Nuremberg Trial of the Major War Criminals

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Eight of the 24 main defendants in Nuremberg: Göring , Heß , von Ribbentrop , Keitel (front row from left), Dönitz , Raeder , von Schirach and Sauckel (behind)
Trial room (September 30, 1946): the changed arrangement of the bench on the right; graphics and films were shown on the front wall of the hall, seating for the witness; on the left the bank of the defendants and their lawyers. In the foreground the tables of the plaintiffs, from left to right: Fr, USSR, USA, GB. The photo was taken from the press gallery on the upper floor.

In the Nuremberg Trials of the Major War Criminals and the Nuremberg Trials of Major War Criminals , after the Second World War, German politicians, the military and Nazi functionaries were criminally prosecuted for the first time for planning, preparing, initiating and conducting a war of aggression , crimes against the civilian population and prisoners of war and for mass murder in the extermination camps held accountable. Of the twenty-four defendants, twelve were sentenced to death and seven to imprisonment, and three were acquitted. Two cases were dropped without conviction.

This trial was the first of the thirteen Nuremberg trials . The trial took place before a specially by the victorious powers set up ad hoc Criminal Court , the International Military Tribunal (IMG; English International Military Tribunal , IMT ), instead. It lasted from November 20, 1945 to October 1, 1946 and took place in the Palace of Justice on Fürther Strasse in the city of Nuremberg . The defendants and numerous witnesses were imprisoned in the adjacent Nuremberg cell prison.

The follow-up litigation against doctors , lawyers and business leaders, among others , also took place in Nuremberg, the city of the NSDAP - Nazi party rallies . Because of the beginning of the Cold War , the IMG was no longer involved, but US military courts.

For the law of war , the International Military Tribunal and on 19 January 1946 were International Military Tribunal for the Far East established International Military Tribunal for the Far East a novelty. The special Allied court provided for in the Treaty of Versailles for the indictment of the former German Emperor Wilhelm II . B. because of the violation of the neutrality treaty with Belgium ( Rape of Belgium ) did not come about after the First World War . Only military criminal proceedings had taken place before national courts, such as the Leipzig trials in Germany. At the same time, after the Second World War, the International Military Tribunals were the forerunners of the International Criminal Court (ICC) established in The Hague in 2002 .

The verdicts at the Nuremberg Trials of Major War Criminals overcame the prevailing view that war was the continuation of politics by other means .


After recurring reports of "war crimes" and "atrocities", the allies of the anti-Hitler coalition and all countries affected by World War II agreed that people from the ranks of the Nazi state should be punished. In October 1941, Churchill and Roosevelt declared that prosecuting Nazi crimes was one of their main war objectives. In the Moscow Declaration of November 1943, the three main allies, England, America and the Soviet Union, agreed that war criminals should be tried in the states where they had committed their crimes (atrocities, massacres and executions). For so-called major criminals from the leadership circle, whose crimes could not be assigned to a particular geographical location, the punishment after the end of the war should be determined by a joint declaration by the Allies. There were different opinions as to who should be responsible for which actions and how.

The UNWCC , in which the Soviet Union did not participate and which was supposed to absorb the persecution pressure of the smaller countries from the St. James Declaration , collected cases of war crimes from 1943 and developed concepts for the legal prosecution of the main war criminals, which, however, did not come to a decision. since Roosevelt and Churchill did not prioritize the subject. Meanwhile, as the main victim of the barbaric Barbarossa campaign with the war crimes trials in Krasnodar and Kharkov , the Soviet Union had signaled that it would be interested in a legal appraisal that would attract the public.

When Churchill and Roosevelt approved Treasury Secretary Morgenthau's proposal for the summary shooting of the main war criminals at the Montreal Conference and leading UNWCC members resigned at about the same time, a controversy arose in the United States with the War Department under Henry Stimson during the ongoing presidential election campaign had long campaigned for the further development of international law . After a fierce controversy, the Montreal decision was not pursued any further and the main war criminals were to be tried.

After Truman took office, the United States took the initiative to come to terms with the Soviet Union, France and the United Kingdom. At the conference in San Francisco at the beginning of May 1945, the proposal was made to bring the main war criminals who had not yet been named before an international military tribunal of the four victorious powers. After the Soviet period of reflection, the leading lawyers exchanged views on how to proceed.

This paved the way for a regular trial, for which the International Military Tribunal was set up. He was supposed to investigate, prove and punish the planning and conduct of a war of aggression, war crimes, crimes against the civilian population in the occupied territories as well as the atrocities in the concentration and extermination camps of the National Socialists.

The London Four Power Agreement of August 8, 1945, which codified the legal basis of the trial for the prosecution of major war criminals and of which the Statute of the Military Tribunal is part, was not only signed by the USA, Great Britain, France and the USSR. Even Greece , Denmark , Yugoslavia , the Netherlands , the Czechoslovakia , Poland , Belgium , Ethiopia , Australia , Honduras , Norway , Luxembourg , Haiti , New Zealand , India , Venezuela , Uruguay and Panama joined the agreement.

