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November 18, 2010

November 20th, 65th anniversary of the start of the Nuremberg IMT

Filed under: Germany, World War II — Tags: , — furtherglory @ 7:54 am

I have just learned that a new Museum will open in Nürnberg, Germany on the 65th anniversary of the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal, which began on November 20, 1945.  That is something that I definitely want to see.  I was a child of 12 in 1945 and I remember the media coverage of the Nuremberg IMT very well.

Back in 1997, on a vacation trip to Nürnberg, I took a taxi to the Justizgebäude (called the Palace of Justice by Americans) located at Fürtherstrasse 22, where the Nuremberg IMT took place in Room 600 in 1945. The building is still being used, but unfortunately it was a religious holiday in Bavaria and the court was not in session that day.

I asked several Germans, who were passing by, which part of the building Room 600 was located in, but they didn’t know.   I took some photos of the outside of the building, but my photos didn’t include the windows of Room 600, which is in a side wing of the building.

Room 600 is located in the wing on the extreme right

Old photo shows the wing where Room 600 is located

(Click on the photos to enlarge)

The windows of Room 600 are covered by shades in the old photo above.  Note all the military vehicles in the parking lot.

According to the news stories that I have read, the new Museum, called the “Memorium,” will occupy an “attic space” at the courthouse.

The first proceedings, which are now called “the Nuremberg IMT,” were officially named “the Trial of the Major War Criminals.” Actually, it wasn’t a “trial,” but rather an International Military Tribunal; the rules of a military tribunal are not the same as the rules of a trial.  The Tribunal consisted of prosecutors and judges from the United States, Great Britain, France and the Soviet Union.

A second set of proceedings, known as “the Nuremberg Military Tribunals,” were conducted by the United States. The most famous of these proceedings were the Doctors’ Trial and the Judges’ Trial.  (The movie Judgment at Nuremberg was based on the Judges’ Trial.)

Whenever anyone tries to deny the Holocaust, they are always confronted with the evidence at Nuremberg “trials”:  At the main “trial”, there were 100,000 documents accepted into evidence and the transcript of the trial filled 42 volumes with more than 5 million words.  That is why it is generally accepted that the Holocaust was the most documented crime in the history of the world.

The proceedings were filmed, and shown to the world on TV. Newsreel films showed the city of Nürnberg as a pile of rubble, which had not yet been cleared when the proceedings started; the bodies of 20,000 German civilians were still buried under the destroyed buildings as the German war criminals were brought into the courtroom of the Palace of Justice. The Palace of Justice had suffered some damage in the Allied bombing of Nürnberg, but it was restored by the forced labor of the conquered Germans before the proceedings began.  (Albert Speer was charged with a war crime for using forced labor in the concentration camps.  He got off with only 20 years in prison.)

According to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, Allied prosecutors submitted some 3,000 tons of records at the Nuremberg IMT. The defense was not allowed access to any documents except the ones that were actually used by the prosecution.

There were 403 open sessions conducted by the IMT, and 113 witnesses were called to the stand including 33 for the prosecution and 80 for the defense. Many prosecution witnesses gave testimony in an affidavit but did not take the stand, so the defense had no opportunity to cross examine them under oath. Even when Ernst Kaltenbrunner demanded that a prosecution witness take the stand so that he could confront him, the request was denied.

When the “Trial of the Major War Criminals” began on November 20, 1945, British judge Sir Goeffrey Lawrence called the court to order, saying that “This trial, which is now about to begin, is unique in the annals of jurisprudence.”

The “trial” was unprecedented because the prosecutors, who conducted it and the judges who made up the jury, were both from the victorious Allies only. The International Tribunal and the charges against the Germans were created under the terms of an agreement among the Allies, known as the London Charter, which was signed on August 8, 1945.

The reason that the Nuremberg “trials” were unique is because the crimes, with which the Germans were charged, were not yet in existence.  The verdicts at Nuremberg CREATED international law.

The whole world learned for the first time, at Nuremberg, about the German war time atrocities, including all the gory details of the medical experiments on prisoners, the shrunken heads, the soap made from human fat, the leather goods made from the skin of concentration camp prisoners, and the gas chambers which accounted for the majority of the deaths at Auschwitz and Majdanek.

The Soviet prosecutors charged the Germans with killing 4 million prisoners at  Auschwitz and another 1.5 million at the Majdanek camp. Today, the figures given for these camps is 1.1 million deaths at Auschwitz and 78,000 at Majdanek.

