The Trials At Nuremburg Essay, Research Paper
November 20, 1945:
The beginning of the Nuremberg trial of Nazi War Criminals
The opening day of the Nuremberg trail of Nazi War Criminals began on November 20, 1945. Lord Justice Lawrence, the British president of the international tribunal, oversaw the proceedings against the surviving major leaders of the Third Reich. In his opening statement, he called the trial “Unique in the history of the jurisprudence of the world” (Opening). And thus, the case of the United States, French Republic, United Kingdom, and Soviet Union against Germany was opened in Nuremberg, Germany.
The prisoners appeared in the order of their names in the indictment, and were seated in two rows. The articles went on to describe the prisoners. Goering, (Successor designate to Hitler, Minister of Air force and Commander-in-Chief of Air Force, Plenipotentiary for the Four-Year Plan, Chief of Police in Prussia, Chairman of the Ministerial Council for the Defense of the Reich, and the President of the Reichstag) occupied the right hand corner of the dock, facing the raised judges bench. He looked healthy except for a “heavy sadness” in his eyes (Opening). Admiral Doenitz (Commander-and-Chief U-boats, Commander-and-Chief of German Navy, Gross admiral, and Head of the German State) sat behind him, looking almost inconsequential in his civilian clothes. Rudolf Hess (Deputy to the Fuhrer and successor designate next to Goering, Minister of the Portfolio, and Member of the Ministerial Council for the Defense of the Reich) looked tense. His eyes wandered back and forth across the court when he wasn’t reading a novel he had brought. Sometimes Hess spoke with Joachim von Ribbentrop (Ambassador to Great Britain, and Minister for Foreign Affairs) and once made a comment to Goering who only ignored him and continued staring into the space before him (Opening).
The entire time of the court proceedings was taken up with the reading of the twenty-four thousand-word indictment, which will “stand out as a model of simplicity and directness” (Foust). The prisoners barely followed the proceedings, since they had already received the text in German thirty days prior, and had plenty of time to read it in the solitude of their cells. The reporter for The Manchester Guardian described it like this; “[The prisoners] might as well been attending business conventions” (Opening). The courtroom held an unreal, surreal atmosphere of shocked silence at the staggering totals and horrifying facts, that was broken up only by the vulgar laugh of Hans Frank (McLaughlin). Only three of the prisoners were in uniforms, and were completely stripped of their badges and insignia. There was little in the their demeanor and appearance to suggest that they were on trial for their lives, and they didn’t seem to comprehend the vast size of the charges against them: “The charge of having planned, initiated, and waged wars of aggression, as well as having determined upon and practiced mass murder, extermination, enslavement and deportation of civilian populations both before and during the war” (Namier). The prisoners were essentially being charged with the weight of 20,000,000 deaths. At points in the indictment, individuals were named in connection with these crimes. Of the militarists and politicians, all except Goering fidgeted. Goering only shook his head vigorously in agreement or disagreement to the various charges (Foust).
“Germany’s crimes were far greater than any can define of any law can adequately punish” (Namier). Surely nothing, not a guilty plea or an execution or an apology of incredible sincerity can make up for the great loss and sorrow of World War II. The Execution of millions of civilized people and the memories of those who survived will undoubtedly leave a scar on the shared conscious of all humankind forever.
