Nuremberg trials

From RationalWiki
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Nazis in the dock at the Nuremberg trials
A lunatic Chaplin imitator
and his greatest fans

Icon nazi.svg
First as tragedy
Then as farce

The Nuremberg trials is the collective description for a series of military tribunals which prosecuted multiple high-ranking Nazi officials for war crimes and crimes against humanity planned and committed during World War II. They are named after the German city of Nuremberg, which was chosen as the site for the trials because of its symbolic importance as a center of Nazi propaganda and the site of major party rallies.

The trials[edit]

In 1942, the four major Allied powers (the USSR, USA, UK, and France) had already reached an agreement to eventually punish Nazi war criminals, and after the end of the war, they jointly established the International Military Tribunal (IMT) as a body to conduct the trials, with each providing judges and prosecutors.[1] They eventually settled for trying a total of 24 members of the Nazi leadership, of whom 21 actually appeared in court, with the most prominent being Hermann Göring.[2] Several other members of the highest tier of Nazi leadership, among them Adolf Hitler himself, Heinrich Himmler, and Joseph Goebbels, could not be tried because they had already committed suicide before or shortly after the end of the war. Charges brought by the prosecution centered around four main points:

This allowed the tribunal to indict the Nazi leadership for the full range of German atrocities, including starting numerous separate unprovoked wars, the systematic extermination of civilians both on and off the battlefield, and the mistreatment of POWs. The conspiracy charge allowed for the trial of persons who had not directly issued orders that led to these crimes, but had participated in pre-war planning to commit them.[3] A total of twelve defendants were sentenced to death (including one tried in absentia), with seven receiving prison sentences of varying lengths, and three being acquitted. Göring committed suicide before his actual execution. This only covers the main trial; numerous other proceedings were brought against lower-ranking Nazi officials and a much greater number of civilians and military officers who were complicit in Nazi crimes.[4]

The major defendants[edit]

Photos Name Count Penalty Notes
1 2 3 4
Bundesarchiv Bild 183-R14128A, Martin Bormann.jpg Martin BormannWikipedia I G G Death (in absentia) Personal secretary to Adolf Hitler and chief of the Nazi Party Chancellery, Bormann controlled all access to the Führer and was thus one of the most de facto powerful men in the Reich. Bormann was not just a rabid anti-Semite, but also one of the Reich’s most outspoken opponents of Christianity, which he considered "irreconcilable" with Nazism. He urged Hitler to persecute the Catholic Church when it protested the eugenics program. He vanished about a week before Germany's surrender and so was tried in absentia.

Bormann was sentenced to death, but the sentence proved moot: after a long manhunt with many false leads, the West German government found his remains in West Berlin in 1972. Further testing in 1998 conclusively proved that the remains were indeed Bormann's. He most likely bit a cyanide capsule shortly after fleeing the bunker.

Nazi Personalities- Grossadmiral Karl Doenitz (1891-1984) A14899.jpg Karl DönitzWikipedia I G G 10 years Leader of the Kriegsmarine, Nazi Germany's navy. Dönitz was named Hitler's co-successor along with Goebbels.[note 1] After Goebbels's suicide, Dönitz served for about three weeks as the leader of the Third Reich's remnants, which he pretended to govern from its provisional capital in FlensburgWikipedia Dönitz was a stauncher Nazi than most naval officers were, but he was never a major political player, and he was mostly appointed because Hitler believed that the Heer, the Luftwaffe, and the SS had already betrayed him, leaving only the Kriegsmarine to be trusted. Despite organizing Germany's surrender, Dönitz ordered the military to fight to the bitter end, even launching a major offensive to crush the Prague UprisingWikipedia as late as May 5th.[note 2] His government also kept executing German servicemen for offenses like speaking disparagingly of Hitler, including at least one sailor who was shot on May 11, three days after the war's nominal end.[5]

Dönitz denied knowledge of the Holocaust,[6] but this was a lie: his government worked to destroy evidence of it, including arranging escape plans and false identities for a number of SS personnel, while turning away figures like Heinrich HimmlerWikipedia whom Dönitz surmised it was best to disown. The Flensburg Government also still had some 10,000 concentration camp inmates hidden on a flotilla of converted ocean liners, most infamously the SS Cap ArconaWikipedia, anchored off of Lübeck. The Royal Air Force, believing that the ships were smuggling SS men out of Germany, sank them on May 3; 7,000 of the prisoners drowned.[7] He was found guilty of war crimes and was sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment. He died a free man in 1980, and went to his grave unrepentant about his role in the Third Reich.

Bundesarchiv Bild 146-1989-011-13, Hans Frank.jpg Hans FrankWikipedia I G G Death Governor-General of occupied Poland, personal lawyer to Hitler. Frank ruled the Generalgouvernement, i.e. the chunk of Poland that Germany had not annexed outright. The Treblinka, Sobibór, Bełżec, and Majdanek death camps thus fell under his jurisdiction, as did the Warsaw Ghetto and other killing fields.