The process

East building of the Nuremberg Palace of Justice (2007)

The Soviet Union wanted to have the trials carried out in Berlin , but what spoke in favor of Nuremberg was that the Palace of Justice had remained largely undamaged and a large prison, the Nuremberg cell prison , was directly adjacent. Also, Nuremberg was the city of the Nazi Party - the party rallies have been, and thus it was also of symbolic importance to make the leading Nazis just at this location the process. The indictment, which had been signed by the prosecutors of the four Allied powers on October 6, 1945, was handed over on October 18, 1945 in the building of the Allied Control Council at the only meeting in Berlin. The actual court hearings, however, began on November 20, 1945 in Nuremberg. On September 30th and October 1st, 1946, the judgments were pronounced there.

The judge

On the bench sat:

  1. Francis Beverley Biddle and John Johnston Parker (USA),
  2. Iona Nikittschenko and Alexander Wolchkov (USSR),
  3. Sir Geoffrey Lawrence and Norman Birkett (Great Britain) as well
  4. Henri Donnedieu de Vabres and Robert Falco (France).

The court was chaired by the Briton Lawrence, who is known for his prudence, and Nikittschenko opened the first session of the court in the Supreme Court building in Berlin.

The accusers

Robert H. Jackson as US chief prosecutor in Nuremberg

The four main prosecutors, who also signed the indictment, were

  1. Robert H. Jackson (USA),
  2. Roman Rudenko (USSR),
  3. Sir Hartley Shawcross (Great Britain) and
  4. François de Menthon , after his resignation Auguste Champetier de Ribes (France).

They made use of an extensive legal staff to represent the prosecution and move the process forward quickly.

The charges

The four charges were

  1. Elaboration and execution of a joint plan ( conspiracy ) for the commission of crimes against peace, martial law and humanity (basis: Article 6, especially 6a of the Statute).
  2. Participation in the planning, preparation, unleashing and conducting of wars of aggression that violate international treaties, agreements and assurances (basis: Article 6a of the Statute).
  3. War crimes ( stricto sensu ) were crimes against members of enemy troops and the civilian population of the occupied territories (basis: Article 6, especially 6b of the Statute). Crimes before the start of the war or against the civilian population of the Axis powers were not included.
  4. Under crimes against humanity the murder and persecution of political opponents and the murder, extermination, fell enslavement , deportation and other inhumane acts against civilian populations before or during the war (based on Article 6, particularly 6c of the Statute).

Point 1 contains a list of the takeover of power by the National Socialists and the transformation of Germany into a totalitarian dictatorship and war preparations as well as the breach of numerous international treaties and occupations of neighboring countries. Point 2 adds further wars. Under point 3 the crimes against the civilian population were charged; the crimes of the Holocaust were tried on the fourth count. Some of the crimes of the Holocaust, such as the murder of German Jews on Polish territory, are not only a crime against humanity, but also a war crime.

The four allies split the charges shortly after the London conference. The Soviets and the French had taken on the war crimes and crimes against humanity in Eastern and Western Europe, the British took on the charge of war of aggression, and the Americans took care of the plan for a joint "Nazi conspiracy" and charges against so-called criminal organizations. The American chief prosecutor Jackson, based on his experience from American antitrust proceedings, concentrated the evidence primarily on documentary evidence rather than on media-effective but vulnerable testimony. The indictment was backed up with around 4,000 documents, mainly from German archives, in order to prove "unbelievable events through evidence". The Soviet plan to conduct a show trial at an early stage produced an extraordinary amount of evidence, which the Russian prosecutor around Rudenko had at their disposal through the work of the Extraordinary State Commission .

The defendants

When selecting the defendants, the first problem was who could actually be considered. Adolf Hitler and Joseph Goebbels were dead, as were Heinrich Himmler and Reinhard Heydrich . While the British wanted to keep the group of accused small out of a deeply rooted skepticism against a legal solution, the Americans, French and Russians insisted on indicting a number of high-ranking military and business leaders. The availability of the accused and their representativeness played a major role in the selection, and on August 29, a joint list of 24 people was agreed. In the case of Krupp there was a mix-up. Instead of Alfried Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach , his father, Gustav Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach , who was meanwhile incapable of negotiating, ended up on the indictment list and was therefore acquitted. Alfried Krupp was indicted in the Nuremberg Krupp Trial and convicted in July 1948.

The American psychologist Gustave Mark Gilbert determined the intelligence quotients given in the following table using the Wechsler-Bellevue intelligence test . To clarify the personality structure, Gilbert carried out the Rorschach test and the thematic perception test with 16 defendants .

