I am a Senior at The Citadel in South Carolina. My name is James Arnold and I recently wrote a history paper about the Nuremberg crimes and trials and I have posted it on the web for the world to view.
The Nuremberg Crimes and Trials
The Nuremberg Trials were a series of thirteen trials that occurred after World War II to punish the accused military persons for committing inhumane violations of the rules of war. A war crime is a military violation of the rules of war.1 The rules of war have been set up by a consensus of many countries following World War I and known as international laws. An international law is the body of rules and general principles that nations are expected to observe in their relations with one another.3 There are three kinds of international laws. They are laws of peace, war, and neutrality. The law of peace states that each country has the right to existence, legal equality, jurisdiction over its territory, ownership of property, and diplomatic relations with other countries.3 The law of peace gives each established country or nation the right to survive and provide for itself. The laws of war states that the private property must not be seized by invaders without compensation and surrendering soldiers may not be killed or assaulted and must be treated as prisoners of war.3 The accused leaders at the Nuremberg Trials were being accused of violating these laws because they caused millions of unnecessary deaths and slave labor. The final category of international laws are laws of neutrality. These laws state that belligerents (warring states) are forbidden to move troops across neutral territory.3 The Nuremberg Trials would have never existed if it were not for two individuals who escaped to tell their story of the events that occurred when they were taken as prisoners by the German military to work at the concentration camps. These two men were Alfred Wecsler and Rudolf Vrba.
Alfred Wecsler and Rudolf Vrba were at a concentration camp in Auschwitz where they performed many forms of work and watched those who rebelled get killed and replaced by other prisoners. Wecsler and Vrba were two Slovakian Jews7a and thus naturally became captive by Hitler's clan of Nazis. Hitler believed Jews were inferior to other races of people. Today, he would be called a racist, but in Germany he was revered as a highly powerful person. To the United States at this time,, he was given the same image as Saddam Hussein has from the Persian Gulf conflict. He was a blood hungry terrorist who dominated the lives of the less fortunate. To this day the rationale behind his actions is not fully understood. Wecsler shared a gruesome and descriptive story of part of his life while in the concentration camp in Auschwitz. He described how he and some of the other captives arrived in Auschwitz after midnight on April 15 when he learned that only 150 of the 12,000 Russian prisoners of war detailed in December 1941 survived the harsh German winter and the maltreatment. He continued to say that they died of exposure to the elements, starvation, and disease.7b Vrba arrived at the concentration camp in the midsummer of 1942 where he worked with the Aufraumungkommando, that is, the cleaning squad. Their main job was to unload freight cars as they arrived and sort out the belongings of the people.7 To the ordinary person, the labor at these concentration camps seemed a lot less harsh than anticipated, but the jobs that were given were difficult. If a person did not want to work a certain job, their problems with the job abruptly ended. In many instances if a prisoner was unable to work, they were killed to eliminate the burden such as in the picture below of a Jewish mother and her children in line for execution. The Germans saw it more beneficial to bury or burn a prisoner’s body than to have him or her work. The woman does not seem to know that she and her family are in line for their deaths.
Jews were not the only group that was subject to execution. The gypsies were also a troubled group as seen in the picture below. They also do not seem to know that they are about to die.
Alfred Wecsler and Rudolf Vrba learned their escape plan from the failures of others. They watched as many tried, but failed either from the electric fences or being shot from the watchtowers. The escape from the camp was made difficult not only by the physical barriers, but by the negative attitude of the general camp population, which suffered after each attempted escape.7a If an escapee somehow made his way beyond the two electrified fences and watchtowers, blaring sirens alerted the whole countryside.7b An inmate would not receive help from the local people because aiding an inmate meant death.7c Vrba and Wecsler obtained civilian clothes, money, and food from their jobs and on, April 7, 1944, escaped the camp and blended in with the locals. They told their story and no one would believe them because everyone thought it was impossible for a person (Hitler) to run around and find all the Jews for execution. Their story reached the White House shortly after the mass extermination of Hungarian Jews in the spring of 1944.7d To their story, Roosevelt said: "Hungary's fate will not be like any other civilized nation's. . . unless the deportations are stopped."7e
On July 2 his words were reinforced by a heavy air raid on Budapest and its railroad facilities.7f The Germans pulled out of Budapest later that year.
