The Nuremberg TrialsThe Nuremberg Trials
The Nuremberg trial was built up to be the trial of the century. In the word’s of Norman Birkett, who served as a British alternate judge: it was “the greatest trial in history” . The four most intriguing characters of this trial were of vast contradiction to each other; there was Herman Georing the relentless leader, Joachim von Ribbentrop the guilty and indecisive follower of Hitler, Hjalmar Schacth the arrogant financial wizard of the Rich and Albert Speer the remorseful head of armament and munitions. Three of the four allies wanted the Nazi leaders to be executed without a trial Winston Churchill said, “They should be rounded up and shot like dog’s” but the Americans persuaded the other allies that a trial would be most beneficial from a public relations standpoint, so now with the allies agreed the stage for Nuremberg was set.
The four most fascinating leaders of the Nazi party that were put on trial were Georing, von Ribbentrop, Schacth and Speer, not so much individually but together. Georing was presumably the most famous and high ranking of all the defendants tried at Nuremberg. He had joined the Nazi party in 1922 and ascended to the post of president of the Reichstag in essence Hitler’s number two man. He like many of the others tried was very intelligent, but seemed to be much too aware of it. He defend himself and Hitler vigorously saying “the victor will always be the judge and the vanquished the accused. “ Von Ribbentrop was the German foreign minister in theory, but in reality he was just a messenger of Hitler’s will with no real power. He was said by all Nazi leaders to be very week and indecisive to the point of asking prison barbers and guards for advice for his defense. The once powerful man who made foreign policy decisions that cost millions there lives could not even decide if he felt remorse or if he was correct in his actions.
Schacth the German in charge of finances and the Reichsbank considered himself to be innocent in the absolute. He stated that he did help rearm Germany but that was hardly a crime because the allied military inspectors watched as we broke the treaty of Versailles. He said his proof of being innocent was that he served time in a German concentration camp for disagreeing with Hitler. The most repentant of all the Nazi higher ups was Albert Speer. He wanted to take responsibility for actions, and wanted the others to do the same. Speer was in charge of munitions and armament. The defendants all pleading not guilty, they were now left with the task of waiting for there fate.
With the defendants all in custody the next step of the trial would be for the allies to organize their prosecution and manufacture the charges agents the defendants. The allies indicted the Nazis under four counts with each allied country dealing with one count.
Committee (1) Conspiracy to commit crimes alleged in other counts (United States)
Committee (2) Crimes agents peace (England)
Committee (3) War Crimes (France)
Committee (4) Crimes agents humanity (Russia)
The United States alleged that the Nazi party as a whole committed conspiracy to start an aggressive war, to commit crimes agents humanity (slave labor and the stealing of resources) and to cleanse the world of various ethnic groups. After the Nazi party acquired governmental control over Germany they conspired to:(a compressed version of the indictment as a whole by all four countries)
Conspiracy to Commit Crimes Agents the peace
-Re-arm and reoccupy the Rhineland in violation of the treaty of Versailles (World War II surrender terms, limitations on Army, Air Force and Navy)
-On 5/21/1935 the Germans falsely announced to the world that they would fallow the Versailles and Locarno Pacts (Territorial and weapons treaty)
-Aggressive action agents Austria and Czechoslovakia.
-As of 1937 plans were made for the conquest of Austria and Czechoslovakia contrary to what Hitler said “Germany neither intends, nor wishes to interfere in the internal affairs of Austria”
-The planning to start war with Denmark, Norway, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Yugoslavia, Greece, England and Russia.
Conspiracy to Commit War Crimes and Crimes Agents Humanity.
-The Nazi party conspired to commit ethnic cleansing.
-The Nazi party doctrine stated the fallowing.
(a) That persons of German blood were a master race
(b) That war was a necessary and noble activity of the German people
(c) That the Nazi party was a supreme power even over God
(d) Implementing anti-Semitism and the “master race” policy
– The Nazi’s persecution of the various Religions of Germany
– The Nazi’s use of slave labor from countries they conquered and stolen resources and national treasures
The conspiracy charge of the United States covered all of the other counts of the indictment as well. To go along with the charges of the Nazi party there was an individual charge for each defendant as well. Goering was charged under all four counts of the indictment, specifically as president of the Richstage, setting up concentration camps, aggressive war and using his personal power to help the Nazis gain power and did not stop, but in fact encouraged the above-mentioned crimes. Von Ribbentrop was charged with all four counts, using his power as foreign minister to encouraged aggressive war on the countries of Europe, persecute different ethnic groups and for breaking a laundry lists of treaties. Schacht was charged with the first two counts of the indictment for being a member of the Nazi party, helping Germany re-arm, and encouraging war on Europe. Speer was charge with the last two counts of the indictment for enlisting slave labor. With the charges laid out for the world to see the trial was now ready to begin.
