early as 1940 and Britain and France joined in the condemnation of Germany’s policies.

On January 14, 1942, nine countries occupied by Germany sent representatives to London to draft the Inter-Allied Resolution on German War Crimes. At that time, punishments were agreed upon for those responsible for war crimes during World War II. The legal basis for the trial was established by the London Charter on August 8, 1945. There were about 200 German war crimes defendants tried at Nuremberg and about another 1,600 were tried under traditional military channels. The Instrument of Surrender of Germany was the legal basis for the jurisdiction of the court. Political authority over Germany had been granted to the Allied Control Council and they could punish violators of international law and the those who broke the laws of war. They had no jurisdiction over any crimes before war was declared on September 1, 1939.

Nuremberg was chosen as the site of the trials for two reasons. One was that the Palace of Justice was large enough and basically undamaged. A large prison was part of the complex. Nuremberg was considered the ceremonial birthplace of the Nazi Party and their yearly propaganda rallies had been held there. It seemed fitting to hold the trials in this place. Berlin was the official home of the Tribunal authorities, as an appeasement to Soviet Russia. Each of the four major powers provided one judge and one alternate. Soviet Russia, Great Britain, the United States, and France also each provided prosecutors with assisting legal teams. Germany provided most of the defense lawyers.

The International Military Tribunal was opened on November 19, 1945. On this day, the first session, presided over by Soviet judge, Nikitchenko, saw indictments against 24 major war criminals and seven organizations. Indictments were for participation in a common plan of a crime against peace; planning, initiating, or waging wars of aggression; war crimes; and crimes against humanity. Twelve men were found guilty and sentences to death. Seven were sentences to various times in prison. Three were acquitted. One of the defendants committed suicide. The other was too ill to stand trial. The death sentences were carried out on October 16, 1946. The men were hung by standard drop method rather than the long drop.

Death, death. Now I won’t be able to write my beautiful memoirs. – Joachim von Ribbentrop

I die innocent. The verdict is wrong. – Fritz Sauckel

Death by hanging. That, I thought, I would be spared. – Wilhelm Keitel

A victor’s justice. – Hermann Goering

Also on this day: What a Yo-Yo – In 1866, the yo-yo was patented.
God, Save the Queen – In 1992, Windsor Castle caught fire.
Sperm Whale’s Revenge – In 1820, the whaling ship Essex was attacked.
Whoops – In 1980, the Lake Peigneur disaster began.


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