The indictment was read to the end, and the court rose that evening after being in session thirty minutes beyond its appointed hour. (Opening)
After eighteen months in court, and after evidence such as soap made from the fat of humans and a paperweight made from the head of young pole were displayed, the court had reached a verdict (Andrus, 145). They each had a chance to come before the court and plead their innocence. Hess, who looked confused, rambled aimlessly until the President finally stopped him. Ribbentrop pleaded that what he was being charged with was foreign policy that “someone else determined.” Hans Frank exhibited remorse for “Germany’s and Hitler’s turning away from God” (Andrus, 174). The court took a recess then filed in, one at a time, to receive their verdict. The verdicts were as follows:
Georing – Death Raeder – Life
Bormann – Death Funk – Life
Ribbentrop – Death Hess – Life
Kaltenbrunner – Death Speer – 20 years
Keitel – Death Schirach – 20 years
Frank – Death Neurath – 15 years
Jodl – Death Doenitz – 10 years
Streicher – Death Fritzsche – Acquitted
Rosenburg – Death von Papen – Acquitted
Frick – Death Schacht – Acquitted
Seyss-Inquart – Death
Saukel – Death
All of the newspapers (The Manchester Guardian, The Chicago Daily Tribune, and The New York Times) portrayed the event as having a disturbing mood behind it, and described the indictment as sounding far more like a historical account than a court document. However, a couple discrepancies exist. For example, the exact amount of time for the session is given in the McLaughlin article from the New York Time, five and one quarter hours. “The Opening Day” article from The Manchester Guardian, described the amount of time in a rather ambiguous manner, noting that the trial lasted a half hour past its appointed hour.
The descriptions of Goering remain as the other major discrepancy. “The Opening Day” describes Georing as having a “heavy sadness in his eyes,” and as having “permitted a discrete smile at the mention of the million bottles of champagne looted from France.” The McLaughlin article on the other hand describes Goering as “pompous” and an “exhibitionist.” The Foust article describes Goering as “Grinning.”
The secondary sources were far different from the primary sources. The primary sources I used were very straightforward accounts of the Nuremberg trial, while the secondary sources each took a different approach toward the event. While both secondary sources were more thorough than the primary sources, they were very different from each other. For example, the Andrus book, “The Infamous of Nuremberg,” took a more narrative approach. Written by a guard who had experienced the event first hand, the book was written in an almost story like manner, even including pieces of dialog and photographs throughout the piece. It had a more powerful account of the prisoner’s demeanors and the attitude in the court than the primary sources. The Calvocoressi book on the other hand, had a lot of detailed technical and statistical information about the trial, including charts and actual court articles. The Calvocoressi book also contained the names of every prisoner and their ranks and positions within the Reich. The primary sources, on the other hand, had less space for such an explanation. For example, Wilhelm Frick was not mentioned in any of the primary sources yet he was the Minister of Interior and was sentenced to death by hanging. The secondary sources also covered the entire trial and thus contained the much needed complete information about the trial, such as the verdict.
When reconstructing this event using primary sources I found that using more than one article, and therefore having more viewpoints, gave me a more comprehensive understanding of the event. Some of the articles, like The Opening Day article, seemed to be more reliable than the other articles. Therefore it had greater significance when reconstructing the trial. Primary sources are much like a photograph – they are in their original form and are straightforward, without much interpretation or explanation. Primary sources stand on their own, a moment transcribed, while secondary sources, like my reconstruction of the event, are often based on more than one primary source. An event can be better understood through the use of secondary sources in conjunction with primary sources to give a multiple perspective understanding of an event.
No Author: “The Opening Day,” The Manchester Guardian, 23 November 1945, Have to go back and get this info.
With Author: L.B. Namier, “The Nuremberg Trial – History or Law?” The Manchester Guardian, 23 November 1945, Have to go back and get this info.
With Author: Hal Foust, “20 Nazis Make Plea Today to War Tribunal,” Chicago Daily Tribune, 21 November 1945, Have to go back and get this info.
With Author: Kathleen McLaughlin, “Allies Open Trial of 20 Top Germans for Crimes of War,” The New York Times, 21 November 1945, sec. A, p. 1.
No Author: “Justice Jackson’s Indictment of Nazi Leaders,” The Manchester Guardian, 30 November 1945, Have to go back and get this info.
Burton C. Andrus, “The Infamous of Nuremberg,” Leslie Frewin Publishers, London, 1969.
Peter Calvocoressi, “Nuremberg: The Facts, the Law, and the Consequences,” Chatto and Windus, London, 1947.