Frank's Generalgouvernment was effectively an extreme apartheid state. Poles were excluded from the government and forced to live on starvation-level rations, while Jews were marked for immediate slaughter. Polish culture was all but erased,[note 3] Poles who might have kept their country's culture alive (particularly Catholic priests, nuns, professors, former civil servants, and ex-military officers) were routinely murdered, and even the name "Poland" was banned from public life. The ultimate goal was to exterminate all upper- and middle-class Poles in the region[note 4], annex it into Grossdeutschland, and use the survivors as serfs for the German settlers, to be exterminated once their labor was no longer needed. A minority of "desirable" Polish children would have been kidnapped and Germanized. Frank also issued written orders calling for the extermination of Jews in the most explicit language possible, but claimed that his words had to be looked at "in their context"[8] (as if "in the context of the Holocaust" wasn't clear enough). He also pled ignorance of the existence of the four SS extermination camps that operated in his fiefdom. The court called bullshit on this, and sentenced Frank to hang.

Frank showed, or affected, remorse for his actions on death row, converted to Catholicism, and even smiled as the noose went around his neck. For what it's worth, Frank's own son Niklas has dismissed his father's apparent remorse as an act, depicting Hans Frank as a cowardly, vindictive, and histrionic man who only wanted the history books to depict him more kindly than they would his co-defendants.[9]

Wilhelm Frick 72-919.jpg Wilhelm FrickWikipedia I G G G Death Interior Minister from 1933 to 1943, and Protector of Bohemia and Moravia from 1943 to 1945. Frick committed many of his crimes before the official outbreak of World War II in Europe. He was responsible for the Enabling Act of 1933, which gave Hitler the legal power to rule by fiat, and co-authored the Nuremberg Laws of 1935, which purged Jews from German public life. He also helped to implement the Aktion T4 euthanasia program, and succeeded the monstrous Reinhard Heydrich as Reich Protector of Bohemia and Moravia after Heydrich's assassination, an office he held from 1943 to 1945. Frick refused to testify on his own behalf in court. He was sentenced to death and hanged on October 16, 1946.
Hans Fritzsche.jpg Hans FritzscheWikipedia I I I Acquitted Broadcaster and voice-double for the deceased Joseph Goebbels, Fritzsche was a relative nobody who was tried alongside the likes of Hermann Göring primarily because the Allies wanted to punish someone for the Nazi propaganda machine. He was captured by Soviet soldiers in Berlin on May 2, 1945 after fleeing Hitler's bunker, and was transferred to Lubyanka Prison in Moscow, where the Soviets tortured him into signing a confession and then sent him to Nuremberg. American journalist William Shirer observed that "no-one in the courtroom, including Fritzsche, seemed to know why he was there".[10] The case against Fritzsche was fairly weak, and he was acquitted. He would later be sentenced to nine years' imprisonment by a German civil denazification court, but got compassionate release in 1950 for ill health. He died of cancer shortly thereafter.

Interestingly, the day after Hitler's suicide, Fritzsche attempted a one-man coup. When acting Reichskanzler Goebbels refused to capitulate, Fritzsche went into the bunker's radio room and tried to impersonate Goebbels one last time to broadcast a surrender order to German forces in the capital. He was thwarted by a drunken General Wilhelm Burgdorf,Wikipedia who tried to shoot him on the spot for treason before a technician wrestled the gun away from him. Yes, that scene from Der UntergangWikipedia really did happen.[11]

Waltherfunk45.jpg Walther FunkWikipedia I G G G Life
Reich Economic Minister, president of the German central bank. Funk was responsible for stealing Jewish-owned assets for the Reich's treasury before and during World War II. The prosecution dubbed him "The Banker of Gold Teeth", in reference to the gold teeth extracted from concentration camp victims and melted down into bullion. He protested that he had been a minor figure of no importance, and Göring himself dismissed Funk's role in the regime. However, Funk's undeniable knowledge of the Holocaust earned him a life sentence. He was granted compassionate release for poor health in 1957, and died of complications from diabetes in 1960.
Bundesarchiv Bild 102-13805, Hermann Göring.jpg Hermann Göring G G G G Death Commander of the Luftwaffe, Reichsmarschall, and second-highest-ranking Nazi party member until April 1945, Göring was officially the second-most powerful man in the Third Reich almost until its end. In April 1945, as Germany collapsed and Hitler isolated himself in Berlin, he asked Hitler for authority to assume acting command of the German military; Hitler viewed this as a coup attempt, and ordered Göring's arrest. In fact, Göring had already been gradually excluded from power as the war dragged on and his incompetence had become clear. The Luftwaffe's failure to protect German cities from Allied air raids was a particular reason for his fall from favor. Göring used the war as a chance to enrich himself: He lived like a robber-baron in stolen castles surrounded by stolen artworks, drinking stolen liquors and feasting on stolen delicacies. He collected venereal diseases, grew mountainously fat while Germans suffered under rationing, and became addicted to morphine.