The charges at the Nuremberg main “trial” were based on the new laws contained in Control Council Law No. 10 which stated four new categories of crimes, as follows:

Article II

1. Each of the following acts is recognized as a crime:

(a) Crimes against Peace. Initiation of invasions of other countries and wars of aggression in violation of international laws and treaties, including but not limited to planning, preparation, initiation or waging a war of aggression, or a war of violation of international treaties, agreements or assurances, or participation in a common plan or conspiracy for the accomplishment of any of the foregoing.

(b) War Crimes. Atrocities or offenses against persons or property constituting violations of the laws or customs of war, including but not limited to, murder, ill treatment or deportation to slave labor or for any other purpose, of civilian population from occupied territory, murder or ill treatment of prisoners of war or persons on the seas, killing of hostages, plunder of public or private property, wanton destruction of cities, towns or villages, or devastation not justified by military necessity.

(a) Crimes against Humanity. Atrocities and offenses, including but not limited to murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation, imprisonment, torture, rape, or other inhumane acts committed against any civilian population, or persecutions on political, racial or religious grounds whether or not in violation of the domestic laws of the country where perpetrated.

(d) Membership in categories of a criminal group or organization declared criminal by the International Military Tribunal.

The organizations that were declared criminal by the Tribunal were the Nazi political party and the SS, a volunteer army which included German soldiers and soldiers from other countries. Anyone who was a member of the Nazi party or the SS was automatically a war criminal under this new law.

Control Council Law No. 10 included all alleged war crimes committed by the Nazi regime against any and all nations and individuals between January 30, 1933, when Hitler was sworn in as Chancellor of Germany, and July 1, 1945.

The phrase “major war criminals” suggests that the Germans, who were put on trial, were the ones who had committed the most heinous atrocities.  But that was not the case.  The accused were charged with “participating in a common plan” to violate the Geneva Convention of 1929 and the Hague Convention of 1907 and they were chosen because of their job title, in order to show that all Germans were guilty, regardless of what they had actually done during the war.

According to the book “Justice at Nuremberg” by Robert E. Conot, the idea for the Common Plan charges against the Germans came from Lieutenant Colonel Murray C. Bernays, a Lithuanian Jew, who had emigrated to American in 1900 at the age of six.

Before the Nuremberg IMT, according to Conot’s book, Churchill and Roosevelt’s adviser Henry Morgenthau, Jr. had advocated that “the principal Nazi leaders should be charged with their crimes, then summarily shot.” Bernays argued for a trial as “the educational and therapeutic opportunity of our generation.” Regarding the Nazi crimes, Bernays wrote “The crimes and atrocities were not single or unconnected, but the inevitable outcome of the basic criminal conspiracy of the Nazi party.”

There was nothing in international law in 1945, which could have allowed a charge of participating in a “Common Plan.”

The German war criminals were specifically charged with violating the Hague convention of 1907 by invading and attacking countries without a formal declaration of war and with the violation of the Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928 which called for Renunciation of War as an Instrument of National Policy. Under each of the three counts in the indictment, a detailed list of all the German crimes was entered by each of the four Allied countries: Great Britain, the United States of America, France and the Soviet Union.  Any similar acts committed by the Allies were not considered war crimes.

The  Crimes against Peace included the invasion of Poland by the Germans on Sept. 1, 1939.  The Tribunal proved that the invasion was unprovoked and that it was an act of aggression without a formal declaration.  I previously blogged about Alfred Naujocks who allegedly gave an affidavit about how the Germans justified the invasion of Poland with their claim that Poles had attacked a German radio station.

The Soviet Union invaded Poland on September 17, 1939 without a declaration of war, but that’s O.K.  Only the Germans were guilty of war crimes in World War II.

Rudolf Hess (not to be confused with Rudolf Hoess whom I will mention later) was convicted of Crimes against Peace.  Hess was Hitler’s deputy and he had famously flown solo to Scotland on a peace mission, so how could he have been convicted of “crimes against peace”?  As Hitler’s deputy, Hess had signed papers on Hitler’s behalf, so that was the basis of charging him with crimes against peace.

Rudolf Höss, also known as Rudolf Hoess, was a defense witness for Ernst Kaltenbrunner, one of the men in the dock at Nuremberg.  Many people make the mistake of assuming that Hoess gave testimony at Nuremberg because he was one of the accused.  No, no, no!  It was Rudolf Hess who had been charged with a war crime.