The Nuremberg Trials followed that event in 1939 and continued from 1945 to 1949. The trial involves the proceedings for those military leaders accused of violating the laws of peace, the laws of neutrality, and the laws of war in general. The accused were Hermann Göring, Rudolf Hess, Joachim von Ribbentrop, Wilhelm Keitel, Ernst Kaltenbrunner, Alfred Rosenberg, Hans Frank, Konstantin van Neurath, Wilhelm Frick, Julius Streicher, Walther Funk, Fritz Sauckel, Hjalmar Schacht, Karl Dönitz, Baldur von Schirach, Alfred Jodl, Franz von Papen, Erich Raeder, Arthur Seyss-Inquart, Albert Speer, and Hans Fritzsche. The men, shown in the photo below in the front row, from left to right: Hermann Göring, Rudolf Hess, Joachim von Ribbentrop, Wilhelm Keitel, Ernst Kaltenbrunner, Alfred Rosenberg, Hans Frank, Wilhelm Frick, Julius Streicher, Walther Funk, and Hjalmar Schacht. In the back row from left to right: Karl Dönitz, Erich Raeder, Baldur von Schirach, Fritz Sauckel, Alfred Jodl, Franz von Papen, Arthur Seyss-Inquart, Albert Speer, Konstantin van Neurath, and Hans Fritzsche. Of all these defendants 10 of them are well known. They are Hermann Göring, Rudolf Hess, Joachim von Ribbentrop, Alfred Rosenberg, Wilhelm Frick, Julius Streicher, Albert Speer, Hans Frank, Karl Dönitz, and Arthur Seyss-Inquart.7a They were charged on four counts, (1) Conspiracy to wage aggressive war, (2) waging aggressive war, (3) violation of the laws of war, and (4) crimes against humanity.7b Hermann Göring was the only questionable member of the accused because he was said to be mentally incompetent to stand trial for the crimes that he may have committed. The accused were not among the dregs of society, they were "big wigs" who were highly respected in their countries either because of their position or because of the culture or society. Hermann Göring was chief of the Luftwaffe, Hitler’s designated successor until supplanted by Dönitz.5a Rudolf Hess was deputy fuhrer, third-ranking nazi until his flight to Scotland in 1941.5b Joachim von Ribbentrop was the Nazi foreigh minister.5c Alfred Rosenberg was the Nazi minister for the Occupied Eastern Territories and head of Einstab Rosenberg.5d Wilhelm Frick was the Nazi minister of the interior and later the Protector of Bohemia and Moravia.5e Julius Streicher was publisher of the anti-Semitic newspaper Der Sturmer.5f Albert Speer was the Reich minister for armaments and war production.5g Hans Frank was the governor general of Nazi-occupied Poland. Karl Dönitz was a grand admiral, commander of the German U-boat fleet, and successor to Raeder as commander in chief of the German navy.5a And finally, Arthur Seyss-Inquart was the Nazi commissioner of occupied Holland.5b Although these men occupied the higher level of society, they needed lawyers. These defense attorneys were Hans Flachsner, Martin Horn, Otto Kranzbuehler, Gunther von Rohrscheidt, Fritz Sauter, Alfred Seidl, and Otto Stahmer.5c Flachsner was Speer’s defense attorney.5d Horn was Ribbentrop’s second defense counsel.5e Kranzbuehler was the German navy judge and Dönitz’s defense counsel.5f Von Rohrscheidt was Hess’s first defense attorney.5g Sauter was Ribbentrop’s first defense counsel.5h Seidl was Hess’s second defense counsel and Frank’s defense counsel.5i And finally, Stahmer was Göring’s defense counsel.5j Now that we see how the defense is formed, lets look at the prosecution side.
The prosecutors were an international mix of probably the most successful lawyers in each country. They were: William Baldwin, U. S. assistant prosecutor, John Harlan Amen, U. S. Colonel, associate trial counsel and head of interrogations, Murray Bernays, War Department lawyer who drafted the initial proposal for prosecuting international war criminals, Thomas J. Dodd, associate and later deputy U. S. prosecutor, Whitney Harris, assistant U. S. prosecutor, Robert Jackson, chief U. S. prosecutor, Thomas Lambert, assistant U. S. prosecutor, Daniel Margolies, assistant U. S. prosecutor, V. Y. Pokrovsky, deputy Soviet prosecutor, Roman Rudenko, chief Soviet prosecutor, Sir Hartley Shawcross, British prosecutor, Drexel Sprecher, assistant U. S. prosecutor and later prosecutor at subsequent war crimes trials, Robert Storey, U. S. Colonel and head of the U. S. prosecution team under Robert Jackson, and Telford Taylor, U. S. General and prosecutor of the High Command case and later chief prosecutor at priortrials.5 Below, Robert Jackson is shown while in the act of cross examining he suspects. With these many prosecutors and only a few lawyers, it probably became heated in the courtroom and so there was an international mix of justices to go with the lawyers.
