Nuremberg Trials

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In the dock: Göring , Hess , von Ribbentrop , Keitel (in front), Dönitz , Raeder , von Schirach and Sauckel (behind)
View of the trial room on September 30, 1946, the defendants on the left. 1st row from left Hermann Göring, Rudolf Heß, Joachim von Ribbentrop, Wilhelm Keitel, Ernst Kaltenbrunner, Alfred Rosenberg, Hans Frank, Wilhelm Frick, Julius Streicher, Walter Funk, Hjalmar Schacht. 2nd row: Erich Raeder, Baldur von Schirach, Fritz Sauckel
Nuremberg Palace of Justice 1945

The Nuremberg Trials include the Nuremberg Trial of the main war criminals ( Göring et al. ) Before the International Military Tribunal under the London Statute as well as twelve other so-called Nuremberg follow-up trials before a national US military tribunal under Control Council Act No. 10 , which took place in the Palace of Justice after the Second World War Nuremberg between November 20, 1945 and April 14, 1949 against leading representatives of the German Reich at the time of National Socialism . Crimes against non-allied citizens or stateless persons committed before the start of World War II did not play a significant role in these trials.


Telford Taylor as Chief Prosecutor in the Nuremberg Trials
Indictment - Nuremberg - International Military Tribunal (1945)

In the Moscow "Declaration on German Atrocities in Occupied Europe" of October 30, 1943, the Allies declared their intention to pursue these crimes after the war. Germans who had committed crimes in an occupied country were to be extradited and sentenced according to the law applicable there. The “main criminals”, however, whose crimes could not be assigned to a specific country, were to be punished after a joint decision by the Allies had yet to be made. In October 1943, the United Nations War Crimes Commission was established to develop proposals for criminal prosecution. They became the basis for the London Four Power Agreement of August 8, 1945 (“Agreement between the Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the Government of the United States of America, the Provisional Government of the French Republic and the Government of the Union of Socialists Soviet Republics on the Prosecution and Punishment of the Main War Criminals of the European Axis ”).

Part of this Agreement was the 30-article London Statute of the International Military Court in which it was determined that one of the United Kingdom , the USA , France and the Soviet Union formed International Military Tribunal "for the purpose of a fair and rapid trial and punishment of the major war criminals of the European Axis" formed should be.

The main witness of the prosecutors was Major General Erwin von Lahousen from Linz , former head of Department II of the Foreign Office / Defense of the Wehrmacht . In the course of the trial, the latter refuted the claims about a “ clean Wehrmacht ” as well as the absolutely necessary preventive war against the Soviet Union with his statements, which were based, among other things, on the secret diary kept by Wilhelm Canaris .

The accused as "major war criminals" were held in the " Ashcan " ("ash box") and in the " Dustbin " ("garbage can") until the start of the trial , casual British or American names for the prisoner of war camp in Mondorf-Les Bains in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg and the castle Kransberg near Frankfurt a. M. used for celebrities.

Defense and Legends

Some of the defendants' defense lawyers had found it difficult to convince them to take on a mandate, others considered it their "patriotic duty" and repeatedly described the Allied criminal trials as acts of revenge in connection with the Morgenthau Plan . Some, like Hans Laternser , who used to serve in the Air Force , wanted to save the "German soldier's honor". In 1945, Laternser founded a historical advisory group in which, under his leadership, the former Field Marshals Walther von Brauchitsch , Erich von Manstein , the former Colonel General Franz Halder and the former General Siegfried Westphal wrote a joint memorandum . This memorandum, entitled The German Army from 1920–1945, was intended to demonstrate that the Army General Staff was not particularly responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity. She claimed that the army was against the NSDAP and the SS , disapproved of almost all of Hitler's important decisions and opposed war crimes . This memorandum was passed on not only among the defendants, but also among officers of the Wehrmacht. It is undisputed that there were officers in the army command who questioned the military competence of the Nazi leadership. But today the memorandum is considered to be the beginning of the legend of the “clean Wehrmacht”. A few years later, Laternser, the defender of the General Staff, and the defender of Dönitz, Kranzbühler , devoted themselves to political lobbying for the perpetrators, which was supposed to give posterity an immaculate picture of the Wehrmacht leadership.

