Nuremberg Trials and Other Trials Against Germany
Contributor: C. Peter Chen
As early as Jan 1942, the Allies began to discuss the punishment for European Axis leaders should the Allies become victorious in the European War. Through a series of discussions at meetings such as the Tehran Conference, Yalta Conference, and Potsdam Conference, the Allies determined the details of the International Military Tribunal. The legal basis for the trials was established by the London Charter, issued on 8 Aug 1945, which restricted the trials to the "punishment of the major war criminals of the European Axis countries"; the term "war", seen in "war criminals", further restricted the actions eligible to be tried to after 3 Sep 1939, the date when the United Kingdom and France declared war on Germany. The Soviets initially suggested to hold the trials in Berlin, Germany, but ultimately another German city, Nürnberg (Nuremberg), was chosen for that the Palace of Justice at Nürnberg was largely undamaged and it had a large prison complex; some also preferred Nürnberg for the association of being the ceremonial birth place of the Nazi Party. The members of the International Military Tribunal were:
President of the International Military Tribunal
The Right Honourable Colonel Sir Geoffrey Lawrence (United Kingdom)
The Right Honourable Colonel Sir Geoffrey Lawrence (United Kingdom)
Francis Biddle (United States)
Professor Henri Donnedieu de Vabres (France)
Major General Iona Nikitchenko (Soviet Union)
Sir Norman Birkett (United Kingdom)
John Parker (United States)
Robert Falco (France)
Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Volchkov (Soviet Union)
Robert H. Jackson (United States)
Sir Hartley Shawcross (United Kingdom)
François de Menthon (France)
Auguste Champetier (France)
Lieutenant General Roman Rudenko (Soviet Union)
On the first day of the Nuremberg Trials on 18 Oct 1945, the prosecution entered the names of 24 major war criminals and six criminal organizations for crimes against peace, waging wars of aggression, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. At the conclusion of the first phase of trials (The Trial of the Major War Criminals) on 1 Oct 1946, most of the accused for major crimes were found guilty, with 12 given death sentences. The first of 10 hangings was carried out on 16 Oct 1946 (Martin Bormann was not in captivity and Hermann Göring committed suicide); those who were given prison sentences were entered into Spandau Prison in 1947. The International Military Tribunal also found the Schutzstaffel (SS), the Sicherheitsdienst (SD), and the Gestapo to be criminal organizations.
The later phases of the Nuremberg Trials (The Trials of War Criminals before the Nuremberg Military Tribunals) were presided over by American judges. Between Dec 1946 and Apr 1949, the following trials were held:
- The Doctors' Trial (9 Dec 1946-20 Aug 1947): Trial against 23 medical professionals for conducting medical experiments on people.
- The Milch Trial (2 Jan 1947-14 Apr 1947): Trial against former Field Marshal of the Luftwaffe Erhard Milch for human experimentation and using slave labor.
- The Judges' Trial (5 Mar 1947-4 Dec 1947): Trial against 16 accused of abusing judicial process for anti-Semitic purposes.
- The Pohl Trial (8 Apr 1947-3 Nov 1947): Trial against 17 SS officers for atrocities against prisoners of concentration camps.
- The Flick Trial (19 Apr 1947-22 Dec 1947): Trial against 6 industrialists for using slave labor and plundering of occupied territories.
- The Hostages Trial (8 Jul 1947ñ19 Feb 1948): Trial against 12 generals for atrocities against civilians and plundering of occupied territories.
- The IG Farben Trial (27 Aug 1947-30 Jul 1948): Trial against 24 directors of chemical conglomerate IG Farben for planning and waging wars of aggression, using slave labor, and plundering of occupied territories.
- The Einsatzgruppen Trial (29 Sep 1947-10 Apr 1948): Trial against 24 SS officers for conducting atrocities and mass murders against civilians.
- The RuSHA Trial (20 Oct 1947-10 Mar 1948): Trial against 14 SS officials for implementing racist policies.
- The Krupp Trial (8 Dec 1947-31 Jul 1948): Trial against 12 directors of Krupp AG for planning and waging wars of aggression, using slave labor, and plundering of occupied territories.
- The High Command Trial (30 Dec 1947-28 Oct 1948): Trial against 14 high ranking officers for waging wars of aggression, atrocities against prisoners of war, and atrocities against civilians.
- The Ministries Trial (6 Jan 1948-13 Apr 1949): Trial against 21 officials for planning and waging wars of aggression, atrocities against prisoners of war, atrocities against civilians, using slave labor, and plundering of occupied territories.
