When World War II came to an end in May 1945, the Allies were faced with the legal problem of how to punish the German war criminals. At that time, there was no German law, nor any International law, that covered such crimes as the genocide of the Jews or the atrocities committed by the Germans in the concentration camps. New laws had to be made after the fact.
Col. Robert Jackson, the chief prosecutor of the Nuremberg IMT, said in his opening address: “Hence I am not disturbed by the lack of precedent for the inquiry we propose to conduct.” He meant that he was not concerned about the creation of new laws, called ex post facto laws, which were used in the proceedings of the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal. Ex post facto laws were also used by the American Military Tribunal at Dachau, which prosecuted people who had been associated with the concentration camps that had been liberated by American soldiers.
The new law that was created, based on the concept of co-responsibility for the crimes that had been committed by others, was called “common design” or “common plan” by the Allies. (more…)