The Nuremberg Trials
The Nuremberg trials of Nazi leaders were conducted by a tribunal of military representatives from the United States, Great Britain, France, and the Soviet Union. U.S. Supreme Court Justice (and former Attorney General) Robert Jackson was the chief prosecutor, with Army Colonel Telford Taylor acting as chief prosecution counsel. Each of the four participating nations provided two judges, one of whom was an alternate.
The trials officially started on November 20, 1945, just a few months after the end of the war. However, the punishment of war criminals actually started a few weeks earlier — sometimes at the hands of the Allies, sometimes self-inflicted. On October 6, Dr. Leonardo Conti, one of several German doctors who had conducted heinous medical experiments on concentration camp inmates, took his own life in his prison cell in Nuremberg. A short time later, Pierre Laval, the former French foreign minister found guilty of treason by a Paris court, also attempted suicide. He failed, however, and was executed by a firing squad on October 15.
Figure 16-1 German defendant at the Nuremberg war crimes trial.
Photo courtesy of the National Archives (238-NT-592)
On October 20, twenty-four Nazi officials were indicted on four charges: (1) a common plan or conspiracy to seize power and establish a totalitarian regime to prepare and wage a war of aggression; (2) waging a war of aggression; (3) violation of the laws of war; (4) crimes against humanity, persecution, and extermination. Of those charged, twenty-two actually stood trial. Robert Ley, an early Nazi supporter and proponent of the mass extermination of Jews, committed suicide in his cell before the trial started, and Gustav Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach, whose armaments factories used slave labor throughout the war, was judged physically unfit and mentally incompetent to stand trial.
Because no buildings in Berlin were structurally sound enough to act as a courthouse, the principal war crimes trials were moved to Nuremberg, with other trials conducted at the sites of concentration camps. In the days before the Nuremberg trials, national trials were held in various European cities. In Oslo, Norway, for example, Vidkun Quisling, a Norwegian Nazi sympathizer, was found guilty of “criminal collaboration” with Germany and was executed on October 14, 1945.