Nazi criminals tried in Nuremberg, seventy years ago

This video says about itself:

Trailer to [the film] “Judgment at Nuremberg” starring Judy Garland, Spencer Tracy, Maximillian Schell, Burt Lancaster, Marlene Dietrich, Richard Widmark, Montgomery Clift and in a small role: a very young William Shatner.

By Verena Nees in Germany:

Seventy years since the Nuremberg Trials

3 December 2015

November 20 marked the seventieth anniversary of the commencement of the Nuremberg Trials. Twenty-one high-ranking Nazi officials were arraigned in courtroom 600 at the Judicial Palace in Nuremberg as defendants, accountable for unspeakable crimes and millions of deaths.

Hitler, Himmler and Goebbels were already dead, having avoided prosecution by suicide. Martin Bormann was not captured but was convicted in absentia. Two other Nazi officials who were initially charged, the leader of the German Labour Front Robert Ley and the arms baron Gustav Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach, were also not present. Ley committed suicide on the eve of the trial, while Krupp was senile, bedridden and incapable of standing trial.

However, the names of the major Nazi figures in the room were enough to send a shiver down the spine and underscore the significance of the trial. Alongside the second in command in the Nazi state, “Reichsmarshal” Hermann Göring sat the “deputy to the Führer,” Rudolf Hess, foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop, the supreme commander of the Wehrmacht, Wilhelm Keitel, the chief of the security police, Ernst Kaltenbrunner, the sadistic commander in occupied Poland, Hans Frank, the man responsible for the deportation of forced labourers, Fritz Sauckel, party ideologist and minister for the eastern region, Alfred Rosenberg, the editor of the Nazi newspaper Stürmer, Julius Streicher, and others.

Several events and exhibitions are recalling the first Nuremberg Trials, which lasted from November 20, 1945 until October 1, 1946 and concluded with a number of death sentences. The exhibition “Memorial to the Nuremberg Trials” invited three eyewitnesses to a podium discussion on 20 November. They had worked as an interpreter (George Sakheim), a guard to the chief defendant (Moritz Fuchs) and an assistant to the French judge (Eves Beigbeder). They described their experiences in detail.

George Sakheim, son of the Hamburg-based Jewish dramatist Arthur Sakheim, who grew up in exile in Palestine and New York, observed the Nazi criminals close up. He had to interpret during hearings and observed the questioning, including that of Göring. Göring sought to place all the blame on Hitler and portrayed himself as a “glamour boy,” as Fuchs put it.

Even today Sakheim remains taken aback by the appearance of Auschwitz Commandant Rudolf Höss. Ernst Kaltenbrunner’s lawyer called the mass murderer as a “witness for the defence,” and Sakheim had to interpret during the questioning. “A person so depraved and degenerate,” Sakheim said. “With an ice-cold tone, he described the most brutal and sadistic methods of extermination in Auschwitz, how he ordered tens of thousands killed daily.” And, he added, “at that time, I was only 22 years old. It was very difficult for me to take.”

When Sakheim later heard of the sentences, he, like the other two, felt tremendous relief. At least some of the most vicious Nazis had received a just punishment. Asked about his conclusions for today, Sakheim said, “Above all, I direct a warning to the youth: never allow such a dictatorship again. Make sure to stop it at an earlier stage.”

Memoriam for the Nuremberg Trials

The Memoriam exhibition, which opened in the same building five years ago, recalls the trial of the main war criminals. It provides extensive details on the course of the trial, the defendants and their lawyers, the witnesses and documents available to the court, and the international response. Original film from the trial shows how one defendant after the other stood up to declare they were not guilty. Two original benches can also be seen where the defendants sat.

The twelve subsequent trials are also documented, where doctors, jurists, businessmen like the heads of IG Farben, the generals and others were held to account, plus the Tokyo trials, where Japanese war criminals were tried.

A section of the room refers to how the Nazi past was dealt with in the Federal Republic (West Germany). Under the slogan “Victor’s justice,” journalists and politicians condemned the Nuremberg Trials, while the German judiciary blocked the further investigation of the Nazis’ crimes. Even by 1979, lifting the statute of limitation on Nazi murders passed the Bundestag only narrowly, with 255 parliamentary deputies in favour and 222 against. There were tumultuous scenes involving concentration camp survivors in the parliament’s public gallery.

