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Special Report: Remembering Nuremberg

As war crimes are uncovered in Ukraine and President Zelenskyy invokes Nuremberg in his speech to the United Nations, a look back at the historic trials.
Special Report: Remembering Nuremberg
Associate Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson (United States) at Nuremberg.

In the aftermath of World War II, the Allied powers—United States, Great Britain, France, and the Soviet Union—formed the International Military Tribunal (IMT) and prosecuted Nazi war criminals for crimes against humanity. The first of its kind, this coalition of nations set out to punish the political and military leaders of a defeated regime. Nuremberg, Germany was chosen to symbolize the demise of Nazi Germany because the city had been so prominent for it's propaganda rallies.

Convening in Nuremberg's historic Palace of Justice, twenty-four Nazi officials were brought to trial, and when the IMT delivered its judgment on September 30 and October 1, 1946, twelve of the defendants were sentenced to death, three to life imprisonment, four to imprisonment ranging from 10 to 20 years, and three were acquitted. Nazi leaders Adolf Hitler, Joseph Goebbels, and Heinrich Himmler had avoided the trial by committing suicide before the war's end.

An excellent overview of the Nuremberg Trials (and links to an outstanding collection of articles) is presented by the National World War II Museum.

From the National World War II Museum: Between November 20, 1945 to October 1, 1946, the Tribunal tried 24 of the most important military and political leaders of the Third Reich and heard evidence against 21 of the defendants. During the trial, the Tribunal—and the world—learned about the the Nazi Party and its "planning, initiating and waging of aggressive war" from the beginning. Footage of Nazi concentration camps taken by Allied military photographers during liberation was shown to the court. The graphic scenes of what had taken place in Europe were the most powerful evidence presented at the trial. Other memorable moments of the trial were the screenings of the Nazi Concentration and Prison Camps and The Nazi Plan films, the detailed description of the Final Solution, the murders of prisoners of war, atrocities in extermination camps, and countless cruel acts to prosecute Jews.
Justice Jackson Delivering the Opening Statement at Nuremberg. Courtesy of the US Army Signal Corps. Katherine Fite Lincoln Papers, Harry S. Truman Library & Museum.

This webpage from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum includes additional information as well as an annotated bibliography for further reading.

From the US Holocaust Memorial Museum: Once the IMT established the criminality of aggressive war, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, subsequent trials could determine the guilt of other Nazi officials and military leaders accused of those crimes. In these cases, later known as Subsequent Nuremberg Proceedings, defendants represented many segments of German society, from jurists and politicians to physicians, businessmen, collaborators and army officers.
The defendants in the dock at the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg. US Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of John W. Mosenthal

Finally, the Robert H. Jackson Center provides a rich history of Justice Jackson's important role in the proceedings.

From the Robert H. Jackson Center: We then went to work with might and main to get out a report to the President on a plan for conducting the trials. The staff devoted itself to it almost constantly. The President revealed the report at a press conference, gave copies of it to the press, and said that he had completely approved it as expressing the American position. Many men had been very skeptical about a trial because they could see no plan for it, felt that the project hadn’t been thought through, that it was carelessly entered upon and that it was likely to run amuck. On reading this report they had a new confidence in our enterprise
President Harry S. Truman and Justice Robert H. Jackson, June 1945. Credit: Harry S. Truman Library & Museum.