Göring, however, remained a dangerously clever man. He sobered up in prison, defended himself rather eloquently on the stand, and acted as a leader for his co-defendants. Psychologist Gustave M. Gilbert, who interviewed Göring in prison, diagnosed him as a highly-intelligent psychopath,[12] and he managed to charm some of his own jailers.[13] When video evidence of the Holocaust was shown and turned the trial against him, he grew indignant, complaining that he had never been personally anti-Semitic and blaming the genocide on everyone but himself, particularly Himmler, Hitler, and Goebbels (all of whom were conveniently dead, and couldn't testify to Göring's involvement). He was sentenced to death, with the court finding that he along with Hitler he had been the most important instigator of German aggression in Europe. It was also shown that Göring had known about Kristallnacht in advance and used it as cover to steal treasures from Jews, and that he had ordered men under his command to murder 50 Allied POWs.Wikipedia

Göring asked to be shot rather than hanged, as he felt that a firing squad was a more fitting death for a soldier. When this request was turned down, he committed suicide with a smuggled cyanide capsule in his cell.

Bundesarchiv Bild 146II-849, Rudolf Heß.jpg Rudolf Hess G G I I Life
Hitler's Deputy Führer from 1933 to 1941, Hess was for a time the third-most powerful man in the Reich. Hess had been a close friend of Hitler's since the 1920s; Mein Kampf is dedicated to him and Emil Maurice.Wikipedia During the 1930s, Hess manipulated German courts to ensure that Hitler's political opponents got harsh sentences, and also organized forced disappearances. He was the first defendant to be captured, and under truly bizarre circumstances: he commandeered an airplane in May 1941 and flew unannounced to Scotland, where he tried to negotiate a peace with Britain. The British were not amused, and locked him up. Hess earned a reputation for eccentricity while a British captive: he was a hypochondriac, told his captors that Jews had used psychic powers to start the war, and was interested in astrology, homeopathy, and occultism.

He continued acting erratically at Nuremberg, refusing to testify and feigning amnesiaWikipedia in court. Psychiatrist Douglas KelleyWikipedia assessed that Hess was neurotic, but still fit to stand trial.[14] The court ruled that regardless of Hess's mental status in the dock, he was aware of his actions, and sentenced him to life in Spandau Prison.[15]

According one of Hess's jailers, US Lt. Colonel Ronald SpeirsWikipedia[16], Hess behaved just as bizarrely while in Spandau: he pretended to be psychotic, avoided other prisoners, and also made three failed suicide attempts.[17] In 1966, the release of Schirach and Speer left Hess as the prison's only inmate.

In the 1970s Hess's son WolfWikipedia started a campaign for compassionate release. He gained the support of West German Chancellor Willy BrandtWikipedia and the British,[18] but the Soviets vetoed release, Israeli diplomats lobbied the US against supporting clemency, and the campaign degenerated into a cause célèbre for neo-Nazis. Cold War interests were involved in the dispute; Spandau's joint administration meant that as long as Hess was locked up there, the Soviets could keep a small garrison in West Berlin. Hess's prison conditions became laxer though, and he was allowed frequent family visits and a television. His fourth suicide attempt worked: he hanged himself in the garden house in 1987, aged 93. Not to be confused with Auschwitz commandant Rudolf Höss,Wikipedia who was tried and executed separately by Polish authorities.

Alfred Jodl USA-E-Ardennes-2.jpg Alfred JodlWikipedia G G G G Death High-ranking Wehrmacht officer, signed the German instrument of surrender. Jodl was primarily charged for signing the Commando and Commissar Orders, which authorized the summary executions of, you guessed it, commandos and commissars. He pled not guilty and was able to disprove some of the charges against him, like the claim that he had helped Hitler take power in 1933.

Ordering his troops to murder POWs, however, was unambiguously a war crime, and this was enough to see him hanged. His execution was nonetheless controversial — many other high-ranking officers who had committed equivalent crimes got lighter sentences or were not charged at all — and in February of 1953 a West German denazification court posthumously overturned his conviction, before another West German court reversed the overturning and declared him really, truly, definitely guilty. Alongside the below-mentioned Wilhelm Keitel, Hans Krebs,Wikipedia, and Wilhelm BurgdorfWikipedia, Jodl was one of the four men whom Hitler ranted at in that famous Der UntergangWikipedia scene.

Ernst Kaltebrunner in Nurnberg.jpg Ernst Kaltenbrunner I G G Death Director of the Reich Main Security Office, Kaltenbrunner was the highest-ranking SS man tried at Nuremberg. Kaltenbrunner was a fearsome character who micromanaged the Nazi intelligence service. This micromanagement left no doubt that he was intimately familiar with the SS's worst atrocities. He still pled not guilty, cast himself as a helpless figurehead who had signed death warrants without knowing what they were, and passed all blame up the chain of command to Himmler, who was conveniently dead and unable to defend himself. But the evidence of guilt was overwhelming, and Kaltenbrunner was sentenced to death. He maintained in his last words that he had not known about the Holocaust. The photographs of him touring concentration camps suggested otherwise. Kaltenbrunner did one good deed: in 1945, he stopped August Eigruber, an even more fanatical Nazi, from destroying a cache of stolen artworks in the Altausee mines of Austria. Thus, Michelangelo's Madonna of Bruges, van Eyck's Ghent Altarpiece, and several Vermeers survived the war — unlike Kaltenbrunner’s countless human victims.[19] It doesn’t even begin to count as atonement for everything else he did.
Bundesarchiv Bild 183-H30220, Wilhelm Keitel.jpg Wilhelm KeitelWikipedia G G G G Death De facto defense minister. Keitel exemplifies the tendency of dictatorships to promote not the most qualified man, but the man who kisses the leader's ass the most. Other German officers interviewed about Keitel gave fairly consistent reports: he had only modest talent for command, but won Hitler’s favor through sheer groveling. Once in the war room, when the question of Soviet air power came up, Keitel—who was paying no attention and knew nothing of the subject—automatically announced: "You're quite right, My Führer".[20] He was tried primarily for the Nacht und Nebel directive he had signed, which authorized the summary execution of resistance members in Nazi-occupied territories. Keitel claimed that he had merely been acting as a mindless instrument of Hitler's will (which was near enough to the truth).