Debate on statute of limitation in the German Bundestag 1979

The head of the exhibition, Henrike Claussen, and her education adviser Astrid Betz told the WSWS they had seen a growing numbers of visitors, including a rising number of youth. Over the five years, they had attracted 370,000 visitors. This was due to the current wars, said Betz, which, following the events in Ukraine, the refugee crisis and most recently the Paris attacks, “have come closer to us.” Claussen also noted, “The Nuremberg Trials are no longer just an historical event, not just history.”

Punished for a war of aggression

In fact, the Nuremberg trials had great historical significance. For the first time, politicians and military officers were held accountable for the crimes of a state in which they had played a major role. They were neither able to rely on national laws which legitimised their actions, nor on the orders of the government or their superiors. This stood in stark contrast to later legal decisions in the Federal Republic, which allowed numerous Nazis to remain free with the justification that they merely acted under orders.

Chief prosecutor Robert H. Jackson made his world-famous introductory speech on November 21, 1945, in which he explained, “The wrongs which we seek to condemn and punish have been so calculated, so malignant and so devastating that civilisation cannot tolerate their being ignored, because it cannot survive their being repeated.” He added, “We must never forget that the record on which we judge these defendants today is the record upon which history will judge us tomorrow.”

International law, which had applied since the adoption of the Hague Convention prior to World War I and aimed to punish “war crimes,” was expanded to include the following indictable offences in Nuremberg: “crimes against peace,” “crimes against humanity,” and “conspiracy to avoid prosecution for the named crimes.” These principles were agreed upon by representatives from the Soviet Union, the United States, Britain and France in the London Statute of August 8, 1945. After the trials, these offences were consolidated in the Nuremberg Principles, formulated by the United Nations Human Rights Commission on July 29, 1950.

This document for the first time declared the preparation and conducting of a war of aggression to be a crime under international law. Principle 6, section A, states, “The crimes hereinafter set out are punishable as crimes under international law:

“Crimes against peace

i. Planning, preparation, initiation or waging of a war of aggression or a war in violation of international treaties, agreements or assurances;

ii. Participation in a common plan or conspiracy for the accomplishment of any of the acts mentioned under (i).”

In the main Nuremberg Trial, after 218 days of hearings, the court handed down twelve death sentences, three sentences of life imprisonment, four long-term imprisonments and three further not guilty verdicts on October 1, 1946. Those sentenced to death were hung on October 16. Hermann Göring committed suicide in his cell just before his execution.

Between December 1946 and April 1949, there were 12 more trials. Unlike the initial trial, these took place exclusively before US military tribunals and the sentences handed down were significantly milder and only half-heartedly implemented.

The Nuremberg Principles were issued at the onset of the Cold War and were no longer observed in the wars and mass slaughters of that period. There were no international trials to investigate the crimes of the French or Americans in Vietnam, or to investigate the 1965-66 mass murder of workers and communists by the Indonesian dictator Suharto, who was backed by the western powers, to name just some examples.

Only in the 1990s did the UN take up some of the Nuremberg principles. However, with the establishment of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in 1993 and another for Rwanda in 1994, this was directed exclusively at regimes and autocratic rulers of the smaller countries, usually in Africa. The same applies to the International Criminal Court in The Hague, which operates independently of the UN. The Court was established by the Rome Statute of 1998, but powerful states like the United States, Russia, India, China and Israel refuse to recognise it. The greatest “success” it can boast of was the issuance of an arrest warrant against Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir for crimes against humanity.

The bloody “crimes against peace” of the past 15 years committed by the United States and European powers, with repeated wars of aggression and proxy wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria, which in all respects fulfill the criteria of Principle 6 (A), were not investigated in The Hague.

Nuremberg: Its Lesson for Today—the 1948 documentary restored: here.

See this video.