Overview of the accused
image Defendant IQ defender Charges Guilty in judgment annotation
Bundesarchiv Bild 183-R14128A, Martin Bormann.jpg Martin Bormann
head of the party chancellery
Friedrich Bergold 1,3,4 3.4 Death by hanging in absence (actually already dead)
Nazi Personalities- Grand Admiral Karl Doenitz (1891-1984) A14899.jpg Karl Dönitz
Commander of the U-Boats ,
from 1943 Commander in Chief of the Navy
138 Otto Kranzbühler 1,2,3 2.3 10 years imprisonment imprisoned until 1956
Federal Archives Picture 146-1989-011-13, Hans Frank.jpg Hans Frank
Governor General in the General Government of Poland
130 Alfred Seidl 1,3,4 3.4 Death by hanging executed on October 16, 1946
Wilhelm Frick 72-919.jpg Wilhelm Frick
Reich Minister of the Interior
124 Otto Pannenbecker 1,2,3,4 2,3,4 Death by hanging executed on October 16, 1946
Hans Fritzsche12.jpg Hans Fritzsche Reich Ministry of
130 Heinz Fritz 1,3,4 - acquittal Subsequently sentenced to 9 years of forced labor in a German court proceedings ; amnestied in 1950
Waltherfunk45.jpg Walther Funk
Minister of Economics and
President of the Reichsbank
124 Fritz Sauter 1,2,3,4 2,3,4 life imprisonment pardoned in 1957
Göring Detention Report mugshots (cropped) .jpg Hermann Göring
Reich Aviation Minister and
Plenipotentiary Four-Year Plan
138 Otto Stahmer 1,2,3,4 1,2,3,4 Death by hanging Suicide on October 15, 1946
Bundesarchiv Bild 146II-849, Rudolf Heß.jpg Rudolf Hess
deputy leader
120 Günther von Rohrscheid ,
Alfred Seidl
1,2,3,4 1.2 life imprisonment Suicide on August 17, 1987 (in custody)
Alfred Jodl USA-E-Ardennes-2.jpg Alfred Jodl
Chief of the Wehrmacht Command Staff
127 Franz Exner ,
Hermann Jahrreiß
1,2,3,4 1,2,3,4 Death by hanging executed on October 16, 1946
Ernst Kaltebrunner in Nurnberg.jpg Ernst Kaltenbrunner
Chief of the Security Police and the SD ,
Head of the Reich Security Main Office
113 Kurt Kaufmann 1,3,4 3.4 Death by hanging executed on October 16, 1946
Bundesarchiv Bild 183-H30220, Wilhelm Keitel.jpg Wilhelm Keitel
High Command of the Wehrmacht
129 Dr. Otto Nelte 1,2,3,4 1,2,3,4 Death by hanging executed on October 16, 1946
Bundesarchiv Bild 102-12331, Gustav Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach.jpg Gustav Krupp von Bohlen and Halbach
1,2,3,4 - - Discontinuation of proceedings for health reasons
Bundesarchiv Bild 183-2008-0922-501, Robert Ley.jpg Robert Ley
Head of the German Labor Front
1,2,3,4 - - Suicide on October 25, 1945
Konstantin von Neurath crop.jpg Konstantin von Neurath
Reich Protector in Bohemia and Moravia
125 Otto von Lüdinghausen 1,2,3,4 1,2,3,4 15 years imprisonment pardoned in 1954
Vonpapen1.jpg Franz von Papen
Vice Chancellor and Diplomat
134 Egon Kubuschok 1.2 - acquittal Subsequently sentenced to 7 years of forced labor in a German court proceedings; released early in January 1949
Erich Raeder.jpg Erich Raeder
Commander-in-Chief of the Navy
134 Walter Siemers 1,2,3 1,2,3 life imprisonment pardoned in 1955
GERibbentrop.jpg Joachim von Ribbentrop
Reich Foreign Minister
129 Fritz Sauter,
Martin Horn
1,2,3,4 1,2,3,4 Death by hanging executed on October 16, 1946
Bundesarchiv Bild 183-1985-0723-500, Alfred Rosenberg.jpg Alfred Rosenberg
Reich Minister for Eastern Territories
127 Alfred Thoma 1,2,3,4 1,2,3,4 Death by hanging executed on October 16, 1946
Fritz Sauckel2.jpg Fritz Sauckel
General Representative for Labor Deployment
118 Robert Servatius 1,2,3,4 3.4 Death by hanging executed on October 16, 1946
HSchacht.jpg Hjalmar Schacht
Reichsbank President and
Reich Economics Minister
143 Rudolf Dix 1.2 - acquittal
Joachim von Ribbentrop and Baldur von Schirach crop.jpg Baldur von Schirach Reich Youth Leader
130 Fritz Sauter 1.4 4th 20 years imprisonment imprisoned until 1966
Inquart crop.jpg Arthur Seyß-Inquart
Reichsstatthalter Austria
from 1940 Reichskommissar Netherlands
141 Gustav Steinbauer 1,2,3,4 2,3,4 Death by hanging executed on October 16, 1946
Albert-Speer-72-929.jpg Albert Speer
Minister of Armaments
128 Hans Flächsner 1,2,3,4 3.4 20 years imprisonment imprisoned until 1966
Julius Streicher 72-920 crop.jpg Julius Streicher
publisher Der Stürmer
106 Hans Marx 1.4 4th Death by hanging executed on October 16, 1946
(1) conspiracy, (2) crimes against peace, (3) war crimes, (4) crimes against humanity

Tracking down the defendants

Speer, Dönitz and Jodl immediately after their arrest at the Flensburg Police Department , where the scheduled press took photos (May 23, 1945)