Trial of the major war criminals

The first - and only - trial before the International Military Tribunal took place in Nuremberg from November 20, 1945 to October 1, 1946 . The Allies' original plan to conduct further trials in this military tribunal had been dropped due to quarrels between the Allies. In the meantime, the Allies had developed different interests and ideas about which circles should be pursued and to what extent.

Thus, the authorized Allied Control with the London Agreement reproduced Control Council Law no. 10 of 20 December 1945 concerning the "punishment of those war crimes, have made crimes against peace or against humanity itself," (now) the Commander of the individual zones of occupation to conduct follow-up proceedings before the courts of the respective occupying power.

Under war crimes offenses were understood already in the Hague Convention before the First World War were defined: killing or mistreatment of prisoners of war , execution of hostages, deportation to forced labor etc. Among crimes against humanity fell especially the persecution and extermination of Jews and the “ destruction of life unworthy of life ”, that is, homicides that were persecuted in all civilized countries. Under crimes against peace was war of aggression understood that, up to this point not codified offense.

The twelve follow-up processes

Within three years, twelve further major trials of Nazi war criminals took place in the American zone of occupation and before American military courts . After the previous American lead prosecutor, Robert H. Jackson , resigned after the verdict in the proceedings before the International Military Tribunal on October 17, 1946, Brigadier General Telford Taylor was appointed Chief Counsel for War Crimes under Military Government for these follow-up trials .

A total of 185 people were charged:

  • 39 doctors and lawyers (cases I and III)
  • 56 members of the SS and police (cases IV, VIII and IX)
  • 42 Industrialists and Managers (Cases V, VI and X)
  • 26 military leaders (Cases VII and XII)
  • 22 ministers and senior government officials (cases II and XI)

35 of the defendants were acquitted. 24 were sentenced to death, 20 to life imprisonment and 98 to imprisonment between 18 months and 25 years. On January 31, 1951, High Commissioner John Jay McCloy reduced numerous sentences. Of those sentenced to death, for whom the future Chancellor Konrad Adenauer , among others , had campaigned, twelve were executed, eleven pardoned and one extradited to Belgium, where he died in custody.

The Control Council Act No. 10 of December 20, 1945 formed the legal basis for criminal prosecution by the judicial authorities in the four zones of occupation. This law was based in its foundations on the London Statute. The procedural basis for the follow-up litigation in the US zone was formed by OMGUS Ordinance No. 7 of October 26, 1946, which corresponded to Anglo-Saxon criminal procedural law .

Towards the end of the trial of the major war criminals, tensions between the US and the Soviet Union increased: the Cold War began. There was therefore a clear change in sentiment in the USA on the question of German war crimes. This gave rise to the legend that the subsequent trials were sabotaged by anti-communists. However, no concrete repercussions on the American successor program could be proven. However, the planned number of processes was reduced to twelve. The reasons for this decrease were the cut in the budget for the trials by the US Congress in 1947 and the chronic shortage of judges. The Chief Justice of the United States, Fred M. Vinson, refused to send federal judges to the American military courts, with the result that there were repeated difficulties in occupying the individual chambers and only the "second set" of judges was available .

Between 1946 and 1949 the Office of the US Chief of Counsel for War Crimes (OCCWC) initiated twelve proceedings:

Irina Schulmeister, who published a legal dissertation on the processes in 2016, warns against interpreting the term “follow-up processes” in such a way that it suggests a lower value. According to their results, “succession” can only be understood in terms of time. The legal problems, legal system and the importance for future international legal development, which the twelve processes showed, are considerable.

