Nürnberg trials


Nürnberg trials
(1945–46) Trials of former Nazi Party leaders held in Nürnberg, Ger.

At the end of World War II, the International Military Tribunal was established by the U.S., Britain, France, and the Soviet Union to indict and try former Nazis as war criminals. The tribunal defined the offenses as crimes against peace (planning and waging of war in violation of treaties), crimes against humanity (extermination, deportation, and genocide), and war crimes. After 216 court sessions, 3 of the original 22 defendants were acquitted, 4 (including Karl Dönitz and Albert Speer) were sentenced to prison for terms of 10 to 20 years, 3 (including Rudolf Hess) were sentenced to life imprisonment, and 12 (including Wilhelm Keitel, Joachim von Ribbentrop, Alfred Rosenberg, Arthur Seyss-Inquart, and Julius Streicher) were sentenced to death by hanging. Hermann Göring committed suicide before he could be executed, and Martin Bormann was convicted in absentia.

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▪ World War II trials
Nürnberg also spelled  Nuremberg 

      series of trials held in Nürnberg, Germany, in 1945–46, in which former Nazi (Nazi Party) leaders were indicted and tried as war criminals by the International Military Tribunal. The indictment lodged against them contained four counts: (1) crimes against peace (i.e., the planning, initiating, and waging of wars of aggression in violation of international treaties and agreements), (2) crimes against humanity (i.e., exterminations, deportations, and genocide), (3) war crimes (war crime) (i.e., violations of the laws of war), and (4) “a common plan or conspiracy to commit” the criminal acts listed in the first three counts.

      The authority of the International Military Tribunal to conduct these trials stemmed from the London Agreement of August 8, 1945. On that date, representatives from the United States, Great Britain, the Soviet Union, and the provisional government of France signed an agreement that included a charter for an international military tribunal to conduct trials of major Axis war criminals whose offenses had no particular geographic location. Later, 19 other nations accepted the provisions of this agreement. The tribunal was given the authority to find any individual guilty of the commission of war crimes (counts 1–3 listed above) and to declare any group or organization to be criminal in character. If an organization was found to be criminal, the prosecution could bring individuals to trial for having been members, and the criminal nature of the group or organization could no longer be questioned. A defendant was entitled to receive a copy of the indictment, to offer any relevant explanation to the charges brought against him, and to be represented by counsel and confront and cross-examine the witnesses.

      The tribunal consisted of a member plus an alternate selected by each of the four signatory countries. The first session, under the presidency of General I.T. Nikitchenko, the Soviet member, took place on October 18, 1945, in Berlin. At this time, 24 former Nazi leaders were charged with the perpetration of war crimes, and various groups (such as the Gestapo, the Nazi secret police) were charged with being criminal in character. Beginning on November 20, 1945, all sessions of the tribunal were held in Nürnberg under the presidency of Lord Justice Geoffrey Lawrence (later Baron Trevethin and Oaksey), the British member.

 After 216 court sessions, on October 1, 1946, the verdict on 22 of the original 24 defendants was handed down. (Robert Ley (Ley, Robert) committed suicide while in prison, and Gustav Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach (Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach, Gustav)'s mental and physical condition prevented his being tried.) Three of the defendants were acquitted: Hjalmar Schacht (Schacht, Hjalmar), Franz von Papen (Papen, Franz von), and Hans Fritzsche (Fritzsche, Hans). Four were sentenced to terms of imprisonment ranging from 10 to 20 years: Karl Dönitz (Dönitz, Karl), Baldur von Schirach (Schirach, Baldur von), Albert Speer (Speer, Albert), and Konstantin von Neurath (Neurath, Konstantin, Baron von). Three were sentenced to life imprisonment: Rudolf Hess (Hess, Rudolf), Walther Funk (Funk, Walther), and Erich Raeder (Raeder, Erich). Twelve of the defendants were sentenced to death by hanging. Ten of them—Hans Frank (Frank, Hans), Wilhelm Frick (Frick, Wilhelm), Julius Streicher (Streicher, Julius), Alfred Rosenberg (Rosenberg, Alfred), Ernst Kaltenbrunner (Kaltenbrunner, Ernst), Joachim von Ribbentrop (Ribbentrop, Joachim von), Fritz Sauckel (Sauckel, Fritz), Alfred Jodl (Jodl, Alfred), Wilhelm Keitel (Keitel, Wilhelm), and Arthur Seyss-Inquart (Seyss-Inquart, Arthur)—were hanged on October 16, 1946. Martin Bormann (Bormann, Martin) was tried and condemned to death in absentia, and Hermann Göring (Göring, Hermann) committed suicide before he could be executed.

      In rendering these decisions, the tribunal rejected the major defenses offered by the defendants. First, it rejected the contention that only a state, and not individuals, could be found guilty of war crimes; the tribunal held that crimes of international law are committed by men and that only by punishing individuals who commit such crimes can the provisions of international law be enforced. Second, it rejected the argument that the trial and adjudication were ex post facto. The tribunal responded that such acts had been regarded as criminal prior to World War II.

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Universalium. 2010.

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