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November 20, 2015

Nov. 20th, the anniversay of the start of the Nuremberg trial

My photo of the Nuremberg Palace of Justice where the war crimes trials were held

My photo of the Nuremberg Palace of Justice where the war crimes trials were held

Today is the 70ieth anniversary of the Nuremberg IMT, and you can read a news article about it here.

The headline of the news article is this:

How the Nuremberg Trial Bore Witness to the Nazis’ Worst Crimes

On the 70th anniversary of the world’s most famous trial, the prosecutors’ wise approach still offers a lesson for us.

What is the lesson that the Nuremberg Trial offers to us?

The lesson is this:  If you lose a war, you are a war criminal.  If you win a war, you put the enemy’s top men on trial as war criminals.

SS Major General Jurgen Sroop watches housing blocks burn during the Warsaw Ghetto uprising

SS Major General Jurgen Sroop watches housing blocks burn during Warsaw Ghetto uprising

The photo above is at the top of the news article. What does this have to do with anything?

A better photo would be the one below which shows the building where the trials were held.

The building where the Nuremberg war crimes trials were held

The building where the Nuremberg war crimes trials were held

This quote is from the news article:

American chief prosecutor Robert H. Jackson (also a U.S. Supreme Court justice) worried that “unless record was made … future generations would not believe how horrible the truth was.”

Jackson’s team shared his concern. As another American prosecutor, Robert Storey, later wrote, “The purpose of the Nuremberg trial was not merely, or even principally, to convict the leaders of Nazi Germany … Of far greater importance, it seemed to me from the outset, was the making of a record of the Hitler regime which would withstand the test of history.” Indeed, evidence offered at Nuremberg laid the foundation for much of what we know about the Holocaust, including the details of industrial-scale murder at Auschwitz and the now iconic statistic of 6 million Jewish dead.

End quote

The entire Nuremberg trial was captured on film 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 trial 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.

Bombed out church in Nuremberg and weekly market place

Bombed church in Nuremberg and weekly market place

The Palace of Justice had suffered some damage in the Allied bombing of Nürnberg, but it had been restored by the forced labor of the conquered Germans before the trial began.

It was at the Nuremberg trials that the whole world learned for the first time about the German 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, where the Russians testified that not less than 4 million people had died in the Auschwitz complex and another 1.5 million had died at the Majdanek camp.

Today, the figures given for these deaths is 1.1 million deaths at Auschwitz and 78,000 at Majdanek, including 59,000 Jews.

Another bombed church in Nuremberg where war crimes trials were held

Another bombed church in Nuremberg where war crimes trials were held

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 were allegedly used to put the poison gas pellets into the room.

The Nuremberg IMT was more than just a trial. It was a graphic presentation to the entire world that the Allies had fought “the Good War” against the evil Nazis.

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

Law No. 10


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 labour 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.

End quote

Here is a transcript of narration in film shown at Nuremberg Trial in which Dachau gas chamber is described:

Document PS-2430: Nazi Concentration and Prisoner-of-War Camps: A Documentary Motion Picture, film shown at the Nuremberg Trial, 29 November 1945, IMT, XXX, p. 470:

“Dachau- factory of horrors. [ … ] Hanging in orderly rows were the clothes of prisoners who had been suffocated in the lethal gas chamber. They had been persuaded to remove their clothing under the pretext of taking a shower for which towels and soap were provided. This is the Brausebad — the showerbath. Inside the showerbath — the gas vents. On the ceiling — the dummy shower heads. In the engineers room — the intake and outlet pipes. Push buttons to control inflow and outtake of gas. A hand-valve to regulate pressure. Cyanide powder was used to generate the lethal smoke. From the gas chamber, the bodies were removed to the crematory.”

The film that was shown at the Nuremberg IMT can be seen on the web site of the United States Holocaust Memorial Musuem. A 22-minute movie shown in the Museum at the Dachau Memorial Site contains some footage from this film.

End quote

This final quote is from the news article:

The Nuremberg court was precedent-setting in many ways, establishing that “following orders” was not a legitimate defense for criminal acts and that heads of state could be subject to prosecution. But the historical documentation established in that courtroom is no less important a legacy. In her dispatch from the trial, Rebecca West referred to Nuremberg as “the historic peep show.” Yes, this trial was carefully staged—though not for lurid voyeurism but instead as a cautionary confrontation with state-sponsored criminality and an unimpeachable record of its evils.