In October 1945, the four major Allied powers, still shellshocked from the war with Germany
and the recent discovery of the atrocities of the Holocaust
, issued indictments for 24 various military officers and political administrators in the Nazi
party. They were charged on four counts: Conspiracy to Wage Aggressive War, Crimes Against Peace, War Crimes, and Crimes Against Humanity
. Of the 24 defendants, 21 were actually tried at Nuremberg
. Robert Ley
committed suicide, while Martin Bormann
had died the year before and was considered missing at the time. Gustav Krupp
was excused from standing trial because of poor health.
The choice of defendants covered all major branches of the Nazi party. Some, such as right-hand man Hermann Goering, were obvious offenders, however others, such as Hans Frtizsche, were included as sacrifical lambs for higher-ups who had already been killed, in this case propaganda kingpin Josef Goebbels.
The four countries each sent legal personnel to the Palace of Justice in Nuremberg, to form what was to be called the International Military Tribunal, an international court created to try war crimes. A panel of four judges from each country (Francis Biddle, U.S.A., Henri Donnedieu, France, Sir Geoffrey Lawrence, Britain, and Ion Nikitchenko, U.S.S.R.) served as jurisdiction. Each defendant was permitted his own lawyer (none chose to represent themselves). America, Britain, and Russia supplied the prosecution teams, headed by Robert Jackson, Sir Hartley Shawcross, and Roman Rudenko, respectively. Many of these prosecutors served on subsequent war crimes trials.
The trial commenced on November 20, 1945. Each prosecutor delivered an opening statement, arguing the need for a trial and emphasizing the monstrosity of the Holocaust and the paper trail that affixed responsibility on the defendants. A key testimony early in the prosecution was that of Schutzstaffel general Otto Ohlendorf, who testified for the prosecution since he was considered too minor a figure to be tried at Nuremberg (he was later hung after a subsequent war crimes trial in 1951). Robert Jackson delivered a masterful closing in which he stated that Hitler's agenda of war crimes and genocide were "just as secret as Mein Kampf, which sold 6 million copies."
Ignorance and powerlessness were the cornerstones of the defense, as the arguments were heard over and over again that the defendants either knew nothing of the atrocities or had been following orders when they were. A few Nazis, such as Goering, were completely unrepentant upon cross-examination. The only defendants to show true remorse were Albert Speer and Hans Frank, the governor-general of Poland, who was quoted as saying "A thousand years will pass and the guilt of Germany will not be erased."
In the end, 18 of the 21 defendants were convicted and sentenced as follows:
Hermann Goering, Reichmarschall and Chief of the Luftwaffe - Death
Rudolf Hess, Deputy to Hitler - Life Imprisonment
Hans Frank, Governor of Poland - Death
Wilhelm Frick, Minister of the Interior - Death
Julius Streicher, Editor-in-Chief of Der Sturmer (an government-employed Anti-Semite publication) - Death
Walter Funk, President of the Reichsbank - Life Imprisonment
Fritz Sauckel, Plenipotentiary General of Labor Allocation - Death
Alfred Jodl, Chief of Wehrmacht (Army) Operations - Death
Franz von Papen, former Chancellor - Acquitted
Joachim von Ribbentrop, Foreign Minister - Death
Wilhelm Keitel, Chief of Staff and High Commander of the Armed Forces - Death
Ernst Kaltenbrunner, Chief of Reich Security (Gestapo, SS, etc.) - Death
Alfred Rosenberg, Minister of Occupied Eastern Territories - Death
Hjalmar Schacht, Minister of Economics - Acquitted
Karl Doenitz, Vice Admiral and Fuehrer after Hitler's death - 10 Years
Erich Raeder, Commander-in-Chief of the Navy - Life Imprisonment
Baldur von Schirach, Chief of the Youth Movement - 20 Years
Arthur Seyss-Inquart, Comissar of the Netherlands - Death
Albert Speer, Master of War Production - 20 Years
Constantin von Neurath, Governor of Bohemia and Moravia - 15 Years
Hans Fritzsche, Head of the Radio Divison of the Propaganda Ministry - Acquitted
Bormann was also tried and convicted in absentia.
The sentences were handed down on October 1, 1946. Those sentenced to hang were executed at Spandau Prison on October 6, save for Goering, who swallowed cyanide the night before to cheat the noose. All sentences were served at Spandau. Many subsequent Nazis have since been found and brought to justice, such as Hermann Hoess in 1947, and Adolf Eichmann in 1962. The Nuremberg trial set an important precedent for war crimes and to this day the tribunal carries out wartime justice on an international scale.