The 60th Anniversary of the Nuremberg Trials begins November 20th. Described as the “greatest trial in history, the Nuremberg Trials decided the fate of Nazi Germany’s most infamous military and political leaders.
The Nuremberg trials (German: die Nürnberger Prozesse) were a series of military tribunals, held by the Allied forces after World War II, which were most notable for the prosecution of prominent members of the political, military, judicial and economic leadership of Nazi Germany who planned, carried out, or otherwise participated in The Holocaust and other war crimes. The trials were held in the city of Nuremberg, Germany.
The first, and best known of these trials, described as “the greatest trial in history” by Norman Birkett, one of the British judges who presided over it, was the trial of the major war criminals before the International Military Tribunal (IMT). Held between 20 November 1945 and 1 October 1946, the Tribunal was given the task of trying 24 of the most important political and military leaders of the Third Reich, though one of the defendants, Martin Bormann, was tried in absentia, while another, Robert Ley, committed suicide within a week of the trial’s commencement.
Not included were Adolf Hitler, Heinrich Himmler, and Joseph Goebbels, all of whom had committed suicide in the spring of 1945, well before the indictment was signed. Reinhard Heydrich was not included, as he had been assassinated in 1942.
The second set of trials of lesser war criminals was conducted under Control Council Law No. 10 at the U.S. Nuremberg Military Tribunals (NMT), which included the Doctors’ Trial and the Judges’ Trial. This article primarily deals with the IMT; see Subsequent Nuremberg Trials for details on the NMT (the second set of trials).
The Tribunal is celebrated for establishing that “[c]rimes against international law are committed by men, not by abstract entities, and only by punishing individuals who commit such crimes can the provisions of international law be enforced.” The creation of the IMT was followed by trials of lesser Nazi officials and the trials of Nazi doctors, who performed experiments on people in prison camps. It served as the model for the International Military Tribunal for the Far East which tried Japanese officials for crimes against peace and against humanity. It also served as the model for the Eichmann trial and for present-day courts at The Hague, for trying crimes committed during the Balkan wars of the early 1990s, and at Arusha, for trying the people responsible for the genocide in Rwanda.