The court, however, found that even when Keitel had taken initiative without Hitler's prodding, it had been to issue illegal orders of his own.[21] In one instance, when Keitel suspected that officers on the Eastern Front were being insufficiently brutal, he ordered that for every German soldier killed by partisans, 50 to 100 Soviet civilians were to be executed.[22] He issued similar orders in Norway, where he recommended holding Norwegian factory workers' families hostage and shooting them in retaliation for sabotage.[23]. For actions like these, the court sentenced him to death.

Keitel's hanging was one of several that the hangman botched: The trap door was too small and he hit his head during the drop. This caused profuse bleeding and broke the velocity of his fall, causing him to die over about 24 minutes by strangulation.[24].

Bundesarchiv Bild 102-12331, Gustav Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach.jpg Gustav Krupp von Bohlen und HalbachWikipedia   I I I No decision CEO of Krupp Armaments, Krupp was nominally in charge of one of the German war machine's key industrial bases. However, a debilitating stroke in 1941 had left him as a figurehead while management of the firm fell to his son Alfried. Gustav was indicted in Alfried's place due to a clerical error, and when the prosecution tried to switch him out for Alfried, the court declined, ruling the request too close to the trial date. Krupp was never tried, but remained under indictment until his death in 1950. Alfried was later tried separately, and wound up serving only three years of a 12-year sentence for using slave labor. Alfried was lucky: had he been tried at Nuremberg, the atmosphere in the courtroom probably would have gotten him hanged. Alfried died in 1967, denying all personal guilt throughout his life.
Bundesarchiv Bild 183-2008-0922-501, Robert Ley.jpg Robert LeyWikipedia I I I I No decision Head of the German Labor Front. Ley joined the Nazi party in 1925 and edited the anti-Semitic Westdeutsche Beobachter newspaper. He was another man who rose for his unquestioning obedience to Hitler, which outweighed his poor leadership skills and alcoholism.[25] To keep the masses happy as rearmament drove up production quotas and froze wages, Ley created the Strength through Joy program, which provided working class families with luxurious getaways to places like Italy. Ley was never a major military player, but he was heavily implicated in slave labor. Ley was shocked — shocked! — to learn that he would be tried as a criminal, and hanged himself in his cell three days after hearing his indictment.
Konstantin von Neurath crop.jpg Baron Konstantin von NeurathWikipedia G G G G 15 years Foreign Minister from 1932 to 1938 and Reich Protector of Bohemia and Moravia from 1941 to 1943. Neurath was one of the few aristocrats in Hitler's inner circle: He had served as foreign minister in the last Weimar government, and Hitler kept him in office to legitimize the new regime. Neurath was useful to Hitler early on, but was stripped of power in 1941 after Hitler decided that Neurath's rule in Bohemia and Moravia was too soft. Neurath kept his title, but all power was transferred to Reinhard Heydrich. Towards the war's end, Neurath was in touch in some capacity with the German resistance movement.[26] He was sentenced to 15 years in prison, but was released after a heart attack in 1954, and died two years later at 83.
Vonpapen1.jpg Franz von PapenWikipedia I I Acquitted Vice-Chancellor under Hitler from 1933 to 1934. Like Neurath, Papen was a conservative, Catholic, aristocratic holdover from Hindenburg’s era. Like most members of his social class, he mistrusted Hitler, but initially thought that the Nazi movement might be containable. He quickly discovered that this was not the case, and on June 17, 1934, Papen set off a full-blown constitutional crisis with a public speechWikipedia in which he called for the restoration of civil liberties, denounced the Brownshirts' thuggery, and accused Hitler of using the fear of Bolshevism as a pretext for imposing a Bolshevik-style regime on Germany. Goebbels tried to suppress the speech's publication and Papen threatened to resign in turn, prompting a furious President Hindenburg to order Hitler to reinstate Papen or else face a military coup.

Papen's attempts to undo his damage were too little and too late. Hitler realized that he needed the army's loyalty, and accordingly killed much of the SA leadership,Wikipedia along with select influential Germans who had publicly opposed him. Papen was spared due to his popularity, but several of his associates were murdered and he was placed under house arrest before being shuffled off to serve as ambassador to Austria. The Nazis toyed with assassinating him as a false flag operation to justify annexing of Austria,[27] but his social status saved him, and Austria was annexed with virtually no resistance in 1938. After this, Papen was made ambassador to Turkey, a neutral country where his influence would be minimal.

