Apart from the NSDAP Party Rallies held here, and the atrocious racial laws adopted in 1935, it was the Nuremberg Trials of leading representatives of the Nazi regime which led to Nuremberg's reputation in the 20th century.
The phrase "Nuremberg Trials" comprises both the so-called "Trial of the Main War Criminals" held in front of an International Military Tribunal (IMT) between November 20, 1945 and October 1, 1946, and the 12 "Follow-up Trials" between 1946 and 1949, where leading representatives of the German elites (e.g. medical doctors, legal professionals, military staff) were tried by exclusively American tribunals.
The International Military Tribunal(1945-1946)
During World War II, the Allied Powers decided that after the war the main criminals responsible for Nazi crimes would be tried in a court of law.
After the German capitulation on May 7/9, 1945, the victorious powers, the USA, the USSR, Great Britain and France, established an International Military Tribunal (IMT) on August 8, 1945. Thus, for the first time in history, an international tribunal had the competence to try and to punish violations of international law. The permanent seat of the Tribunal was Berlin, while Nuremberg was chosen as the venue for the trial of the so-called "main war criminals".
The Nuremberg Follow-up Trails (1946-1949)
After the proclamation of the sentences in the Nuremberg Trial of the Main War Criminals, there were further efforts to deal with Nazi crimes in Germany by means of criminal law. In December 1945, the Allied powers created a uniform legal basis for the prosecution of war crimes in their respective occupation zones, with Control Council Law No 10, which also served as the legal basis for the so-called "Nuremberg Follow-up Trials".
Unlike the Trial of the Main War Criminals, held in front of an International Military Tribunal, these trials were held in Nuremberg between 1946 and 1949, by exclusively US American Military Tribunals. 177 high-ranking medical doctors, legal professionals, industrialists, SS and Police commanders, military personnel, civil servants and diplomats were indicted in Nuremberg. These proceedings document the extent to which German leading classes had contributed to the rise and to the functioning of the power structures of the NS regime of terror.
24 of the 177 defendants were sentenced to death, 20 to life imprisonment and 98 to long-term prison sentences. The military judges acquitted 35 defendants. After pardons in the 1950s, many of the sentenced NS criminals were released from prison before they had served their full sentences. 13 of the 24 death sentences were enforced.
Legacy of Nuremberg
Novelty of the Trial
The Nuremberg Trial of the main war criminals was a legal novelty in several aspects. For the first time, states with completely different forms of government and constitutions sat in judgement together on a defeated enemy. Instead of taking revenge, they pursued legal action, and for the first time in history, individuals were held personally responsible on the basis of international criminal law.
The Heritage of Nuremberg
The Charter of the United Nations of June 26, 1945, was the attempt at securing world peace by means of international law. The Nuremberg Trial of the main war criminals and the London Statute of August 8, 1945, which was the basis for the trial, were of fundamental importance for the development of international criminal law and for its implementation. Thus, the International Military Tribunal held in Nuremberg provided a model for the establishment of today's International Criminal Court in the Hague.
The "Nuremberg Principles"
On December 11, 1946, the General Assembly of the United Nations during its first session unanimously adopted a resolution affirming "the principles of international law recognised by the Charter of the Nuremberg Tribunal and by the judgement of the Tribunal". Four years later, the International Law Commission submitted seven principles to the UN which were to be taken into account in the preparation of a code of crimes against peace and against the security of humankind. The Nuremberg Principles no longer referred only to National Socialist crimes, but claimed universal applicability.
The "Nuremberg Principles" are:
- Any person who commits an act which constitutes a crime under international law is responsible therefor and liable to punishment.
- The fact that internal law does not impose a penalty for an act which constitutes a crime under international law does not relieve the person who committed the act from responsibility under international law.
- The fact that a person who committed an act which constitutes a crime under international law acted as Head of State or responsible Government official does not relieve him from responsibility under international law.
- The fact that a person acted pursuant to order of his Government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law, provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him.
- Any person charged with a crime under international law has the right to a fair trial on the facts and law.
- The crimes hereinafter set out are punishable as crimes under international law:
- Crimes against peace,
- War crimes,
- Crimes against humanity.
- Complicity in the commission of a crime against peace, a war crime, or a crime against humanity as set forth in Principle VI is a crime under international law.
Memorium Nuremberg Trials
The Historical Venue
The Trial of Major War Criminals was held before the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg from November 20, 1945, to October 1, 1946. After protracted negotiations, the Allies agreed that Berlin would be the permanent seat of the court, but that the first trial would be held in Nuremberg.
This decision reached by the Allies at the London Conference in August 1945 was motivated primarily by infrastructural reasons. The Palace of Justice on Fürther Strasse, which was hardly damaged, offered sufficient space for the numerous participants from four nations. And the prison, adjacent to the Palace of Justice on the north side, simplified the custody and protection of the accused. Nuremberg's historical role as the "City of the Nazi Party Rallies" and as the place from which the Nuremberg Race Laws were proclaimed was not a decisive factor in choosing the city as the venue for the trials, but it did provide a certain symbolic importance.
Twelve subsequent trials under exclusive U.S. control were held at the same location from 1946 to 1949.
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