29 thoughts on “Nazi criminals tried in Nuremberg, seventy years ago

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  28. The International Institute for Middle East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES) from Ljubljana, Slovenia, regularly analyses developments in the Middle East and the Balkans. Wedyan Al Madani is Jeddah-based Legal Advisor and a Saudi scholar, specialist in international law and relations. In her comprehensive analysis entitled “Fundamental legacy of The Nuremberg and Tokyo Trials (1945-1948)” she is analysing the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials legacy and the influence of these trials on the development of international criminal law.

    Fundamental legacy of The Nuremberg and Tokyo Trials (1945-1948)

    These – rather unfortunate – days some voices in Europe are trying, in a quite ahistorical fashion, to question the very fundaments of the antifascist legacy. Dangerous and highly destructive equitation attempts are on the way. Still, this legacy is what finally made the Old continent human and peaceful – a role model to admire and for the rest of us to follow.

    These regrettable equitations make it worth to revisit the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials, which are essential pillars of the Human Rights charter brokered right after under the OUN auspices. Consequently, a very legacy of these trials is extraordinary and far reaching. It represents a core building material of the house called Modern Europe – something that the IFIMES Director Dr. Zijad Becirovic repeatedly stresses in his media appearance, as one of the bold but rather few voices of right direction and historical responsibility.

    Conclusively, the importance of tribunals is hard to overstate. Its reaffirmation today is needed like never since the end of the WWII.

    * * * *

    Noam Chomsky once said, “For the powerful, crimes are those that others commit.” This was not the case for Germany and Japan post-World War II. The victorious Allied powers established the first international criminal tribunals to prosecute political and military officials for war crimes and other atrocities committed during wartime. The four major Allied governments; the United States, the United Kingdom, France, and the Soviet Union, set up the International Military Tribunal (Nuremberg trials) in Nuremberg, Germany, to prosecute and punish the major war criminals of the European Axis.

    The tribunal presided over a combined trial of senior Nazi political and military leaders, as well as several Nazi organizations. The less-recognized International Military Tribunal for the Far East was created (Tokyo trials) in Tokyo, Japan, following the 1946 proclamation by Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers, U.S. Army General Douglas MacArthur. The tribunal presided over a series of trials of senior Japanese political and military leaders to prosecute and punish Far Eastern war criminals. The Nuremberg and Tokyo trials differed in several important aspects including their origins, compositions, and jurisdictions.

    The Allied powers established the policy that international tribunals in Europe and in the Far East after World War II would focus on, most importantly, a decision on individual criminal liability for crimes against peace. The Allied governments, and specifically the United States, sought after this policy as a solid step toward organizing an international legal system for discouraging future aggressors and averting the sort of war devastation that the Axis aggression had caused. This US-enlivened policy, first presented at Nuremberg, was repeated and pursued precisely at Tokyo. Luc Reydams and Jan Wouters argued that “The Nuremberg and Tokyo Charters were drafted by a handful of statesmen from the highest echelons of government for whom an international tribunal was not a goal unto itself, but a means to a very specific end.”[1] The Tokyo Charter, necessitated that the principal charges against the defendants be crimes against peace while deeming charges on war crimes and crimes against humanity as discretionary. Therefore, a great part of the court battles at Tokyo rotated around substantiating aggressive war charges, despite the fact that proof of Japanese wartime atrocities was, truth be told, likewise exhibited.

    In June 1945, the day of the signing of the United Nations Charter at the San Francisco Conference, delegations of the United States, the United Kingdom, France, and the Soviet Union, negotiated in London on the regulating principles for prosecuting war criminals. It is noteworthy that the respective heads of these delegations; Robert Jackson, David Maxwell Fyfe, General I.T. Nikitchenko, and Robert Falco later served in notable roles at the International Military Tribunal. Meeting in Potsdam to discuss the future of Germany and Europe, Truman, Churchill, and Stalin affirmed the London talks.

    In August 1945, the four major Allied governments signed the 1945 London Agreement, which established the International Military Tribunal. The Charter of the International Military Tribunal was adjoined to the London Agreement and defined the tribunal’s constitution, functions, and jurisdiction [2]. One judge from each of the Allied governments formed the Nuremberg tribunal, the Allied powers also supplied a team of prosecutors. The Nuremberg Charter also provided that the International Military Tribunal had the authority to prosecute and punish persons who committed any of the following crimes: Crimes Against Peace (planning and making war), War Crimes (responsibility for crimes during war), Crimes Against Humanity (racial persecution), and Conspiracy to Commit other Crimes.