With all the charges laid out the trial was set to begin. Each country would present its case to the court fallowed by each defendant presenting his case. The United States would present first. Lead prosecutor for the U.S Robert Jackson began to outline his case starting with Hitler’s rise to power and his propaganda policies. The first witness of the trial was Major Wallis who went into detail of how Hitler and Goebbels used propaganda to impose their doctrine of hate, persecution and ethnic cleansing on the German people. The key part of the trial came when the “Hoszbach document” was presented into evidence. The document outlined the Germany’s plan to take over Eastern Europe. “…To conquer Czechoslovakia and Austria simultaneously…German politics must reckon in part with its two hateful enemies England and France”. This document was damaging because it proved the United States case that the Nazi party had in fact conspired to conquer Europe long before the outbreak of war. Next for the United Sates was the showing of an atrocity film with depicted German death camps as found by allied troops. The next key witness in the case was General Lahousen who was head of German counter-intelligence. He talked about the concentration camps and the atrocities there. With the United States case finished the British began there case which was short and to the point. With the United States bringing up all four counts of the indictments in their case the British case was very short. The first piece of evidence in the British case was letters from Franklin Roosevelt and Chamberlain of England pleading the Germans not to invade Poland and other European countries. The English also put forth documents of planed Nazi aggression that were taken as early as 1934. The French and Russian prosecutions were very similar in the fact that they outlined the death camps, slave labor and the stealing of property/resources. The French prosecution consisted basically of a list of various crimes from the murder of French P.O.W, to the stealing of art and supplies. They only called few witnesses and presented only a list of Nazi theft. The Russians also presented a list of crimes but they showed a very incrementing film of Nazi death camps in Eastern Europe. During the presentation of this film many of the defendants were seeing crying and were very shaken. With the prosecution case finished the defendants would present their case. Georing would be first. Georing only called two witnesses (not including himself) who were to testify that Georing tried to make peace with allied countries behind von Ribbentrop’s back and that he was unaware of the death camps. Both witnesses under cross from Jackson admitted that Georing did not make a real effort for peace and had infact started the concentration camps as head of the Prussia Police. When Georing testified he did not do much better. His only real defense was that “I was just a solider obeying my leader.” He was also made to admit that he knew of some of the incidents of extermination “but did not know the extent of them” . The next to take the stand was von Ribbentrop. His defense revolved around the theory that his office was disorganized that when he gave an order it was interpreted and changed “there was constant wrangling over authority, changing orders. The fact that high government officials were always at odds made the entire system a mess.” When he took the stand he did not ad very much to his case saying that many of the treaties he had signed in good faith, but that Hitler had given direct orders to disobey them. When crossed by the British he wilted under pressure of a stack of documents incriminating him. The next to testify was Schacht. He said, “He simply wanted to make Germany a economic force.” He proved that he did not fallow Hitler by presenting documents indicating his resignation and his being thrown into a labor camp. The only points that were contested were his breaking of the Versailles treaty and his help in re-arming Germany. The last to testify from the group was Albert Speer. He took responsibility for his part in the crimes including slave labor, but added near the end of the war he had tried to assonate Hitler (This had been made public earlier in the trial) to prevent feather damage. He also said that he ignored Hitler’s order to destroy German “If Germany can not win the war then she dose not deserve to survive.” When Speer was crossed he admitted to the extent of the slave labor he had used and admitted that he was unconcerned about the legality of it all. The next phase in the trial was the moment of truth for all the condemned Nazis. The first verdict was that of Georing. The judge said that from the moment Georing had joined the party he had persecuted Jews, had encouraged Hitler to make war and had stolen treasure from occupied countries. Guilty on all counts, death by hanging. The next verdict was that of von Ribbentrop. The judge did see his side somewhat but added “it was because Hitler’s policy and plans coincided with his own ideas that Ribbentrop served him so willingly to the end.” Guilty all counts, death by hanging.
In the judge’s verdict of Schacht he denounced him but added, “The tribunal has considered the evidence with great care, and comes to the conclusion that this necessary inference (the Nazi party) has not been established beyond a reasonable doubt.” Not guilty. The last verdict was Speer who had thrown his mercy to the court. The judge sympathized with him but also denounced him. Guilty on counts three and four, twenty years impresentment.
What was the legacy of the Nuremberg trials? It was meant to change how wars are fought forever, but did not complete that goal of a permanent tribunal with only one other human rights tribunal since then. The trial is a successes in it self but it’s legacy is a failure. Robert Jackson said what the Nuremberg trial was about best in his closing argument “They have been given the kind of trial which they in the days of their pomp and power, never gave any man…” Fairness and a more civilized society.