Criticism of the processes

In general, the trials are rated positively today, as the individual guilt of the accused was investigated for the first time and politicians and the military were personally punished. Since the Nuremberg Trials, national laws or holding a state office no longer offer absolute protection against persecution under international criminal law . The process thus represented an important further development of international law . The process also contributed to the investigation of the Nazi crimes. Initially, the criminal codification of wars of aggression became established to a lesser extent. Only one definition of state aggression was added to the UN Charter's ban on violence in 1974. It was not until 2010 that an agreement was reached on the criminal offense of the crime of aggression . Up to the present day, however, criticism of the objectives and methods of the processes has also been and continues to be.

Argument against the rules of procedure

It was criticized that the separation of the draftsman of the rules of procedure and judge had not been observed. Iona Nikitchenko and Robert Falco helped draft the London Statute and were judges at the International Military Tribunal .

Furthermore, the procedural rules gave the defendants the right to freely choose their German defense counsel, whose possible NSDAP membership did not prevent them from appearing in court. According to Article 24 of the Statute, the Military Tribunal fully ruled on the admission of evidence. Article 18 stated that the process should be restricted to an accelerated negotiation. Article 19 stated that the Tribunal was not bound by normal standards of evidence. Article 21 wrote that “generally accepted facts” no longer need to be proven. The defense could only take note of possible charges, but was not allowed to present any possible counter-evidence in this case, which ruled out the possibility of appeal.

Belonging to a criminal organization

The crime of belonging to a criminal organization, the so-called “organization crime”, was also controversial. It ensured that anyone who was a member of a Nazi organization that had been condemned as criminal could be convicted of belonging to that organization in any state that had signed the statute. In the conviction, it did not matter whether the accused was personally guilty of a crime (Articles 9-11). In Germany, however, this option was not used.

Ex post reasoning

According to the defendants' defense lawyers , another principle of law which was overlooked in the trials is nullum crimen sine lege praevia , nulla poena sine lege (no crime without a previously enacted law, no punishment without a law) ; it was criticized that the defendants were partially charged with crimes which at the time of the crime were prohibited by a multilateral agreement, but for which no criminal liability had been established (→  Briand-Kellogg Pact ). This relates in particular to the charge “waging a war of aggression (crimes against peace)”. The American TIME wrote in November 1945:

“Whatever laws the Allies tried to make for the purposes of the Nuremberg Trial, most of these laws did not exist at the time the acts were committed. Since the days of Cicero , ex post facto punishment has been condemned by the lawyers. "

However, this argument was rejected by the Military Tribunal because it was customary law to punish violations of the Hague Land Warfare Regulations , even though these did not contain any criminal law provisions. Even today, many international criminal lawyers deny that the prohibition of retroactive effects has been violated, since this legal principle serves the protection and legal security of the individual citizen and does not prevent the state in power from being punished for crimes under international law that they have committed.

Tu quoque reasoning

The Tu-quoque (“you too”) argument of the defense takes up another strand of criticism . Because, according to the critics of the process, the Allies also waged wars of aggression and committed war crimes. As the Katyn massacre , on westalliierter hand, the bombing of Dresden or Hamburg , which serve no military purpose in the opinion of the process critics, but as carpet bombing ( " moral bombing " represented) against the civilian population also war crimes, because since the Hague Regulations of 1907 Harming civilians during armed conflicts are prohibited. However, no Germans were convicted of bombing the area, since the bombing war was not even included in the prosecution because of the participation of the victorious Allied powers .

Due to the German-Soviet non-aggression pact and the secret additional protocol that provided for the division of Poland between Germany and the Soviet Union , the Soviet Union was also involved in the conspiracy to launch a war of aggression on Poland , so another point of criticism. The so-called winter war of 1939/40 waged by the Soviet Union against Finland should also be seen as a war of aggression. Unlike a classic “tu quoque” defense, one of the accusers was not only accused of having committed crimes of the same value as the accused, but was even charged with the same crime he was charged with, the “conspiracy against peace “To have contributed. The verdict of the trial ignored this point and followed a line already agreed in London not to allow discussions of allied violations of international law based on the tu quoque model in the trial.

Rules of War binding the Hague Agreement

On the war crimes and crimes against humanity charges, the defense argued that some countries were not signatories to the Hague Conventions. Therefore, the Germans were not bound by those conventions towards the non-signatories. The court rejected this claim. In 1939 these rules were recognized by all civilized peoples and regarded as binding laws and rules of war.