These later trials found 142 of 185 defendants guilty of at least one of the charges, and 24 of them received death sentences (11 of which were later lessened to life imprisonment).
The conclusions of the Nuremberg Trials had long-lasting effects on international law. For example, the findings of the International Military Tribunal directly led to the Genocide Convention of 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, and the Geneva Convention on the Laws and Customs of War of 1949 and its 1977 supplementary protocols.
Many criticized of the Nuremberg Trials. For example, British and American critics pointed out that those found guilty were not allowed to appeal. Another criticism cited that, while Wilhelm Keitel, Alfred Jodl, and Joachim von Ribbentrop were found guilty for conspiracy to commit acts of aggression against Poland for the German-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact of 1939, Soviet leaders who were signatories to the very same pact were not charged with the same crime. Nevertheless, through course of history, most agreed that the International Military Tribunal conducted the Nuremberg Trials with full compliance of international law.
On 13 Dec 1943, far before the end of the European War, Ukrainians put four Germans on trial in the city of Kharkov for using death vans to murder thousands of civilians with poison gas. Two days later, they all admitted guilty to the death of over 30,000 people. All four were executed on 19 Dec in the city square; the execution was witnessed by 50,000 people.
Like Ukraine, the first war crimes trial held in Poland also began prior to the end of the European War, on 30 Nov 1944, when the former commandant and guards of Majdanek Concentration Camp were put on trial. After the war, on 22 Jan 1946, the Supreme National Tribunal was established to preside over trials of 49 accused German war criminals. The trials were conducted between 1946 and 1948, and the accused included several high profile Nazi officials, including Arthur Greiser, Rudolf Höss, and Albert Forster. Of the 49 tried, 31 were sentenced to death, 17 were sentenced to prison terms, and 1 was acquitted. The Tribunal also declared the General Government, which ruled occupied Poland during the war, a criminal institution.
Nuremberg Trials and Other Trials Against Germany Timeline
|2 Sep 1943||Viktor Abakumov suggested trying some of the German officers captured at Stalingrad, Russia as war criminals as they were responsible for Soviet deaths at a prisoner of war camp at the village of Alekseevka near Stalingrad. Some of these German officers include camp commandant Rudolf Körpert, Werner von Kunowski, Wilhelm Langheld, and Otto Mäder.|
|18 Nov 1943||Viktor Abakumov made the suggestion to Joseph Stalin and Vyacheslav Molotov that German officers responsible for war crimes committed at Kharkov, Ukraine and Smolensk, Russia should be placed on trial.|
|13 Dec 1943||One of the first war crimes trials was held in Kharkov, where 4 Germans are accused of using death vans to murder thousands of civilians.|
|15 Dec 1943||The four Germans on trial for war crimes in Kharkov, Ukraine all pled guilty, with admissions that over 30,000 victims died.|
|18 Dec 1943||The four defendants in the Kharkov, Ukraine war crime trial were sentenced to death by hanging, to be carried out on the next day.|
|19 Dec 1943||50,000 people gathered in the square in Kharkov, Ukraine to witness the hanging of four Germans found guilty of killing 30,000 civilians in Ukraine.|
|22 Dec 1943||Germany threatened punishment of Allied prisoners of war in retaliation for the Soviet war crimes trial in Kharkov, Ukraine.|
|22 Jan 1944||Viktor Abakumov requested the Soviet GKO for a new trial in Smolensk, Russia for 13 German defendants arrested by SMERSH.|
|10 Oct 1944||A Soviet military tribunal sentenced Rudolf Körpert, Otto Mäder, and four other former officers of German-run prisoners of war camps to death.|
|30 Nov 1944||Former commandant and guards of Majdanek Concentration Camp were put on trial in Poland.|
|23 May 1945||Members of the German High Command and the Provisional Government were taken into custody and imprisoned.|
|21 Jul 1945||Allied leaders selected Nürnberg, Germany as the location for trials against accused German war criminals.|
|29 Jul 1945||Hans Fritzsche was transferred from the Friedrichshagen Prison in Berlin, Germany to Moscow, Russia.|
|8 Aug 1945||United States, Soviet Union, United Kingdom, and France signed the London Charter of the International Military Tribunal in London, England, United Kingdom. The chief prosecutors from these four nations met for the first time.|