In the chaos of the collapse it was not easy to find the later defendants. Adolf Hitler and Joseph Goebbels had committed suicide before the end of the war . Heinrich Himmler was arrested by the British during a check in May 1945, despite well forged papers, and committed suicide a few days later in Lüneburg . Hess had been in British captivity since his “England flight” in May 1941. Streicher had disguised himself as a painter and was arrested by US soldiers in Waidring at the end of May 1945 following information from the population . Schirach, who was believed to be dead, initially went into hiding in Tyrol , but turned himself in at the beginning of June 1945. At the beginning of May 1945, Göring was taken prisoner by the 7th US Army in Austria with his family and 17 trucks full of luggage . Von Papen was tracked down by US soldiers in a hunting lodge near Meschede at the beginning of April 1945 . Frank was arrested by American soldiers in Neuhaus am Schliersee in early May 1945 . Kaltenbrunner was arrested by US soldiers on May 12, 1945 in the Wildenseehütte near Altaussee . Seyß-Inquart was arrested by members of the Canadian armed forces in The Hague in May 1945 . Bormann, who disappeared, was negotiated in absentia . In the special section Mürwik in Flensburg , while the in May 1945 last imperial government had withdrawn, several defendants were arrested. Rosenberg was discovered on May 18, 1945 in the local marine hospital in Flensburg-Mürwik . On May 23, the last Reich government with Dönitz, Jodl and Speer was arrested in the Mürwik special area. Ribbentrop, who had also gone to Mürwik at the end of the war , previously went into hiding in Hamburg, where he was finally arrested in June 1945. Only in 1998 could a DNA analysis prove beyond any doubt that the skeleton found in 1972 near the Lehrter train station in Berlin was Bormann's corpse and that he was therefore already dead before the end of the war.


Volume 1 to Volume 23 (of 42), in English

The trial was conducted along the lines of the American criminal trial. After the indictment had been read out, the defendants were asked individually whether they plead guilty or not guilty (all pleaded not guilty). In addition, the cross-examination typical of the American trial was practiced, in which the defendants could also take the stand. Documents and documents (incriminating as well as exonerating) were translated or interpreted into the four working languages ​​English, French, Russian and German. A total of 240 witnesses were heard and 300,000 affidavits were compiled; the minutes of the meeting are 16,000 pages long.


Ohlendorf giving testimony (January 3, 1946)

Thirty-three prosecution witnesses appeared before the court, nineteen defendants and 61 witnesses were called to the stand by the defense, and over a hundred written testimony were presented. Rudolf Höß , the camp commandant of the Auschwitz concentration camp , surprisingly testified as a witness for the defense that around 2.5 million victims were gassed during his time in Auschwitz and no fewer than 500,000 died of malnutrition and disease. Erich von dem Bach-Zelewski , Otto Ohlendorf (commander of Einsatzgruppe D), Dieter Wisliceny (co-organizer of the deportations of Jews in Greece and Hungary), Walter Schellenberg (Heydrich's employee), Friedrich Paulus (Stalingrad commander and as chief quartermaster of the Wehrmacht in the development of the plans for involved in the attack on Russia ), Wolfram Sievers (jointly responsible for human experiments in concentration camps ), Erwin von Lahousen ( defense officer and member of the resistance), Karl Bodenschatz (former adjutant von Göring), Albert Kesselring (high air force officer and commander in chief in Italy during hostage shootings), Erhard Milch (as general air master for the use of forced labor in the armaments industry) and Erich Buschenhagen (general involved in the planning of the war with Finland) were important witnesses.

Other witnesses included a .: Marie-Claude Vaillant-Couturier testified in great detail about the crimes in Auschwitz, Alfred Balachowsky had access to the archive on the human experiments in the Buchenwald concentration camp , Jaccobus Vorrink (party leader of the Dutch socialists) reported on the Nazification and the persecution for political, racial reasons and religious reasons in the Netherlands, Professor Van der Essen from the Belgian University of Leuven testified about the persecution in Belgium, Joseph Orbeli about the willful bombardment of the Hermitage in Saint Petersburg , Jacob Gigoriev about the massacre in the village of Kusnezovo, the Orthodox priest Nikolai Lomakin about the wanton bombardment of churches and monasteries especially on holidays, Samuel Rajzman that three daily deportation trains in Treblinka arrived, the inmates were killed, the surviving Severina Schmaglevska of Auschwitz-Birkenau on the murder of Jewish children and the abduction of non-Jewish children, Abraham Sutzkever practice r the complete destruction of the Vilna ghetto with around 80,000 dead, Birger Dahlerus on Göring's attempts to mediate before the outbreak of war, Max Wielen on the murders of the pilots of Stalag Luft III , Hans Bernd Gisevius on the cooperation with Schacht in collecting incriminating material for the Gestapo and the SS .