The justices were Alexander Volchkov, alternate Soviet justice, John Parker, alternate U. S. justice on the court, Ion Timofeevich Nikitchenko, Major General of jurisprudence and Soviet justice on the court, Sir Geoffrey Lawrence, British justice and president of the court, Robert Falco, alternate French justice on the court, Henri de Vabres Donnedieu, French justice on the court, Sir Norman Birkett, alternate British justice on the court, Francis Biddle, former U. S. Attorney General and American justice on the court. Shown below is British judge Sir Geoffrey Lawrence and Francis Briddle conferring before the trials began on November 20,1945.10
The trials lasted for four years and while proceeded, the court reached a time when they found it impossible to define precisely what constituted a war of aggression.7a The judgment declared: "To initiate a war of aggression is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole."7b
After this point was clarified, the court made it clear that those who participated in the planning and prosecution of aggressive war were guilty by saying: "Hitler could not make aggressive war by himself. He had to have the cooperation of statesmen, military leaders, diplomats, and businessmen. When they, with knowledge of his aims, gave their cooperation, they made themselves party to the plan he had initiated. They are not to be deemed innocent because Hitler made use of them, if they knew what they were doing."7a
Later that day the verdicts were read and all men were found guilty of the charges they faced individually. The next day, September 3, 1949, the sentences were read and they were as follows:7b
Joachim von Ribbentrop
Death by hanging
Death by hanging
20 years in prison
Death by hanging
Death by hanging
Life in prison
Death by hanging
10 years in prison
Death by hanging
Death by hanging
The verdicts of the Trials have been tortured by criticism since they were released to the public back in 1949. Many people have wondered why Adolf Hitler did not appear in the Trials. Many say he could not be located while others say that the actions of his military leaders was on their personal account. Major General John Shirley Wood, U. S. Army was commanding the 4th Armored Division from 1942 to 1945 and he says: my opinion of the infamous Nuremberg Trials, expressed at the time, was that our country could never live down its participation in such a shameful travesty of justice. Today my opinion remains the same, in spite of the specious attempts at justification by Justice Jackson and others connected with that dismal tragedy.6 Clearly, very strong words from the General, but he illustrates his anger and disgust with the way the trials were conducted. He is only one of many who have a negative attitude about the Nuremberg Trials. The decisions in the Trials changed many of the rules and proceedings for war such as the first clause of Article 35 of the Geneva Protocols which states: "in any armed conflict, the right of the Parties to the conflict to choose methods or means of warfare is not unlimited."9 Although these trials have changed the course of history, the images of the innocent people that were killed will never leave the unconscious minds of people who experienced the losses and those who studied the losses. The picture of the corpse lying in the road being passed by a mob of Jews being escorted to Kiev illustrates the horror that some of them went through when they thought of their personal fate. After writing this report, I realized how important the Nuremberg Trials were to changing the course of following international crimes. General Wood was not alone when he said that the process of the trials were a bad representation of the United States because the book Dönitz at Nuremberg: A Reappraisal consists primarily of quotations about what various military figures think about the Trials. This book mainly gave a negative image of the Trials which biased my opinion somewhat because I did not know much about the Trails before I conducted this report.
1 "War Crime." World Book Encyclopedia, 1990.
2 "Nuremberg Trials." World Book Encyclopedia, 1990.
3 "International law." World Book Encyclopedia, 1990.
4 "Kellog-Briand Peace Pact." World Book Encyclopedia, 1990.
5 Joseph E. Persico, Nuremberg: Infamy on Trial. (New York: Penguin Books, Inc., 1994)
6 H. K. Thompson Jr. and Henry Strutz, editors., Dönitz at Nuremberg: A Reappraisal. (New York City: Amber Publishing Corporation, 1976)
7 Robert E. Carnot, Justice at Nuremberg. (New York: Harper and Row Publishers, 1983)
8 James F. Willis, Prologue to Nuremberg: The Politics and Diplomacy of Punishing War Criminals of the First World War. (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1982)
9 Peter Karsten, Law, Soldiers, and Combat. (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1978)
10 A Teacher's Guide to the Holocaust. http://fcit.coedu.usf.edu/holocaust/people/perps.htm
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