|18 Aug 1945||Soviet First Deputy Commissar for Foreign Affairs Andrei Vyshinsky submitted a list of names of Germans who could be sent to the Nuremberg Trials to his superior Vyacheslav Molotov. The list consisted of Ferdinand Schörner, Hans Fritzche, Hans-Erich Voß, Adolf Beckerle, and Reiner Stahel.|
|27 Aug 1945||Lavrentiy Beria added more names to the list of possible German leaders to be sent to Nuremberg, Germany to stand trials; the previous list had been prepared by Vyacheslav Molotov's foreign ministry several days prior. Beria's additions included Erich Raeder, Martin Mutschmann, Friedrich Gustav Bernhardt, Hilmar Moser, Johann Georg Richert, Wilhelm Robert Oksmann, Hans Julius Traut, Günther Walter Klammt, and Friedrich Jeckeln.|
|28 Aug 1945||Indictments were made against accused Nazi German war criminals.|
|29 Aug 1945||The Four Power Commission of Prosecutors in London, England, United Kingdom presented the first list of German war criminals to be tried at Nürnberg, Germany.|
|5 Sep 1945||Soviet Politburo approved the formation of "The Commission on the Guidance of Preparation of Indictment Materials and Activity of Soviet Representatives at the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg", or "Governmental Commission on Nuremberg Trials" for short, with foreign ministry deputy commissar Andrei Vyshinsky at its helm, to provide direction to the Soviet prosecutors. The members of the commission included Vsevolod Merkulov, Bogdan Kobulov, Viktor Abakumov, Konstantin Gorshenin, Ivan Golyakov, and Nikolai Safonov.|
|10 Sep 1945||Sergei Kartashov reported to Victor Abakumov, giving recommendation on how SMERSH could control the proceedings at the Nuremberg Trials in Germany.|
|17 Sep 1945||Joseph Kramer, Camp Commandant at Belsen, and 44 other SS officers were put on trial at Lüneburg, Germany for mass murders at Belsen and Auschwitz. Kramer and 10 others were sentenced to hang, while others received prison sentences.|
|12 Oct 1945||Bogdan Kobulov, Vasilii Chernyshev, and Victor Abakumov signed a joint letter requesting Hans Fritzsche and Erich Raeder to be transferred from Moscow, Russia to Berlin, Germany.|
|18 Oct 1945||The war crimes trials in Nürnberg, Germany began. Erich Raeder and Hans Fritzsche arrived in Nürnberg under Soviet guard on the same day.|
|2 Nov 1945||Lavrentiy Beria ordered Vsevolod Merkukov, Viktor Abakukov, and Sergei Kruglov to investigate a list of 105 important German prisoners of war for the possibility of placing them on public trial; the three would find that 85 of them could be tried.|
|5 Nov 1945||Vsevolod Merkukov, Viktor Abakukov, and Sergei Kruglov concluded that of a list of 105 important German prisoners of war given to them three days prior, 85 of them could be placed on public trial for war crimes.|
|18 Nov 1945||21 Nazi leaders were indicted at the first open session of the International Military War Crimes Tribunal in Germany.|
|20 Nov 1945||Trial of the Major War Criminals of the Nuremberg Trials began. Soviet SMERSH officers Leonid Kozlovtsev, Krasilnikov, and Khelipsky arrived in Nürnberg, Germany, presumably to help oversee the Soviet prosecution team.|
|21 Nov 1945||All accused at the Trial of the Major War Criminals of the Nuremberg Trials pleaded innocent.|
|26 Nov 1945||The Soviet Governmental Commission on Nuremberg Trials ordered the Soviet prosecution team in Nürnberg, Germany not to discuss issues such as the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, the annexation of the Baltic States, Polish borders, etc.|
|29 Nov 1945||Films of concentration camp atrocities were shown at the Nuremberg Trials in Germany.|
|8 Dec 1945||An assassination attempt on Mikhail Likhachev failed in Nürnberg, Germany. His driver Buben died when the Horch 951 limousine was shot up while Likhachev was not in the vehicle.|
|14 Dec 1945||SS personnel convicted of atrocities at Belsen and other concentration camps were executed by hanging.|
|30 Dec 1945||Friedrich Gustav Bernhardt was found guilty and was executed in Moscow, Russia.|
|5 Jan 1946||The Soviets executed German Major General Heinrich Remlinger, the former military commandant of Pskov, Russia.|
|22 Jan 1946||The Supreme National Tribunal of Poland was established to preside over trials of German war criminals.|
|23 Jan 1946||The hearing against Hans Fritzsche began in Nürnberg, Germany.|
|30 Jan 1946||Johann Georg Richert was found guilty and was executed in Minsk, Byelorussia.|