The defence

Defense lawyers were chosen by the defendants themselves or appointed by the military tribunal at their request. The military tribunal appointed defense lawyers for the defendant Bormann, who was absent, and to represent the groups and organizations charged. At the beginning of the trial, all defense counsel submitted a joint memorandum that questioned the legal basis of the trial. In particular, it was about the criminality of "unleashing the unjust war". The defense asserted that "as far as crimes against peace are concerned, [...] the current trial [has] no legal basis in international law, but rather a process [is] based on a new criminal law, a criminal law, that was only created after the act ”. The presiding judge of the International Military Tribunal, Sir Geoffrey Lawrence, rejected this request on the grounds that in the Briand-Kellogg Pact of 1928, 15 states, including Germany, spoke out in favor of outlawing war as an “instrument of national policy” and interstate Resolving conflicts only “by peaceful means”.

The majority of the defendants admitted that horrific crimes had been committed, but claimed that they personally acted in good faith. Many declared that they only acted according to orders , although this was not a reason for exclusion under the statutes of the court.

Only the defenders of Streicher, Funk and Schacht demanded acquittals for their clients.

Use of documentary recordings

The Soviet delegation showed documentaries of the Extraordinary Commissions for the Establishment of the Fascist Atrocities like “Auschwitz”, “Majdanek”, “The Destruction of Smolensk”, “The Destruction of Cultural Buildings and Art” and the “Destruction of Churches and Monasteries” and a German one Film about the destruction of the Czech Lidice was shown to the court. The American prosecutors showed the films Nazi Concentration Camp and The Nazi Plan . With these films of evidence, the prosecution wanted to clarify the nature and extent of the crime dimension, which could neither be adequately represented legally nor put into language. The films were supposed to be read as prima facie evidence of the guilt of the accused main criminals and at the same time serve to re- educate the Germans.

The Prosecution's Opinion

The French and Soviet indictments called for the death penalty for all defendants. The British prosecutor called for different verdicts for the defendants, while the American prosecutor did not make a clear recommendation.

Judgment and Enforcement

Spandau War Crimes Prison, 1951

A conviction of the accused required a majority of three votes from four judges who voted in favor. On September 30 and October 1, 1946, 12 of the 24 defendants were sentenced to death after almost a year of trial ; seven defendants received long or life sentences. Three defendants were acquitted: In the Schacht and von Papen cases, a stalemate (2: 2) among the judges led to the acquittal; Only the Soviet judge Nikittschenko spoke out in favor of punishing the defendant Fritzsche. According to Article 26 of the London Statute, the judgment was final and not subject to appeal.

With the exception of Speer and Kaltenbrunner, all of the other convicts submitted requests for clemency to the military government for Germany, the Allied Control Council . These were refused.

Of the twelve death sentences, ten were carried out on October 16, 1946 between 1:00 and 2:57 a.m. in the Nuremberg cell prison. Goering had committed suicide using a cyanide capsule less than three hours earlier . Bormann had been convicted in absentia. The executions were carried out by the American executioner John C. Woods , assisted by Joseph Malta and Rex Morgan, in the prison gymnasium. All corpses were cremated under Morgan's direction in the municipal crematorium at Munich's Ostfriedhof and their ashes were scattered in the Wenzbach , a small tributary of the Isar . Those sentenced to prison terms initially stayed in Nuremberg and in 1947 were transferred to the Berlin war crimes prison Spandau , which was guarded by Allied troops.

Criminal organizations

Articles 9 and 10 enabled the court, upon application of the prosecution, to declare a group or organization a criminal organization so that members of that organization could be tried and convicted of membership in a criminal organization under Control Council Act No. 10 in a military or occupation court without an individual crime having to be proven. Since such a far-reaching finding could cause great injustice, the court should only use it if it was ensured that it would not punish innocent people.

The prosecution asked the court to declare the following groups of people to be criminal organizations:

The ruling classed the corps of political leaders of the NSDAP , the Secret State Police (Gestapo), the Security Service (SD) and the Schutzstaffel (SS) as criminal organizations . The Reich Government , the General Staff and the High Command of the Wehrmacht (OKW) were not included. This decision was justified, among other things, with the argument that with the manageable number of people, personal guilt could only be determined in individual proceedings. The SA was not classified as a criminal organization because its members were not involved in criminal activities "in general" after 1939.

The group of people who were now considered members of a criminal organization was further narrowed down in the judgment. Functionaries of the NSDAP were affected from the district leader onwards, provided that they were in office after September 1, 1939. Members of the Secret State Police and the Security Service who were engaged in pure office work, porter services and the like were exempt from the verdict. In the SS, those who had been forcibly conscripted or who had not participated in crimes were not affected.

Judgments on criminal organizations
organization defender judgment annotation
Reich Cabinet Egon Kubuschok not a criminal organization Reason: group of people small enough for individual proceedings; no longer active after 1937
Leadership Corps of the NSDAP Robert Servatius criminal organization Group of people restricted to Reich leadership, district leadership and district leadership;
only for membership after September 1, 1939
SS and SD Ludwig Babel (for SS / SD),
Horst Pelckmann and Carl Haensel (for the SS),
Hans Gawlik (for the SD)
criminal organization only for membership after September 1, 1939;
not Reiter-SS ,
SA Georg Boehm and Rudolf Aschenauer  ;
Martin Löffler Defense Counsel Reiter-SA
not a criminal organization Reason: meaningless after Röhm Putsch
Secret State Police (Gestapo) Rudolf Merkel criminal organization not office workers, messengers and porters;
only for membership after September 1, 1939
General Staff and
High Command of the Wehrmacht
Franz Exner , Hans Laternser not a criminal organization Reason: group of people small enough for individual proceedings

