- Field Marshall Albert von Kesselring testifies at the IMT Nuremberg commission hearings investigating indicted Nazi organizations.
At far left is Dr. Hans Laternser, the defense council for the Supreme Command of the Armed Forces, better known by its German initials, OKW (Oberkommando der Wehrmacht). Fieldmarshall Kesselring sits at the table at right, next to the interpreter, Gerd Schwab.
- Gerald (Gerd) Schwab
- Nuremberg, [Bavaria] Germany
- Variant Locale
- Photo Credit
- United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Gerald (Gerd) Schwab
- Event History
- The International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg indicted several Nazi groups and organizations which it declared to be criminal, in addition to the 21 individual leaders of the Third Reich that appeared in the defendants dock. These organizations included the Reich Cabinet, the Leadership Corps of the Nazi Party, the Elite Guard (SS), the Security Service (SD,) the Secret State Police (Gestapo), the Stormtroopers (SA), and the General Staff and High Command of the German Armed Forces.
The idea behind this novel and controversial proposal was the desire to deal with two problems: (a) finding a legal basis for punishing German crimes committed before the war, and (b) developing a procedure for dealing with the hundreds of thousands of members of the SS and other Nazi organizations implicated in German atrocities. The prosecutors felt that in these organizations there were so many war criminals that individual trials were impossible and that the perpetrators could only be punished on the basis of their proven membership in a criminal organization.
The tribunal, in accordance with its charter, ordered that notices of the impending trials be disseminated throughout Germany. Announcements were published in the German press, broadcast over the radio and posted in internment and POW camps where many of those affected were being held. The response to the trial notices was overwhelming. The deluge of letters, affidavits and applications to be heard in support of the Nazi organizations presented the tribunal with staggering logistical problems. In response, the judges on March 12, 1946 announced their decision to appoint a commissioner charged with the responsibility of reviewing the submissions and hearing witnesses. He was to report to the tribunal the results of his examinations. The judges also gave permission to defense counsel to visit the camps to select witnesses to testify about the accused organizations.
Lt. Col. Airey Neave, a highly decorated British officer, was named commissioner. On May 20, 1946 he began to hear witnesses, but quickly found that there were too many for him to cope with alone. As a result, several assistant commissioners, one each from the US, the USSR and France, were appointed. Over the life of the commission (May 20-August 12, 1946), 101 witnesses were heard in person and hundreds of thousands of affidavits, submitted on behalf of the various Nazi organizations, were reviewed.
The hearings were held in a large room at the Nuremberg courthouse that was dominated by an elevated platform, where the commissioner or his assistant sat. Next to him was the court reporter. In front and to the left of the court reporter were the representatives of the prosecution and defense, and on the right, at the front was the witness. Commission sessions usually lasted about three hours and were held in the morning and again in the afternoon. The single interpreter, who sat to the right and in front of the commissioner, was responsible for the consecutive interpretation from English to German and from German to English, the only two languages used in the proceedings. (The Russian prosecutor was usually accompanied by his personal interpreter.) A second interpreter (who was expected to relieve the one on duty at the break), usually sat behind the interpreter on duty. (There were a total of three interpreters, working two days on and one day off.) In the rear of the room were seats for perhaps twenty visitors.
Examination of the witnesses was handled by lawyers designated to defend the organizations or, on occasion, by the lawyers of the individual defendants before the tribunal. Cross examination was generally handled by Robert Kempner, one of the American assistant prosecutors and Mervyn Griffith-Jones of the UK, and less frequently by Col. Yuri Pokrovsky of the USSR and Henri Monneray of France. The witnesses heard by the commission ranged from the top to the bottom of the hierarchical ladder, from Gauleiter, deputy minister and field marshal to local officials. Among the more prominent witnesses were: Dr. Helmut Knochen, head of the SD in France; Dieter Wilisceny, deputy to Adolf Eichmann, SS; Dr. Franz Schlegelberger, State Secretary/Deputy Minister of Justice; Walter Schellenberg, Chief, SS Foreign Intelligence; and General Field Marshalls Gerd von Rundstedt and Wilhelm Ritter von Leeb.