|1 Feb 1946||Soviet prosecutors in Nürnberg, Germany brought out Friedrich Paulus and Erich Buschenhagen by surprise as witnesses in the war crimes trials.|
|3 Feb 1946||Friedrich Jeckeln was found guilty and was executed in Riga, Latvia.|
|21 Feb 1946||In Nürnberg, Germany, Hans Fritzsche was shown a Soviet documentary about the destruction of Eastern European cities in the war and broke down.|
|11 Mar 1946||Soviet chief prosecutor Roman Rudenko sent a letter to US chief prosecutor Robert Jackson, asking the US prosecution team in Nürnberg, Germany not to bring up the topics of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, borders with Poland, and other sensitive issues.|
|12 Mar 1946||Herman Göring's attorney Dr. Otto Stahmer convinced the war crimes tribunal in Nürnberg, Germany to investigate further into the Soviet version of the description of the Katyn massacre.|
|14 Mar 1946||At the Nuremberg Trials, Hermann Göring said that the Spanish Civil War was used by the Luftwaffe to test out newly designed equipment and to battle-harden its personnel.|
|24 Mar 1946||Soviet prosecutor Yurii Pokrovsky escorted Nikolai Zorya's body from Nürnberg, Germany to Leipzig, Germany; the documentation Pokrovsky carried noted that Zorya was a private rather than his actual rank of major general.|
|25 Mar 1946||Rudolf Hess' attorney Dr. Alfred Seidl brought evidence concerning the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact to the war crimes trial in Nürnberg, Germany. The evidence would not be allowed to be entered.|
|21 May 1946||Rudolf Hess' attorney Dr. Alfred Seidl visited Soviet prosecutor office in Nürnberg, Germany and spoke with Major General of Justice Nikolai Zorya.|
|23 May 1946||Soviet Major General of Justice Nikolai Zorya was found killed in his hotel room with a gunshot wound to his head.|
|28 Jun 1946||Hans Fritzsche denied all accusations against him while in court in Nürnberg, Germany. When Roman Rudenko reminded him that he had previously signed a confession, Fritzsche told the court that he had been forced to sign it.|
|1 Jul 1946||Prosecutors of Allied nations cross-examined witnesses in Nürnberg, Germany regarding the Katyn massacre.|
|2 Jul 1946||Prosecutors of Allied nations cross-examined witnesses in Nürnberg, Germany regarding the Katyn massacre.|
|1 Oct 1946||At the end of the major war crimes trial in Nürnberg, Germany, 12 were given death sentences, 4 were given prison sentences, and 3 were acquitted.|
|16 Oct 1946||12 German war criminals were executed.|
|9 Dec 1946||The Doctors' Trial began in Nuremberg before an United States military court against 20 doctors and 3 Nazi officials who were accused of involvement in human experimentation. Trial ended on 20 Aug 1947; 7 were acquitted, 7 were given death sentences, and 9 were given prison sentences.|
|31 Jan 1947||The Bavarian de-Nazification tribunal in Nürnberg, Germany sentenced Hans Fritzsche to nine years of hard labor.|
|20 Aug 1947||The Doctors' Trial ended in Nuremberg, in which an United States military court found 16 of the 20 doctors and 3 Nazi officials guilty of human experimentation. 7 were given death sentences and 9 were given prison sentences.|
|10 Sep 1947||The Soviet Politburo approved 9 more open trials of 137 accused German war criminals.|
|3 Nov 1947||Pohl Trial in Nuremberg ended; out of 17 defendants, 2 were acquitted while the other 15 former SS men were found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity, largely for their role in the atrocities committed against concentration camp victims.|
|24 Nov 1947||The First Auschwitz Trial against 40 former camp staff members, including Arthur Liebehenschel, began in Kraków, Poland.|
|16 Dec 1947||The First Auschwitz Trial against 40 former camp staff members, including Arthur Liebehenschel, ended in Kraków, Poland.|
|28 Oct 1948||The High Command Trial (The United States of America vs. Wilhelm von Leeb, et al) ended in Nuremberg. 13 generals and 1 admiral of the German military were tried, many of them were found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity.|
|2 Jan 1952||The Military Tribunal of the Moscow District sentenced German prisoner of war Georg Jantschi 25 years in prison for war crimes and for being a German spy.|
|15 Jan 1952||The Military Tribunal of the Moscow District sentenced German prisoner of war Karl Kosch 25 years in prison for war crimes and for being a German spy.|
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Joachim von Ribbentrop, German Foreign Minister, Aug 1939