Leadership of the armed forces

Under the generic term “General Staff and OKW” the prosecution had indicted the leadership of the Wehrmacht, a list of 130 named officers who were temporarily employed between February 1938 and the end of the war in the OKW, in the high command of the army , the navy , the air force or as commander in chief of troops Had done service. All of them have been charged as a "criminal organization". The court came to the conclusion that neither the General Staff nor the OKW were an “organization” or a “group” within the meaning of the court statutes and, for this formal reason, did not declare them to be “criminal organizations”. However, this was not an acquittal, but the court emphasized the guilt of the Wehrmacht leadership for the crimes of the Wehrmacht and decided that individual proceedings should be carried out to punish them. However, this decision was reinterpreted by the former professional soldiers of the Wehrmacht as an “acquittal of the Wehrmacht itself by the victorious justice ” and thus propagated in public under the term “ clean Wehrmacht ”.

Use of interpreters to carry out the process

Operation of the voice transmission

The Nuremberg Trials are considered to be the hour of birth of modern interpreting , especially simultaneous interpreting , because technically new territory was broken with the implementation of the proceedings before the International Military Tribunal. For the first time in history, large-scale interpreters were licensed for a trial, mainly because their work, simultaneous interpreting, was essential to the process. Consecutive interpreting , which was customary up to this point, would have unreasonably prolonged the process for all parties involved.

The company IBM provided a special simultaneous interpreting system for the processes free of charge, which was then called Speech Translator . The system was already twenty years old at the time and therefore a bit out of date. Technical malfunctions were not uncommon. It was a glazed booth open at the top for three interpreters each. The interpreters were able to use different colored lamps to signal the respective speaker to “speak more slowly”, “speak more clearly” (especially to Fritz Sauckel ), “repeat passage” and “interrupt speech”.

For each of the four working languages ​​there were three teams of interpreters, each with twelve interpreters. They interpreted without interruption for the entire duration of the trial, both for the court and for the defendants, prosecutors, defense counsel and witnesses.

Various interpreters later processed their impressions of the Nuremberg Trials in books. B. the then chief interpreter of the prosecution Richard W. Sonnenfeldt and the writer Wolfgang Hildesheimer .


Trial record and documents in 42 volumes of the blue series in the German version 1947 to 1949

At the conclusion of the trial, in which large quantities of incriminating material were presented on each of the accused, documenting complicity and complicity in the most serious crimes, the accused were given the opportunity to make a final statement. In these explanations there are already many formulas that were used in the post-war period for German self-relief in the so-called coming to terms with the past . Own responsibility was denied or diminished with these formulas: "Abused soldierly loyalty" (Keitel), "tragic German idealism" (Fritzsche, Dönitz), "godless society" (Frank), "apolitical official duty" (Frick), "cold technocratic Modern "(Speer). Goering claimed that the crimes had been covered up and that he condemned “these horrific mass murders in the strongest possible way”. Seyss-Inquart set off the wars of aggression of the German Reich against the resolutions of the Tehran Conference on the territorial division of Eastern Europe .

Special edition of the Süddeutsche Zeitung on the pronouncement of the verdict (October 1, 1946)

The process was public from the start. Around 250 newspaper and radio reporters from around the world were accredited. Only holders of a foreign passport or stateless persons were admitted . Among them were many well-known writers and journalists, for example: Louis Aragon , Willy Brandt , Alfred Döblin , Jan Drda , Ilja Ehrenburg , Konstantin Fedin , Janet Flanner , František Gel , Martha Gellhorn , Ernest Hemingway , Robert Jungk , Erich Kästner , Alfred Kerr , Erika Mann , Peter de Mendelssohn , Victoria Ocampo , John Dos Passos , Boris Nikolajewitsch Polewoi , Gregor von Rezzori , Gitta Sereny , William L. Shirer , John Steinbeck , Elsa Triolet , Nora Waln , Rebecca West and Markus Wolf . In addition, leading political figures from Germany were invited so that they could gain an impression of the content and course of the process. Political parties could alternately occupy 8 seats. The process was also documented on film and photos.

After the trial was over, the American government published the full minutes in authentic English text in 1949–1953, including the statutes and some documents. This 15-volume edition of the “Green Series” is still one of the most important collections of sources on Nazi history. It remained largely unknown in Germany in the 1950s. During this time only one book with material from the Nuremberg Trials was printed in Germany. It contained the defense speeches of attorney Heinrich Laternser from the OKW trial. In addition, the so-called line-of-mind mentality prevailed. It was not until the early 1960s that the East Berlin publishing house Rütten & Loening published the judgments made in the follow-up trials with a polemical foreword under the sign of the East-West conflict. This ignoring the Nuremberg Trials as part of a great collective repression was what Ralph Giordano described as the “ second guilt of the Germans”.

Since November 21, 2010, the former courtroom has been part of the Nuremberg City Museum on the proceedings and procedural objectives Memorium Nuremberg Trials .

