Nuremburg Trials and Verdicts
The number and severity of the crimes committed by the Nazis were unprecedented in modern history, but the Allies were determined to bring all those who played a major role in the regime to face justice. It was decided that the first international war crimes trial would be held in the city of Nuremberg – significant due to it being the location of the Nazis’ annual rallies. Judges from the main Allied powers – Britain, America, France and the Soviet Union – presided over the rulings.
21 defendants were tried. Some were well-known figures, such as Hermann Göring, but many others were juniors or deputies of leading Nazi figures who had already committed suicide, like Heinrich Himmler and Joseph Goebbels. Collectively, however, they were charged with conspiring to wage war, committing crimes against peace, war crimes (e.g. killing of civilians) and crimes against humanity (which included the new crime of genocide). The reactions of the accused varied: some were defiant and denied much responsibility, saying they were only ‘following orders’; some took full responsibility for their actions; Robert Ley, known for leading the ‘Strength through Joy’ movement, hanged himself in his cell before the trial even started, as he was so distressed at the charges brought against him.
On 1 October 1946, twelve prominent Nazi officials were sentenced to death by hanging. The other defendants either received prison sentences or were handed no penalty at all.
Many people have since been critical of the way that the Nuremberg Trials were operated, accusing the Allies of putting on a ‘show trial’ and trying to blame only a handful of people for the entire Nazi regime. Subsequent trials were carried out, however, to try and bring more perpetrators to justice, against those who had worked in places like Dachau or Auschwitz camps, or served in the Einsatzgruppen. Even as recently as 2011, war crimes trials of former Nazis, SS officers and Nazi collaborators have been carried out to try and ensure that justice is served to those who took part in the greatest war and one of the largest losses of life in human history.