The Nuremberg War Crime Trials were held between 1945 to 1949. However, the most famous trials at Nuremberg were those of the major war criminals and these were held from November 20th, 1945 to October 1st, 1946. The trials at Nuremberg held after these dates were for the so-called lesser war criminals.
As the war reached its end in 1945, the Allies had become aware of appalling atrocities that had taken place in Eastern Europe – what was later called the Holocaust. The outrage caused by these appalling discoveries led to a clamour amongst the Allies that those responsible should be brought to account along with those in the Nazi hierarchy who had waged war in general.
After initial disagreements with regards to how the Allies should punish those responsible for war crimes,President Truman gave his full support for a judicial process whereby those arrested would stand trial in public for the allegations made against them. Those men on trial would be given the opportunity to defend themselves.
The legal basis for the trial was established by the ‘London Charter’ which was issued on August 8th, 1945. This charter restricted the first trials to major war criminals from the Axis nations only. Therefore, allegations of Allied war crimes could not be heard. The court could only hear allegations of war crimes from September 1st, 1939 on. The legal jurisdiction of the court came from the ‘Instrument of Surrender of Germany’ which had transferred political authority over Germany to the Allied Control Council which was given sovereign power over Germany.
The city of Nuremberg was chosen for the trials of the ‘major war criminals’. Nuremberg had witnessed the infamous Nazi Party rallies and by holding the trials there, it would emphasise the party’s end. Also the large Palace of Justice had been largely undamaged by Allied bombing and it contained a large prison within its complex.
The first trials at Nuremberg were for 24 senior Nazis. The International Military Tribunal formulated four indictments, all or some of which were made against all 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.
(Hitler, Himmler and Goebbels had committed suicide before the Trial. Eichmann had escaped to South America where he was captured, tried and executed in Israel in 1962, Heydrich had been assassinated in 1942)
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.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, WilhelmHitler’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 Einzatsgruppen 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 Senior Nazi industrialist; commanded the German Labour Front. Committed suicide before his verdict. —–
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 Acquited
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. Acquited
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
Details of the Trials, Interrogations and Testimonies, and Nazi Justice can be found on the Holocaust Research Project (see Summary Chart below)
The map shows how Germany was divided occupation zones at the end of WW2. In 1949 it was unified, excluding the Russian zone and known as East Germany, into the Federal Republic of Germany. They were combined n 1990.
So, the end of WW2 saw the need to decide under who’s law could Germans accused of war crimes be charged.
HISTORY CHANNEL, NUREMBERG TRIALS WORLD WAR II DOCUMENTARY History Documentary Films, 2016 (45.07)
NAZI LEADERS ON TRIAL - NUREMBERG, 1945 Historical Documentary_ WW2 Footages of War Crimes The Best Film Archives 2013, (1.14.57)
NUREMBERG (1996) Avicenna by Heider Jeffer (2.59.34)