Planned second process

A second international trial against major war criminals was planned. In particular, France wanted to encourage the criminal prosecution of its own economic collaborators by convicting German arms manufacturers, and the Soviets took the view that Hitler would have been an instrument of German banks and industrialists. Even Jackson stood against resistance in the US to the project and the British chief prosecutor Hartley Shawcross agreed to the British participation in the process. For various reasons, such as lack of money and resources, political mistrust of the left-wing French government and the Soviets, instead, according to Control Council Act No. 10 , negotiations were held before American tribunals in the Nuremberg follow-up trials against leading figures from Krupp , IG Farben and Thyssen .


The results of the process are still of paramount importance for both historical research and international law. The legal principles were reapplied and confirmed in the Tokyo process . In UN Resolution 95 of 1946, the UN General Assembly confirmed the principles applied in the process and, in compliance with Resolution 177 of November 1947, a commission elaborated the Nuremberg Principles , which, although not codified, represented the state of customary international law. In 1954, the first draft of the Codification of the Crimes against Peace and Security was presented, followed by more in 1991, 1994 and 1996. On the basis of international treaties, customary international law was improved in 1948 by the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide and four Geneva Conventions from 1948. The Nuremberg criminal offenses were thereby consolidated without there being an international judicial instance to apply them. At the beginning of the 1990s, after the Cold War, the international ad-hoc criminal courts for Yugoslavia and Rwanda were established . With the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court of 1998 the basis for the permanent court in The Hague was created.

In retrospect, the Nuremberg Trials present themselves as the hour of birth of international criminal law , which makes individuals criminally responsible for state actions and rejects government immunity.


  • The American military pastors Henry F. Gerecke and Sixtus O'Connor looked after some of the main defendants as pastors.
  • The place of the trial can be visited every day today as part of the permanent exhibition Memorium Nuremberg Trials , except during court hearings: Palace of Justice , entrance: Bärenschanzstraße 72, jury court room 600 .
  • From the Nuremberg cell prison , where the defendants were detained, an original cell wing and the prison church, in which the American military pastors worked, have been preserved. The buildings are part of the Nuremberg prison and can therefore only be viewed with a special permit. The Bavarian Ministry of Justice is planning to demolish it because it is dilapidated.
  • The process cost 4,435,719 dollars . These were paid for from the German reimbursements for the occupation costs.

Film adaptations

Further Nazi war crimes trials

See also


  • Verdict
    • International Military Tribunal Nuremberg (ed.): The trial of the main war criminals before the International Military Tribunal (November 14, 1945 to October 1, 1946). Official text in German. Several reprints, u. a. Delphin Verlag, Munich and Zurich 1984.
    • Nuremberg judgment. Verlag L. Schwann, Düsseldorf 1946. (Session of the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg, Germany, judgment)
    • The judgment of Nuremberg in 1946. Official text in German. Issued by the archive of the Nuremberg Court of Justice. With a preliminary remark by Herbert Kraus . New ed. and compared with the official edition of the German text. Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, Munich 1961. (Further editions, the fourth with a foreword by Jörg Friedrich 1996.)
    • The judgment of Nuremberg. Foreword by Jörg Friedrich. 6th edition, Frankfurt 2005, ISBN 3-423-34203-X .