    The tribunal held its opening session in the Palace of Justice in Nuremberg, and the trials lasted from November 1945 to October 1946. Twenty-two Nazi political and military leaders were indicted, including Hermann Goering, Rudolph Hess, Joachim von Ribbentrop, Alfred Rosenberg, and Albert Speer. The tribunal found nineteen individual defendants guilty and sentenced them to punishments that ranged from death by hanging to fifteen years of imprisonment. Three defendants were found that they are not guilty, one committed suicide before the trial, and one did not stand trial due to physical or mental illness.

    Unlike the International Military Tribunal, the International Military Tribunal for the Far East was not created by an international agreement, but it nonetheless emerged from international agreements to prosecute Japanese war criminals [3]. In July 1945, the United States, the United Kingdom, and China signed the Potsdam Declaration, in which they stated that “We do not intend that the Japanese shall be enslaved as a race or destroyed as a nation, but stern justice shall be meted out to all war criminals, including those who have visited cruelties upon our prisoners. The Japanese Government shall remove all obstacles to the revival and strengthening of democratic tendencies among the Japanese people. Freedom of speech, of religion, and of thought, as well as respect for the fundamental human rights shall be established.[4] ” and urged the Japanese government to, “proclaim now the unconditional surrender of all Japanese armed forces, and to provide proper and adequate assurances of their good faith in such action.”[5] The war in Europe had ended but the war with Japan was continuing at the time the Potsdam Declaration was signed. Nonetheless, the Potsdam Declaration was not signed by the Soviet Union because it did not declare war on Japan until the United States dropped the second atomic bomb on the city of Nagasaki [6] .

    Japan surrendered on the 14th of August 1945, six days later. Officials of the US State Department leaned toward holding an intergovernmental conference to establish special international tribunals, but the State-War-Navy Coordinating Committee came up with the plan to use the power of the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers, General Douglas MacArthur, mindful of the experience with the London Conference where Justice Robert Jackson had enormous difficulty coming to an agreement with other delegations on the Nuremberg Charter.

    At the following Moscow Conference, held in December 1945, the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union with affirmation from China agreed to a basic structure to occupy Japan. General MacArthur was granted authority to “issue all orders for the implementation of the Terms of Surrender, the occupation and control of Japan, and all directives supplementary thereto.[7]”

    In January 1946, General Douglas MacArthur issued a special proclamation to establish the International Military Tribunal for the Far East. The Charter for the International Military Tribunal for the Far East was adjoined to the proclamation. Similar to the Nuremberg Charter, it outlined the composition, functions, and jurisdiction of the tribunal. The Charter provided for General Douglas MacArthur to assign judges to the International Military Tribunal for the Far East from the countries that had signed Japan’s instrument of surrender: Australia, Canada, China, France, the Netherlands, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States, as well as British India and the Philippines. Each of these countries also had a team of prosecutors. As with the International Military Tribunal, the International Military Tribunal for the Far East had jurisdiction to prosecute individuals for Crimes Against Peace, War Crimes, and Crimes Against Humanity [8] . However, the International Military Tribunal for the Far East had jurisdiction over crimes that occurred over a greater period of time, from the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1931 to Japan’s surrender in 1945.

    The International Military Tribunal for the Far East oversaw the prosecution of twenty-five Japanese political and military leaders. The Emperor of Japan Hirohito and other members of the imperial family were not indicted. In fact, the Allied governments allowed Emperor Hirohito to retain his position on the throne, albeit with diminished status. The trials took place from May 1946 to November 1948. The International Military Tribunal for the Far East found all defendants guilty and sentenced them to punishments ranging from death to seven years’ imprisonment.

    The Nuremberg and Tokyo trials contributed significantly to the development of international criminal law and served as models for a new series of international criminal tribunals [9] that were established in the 1990s. Moreover, the reference to “crimes against peace,” “war crimes,” and “crimes against humanity” in the International Military Tribunal Charter represented the first time these terms were used and defined in an international instrument. These terms and definitions were also adopted in the Charter of the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, and have been depicted and expanded in a succession of international legal instruments since that time. The conclusions of the Nuremberg trials also served as models for the Genocide Convention 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948 and paved the way for the establishment of the International Criminal Court.