Crimes in the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia

The defense argued that rules of war were only applicable between belligerents, but that they did not apply to countries that Germany had incorporated into the German Reich. In the grounds of the judgment it was stated that Bohemia and Moravia had never been admitted to the empire, but merely made a protectorate of them. According to Telford Taylor, a member of the American prosecution at the Nuremberg Trial, this implied that the defense arguments were applicable to Austria (→  “Anschluss” 1938 ).

Limitation of charges

In addition, there is also another criticism of the Nuremberg trials, which on the one hand criticizes the insufficient number of accused and the punishment that is too mild. Another major weakness of the judgment is the judicial approach of the court to punish the genocide of the European Jews . By prosecuting crimes against humanity only when committed in connection with a war of aggression, the court categorically exempted all crimes committed prior to September 1, 1939 from punishment. The existing references to the Shoah in the judgment still do not do justice to the singularity of this crime. The legal statements of the court on this are in the order only after the treatment of other crimes against humanity, such as the murder of prisoners of war and the mistreatment of the civilian population . In this context, the wording of the court does not correspond to the enormous injustice of the Holocaust when on the one hand it uses the headline "murder of prisoners of war" and on the other hand only deals with the mass murder of the Jews under the title "the persecution of the Jews".

For the first time in history, the victorious powers tried to bring the responsible war criminals to justice. Up to then there was no empirical value from comparable earlier processes. However, the prosecutors at the time were charged with a number of legal procedural errors. This included the selection of the defendants. For example, the list of accused in the field of economics was only exemplary: many of the companies that were at least equally burdened were missing. B. Deutsche Bank , whose complicity has been proven at the latest since the evaluation of the OMGUS files (i.e. before the judgment was announced).

A litigation strategy that was uniform in all points and applied objectively became more and more difficult in view of the general political development for the military court. In 1948 the former anti-Hitler coalition members were already hostile to each other: the currency reform was carried out in the western zones , which the Soviet Union responded to with the blockade of Berlin and at the same time worked flat out on the development of its first atomic bomb . Thus, the Western Allies had a great interest in rebuilding a strong economy in Western Europe, which also influenced the prosecution and assessment of the sentence, especially for white-collar criminals.

Legal historical significance

The Nuremberg Trials are seen as a breakthrough in the principle that there must be no immunity for a core set of crimes . For the first time, the representatives of a sovereign state at the time of their actions were held accountable for their actions.

The principles agreed by the four allies and applied by the court were incorporated into international law as the Nuremberg Principles :

  • Any person who commits a crime under international law is criminally responsible for it.
  • Even if its national law does not threaten a punishment for a crime under international law, the perpetrator is punishable under international law.
  • Heads of state and members of government are responsible for crimes they commit under international law.
  • Acting on higher orders does not exempt you from responsibility under international law if the perpetrator could have acted differently.
  • Anyone charged with an international crime is entitled to due process.

The following crimes were codified for the first time as violations of international law in the London Statute :

The crime against peace was a completely new offense . Participation in a "conspiracy" or in a joint plan for its implementation was declared a criminal offense.

On December 11, 1946, before the end of the Nuremberg Trials, the General Assembly of the United Nations passed a resolution emphasizing the criminality of crimes against peace, war crimes and crimes against humanity. The lifting of the immunity of heads of state underlined this resolution. In July 1950 an “International Law Commission” submitted a draft codification to the UN in an attempt to establish the “Nuremberg Principles” more firmly in international law. However, almost all member states of the UN lacked the political will to agree. It wasn't until the early 1990s that the draft was finally adopted. The Nuremberg Trials are therefore seen as an early pioneer for the UN war crimes tribunals in Yugoslavia , Rwanda and Sierra Leone as well as for the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court .