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ A b Donald Bloxham: Genocide on Trial . Oxford University Press, 2001, ISBN 0-19-820872-3 , pp. 6 f.
  2. ^ Susanne Jung: The legal problems of the Nuremberg trials. Mohr 1992, ISBN 3-16-145941-5 , p. 103.
  3. Donald Boxham: Genocide on Trial. P. 7 f.
  4. ^ Arieh J. Kochavi: Prelude to Nuremberg: Allied War Crimes Policy and the Question of Punishment . University of North Carolina 1998, ISBN 0-8078-2433-X , pp. 220 f.
  5. Gerd R. Ueberschär (ed.): National Socialism in front of a court. The allied trials against war criminals and soldiers 1943-1952 , Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 1999, ISBN 3-596-13589-3 , pp. 34-36.
  6. London Four Power Agreement on, accessed March 7, 2020.
  7. ^ The day of the trial, November 20, 1945 ., accessed December 2, 2018.
  8. Donald Bloxham: Genocide on Trial . Oxford University Press, 2001, ISBN 0-19-820872-3 , p. 18.
  9. ^ Annette Weinke: The Nuremberg Trials. P. 24.
  10. ^ Annette Weinke: The Nuremberg Trials. P. 43.
  11. ^ Michael J. Bazyler: The Role of the Soviet Union in the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg. In: The Nuremberg Trials - International Criminal Law Since 1945. Ed .: Reginbogin and Safferling, Saur 2006, ISBN 3-598-11756-6 , p. 47.
  12. ^ Annette Weinke: The Nuremberg Trials. P. 27 ff.
  13. ^ Dieter Schenk : Hans Frank. Hitler's crown lawyer and governor general. S. Fischer, Frankfurt am Main 2006, ISBN 3-10-073562-5 , p. 379.
  14. Christian Müller : Who freed the mentally ill from chains? Sketches for the history of psychiatry. Edition Das Narrenschiff, Bonn 1998, ISBN 3-88414-285-2 , p. 290.
  15. ^ Annette Weinke: Nuremberg Trials . Historical Lexicon of Bavaria, accessed on November 22, 2018.
  16. Interview with Major Henry G. Plitt about Streicher's arrest ( memento of February 18, 2008 in the Internet Archive )
  17. The first defendant - and the first witness. Retrieved March 6, 2020 .
  18. ^ George Ginsburgs, Vladimir Nikolaevich Kudriavtsev: The Nuremberg Trial and International Law . Nijhoff 1990, ISBN 0-7923-0798-4 , p. 81 f, p. 86.
  19. Timeline , schedule and footage of the trial, Robert H. Jackson Center, accessed November 22, 2018.
  20. Yoram Dinstein: The Defense of Obedience to Superior Orders in International Law. Sijthoff-Leyden, 1965, p. 116 ff.
  21. AM Larin: The Trial of the Major War Criminals. In: The Nuremberg Trial and International Law. Eds. Ginsburgs and Kudiavtsev, Nijhoff 1990, ISBN 0-7923-0798-4 , p. 87.
  22. ^ Annette Weinke: The Nuremberg Trials. P. 44 ff.
  23. ^ Howard Kingsbury Smith: The Execution of Nazi War Criminals . Detailed journalistic eyewitness report.
  24. ^ A b William S. Graf: Rex Is Back . In: Soldiers. Official US Army Magazine . tape 30 , no. 9 , 1975, p. 49–53, here p. 50 ( full text in the Google book search).
  25. Stars and Stripes: Top Nazi's Ashes Reported Dumped in Creek , March 19, 1947, p. 3.
  26. Thomas Darnstädt: A stroke of luck in history . In: Der Spiegel . tape April 14 , 2005 ( [accessed November 17, 2018]).
  27. ^ Judgment: The Accused Organizations . AVALON project, Yale Law School, accessed November 6, 2018.
  28. ^ The Trial of the Major War Criminals at the International Military Tribunal, Nuremberg November 14, 1945 to October 1, 1946 (1947), Volume 22, p. 591.
  29. Afternoon session September 30, 1946 ,, accessed November 11, 2018.
  30. Wolfram Wette, Die Wehrmacht. Enemy images, war of extermination, legends. Frankfurt 2005, ISBN 3-596-15645-9 , pp. 208-210.
  31. Behr, Martina, Maike Corpataux, The Nuremberg Trials: On the importance of the interpreter for the processes and the processes for the interpreter. Meidenbauer, Munich 2006, p. 27.
  32. ^ Annette Weinke: The Nuremberg Trials . CH Beck, Munich 2006, ISBN 3-406-53604-2 , p. 54 f.
  33. Bernd Noack: From the tribunal to the castle in the evening. The press camp at the Nuremberg war crimes trials. In: Neue Zürcher Zeitung, international edition, October 8, 2015, p. 43.
  34. Heike Krösche: Nuremberg and no interest? Subtitle: The Trial of the Main War Criminals 1945/46 and the Nuremberg Post-War Public - The End of World War II and the Necessity of Prosecuting Nazi Crimes. In: Communications of the Association for the History of the City of Nuremberg Volume 93: 199-219. 2006.
  35. Robert H. Jackson Center : Nuremberg Trial Videos (videos of the 218 trial days with introductory accompanying texts)
  36. Ralph Giordano: The second debt or From the burden of being German, Hamburg, Zurich 1987, ISBN 3-462-02943-6 .
  37. ^ Memorium Nuremberg Trials, Nuremberg City Museums
  38. Donald Bloxham: Genocide on Trial . Oxford University Press, 2001, p. 24 f.
  39. Donald Bloxham: Genocide on Trial . Oxford University Press, 2001, pp. 28 f.
  40. ^ Werle and Jessberger: Principles of International Criminal Law . Oxford University Press 2014, ISBN 978-0-19-870359-4 , p. 8.
  41. ^ Werle and Jessberger: Principles of International Criminal Law. P. 10.
  42. ^ Werle and Jessberger: Principles of International Criminal Law. P. 13 f.
  43. ^ Werle and Jessberger: Principles of International Criminal Law. P. 17 f.
  44. Carl-Friedrich Stuckenberg: International law and criminal crimes. In: International jurisprudence: Selected decisions on international law in retrospect. Ed .: Jörg Menzel, Jeannine Hoffmann, Tobias Pierlings, Mohr Siebeck 2005, ISBN 3-16-148515-7 , p. 769.
  45. ^ Original version, 2 CD: Le procès de Nuremberg. Les nazis face à leurs crimes ( Memento from September 27, 2007 in the Internet Archive ), 2006, film duration with additional material (including American and Russian films), a total of 240 min.
  46. On the publication history of the “Blue Series” cf. Reinhard Strecker: A flawed past. In: Ossietzky . Edition 22/2005. The indictments, protocols, judgments and documents of this trial were published in four languages ​​in 42 volumes each (blue series) and made available in America houses in Germany. When they were later closed, many of the volumes were destroyed.