The scope and size of the German genocide against Jews, gypsies, communists, intellectuals, homosexuals and Slavs shocked the world even before the end of World War II. At every major conference starting in Teheran, Iran in 1943, the Allies pledged to prosecute those responsible for war crimes.
With the end of the war, the liberation of concentration camps and the meticulous Nazi record keeping gave the Allies plenty of evidence. In London in August 1945, the International Military Tribunal (IMT) was formed to exact justice for the victims of Nazi aggression.
The Soviets wanted the trials to be held in Berlin, but due to bomb damage, it was agreed to hold the trials in Nuremberg, Germany. A large court facility with a jail was little damaged by the war. The trials convened on October 18, 1945, with evidence being heard first. Each of the four powers, France, England, the United States and the Soviet Union, sent one judge and one alternate. Prosecutors also came from the Four Powers. The court rules were based on Anglo-American legal procedures.
The court investigated and indicted twenty-four “major war criminals” and against six “criminal organizations.” The organizations were Hitler’s Cabinet, the Nazi party, the SS, SD, the Gestapo, the SA and the General Staff and High Command of the Wehrmacht.
The defendants were indicted on November 20, 1945, on four counts: conspiracy to commit crimes against peace; planning, initiating and waging wars of aggression; war crimes; and crimes against humanity.
The defendants were Nazi leaders that were still surviving. Only Martin Bormann’s whereabouts was unknown; his body was found in 1972 in a Berlin sewer. Goering especially was recalcitrant; he angrily argued with the court. Most of the defendants did not speak. Lawyers from the four powers were appointed as defendants. 236 live witnesses, photographs and film of the concentration camps, and testimony from 124 other people were submitted. Some of the observers, most of whom had never seen the film of the concentration camps, were moved to tears. In alphabetical order, the defendants were:
Martin Bormann, closest advisor of Hitler at the Führer’s headquarters; sentenced in absentia to death.
Karl Dönitz, Admiral of the Fleet; sentenced to 10 years of imprisonment.
Hans Frank, Gauleiter of Poland since 1939; sentenced to death.
Wilhelm Frick, Minister for Internal Affair; sentenced to death.
Hans Fritzsche, head of the news service section in the Press Division of the Ministry for Propaganda since May, 1933. At the trial he was in a way a substitute for Goebbels, who had committed suicide; he was acquitted. In the subsequent denazification procedures, he was sentenced to 9 years of imprisonment.
Walter Funk, President of the German Central Bank; sentenced to life imprisonment.
Hermann Goering, as Prussian Minister for Internal Affairs created the Secret Police, which later developed into the Gestapo. He was responsible for the mobilization of the economic resources of the Reich for rearmament. Indicted and found guilty on all four counts, he was sentenced to death. On the night before his execution, he committed suicide by taking cyanide of potassium. The source of the poison is not entirely clear.
Rudolf Hess, born in 1894, was the Führer’s deputy in the NSDAP since 1933. On May 10, 1941, he flew on a personal mission to Scotland, where he was captured and interred; sentenced to life imprisonment. He committed suicide in 1987 in the allies’ prison for war criminals in Berlin-Spandau.
Alfred Jodl, Wehrmacht General and advisor of Hitler in strategic and operative matters; sentenced to death.
Ernst Kaltenbrunner, head of the Security Police (SD). sentenced to death.
Wilhelm Keitel, Generalfeldmarschall, sentenced to death.
Gustav Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach, German Industrialist, charges dropped.
Robert Ley, eliminated the free labor unions in 1933 and established the rigidly ideological Labor Front; he committed suicide in the Nuremberg jail on October 26, 1945.
Konstantin von Neurath, Gauleiter of Bohemia and Moravia, sentenced to 15 years of imprisonment.
Franz von Papen, Vice-Chancellor in the first cabinet of Hitler in 1933 and later ambassador in Vienna and Ankara; he was acquitted. In the subsequent denazification procedures, he was sentenced to eight years of imprisonment.
Erich Raeder, Kriegmarine admiral and Commander-in-Chief of the Navy since 1943; sentenced to life imprisonment.
Joachim von Ribbentrop, Foreign Minister, sentenced to death.
Alfred Rosenberg, Gauleiter for occupied territories in the East; sentenced to death.
Fritz Sauckel, who orchestrated the forced labor programs in occupied Europe; sentenced to death.
Horace Greely Hjalmar Schacht, President of the Reichsbank and Minister of Economics; he was acquitted. German officials imprisoned him until 1948.
Baldur von Schirach, head of the Ministry for Youth and since 1940 Gauleiter of Vienna; sentenced to from four to twenty years of imprisonment.
Arthur Seyss-lnquart, Gauleiter of the Netherlands; sentenced to death.
Albert Speer, Reichminister for Armaments and War Production; was sentenced to from four to twenty years of imprisonment.
Julius Streicher, founded in 1923 the virulently anti-Semitic Nazi weekly newspaper Der Stürmer; sentenced to death.
The condemned were hanged on October 16, 1946. Their bodies were taken to Dachau, where the ovens that had consumed so many were fed for the last time with the bodies of the men that had built them. The ashes were scattered over the Isar River. The sentence of imprisonment was carried out at Berlin’s Spandau prison, which was entirely populated by Nazis. The last prisoner, Rudolph Hess, committed suicide in 1987.
After the International Military Tribunal, at Nuremberg and elsewhere, the four powers tried and convicted thousands of Nazis all over Germany. They would try Nazis separtately, not as an international court. In trials that lasted from 1947 through 1949, the US Military held twelve trials at Nuremberg that investigated Nazi lawyers, doctors, industrialists, and others that directly or indirectly committed war crimes. Thousands of Germans were thrown out of civil service. New governments were set up in both East and West Germany, supporting either the western Allies or the Soviets.
Throughout this time, Europe dealt with the consequences of World War II. Displaced Persons, or DPs, were on the march everywhere, trying to get home or trying to get out. The wartime alliance of the Soviet Union and the western Allies was beginning to crumble, and a new, low-intensity conflict called the Cold War was beginning, unbeknownst to average citizens of the East and West.
American Experience | The Nuremberg Trials | PBS
In November 1945, surviving representatives of the Nazi elite stood before an international military tribunal in Nuremberg, Germany. The 22 men were charged with the systematic murder of millions during World War II. U.S. chief prosecutor Robert Jackson hoped to show that crimes against humanity would never again go unpunished.
International Military Tribunal
Many volumes of documents, trial transcripts, and summaries relating to the International Military Tribunal trial of Nazi war criminals at Nuremberg, Germany are being laboriously digitized and made available.
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