The prosecution's central charge was that Papen had been instrumental in annexing Austria, but this particular case was weak, and he was acquitted. A West German denazification court still sentenced Papen to eight years of hard labor, but he successfully appealed and was released in 1949. He became an early supporter of the European Union and a moderately successful author. He died in 1969, aged 89.

Erich Raeder.jpg Erich RaederWikipedia G G G Life imprisonment Grand Admiral, commanded the Kriegsmarine until 1943. Raeder was around long before the Nazi party came to power, and took part in a failed military coup in 1920. Raeder was instrumental in modernizing the German navy for World War II, but was sacked by Hitler in 1943: the surface fleet had been doing poorly, while Dönitz's U-boats were performing more impressively. Raeder and Hitler remained cordial, and Raeder stayed on board as a sort of naval commissar, watching out for officers whose loyalty to Hitler was weak. Raeder was sentenced to life imprisonment — despite requesting to be executed — for conspiracy, crimes against peace, and war crimes, but was released due to poor health in 1950. He died in 1960 at 84.
GERibbentrop.jpg Joachim von Ribbentrop G G G G Death Ambassador to Britain from 1936 to 1938, namesake of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, and Foreign Minister from 1938 to 1945, Ribbentrop was yet another toady who rose to power because his sheer blind obedience to Hitler outshone the fact that he was, in Göring’s words, “a stupid ass.” Descriptions of Ribbentrop from those who knew him are remarkably consistent: he was vain, insecure,[note 5] lazy, unimaginative, rude, shallow, and astonishingly dense for a man of his responsibilities. An old schoolteacher remembered him as "the most stupid in his class, full of vanity and very pushy";[28] Göring urged Hitler to find a new ambassador,[29] and Ribbentrop's former underlings, when interviewed, all said that he was an exceptionally unpleasant boss, and that his vanity, stupidity, and bad manners made him a laughingstock in London. Ribbentrop ludicrously overestimated the power and ambition of the British aristocracy, and interpreted offhanded British politeness from a few peers as signs that Britain's deep state was on his side, while ignoring the coldness he got from actual government ministers.[30] In March 1940, U.S. Undersecretary of State Sumner Welles, while on a fact-finding mission to Europe, wrote to FDR that "Ribbentrop has a completely closed mind [and] a very stupid mind. ... I have rarely seen a man I disliked more".[31]

On the witness stand, Ribbentrop flatly denied charges that he had bullied the Czechoslovakian government into letting Germany partition the country and annex the Czech half. "What further pressure could you put on the head of a country except to threaten him that your army would march in and your airforce would bomb his capital?" demanded the prosecutor. "War, for instance," Ribbentrop replied.[32] He was found guilty on all four counts and sentenced to death. He was the first of the defendants to be hanged, and good riddance.

Bundesarchiv Bild 183-1985-0723-500, Alfred Rosenberg.jpg Alfred RosenbergWikipedia G G G G Death Reich Minister for the Occupied Territories from 1941 until 1945, Rosenberg was a rare Nazi intellectual and had a major influence on Hitler's thinking. A racialist and a quasi-mystic, Rosenberg dreamed up Positive Christianity as a way to make Christianity more compatible with Nazism. To no surprise, Positive Christianity did away with all "Jewish" aspects of Christianity, which didn’t leave an awful lot behind. Rosenberg was a major proponent of expanding German Lebensraum, and thus helped provide an ideological causus beli for the invasions of the USSR and Norway. For this, he was sentenced to death.

Rosenberg’s writings and beliefs (he was the official philosopher of Nazi Germany, again demonstrating that kissing the Biggest Ass mattered more for personal advancement in the Nazi order than did competence in one's field) were incoherent, and apart from his pet project of Positive Christianity they mostly consisted of post-hoc justifications for whatever Hitler did. They resemble a sort of forerunner to the neoreactionary movement: rambly, bizarre, pretentious, and bigoted nonsense that bespeaks a cartoonishly puffed-up ego, a persecution complex, and a total lack of empathy.

Fritz Sauckel2.jpg Fritz SauckelWikipedia I I G G Death General Plenipotentiary for Labor Deployment, Sauckel bore primary responsibility for the Nazis' use of slave labor. Sauckel tried to blame Speer, his superior, for the abuses that occurred under his watch, while also arguing that the abuses had been exaggerated. The latter claim was disproven: Sauckel was found to have had more direct authority over slave labor than Speer did, and occasionally went behind Speer's back to ratchet up the brutality at Nazi factories. He also denied having known about the existence of the concentration camps, even though his official duties had put him in charge of things that any sane person would consider a concentration camp.[33] He was sentenced to death and hanged.
HSchacht.jpg Hjalmar SchachtWikipedia I I Acquitted Economist, President of the Reichsbank from 1933 to 1938, and Economic Minister from 1934 to 1937, Schacht was originally a liberal politician who shifted rightwards in the 1920s due to Germany’s economic woes. Schacht never formally joined the Nazi Party, but like von Papen, he enabled the Nazis' rise: he fundraised for Hitler in the 1920s, and in 1932 he organized a petition of industrial leaders asking Hindenburg to appoint Hitler Chancellor. In office, Schacht organized a successful New Deal-style public works program, which included the construction of the Autobahn.