Validity of judgments

Russian 2 ruble commemorative coin for the Nuremberg Trials (1995)

Article 26 of the London Statute stipulated that the judgments of the Nuremberg Trials should be final and not subject to appeal. When full sovereignty was regained through German reunification , it was contractually agreed with the Allies that the Federal Republic of Germany can change, delete or repeal Allied and Federal German resolutions, ordinances and laws without distinction, as long as it adheres to the requirements of parliamentary democracy .

See also


  • The trial of the major war criminals before the International Military Tribunal. Nuremberg November 14, 1945 - October 1, 1946. Official text of the negotiation records. Nuremberg 1947. Photomechanical reprint: 23 volumes. Komet, Frechen 2001, ISBN 3-89836-121-7 .
  • The trial of the major war criminals before the International Military Tribunal. Nuremberg November 14, 1945 - October 1, 1946. Official text of documents and other evidence. Nuremberg 1947. Photomechanical reprint: 18 volumes. Delphin, Munich, Zurich 1984, ISBN 3-7735-2520-6 .


  • Law Reports of Trials of War Criminals . Selected and prepared by the United Nations War Crimes Commission 1947–1949 , Library of Congress.
  • George Andoor: The Nuremberg Tribunal 70 Years Ago - Part 1, Fair Trial or Victory Justice? In: Journal for Legal Studies , 2015, pp. 356–369 .
  • George Andoor: The Nuremberg Tribunal 70 years ago - Part 2, Fair trial based on the principles of a new international criminal law. In: Journal for Legal Studies , 2015, pp. 473–484 .
  • Gerhard Brennecke: The Nuremberg history distortion. Sources on the prehistory and history of the 2nd World War from the files of the German defense . Publications of the institute f. German post-war history, Vol. V. 2nd edition Tübingen: Verl. d. German Hochschullehrer-Zeitung, 1970.
  • Henry Bernhard (Ed.): I only have the wish to become an executioner or executioner, letters to Justice Jackson about the Nuremberg Trial. Mitteldeutscher Verlag, Halle (Salle) 2006, ISBN 3-89812-406-1 .
  • Thomas Darnstädt : Nuremberg - crimes against humanity in court. Piper, Munich and Berlin 2015, ISBN 978-3-492-05684-7 .
  • Benjamin Ferencz : From Nuremberg to Rome. Review. A life for human rights. In: Structure. The Jewish monthly magazine. 72nd year, No. 2. Zurich, February 2006, ISSN  0004-7813 , p. 6.
  • Karl Glaubauf , Stefanie Lahousen: Major General Erwin Lahousen, Edler von Vivremont. A Linz defense officer in the military resistance. LIT, Münster 2005, ISBN 3-8258-7259-9 .
  • Peter Heigl: Nuremberg Trials - Nuremberg Trials. Carl, Nuremberg 2001, ISBN 3-418-00388-5 .
  • Kevin Jon Heller : Nuremberg Military Tribunals and the Origins of International Criminal Law . Oxford University Press 2011, ISBN 978-0-19-955431-7 .
  • Klaus Kastner: The peoples are accusing. The Nuremberg Trial 1945–1946. Primus, Darmstadt 2005, ISBN 3-89678-549-4 . (Klaus Kastner, born in 1936, is president of the Nuremberg Regional Court a. D. and honorary professor for law at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg)
  • August von Knieriem : Nuremberg. Legal and human problems. Klett, Stuttgart 1953. (K. was acquitted in the IG Farben trial in July 1948)
  • Alpheus Thomas Mason: Harlan Fiske Stone, Pillar of the Law. New York, The Viking Press 1956, ISBN 1-299-95495-2 .
  • Peter Neitzke: Concentration Camp Document F 321 for the International Military Court in Nuremberg. Two thousand and one, Frankfurt a. M. 1997, ISBN 3-86150-012-4 . ( 2001 Judaica ( Memento of September 27, 2007 in the Internet Archive )).
  • Kurt Pätzold , Manfred Weißbecker : Steps to the gallows. Life paths before the Nuremberg judgments. , 2nd edition Militztke, Leipzig 2004; Digital edition of Directmedia Publishing , Berlin 2007, ISBN 978-3-89853-313-3 .
  • Kim Christian Priemel , Alexa Stiller (ed.): NMT: The Nuremberg Military Tribunals between History, Justice and Righteousness. Hamburger Edition, Hamburg 2013, ISBN 978-3-86854-260-8 .
  • Steffen Radlmaier (Hrsg.): The Nuremberg learning process - From war criminals and star reporters. Frankfurt am Main 2001, ISBN 3-8218-4503-1 .
  • Alfred Seidl : The Rudolf Hess Case 1941–1987. Documentation of the defense attorney. Munich 1997.
  • Bradley F. Smith: The Trial of the Century. Frankfurt am Main 1977, ISBN 3-10-077201-6 .
  • Gerd R. Ueberschär (Ed.): The National Socialism in front of the court. The allied trials of war criminals and soldiers 1943–1952 (= Fischer pocket books. The time of National Socialism 13589). Fischer-Taschenbuch-Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 1999, ISBN 3-596-13589-3 .
  • Annette Weinke : The Nuremberg Trials (= Beck'sche series 2404 CH Beck knowledge ). Beck, Munich 2006, ISBN 3-406-53604-2 .