    In conclusion, the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials legacy itself is extraordinary, and its importance is hard to overstate. Nuremberg and the international community’s experience with the ad hoc tribunals demonstrate that international justice doesn’t have to be perfect to be good. Holding up Nuremberg to an impossible, imagined standard is neither fair nor productive.

    We cannot forget that the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials and, fifty years later, the establishment of the International Criminal Court aimed to safeguard peace in all regions of the world. The achievements of these great trials in elevating justice and law over inhumanity and war give promise for a better tomorrow by paving the way to deal with international crimes. Furthermore, the international system has made huge contributions to the birth and development of modern international law.

    About the author:
    Wedyan Al Madani is a Saudi scholar. She is Jeddah-based Legal Advisor, and specialist in international law and relations.

    [1] Reydams, L., Wouters, J., & Ryngaert, C. (2012). The Politics of Establishing International Criminal Tribunals. International Prosecutors, 6–80.
    [2] Bard, M. G. (2002). The Nuremberg trials. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven Press.
    [3] Piccigallo, P. R. (2011). The Japanese on Trial: Allied War Crimes Operations in the East, 1945-1951. Austin: University of Texas Press.
    [4]Carnegie Endowment for international peace. (n.d.). The Potsdam declaration: August 2, 1945. New York.
    [5]See as in reference 2.
    [6]See as in reference 1.
    [7] Taulbee, J. L. (2018). War Crimes and Trials: A Primary Source Guide. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, LLC.
    [8] United Nations, International Military Tribunal for the Far East (Tokyo Charter).
    [9] The former Yugoslavia in 1993 and Rwanda in 1994.


    Bard, M. G. (2002). The Nuremberg trials. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven Press.
    Brook, T. (2001). The Tokyo Judgment and the Rape of Nanking. The Journal of Asian Studies, 60(3), 673-700. doi:10.2307/2700106
    Carnegie Endowment for international peace. (n.d.). The Potsdam declaration: August 2, 1945. New York.
    Cho, J. M., Roberts, L. M., & Spang, C. W. (2016). Transnational encounters between Germany and Japan: perceptions of partnership in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan.
    Crawford, J. (2012). Brownlies Principles of Public International Law. Oxford University Press.
    Janis, M. W., & Noyes, J. E. (2006). Cases and commentary on international law. St. Paul, MN: Thomson/West.
    Piccigallo, P. R. (2011). The Japanese on Trial: Allied War Crimes Operations in the East, 1945-1951. Austin: University of Texas Press.
    Reydams, L., Wouters, J., & Ryngaert, C. (2012). The Politics of Establishing International Criminal Tribunals. International Prosecutors, 6–80. doi: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199554294.003.0002
    Taulbee, J. L. (2018). War Crimes and Trials: A Primary Source Guide. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, LLC.
    United Nations, the Charter of the International Military Tribunal (Nuremberg Charter) retrieved from:
    United Nations, International Military Tribunal for the Far East (Tokyo Charter) retrieved from:

    Ljubljana, 20 January 2020

    Link (ENG): (Research – Wedyan Al Madani: Fundamental legacy of The Nuremberg and Tokyo Trials (1945-1948)

    Link (ENG): (Research – Iran 2020: The assassination of Iranian General – the “Napoleon” of Iranian revolution)
    Link (BSH): (Analiza – Ubistvo iranskog generala – „Bonaparte“ Iranske revolucije)

    Link (ENG): (Research – Montenegro 2020: Will the Montenegrin Orthodox Church become a Greek Catholic Church?)
    Link (BSH): (Analiza – Crna Gora 2020: Da li će Crnogorska pravoslavna crkva postati unijatska crkva?)

    Link (ENG): International scientific journal “European Perspectives”

    Link (ENG): (IFIMES presentation film)

    IFIMES – The International Institute for Middle-East and Balkan Studies, based in Ljubljana, Slovenia, has a special consultative status with the Economic and Social Council ECOSOC/UN since 2018.


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