Tuesday, October 16, 2018

The Nuremberg Trials

On October 16, 1946, ten leaders of the Nazi party were executed after the first of the twelve Nuremberg Trials sentenced them to death. The trials of over 100 defendants took place in Nuremberg, Germany, between 1945 and 1949.

In 1944 after the Allied invasion of Europe, when victory looked likely, various members of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Administration shared plans with the President on how to deal with Nazi war criminals. Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau proposed a plan including executing some immediately, banishing others, and that POWs would be forced to rebuild Europe. Secretary of War Henry Stimson advocated for the plan that led to the trials, which FDR endorsed. Eventually, at their famous Yalta summit, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and Soviet Chairman Stalin endorsed the trials as well.

On May 2, 1945, several months after the sudden death of President Roosevelt, and two days after Adolph Hitler committed suicide, President Truman appointed Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, Robert Jackson, to serve as chief prosecutor for the United States at the trials. Justice Jackson convinced his colleagues from other countries to prosecute the Nazis based on “acts which have been regarded as criminal since the time of Cain and have been so written in every civilized code.” Jackson and his colleagues agreed that the court would be called the International Military Tribunal, consisting of a judge from each country.

Jackson wanted the trials to take place in Germany, but, as a result of the war, few German cities had courthouses that were still standing. They chose Nuremberg, where Hitler held many rallies and where the infamous Nuremberg Laws were enacted, which denied Jews property rights and civil rights. 

In Jackson’s opening statement, he stated, “The wrongs which we seek to condemn and punish have been so calculated, so malignant, and so devastating that civilization cannot tolerate their being ignored because it cannot survive their being repeated.” 

On October 16, 1946, ten convicted Nazi war criminals were hanged: Hans Frank, Wilhelm Frick, Alfred Jodl, Ernst Kaltenbrunner, Wilhelm Keitel, Joachim Von Ribbentrop, Alfred Rosenberg, Fritz Sauckel, Arhtur Seyss-Inquart and Julius Streicher. Herman Goring committed suicide the night before his execution and Martin Bormann was sentenced to death in abstentia. 


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