Like von Papen, Schlacht quickly got buyer's remorse about Hitler. As early as 1934, he had contact with the German opposition, he denounced Streicher in 1935, and after Kristallnacht, he urged Hitler to let the Jews emigrate to Britain.[34] By the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1938, Schacht had given up hope of internal reform, and tried to organize a coup. This coup never left the planning stage, and the Gestapo intimidated Schacht into retiring in 1941. After Claus von Stauffenberg’s 1944 attempt to assassinate Hitler, Schacht was arrested and sent to Dachau. The Soviets still wanted to convict Schacht, but the British got their way and he was acquitted of all charges. He died of natural causes in 1970 at age 93.

Joachim von Ribbentrop and Baldur von Schirach crop.jpg Baldur von SchirachWikipedia I G 20 years Head of the Hitler Youth from 1931 to 1940. Schirach was the youngest Nuremberg defendant and the only one to have been a front-line combatant in World War II, having been decorated for valor during the invasion of France in 1940. Later that year he was transferred to the civil service and appointed governor of Vienna, where he oversaw the deportation of 65,000 Viennese Jews in 1942. As the war went on, Schirach seems to have developed a tiny conscience. He organized the evacuation of 5 million children from cities threatened by Allied air raids, and criticized the unlivable conditions being imposed on conquered Slavic peoples and (what was left of) European Jewry. For this, he was unofficially excluded from power in 1943.[35]

Schirach denounced Hitler in the dock, and claimed not to have known that the Jews he had been deporting would be exterminated. He was acquitted of crimes against peace, but convicted of crimes against humanity and sentenced to 20 years in Spandau Prison. Upon release in 1966, he published his memoirs but otherwise lived in relative obscurity, dying in 1974.

Inquart crop.jpg Arthur Seyss-InquartWikipedia I G G G Death Puppet ruler of Austria for two days in 1938, and governor of the Occupied Dutch Territories from 1940 to 1945, where he implemented the Holocaust against Dutch Jews, executed dissidents, and drummed up slave labor. In 1941, he oversaw the resettlement of the Netherlands’ Jews to the Amsterdam Ghetto, and later directed their deportation to the death camps. Of 140,000 Dutch Jews, 110,000 perished in the Holocaust; this was the most thorough extermination of any Western European Jewish community outside of Germany. In the war’s last days, Seyss-Inquart wavered between hawk and dove. On the one hand, during the Dutch famine of 1944, he accepted a humanitarian ceasefire with the Allies in specific areas so that aircraft could deliver food to starving civilians. On the other, he wanted Germany to fight to the end long after the military knew it was hopeless.[36] He realized even before Germany’s surrender that he would almost certainly be executed, and he was correct: the Tribunal sentenced him to hang. Upon hearing his sentence, he remarked, “it’s all right.”
Albert-Speer-72-929.jpg Albert SpeerWikipedia I I G G 20 years Hitler’s BFF and favorite architect, and Armaments Minister from 1942 to 1945. Speer's strategy for keeping output high boiled down to press-ganging civilians from occupied countries, and when this proved to be too little, concentration camp inmates. These prisoners worked in dangerous conditions, were fed unlivable rations, and were savagely punished if they didn't meet production quotas. The court ruled that even though Speer hadn't given specific instructions on how "slackers" were to be punished, he had authorized the SS to carry out punishments, known how brutal these punishments were, and done nothing to stop them.[37] In March 1945, Speer got lucky when Hitler issued the Nero decreeWikipedia. Speer disobeyed Hitler’s orders to destroy German civil infrastructure, and used his high rank to prevent other Nazi officials from doing so. This saved many civilians' lives, and might have been what spared him from the gallows.[38]

Speer was sentenced to 20 years in Spandau Prison. Like the rest of the Spandau gang, Speers was guarded from 1957 to 1958 by Lieutenant Colonel Ronald SpeirsWikipedia, whom Speer remembered as a "hard-nosed, irritating American Commandant." Unfortunately, there's no word on whether Speirs ever offered Speer a cigarette.[39] Speer served his full term, and was released in 1966.

He spent his later years running a remarkably successful PR campaign to rehabilitate his image. He published two volumes of memoirs, Spandau: The Secret Diaries and Inside the Third Reich, which became bestsellers. He gave dozens of interviews, starting as soon as he was released, and was even allowed to visit London to speak with the BBC. He never resorted to full-blown Holocaust denial, but he lied about his involvement in it to the end; the closest that he came to admitting his guilt was in an interview in the June 1971 issue of Playboy in which he stated, regarding the Holocaust, that "If I didn't see it, then it was because I didn't want to see it." He died in 1981.

