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IPS US History

Mini Read Passages for 11th Grade

The Nuremberg Trials

When Germany surrendered unconditionally, Hitler, Goebbels, and Himmler were dead, all by suicide. However, other top Nazis, starting with Herman Göring, were alive and in custody of the Allied victors. The question arose of what to do with these men. Churchill supported the idea of a drumhead courts marshal followed immediately by shooting them dead. Elements within the American government were horrified by this idea. Gradually, there emerged within the American government the desire to place these Nazi officials on trial.

The trials would serve two purposes. First they would give the Nazi leaders an opportunity they had never afforded their political opponents. This would assure the appearance of fairness when it came to whatever sentences these Nazis might receive. Second, they would give the victorious nations a chance to present to the world within a legal framework the violence, crime, and inhumanity of the Nazi regime. So doing would discredit Nazi ideology for all time and become the strongest bulwark against a resurgent Nazi Germany in the future.

Each of the four victorious powers, Britain, France, the United States and the Soviet Union provided one judge for the international tribunal. Likewise, each of the four victorious powers provided a prosecutor and a large number of deputy prosecutors. The British judge became the president judge of the tribunal. The American prosecutor at the Nuremberg Trials was Chief Justice Robert Jackson. General Redinco was the Soviet prosecutor. In a far break from what the Nazis would have done, each Nazi defendant was provided a prominent lawyer to defend him.

The trials took many months. The Allied and Soviet prosecutors produced thousands and thousands of incriminating documents. The German’s national nature was such that the Germans documented and neatly filed records of everything that happened. Thus, their own archives were used against the Nazi defendants. In addition, many survivors of the war testified to events related to the concentration camps, the extermination of whole villages in reprisal for the killing of one German soldier, and the mass looting of property by Nazi agents on behalf of Nazi leaders such as Göring.

Most important of all, the trials created and prosecuted a new criminal activity called crimes against humanity. The most glaring version of this crime was the Final Solution aimed at liquidating the European Jews, the concerted Nazi effort to liquidate the entire Polish officers class along with the entire Polish intelligentsia, and the effort on the Eastern Front to liquidate mass numbers of Slavs, Soviet Commissars, and Red Army Officers. Anyone associated in any way with these liquidation efforts had committed a crime against humanity.

In the main trial at Nuremberg, most of the Senior Nazi and Military officials of the Third Reich were found guilty. However, to the world’s amazement, several were not found guilty. Of those found guilty, all but Rudolf Hess – who was insane – and Albert Speer were order executed. Herman Göring avoided execution by committing suicide using a vile of cyanide hidden in one of his teeth. The remaining condemned were executed by hanging. Hess, Speer, and many other lesser Nazis were confined to prison in Spandau Prison, the infamous Nazi prison, in Berlin. Speer was let out of prison after 20 years. Hess remained in Spandau until he died, the last prisoner in the huge prison complex. After Hess’ death, Spandau was torn to the ground and all evidence of its existence erased from the site.