During his cross examination by the prosecution, an affidavit which Hoess had signed on May 14, 1946, was introduced. This was his confession, sworn under oath, in which he admitted that 2 million Jews had been put to death by gassing and half a million more by other means while he was the Commandant of the whole Auschwitz-Birkenau complex. This did not include the Hungarian Jews who were gassed while Hoess was not the Commandant of Auschwitz-Birkenau, although he was a staff member at that time.  The number of prisoners who died of all causes at Auschwitz-Birkenau is now claimed to be 1.5 million, or sometimes 1.1 million.

At the Nuremberg IMT, the Soviet Union accused the German military and specifically Hermann Goering, head of the German Air Force, of committing the Katyn Forrest Massacre of 11,000 Polish army officers in September 1941. The Germans had brought in American POWs as observers when the bodies were dug up. An American soldier testified for the defense regarding the Katyn Forrest Massacre; in 1989 the world learned that his testimony was correct when the Soviet Union admitted that it was really the Russians who had murdered a total of 15,000 Polish army officers before June 1941, and had falsely accused the Germans.

The most important person among the accused at Nuremberg was Hermann Goering.  On the third day of his cross examination of Goering, Justice Robert Jackson questioned him about the treatment of the Jews in Nazi Germany, including the anti-Jewish Nuremberg Laws on Citizenship which Goering had signed in September 1935.

Then Jackson confronted Goering with the most incriminating piece of evidence in the entire trial: a letter dated July 31, 1941, in which Goering had ordered Reinhard Heydrich, the chief of the Reich Security Main Office (RSHA), to prepare a plan for the “Final solution of the Jewish question.” Goering testified that the German term “Die Endlösung” in the letter should have been translated as the “total solution,” and that it referred only to “the emigration of the Jews,” not the extermination of the Jews.

A copy of the Protocols of the Wannsee Conference, at which the “Final Solution” was planned, was not found until 1947, so this important document was not included in the mountain of evidence introduced at the International Military Tribunal at which the German war criminals were tried for Crimes against Humanity.

The crimes of the Germans did not become war crimes under international law, until AFTER the IMT proceedings, when the United Nations passed the Genocide Convention and a Declaration of Human Rights.

As a result of the conviction of the German war criminals, the rules of warfare changed after World War II was over.  For example, reprisals can no longer be taken against hostages or Prisoners of War; forced labor is now outlawed, and captured partisans are given equal status with regular POWs. The Germans had been convicted of all these crimes before they were crimes.

Regulations of all the major World War II armies now state that orders which would constitute the commission of a crime need not be obeyed. The defense, used by the German generals and admirals at Nuremberg, that they were just obeying orders, is no longer valid. Obeying orders was a legitimate defense in 1945, but it was not allowed at the Nuremberg IMT.

The horror films of the Allied liberation of the Nazi concentration camps at Bergen-Belsen, Buchenwald and Dachau were shown at the trial, to the defendants and to the public. An American-made documentary film, which showed all the graphic details of the gas pipes and control wheels which regulated the flow of poison gas through the shower heads of the Dachau gas chamber, was shown in the courtroom on November 29, 1945.

The German military and economic leaders were visibly stunned by this proof of a gas chamber at Dachau, and claimed that they were seeing and hearing about this unprecedented atrocity for the first time. The American public was horrified that such a thing could have taken place in the civilized world.

Today, tourists are not allowed to see the gas pipes and control wheels that were shown in the courtroom at Nuremberg. Instead, they are shown bins on the outside wall of the gas chamber which “could have been used” to put poison gas pellets into the room. (For some strange reason, no one noticed the bins until long after the film about the Dachau gas chamber was made.)

The Nuremberg IMT ended on October 1, 1946; twelve of the German war criminals were sentenced to death. Seven of the accused were sentenced to prison terms, ranging from ten years to life, and three men were acquitted. Of the 24 men who were originally indicted,  one (Robert Ley) committed suicide while in prison, and another (Gustav Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach) was not considered mentally and physically competent to stand trial.  Martin Bormann was tried, and condemned to death in absentia.  He disappeared in May 1945 and is now believed to have died at that time.

Among those, who were condemned to death by hanging, were Joachim von Ribbentrop, the Nazi minister of foreign affairs; Hermann Goering, the leader of the Gestapo and the Luftwaffe; Alfred Jodl, a General of the German regular army; and Wilhelm Frick, the minister of the interior.

On October 16, 1946, ten of the convicted men were hanged. Goering committed suicide in his prison cell before he was scheduled to be hanged.