Julius Streicher 72-920 crop.jpg Julius Streicher I G Death Nazi Party Gauleiter of Franconia from 1922 to 1940 and founder-publisher of Der Stürmer, Streicher’s nickname was “Jew-Baiter No. 1”. He started peddling anti-Semitic screeds in 1919, and joined the Nazi Party in 1921 when it was still a fringe group. He was one of the least powerful figures tried at Nuremburg, but perhaps the most revolting. Like Fritzsche, Streicher was tried as a proxy for Goebbels, and was unambiguously the scummier of the two. He accused Jews of everything from pimpingWikipedia Aryan girls, to causing the Great Depression, to molesting German children,[40] to using the blood of Christian babies in rituals. He quote mined the Talmud and Torah for passages that could be used to cast Jews as evil, clannish, and unclean.[41] Much of his work reads as porn about Jewish men performing grotesque sex acts on blonde, blue-eyed German Mädchen; this actually made Der Stürmer quite popular with young German men. He also published three children’s books about the Evil Jew, including Der Giftpiltz (The Toadstool), a staggeringly vile book which the morbidly curious can read online.[42]

Streicher helped to incite Kristallnacht, but otherwise was not directly involved in the Holocaust. However, the prosecution argued that his rhetoric was so extreme that it constituted incitement to murder.[43] Streicher practically did the prosecution’s job himself: he used all of his time on the witness stand to deliver more of the anti-Semitic rants that had gotten him indicted, and he was the only one to neither invoke the Nuremberg defense nor affect remorse. His fellow defendants, Göring in particular, saw where this was headed and tried to distance themselves from him. He was convicted of crimes against humanity and sentenced to death. He was undignified to the end: while most of the condemned expressed shame or made banal ‘God bless Germany’ statements on the gallows, Streicher railed against the Jews as the noose went around his neck. According to eyewitnesses, his hanging was one of several that was botched: he thrashed so much that the drop failed to snap his neck, and the hangman had to go under the scaffold to finish him off. He was the only defendant who alleged abuse by his jailers: he was guarded by black GIs, who were not fond of the demented racist under their charge.[44] While we at RationalWiki deplore torture, it is hard to summon any empathy for Streicher. Oh, and he was an anti-vaxxer.[45] One guess why.


It's the
Icon law.svg
To punish
and protect

The so-called Nuremberg Principles, the basis for the charges against the defendants, established a concrete catalog of acts that are forbidden under international law. The notion of crimes against peace was subsequently codified into the United Nations charter as the prohibition against wars of aggression. The trials themselves set an important precedent for the actual conviction of war criminals and the leadership of aggressor states, and the introduction of extempore simultaneous translation (translation into multiple languages while the original is being spoken, which was necessary to run an affair with four official languages and several others heard in testimony) was revolutionary. Today, it is used at the meetings of the UN, the EU, the Canadian parliament, and various other governments, international organizations, etc.


The British Royal Air Force and United States Army Air Force killed an estimated 600,000 to 900,000[citation needed] German non-combatants in the fire-bombing of German cities during the Second World War (e.g. Hamburg and Dresden). Despite that, Britain joined the United States, the Soviet Union, and France in prosecuting senior German officials in the Nuremberg Trials at the end of the war. On the other hand, no charges were brought with regards to similar German tactics during their bombing campaign over Britain, in recognition of the fact that Britain had committed such atrocities too. Charges relating to the German policy of unrestricted submarine warfare were dropped in recognition of the fact that such a policy was also utilized by the Allies. And let's just not talk about The Bomb.

This does not mean that the moral authority and precedent established by the Nuremberg Trials have any less validity — it was truly a virtuous development in international relations to hold the leadership of a country responsible for heinous war crimes rather than collectively punishing the people. The western two-thirds of Germany was occupied by the three Western Allies following the Second World War and received direct humanitarian assistance and sovereign debts were canceled.[note 6] Compare this with the treatment of the defeated Germans following the First World War, where the German people were collectively punished in the form of reparations payments whilst their military leaders got off scot-free (and this punishment of the people helped the Nazis get into power in the first place). On the other hand, beyond de-Nazification, many lower-level German war criminals escaped punishment. Business executives, bureaucrats, academics, police officers, and soldiers with a lot of blood on their hands got to die in their beds rather than at the end of a rope. This was made worse by the fact that many of these same people ended up in positions of power to deny victims of the Nazi era a fair compensation or even just their old job back. In one particularly glaring example, the widow of Roland Freisler[note 7] successfully managed to get a widow's pension, arguing he would have carried on as a judge had he lived. Given the many "unbroken biographies" of quite high-ranking Nazis, this assertion is most likely true. The protests of 1967/68 that happened in most of Europe, including West Germany, were in part fueled by the young generation protesting against the Nazi involvement of their parents.

Another line of criticism calls into question the integrity of the Soviet Union's main judge for the trials, Iona Nikitchenko, who had presided over some of the most notorious of Joseph Stalin's show trials during the Great Purges of 1936 to 1938.[46] In the lead-up to the trial, Nikitchenko had said that "The whole idea is to secure quick and just punishment for the crime",[47] as well as that "If... the judge is supposed to be impartial, it would only lead to unnecessary delays".

Film evidence[edit]

As part of the proceedings, two documentaries were produced and exhibited as evidence. English language versions of these films still survive and are available for viewing and download. WARNING: The footage from the then-recently liberated concentration camps is incredibly graphic.

