TODAY is the 75th anniversary of the end of arguably the most momentous trial in history. On the afternoon of October 1, 1946, the Nuremberg Trial of Nazi war criminals ended with 12 of them being sentenced to death.

It was not the last trial in Nuremberg, as the United States put many more Nazis in court for their part in supporting the German war machine. There were 12 additional trials in Nuremberg of high-level officials of the German government, military and SS, as well as medical professionals and leading industrialists.

Yet it was the conclusion of the International Military Tribunal (IMT) 75 years ago today which saw the first death sentences handed out and which set the pattern for the future of global justice actions against war criminals.


THE Allies had stated as far back as 1943 that they would hunt down those responsible for German atrocities in Europe.

After the Allies’ victory over Germany was confirmed in May, 1945, there was understandably great clamour in various countries for the Nazi leaders to be punished.

Britain’s wartime prime minister Winston Churchill wanted a simple solution – all the top Nazis responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity such as the Holocaust should be executed without trial.

For various reasons – such as wanting to get to the truth of what happened and to uncover more evidence of Nazi evil – the Allies ignored Churchill and decided on trials with formal charges, prosecution and defence

lawyers, and judges from each of the four powers then occupying Germany (the UK, USA, USSR and France). Each of the four main judges had an alternate, giving eight judges in all.

The president of the court was British, Geoffrey Lawrence, and his alternate was Sir Norman Birkett who would describe Nuremberg as the “greatest trial in history”. It began on November 19, 1945 and made the name of Nuremberg in Bavaria famous around the world.


CHARGES varying from crimes against peace, war crimes in contravention of international treaties, such as the Hague Convention, and crimes against humanity were laid against 22 leading Nazis – two more cases were not proceeded with. The latter charge was the most serious and was defined as “murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation and other inhumane acts committed against any civilian population, before or during the war; or persecution on political, racial, or religious ground”.

The prosecutors, who included the Scottish lawyer David Maxwell-Fyfe, set out to forensically demonstrate the Nazis’ evil conspiracies such as the Holocaust.

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum records the names and designations in straightforward manner. It is a list of infamy.

The National:

The indicted, according to the charges, include Hermann Goring (Hitler’s former deputy), Rudolf Hess (above left, deputy leader of the Nazi Party), Joachim von Ribbentrop (foreign minister), Wilhelm Keitel (head of the armed forces),

Wilhelm Frick (minister of the interior), Ernst Kaltenbrunner (head of security forces), Hans Frank (governor-general of occupied Poland), Konstantin von Neurath (governor of Bohemia and Moravia), Erich Raeder (head of the navy), Karl Doenitz (Raeder’s successor), Alfred Jodl (armed forces command), Alfred Rosenberg (minister for occupied eastern territories), Baldur von Schirach (head of the Hitler Youth), Julius Streicher (radical Nazi antisemitic publisher), Fritz Sauckel (head of forced-labor allocation), Albert Speer (armaments minister), and Arthur Seyss-Inquart (commissioner for the occupied Netherlands). Martin Bormann (Hitler’s adjutant) is tried in absentia.


IN most cases, yes, as the evidence of their guilt was overwhelming. Goring, however, put up an unexpectedly strong defence which was only broken down by Maxwell-Fyfe, while three defendants, Hjalmar Schacht (economics minister), Franz von Papen (a politician), and Hans Fritzsche (head of press and radio) were actually acquitted.

German lawyers for the majority of the accused claimed they were only following orders from above, but the judges refused to accept that as a defence.

Death sentences were given to 12 of the accused: Goring, Ribbentrop, Keitel, Kaltenbrunner, Rosenberg, Frank, Frick, Streicher, Sauckel, Jodl, Seyss-Inquart, and Bormann. They were all hanged on October 16, except Goring who committed suicide the night before while Bormann was already dead – as his remains were later found in Berlin and dated to May, 1945.

Hess was sentenced to life imprisonment and served it in Spandau Prison. Funk and Raeder also got life, while Doenitz, Schirach, Speer and Neurath received jail sentences of between 10 and 20 years.

Nuremberg was important because it set out the way in which crimes against international laws could be prosecuted. The Nuremberg Principles still guide much of modern international criminal justice.