Background

  • On August 8, 1945, directly following the end of World War II the Charter of The International Military Tribunal (IMT) also known as the Charter of the Nuremberg Tribunal, was signed at the London Conference
  • Held for the purpose of bringing Nazi war criminals to justice and to document Nazi Germany’s crimes
  • The proceedings established the principle that wartime leaders are accountable under international law for illegal and immoral actions
  • Defendants =  22 leading Nazis including Nazi party officials, high ranking military officers, German industrialists, lawyers, and doctors
  • Crimes charged: Conspiracy, crimes against peace, war crimes, crimes against humanity
  • Chief Defense Lawyers: Otto Stahmer, Fritz Sauter, Alfred Seitel, others
  • Chief Prosecutors: Representatives of the United States, Great Britain, The Soviet Union, France
  • Judges: Chief Judge Geoffrey Lawrence of Great Britain (elected President of the International Military Tribunal), seven associates
  • The United States, France, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union — provided one judge and one alternate for the court
  • The Clerks had been preparing analysis of the defendant’s guilt prior to the start of the trail
  • Verdicts: Nineteen of the 22 guilty on one or more counts
  • Sentences: 12- death by hanging; the others – prison terms
  • Nazi leader, Adolf Hitler, committed suicide and was never brought to trial
  • The city of Nuremberg(aka Nurnberg) in the German state of Bavaria was selected as the location for the trials because its Palace of Justice was relatively undamaged by the war and included a large prison area
  • Nuremberg had been the site of annual Nazi propaganda rallies and was considered to be the symbolic capital of Nazidom
  • Holding the post war trials there marked the symbolic end of Hitler’s government, the Third Reich
  • The Allies in concert dealt only with the leading conspirators; national courts would handle the thousands of lesser cases
  • Other war crimes trials were conducted parallel to the Nuremberg trial

Key Legal Issues 

  • No machinery had existed to punish the guilty in previous major wars
  • No precedent for an international trial of war criminals
  • Lack of process and fundamental lack of agreement among the judges and prosecutors of different nations
  • Many legal and procedural difficulties to overcome
  • Critics claimed the Allies were creating ex post facto law at Nuremberg
    • meaning that the defendants were indicted for something that was not a crime until after they had committed it
    • Ex post facto criminal laws are impermissible under the US constitution
  • Many believed that WWII was an exceptional event that required special legal exceptions;  many condemned it for its legal shortcomings and that some of the charges were selectively applied
  • Now regarded as a milestone toward the establishment of a permanent international court and an important precedent for dealing with later instances of genocide and other crimes against humanity
  • Laid the foundation for modern international law
  • Principles and judgments of the tribunal were adopted by the International Law Commission of the United Nations (1950)

Case

Herman Goering’s Hearing at Nuremberg

  • He was considered second in line to Hitler and had great influence and power during the Nazi Regime
  • He was Hitler’s political deputy and was largely instrumental in bringing the National Socialists to power in 1933
  • Responsible for confiscating Jewish-owned businesses and property, declaring the Nuremberg laws(institutionalized the racial theories in Nazi ideology) ,and trying to eliminate Jews completely from the German economy
  • Responsible for the creation of the Gestapo (secret state police of Nazi Germany and German occupied Europe), concentration camps, and the Luftwaffe (air force)
  • He was the first person tried at the Nuremberg trials which set precedents for the following trials
  • Goering’s defense and explanations for his actions were inadequate
  • In Goering’s cross-examinations he admitted to more associations with the Nazi’s anti-Semitic movements
  • “His guilt is unique in its enormity. The record discloses no excuses for this man” (Gilbert 437)
  • He attempted to deny responsibility for his actions but was found guilty on all four counts and was sentenced to death by hanging
  • He committed suicide in his prison cell by ingesting potassium cyanide the night before his execution was to be carried out