Footage from the Internet Archive[edit]

Other World War II trials[edit]

Many other war trials happened after the war, and the exact number is hard to arrive at.[48] Some of the other prominent trials were:

  • Singapore trials conducted by the British in 1946.[49]
  • Tokyo war crimes trials in 1946.[50]
  • The Soviet trials in 1949 of Japanese soldiers involved in biological weapons and human experimentation.[51][52]
  • The trial of fugitive SS Obersturmbahnfuehrer Adolf Eichmann in Israel in 1961.

See also[edit]


  1. To be exact, Dönitz was named President, and Goebbels Chancellor; the office of Führer was abolished with Hitler's death.
  2. The ensuing battle, during which the SS committed countless war crimes, lasted until May 12, four days after the war's official end.
  3. For ethnic Poles like Frédéric ChopinWikipedia who were too prominent to wipe from the historical record, the Nazis fabricated German pedigrees.
  4. Thus more or less ending Polish's existence as a written language.
  5. The von in his name did not indicate any aristocratic roots; he simply persuaded an aristocratic aunt-by-marriage to adopt him at age 35.
  6. Including one loan Germany had forced the Greek government to grant Germany...
  7. One particularly nasty — and high-ranking — Nazi judge who died in an air raid.
  8. He also directed the short film That Justice Be Done about the War Crimes Trials.
  9. Yes, the same Ray Kellogg who would later direct such B-movies as Attack of the Killer Shrews and The Giant Gila Monster, but also co-directed the John Wayne vehicle The Green Berets.
  10. He would later direct Stalag 17 and Witness for the Prosecution.


  1. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum: International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg
  2. USHMM: list of the defendants
  3. University of Missouri-Kansas City: The Nuremberg Trials
  4. USHMM: Who else was brought to trial?
  5. "BORDGERICHT: S. Zt. erschossen". Der Spiegel 28. 1965-07-07. 
  6. Goldensohn, Leon (2004). The Nuremberg Interviews. New York. ISBN 1-4000-3043-9.
  8. "The International Military Tribunal for Germany - Nuremberg Trial Proceedings Vol. 12". The Avalon Project: Documents in Law, History, and Diplomacy. Yale Law School Lillian Goldman Law Library. TMWC, XII, p. 20.
  9. Rosenbaum, Ron (1998). Explaining Hitler, New York: Random House, p. 25.
  10. Shirer, William L. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. New York City: Simon and Schuster, 1960.
  11. Fest, Joachim (2004) [2002]. Inside Hitler's Bunker, pp. 137–139.
  16. Yes, Band of BrothersWikipedia fans, that Ronald Speirs.
  20. Guido Knopp (1998). Hitler's Warriors: Wilhelm Keitel
  22. Förster, Jürgen (1998). "Complicity or Entanglement? The Wehrmacht, the War and the Holocaust (pages 266–283)". In Michael Berenbaum & Abraham Peck (ed.). The Holocaust and History: The Known, the Unknown, the Disputed and the Reexamined. Bloomington: Indian University Press. ISBN 978-0-253-33374-2.
  24. The Nuremberg Hangings — Not So Smooth Either, 16 January 2007
  25. Evans, Richard J. (2005). The Third Reich in Power. London: Allen Lane. ISBN 978-0-7139-9649-4.
  26. William Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (Touchstone Edition) (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1990)
  27. Blandford (2001). SS Intelligence: The Nazi Secret Service, p. 135.
  28. Weitz, John. Hitler's Diplomat: The Life And Times Of Joachim von Ribbentrop. New York: Ticknor & Fields, 1992.
  29. Rees, Laurence The Nazis: A Warning from History, New York: New Press, 1997
  30. Waddington, Geoffrey. "'An Idyllic and Unruffled Atmosphere of Complete Anglo–German Misunderstanding': Aspects of the Operation of the Dienststelle Ribbentrop in Great Britain 1934–1939". History, Volume 82, 1997, pp. 44–74.
  34. Schacht, Hjalmar. The Magic of Money. Trans. by Paul Erskine. London: Oldbourne (1967). page 59
  38. Fest, Joachim (1999), Speer: The Final Verdict, translated by Ewald Osers and Alexandra Dring, Harcourt.
  42. If you read this, treat yourself to a scalding-hot shower afterwards and disinfect your computer.
  43. When you look at what he published, it’s hard to disagree.
  44. Randall L. Bytwerk: (2001). Julius Streicher: Nazi Editor of the Notorious Anti-Semitic Newspaper Der Stürmer. Cooper Square Press.
  46. Encyclopedia Krugosvet (in Russian)
  47. on June 29, 1945 (8. Report of Robert Jackson, United States Representative to the London Charter of the International Military Tribunal|International Conference on Military Trials, London, 1945 (Washington, DC: US State Dept., 1949), pp. 104-106, 303.; Whitney R. Harris, Tyranny on Trial: The Evidence at Nuremberg (Dallas: S.M.U. Press, 1954), pp. 16-17.)
  48. Post-WWII Justice Singapore War Crimes Trials.
  49. Singapore War Crimes Trials
  50. See the Wikipedia article on International Military Tribunal for the Far East.
  51. See the Wikipedia article on Khabarovsk war crimes trials.
  52. Materials on the Trial of Former Servicemen of the Japanese Army Charged With Manufacturing and Employing Bacteriological Weapons (1950) Foreign Languages Publishing House.