23 October 2007

Crime & Punishment:
The Nuremberg Trials

By Vicki Gaia

The International Military Tribunal (IMT), known as The Nuremberg Trials, resulted in a desire to see the Nazi political, economic and military leadership face justice. At first, the Allies didn't agree to the form of punishment. Churchill believed they should be hunted down and shot. The French and Soviets preferred summary executions, while the Americans pushed for trials. However, at Yalta in February 1945, they all agreed to the to the prosecution of Axis leaders following the end of World War II. In August of 1945, the Allies met in London and signed the agreement that created the IMT, the Nuremberg court, and the set of rules for trial.

Nuremberg had been the site of the elaborate Nazi party rallies. Holding the trials in this city symbolized the demise of the Nazi Party. While most of the city laid in ruins from Allied bombings, the Palace of Justice, where the trials would be held, remained fairly unscathed, and had a convenient prison adjacent to it.

On November 20, 1945, twenty-one defendants were charged with participating in the conspiracy for the accomplishment of crimes against peace, war crimes, crimes against humanity and planning, initiating and waging wars of aggression. If found guilty, the punishment was ten years to life in prison or death by hanging, using the standard drop method. The French suggested a firing squad, the standard death sentence for military court-martial, but this was opposed by the Soviets who believed the Nazis were unworthy of this more dignified method.

I thought it was interesting that throughout the trials an American psychiatrist, Leon Goldensohn, interviewed the defendants. His notebooks survived, and would make interesting reading.

The results of the Nuremberg trials set in motion the establishment of a permanent criminal court, leading to the adoption of the Statute of the International Criminal Court fifty years later. The trials served the purpose of keeping the horrendous war crimes in the public's view three years after the war ended. Also the trials became a catalyst for the creations of several conventions on genocide and human rights.