Nuremberg War Crime Trials

Nuremberg War Crime Trials

As World War II drew to a close in 1945, the Allies became more and more aware of the enormous scale of the war crimes and other atrocities commited by the Axis.

Initially, Allies disagreed about how these crimes should be punished, but eventually President Truman publicised his support for the use of the judicial process and this approach was settled on by all leaders involved. Under the system proposed by Truman, all parties who had been accused of war crimes would be tried in public so they were able to defend themselves against the accusations being made by the Allies.

The operation was so vast that an International War Tribunal was set up at the Nuremberg Palace of Justice in November 1945. The choice of this location was not random; Nuremberg was the site of a number of the Nazi Party's most infamous rallies so many felt it was the right place in which senior Nazi party members would be tried for their crimes. The site was also particularly well-suited to the job as it was one of the few places that had escaped much of the Allied bombing and even contained a large prison.

The Nuremberg War Crime Trials began in November 1945 and ended in 1949, with the most important trials of senior Nazi generals and politicians took place from November 1945 and October 1946.

International Military Tribunal Nuremberg
International Military Tribunal Nuremberg

The London Charter, also known as the Nuremberg Charter, was a decree issued on 8 August 1945 by the European Advisory Commission that set out the legal basis for the procedures that would make up the Nuremberg Trials.

The charter stipulated that it was legal to try those associated with the Axis Powers in court. Additionally, it decreed that individuals could be tried for up to three categories of crime, including crimes against humanity, war crimes and crimes against the peace.

Article 8 of the charter also stated that it was legal for judges to disregard the use of an individual's official position as justification for any war crimes committed.

This legal jurisdiction was the result of the Instrument of Surrender of Germany, which had moved political and sovereign control of Germany across to the Allied Control Council following World War Two.

Many senior Nazi officials - including Adolf Hitler, Heinrich Himmler and Joseph Goebbels - were unable to be tried as they had committed suicide as the war drew to a close. However, 24 senior Nazi figures who had survived the war were the first to be tried at the Nuremberg Trials.

The International Military Tribunal put together four formal charges, with some or all of these were made against each of the 24 men. The four indictments were:

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

Each of the 24 men were either indicted but not convicted, indicted and found guilty or not charged. In total, two were not charged, three were acquitted, seven were given prison sentences ranging from 10 years to life and 12 were sentenced to death. Those with death sentences received their punishment on 16 October 1946 via hanging.

See also: Quotes from the Nuremberg Trial

The Doctors' Trial

The following table provides information about the 24 men, their role in the war and the outcome of their Nuremberg trials.

Senior Nazi industrialist; commanded the German Labour Front. Committed suicide before his verdict.
Name Information Sentence
Bormann, Martin Nazi Party Secretary after Hess fled Nazi Germany. Not at the trial and sentenced in his absence. Bormann was not charged with Indictment 2. Death
Dönitz, Karl Commander of Germany's U-boats and initiated wolf-pack tactics. From 1943 on, led Germany's Navy and succeeded Hitler on the death of the Führer. Dönitz was not charged with Indictment 4 10 years in prison.
Frank, Hans Ruled occupied Poland. Not charged with Indictment 2. Death
Frick, Wilhelm Hitler's Minister of the Interior. Death
Fritzsche, Hans Radio commentator under Hitler. Not charged with Indictment 4. Acquitted
Funk, Walter Hitler's Minister of Economics. Became head of the Reichsbank after Hjalmar Schacht. Released from prison in May 1957 as a result of ill-health. Life in prison
Göering, Hermann Commander of the Luftwaffe and various departments in the SS. Committed suicide just before his execution. Death
Hess, Rudolf Hitler's deputy before his flight to Scotland. Life in prison.
Jodl, Alfred Senior army commander. Posthumously pardoned in 1953. Death
Kaltenbrunner, Ernst Highest ranking member of SS to survive the war. Involved with the Einsatzgruppen units in Russia and security in Germany itself. Not charged with Indictment 2. Death
Keitel, Wilhelm Head of OKW Death
Krupp, Gustav Senior Nazi industrialist; medically unfit for trial. -----
Ley, Robert -----
Neurath, Konstantin Protector of Bohemia and Moravia. Released due to ill-health in November 1954. 15 years in prison.
Von Papen, Franz Had served as German chancellor prior to Hitler Acquitted
Raeder, Erich Led the German Navy up to 1943. Released from prison in September 1955 due to ill-health. Not charged with Indictment 4. Life in prison
Ribbentrop, Joachim Nazi Germany's Minister of Foreign Affairs Death
Rosenburg, Alfred Nazi racial ideologist and Protector of the eastern Occupied Territories. Death
Sauckel, Fritz Senior figure in the Nazi slave labour programme Death
Schacht, Hjalmar Pre-war president of the Reichsback. Not charged with Indictments 3 and 4. Acquitted
Schirach, Baldur von Head of the Hitler Youth and later Gauleiter of Vienna. Not charged with Indictments 2 and 3. 20 years in prison
Seysss-Inquart, Arthur Gauleiter of Holland Death
Speer, Albert Minister of Armaments. Not charged with Indictments 1 and 2. 20 years in prison
Streicher, Julius Not charged with Indictments 2 + 3. Found guilty of crimes against humanity. Editor of 'Der Stürmer'. Death

See also: Quotes from the Nuremberg Trials

MLA Citation/Reference

"Nuremberg War Crime Trials". HistoryLearning.com. 2019. Web.