Web links

Commons : Nuremberg Trials  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. See Annette Weinke : Die Nürnberger processes , CH Beck, Munich 2006, p. 22 f.
  2. George Andoor, The Nuremberg Tribunal 70 Years Ago - Part 1, Fair Trial or Victory Justice? , in: ZJS 2015, p. 358 ff. (PDF).
  3. See IMT, Vol. I, p. 7 ff.
  4. ^ London Charter of the International Military Tribunal / IMT ; s. IMT, Vol. I, p. 10 ff.
  5. See IMT, Vol. I, p. 10.
  6. ^ Annette Weinke: The Nuremberg Trials , Munich 2006, p. 38 f.
  7. Wolfram Wette: The Wehrmacht. Enemy images, war of extermination, legends. Frankfurt a. M. 2005, ISBN 3-596-15645-9 , pp. 205-207.
  8. Text of Law No. 10 of the Control Council in Germany (1945)
  9. Annette Weinke: The Nuremberg Trials , Chapter III (p. 62.)
  10. Weinke, chap. II (p. 59 ff.)
  11. Schoolmaster in H-Soz-u-Kult , 2009.
  12. George Andoor, The Nürnberger Tribunal 70 Years Ago - Part 2, Fair Trial Based on the Principles of a New International Criminal Law , in: ZJS 2015, p. 475 ff. (PDF).
  13. On the term "exposure" or "NS exposure" cf. David Schwalbe: burden. Federal Ministry of the Interior. 2020.
  14. ^ Werle: International Criminal Law. Tübingen 2003, ISBN 3-16-148087-2 , p. 463 (Rn. 1154) with further references; Georg Dahm / Jost Delbrück / Rüdiger Wolfrum: International Law. Volume I / 3, 3rd edition, de Gruyter, Berlin 2003, p. 1033.
  15. See Paul Luif: Austria, Sweden, Finland. Ten years of membership in the European Union , Böhlau, Vienna / Cologne / Weimar 2007, p. 48 .
  16. Weinke, p. 54.
  17. ^ Telford Taylor: The Nuremberg Trials. Background, analyzes and findings from today's perspective , Munich 1994, ISBN 3-453-08021-1 , p. 672.
  18. ^ Telford Taylor: The Nuremberg Trials. Background, analyzes and findings from today's perspective , Munich 1994, p. 673.
  19. ^ Christopher Simpson: War Crimes of the Deutsche Bank and the Dresdner Bank: The Omgus Report. New York 2002, ISBN 0-8419-1407-9 .
  20. Annette Weinke: The Nuremberg Trials , Munich 2006, p. 117.
  21. See the answer of the Federal Government to the minor question from MPs Jan Korte, Petra Pau, Ulla Jelpke, other MPs and the DIE LINKE parliamentary group. - Printed matter 16/3452 - 60th anniversary of the Nuremberg judgments (PDF; 75 kB), BT-Drs. 16/3744 of December 6, 2006.