After receiving the six reports submitted by the commission, the tribunal issued its judgement on September 30 and October 1, 1946. While the leadership corps of the Nazi Party, the Gestapo, SD and the SS were all found guilty, the SA, Reich Cabinet and General Staff and the High Command were found not guilty.
[Source, Schwab, Gerald, "The Trial of Nazi Organizations as Part of the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal," (unpublished article, June 14, 2002)].
The International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg opened in the fall of 1945, but by the winter of 1942, the governments of the Allied powers had already announced their determination to punish Nazi war criminals. On December 17, 1942, the leaders of the United States, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union issued the first joint declaration officially noting the mass murder of European Jewry and resolving to prosecute those responsible for violence against civilian populations. Though some political leaders advocated for summary executions instead of trials, eventually the Allies decided to hold an International Military Tribunal so that, in the words of Cordell Hull, "a condemnation after such a proceeding will meet the judgment of history, so that the Germans will not be able to claim that an admission of war guilt was extracted from them under duress." The October 1943 Moscow Declaration, signed by U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and Soviet leader Josef Stalin, stated that at the time of an armistice persons deemed responsible for war crimes would be sent back to those countries in which the crimes had been committed and adjudged according to the laws of the nation concerned. Major war criminals, whose crimes could be assigned no particular geographic location, would be punished by joint decisions of the Allied governments.
The trials of leading German officials before the International Military Tribunal (IMT), the best known of the postwar war crimes trials, formally opened in Nuremberg on November 20, 1945, only six and a half months after Germany surrendered. Each of the four Allied nations -- the United States, Britain, the Soviet Union, and France -- supplied a judge and a prosecution team. Lord Justice Geoffrey Lawrence of Great Britain served as the court's presiding judge. The trial's rules were the result of delicate reconciliations of the Continental and Anglo-American judicial systems. A team of translators provided simultaneous translations of all proceedings in four languages: English, French, German, and Russian. After much debate, 24 defendants were selected to represent a cross-section of Nazi diplomatic, economic, political, and military leadership. Adolf Hitler, Heinrich Himmler, and Joseph Goebbels never stood trial,having committed suicide before the end of the war. The IMT decided not to try them posthumously so as not to create an impression that they might still be alive. In fact, only 21 defendants appeared in court. German industrialist Gustav Krupp was included in the original indictment, but he was elderly and in failing health, and it was decided in preliminary hearings to exclude him from the proceedings. Nazi Party secretary Martin Bormann was tried and convicted in absentia, and Robert Ley committed suicide on the eve of the trial.
The IMT indicted the defendants on charges of crimes against peace, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. The IMT defined crimes against humanity as "murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation...or persecutions on political, racial, or religious grounds." A fourth charge of conspiracy was added both to cover crimes committed under domestic Nazi law before the start of World War II and so that subsequent tribunals would have jurisdiction to prosecute any individual belonging to a proven criminal organization. Therefore the IMT also indicted several Nazi organizations deemed to be criminal, namely the Reich Cabinet, the Leadership Corps of the Nazi Party, the Elite Guard (SS), the Security Service (SD), the Secret State Police (Gestapo), the Stormtroopers (SA), and the General Staff and High Command of the German Armed Forces.
The defendants were entitled to a legal counsel of their choosing. Over 400 visitors attended the proceedings each day, as well as 325 correspondents representing 23 different countries. American chief prosecutor Robert Jackson decided to argue his case primarily on the basis of mounds of documents written by the Nazis themselves rather than eyewitness testimony so that the trial could not be accused of relying on biased or tainted testimony. Testimony presented at Nuremberg revealed much of what we know about the Holocaust including the details of the Auschwitz death machinery, the destruction of the Warsaw ghetto, and the estimate of six million Jewish victims.
The judges delivered their verdict on October 1, 1946. Agreement among three out of four judges was needed for conviction. Twelve defendants were sentenced to death, among them Joachim von Ribbentrop, Hans Frank, Alfred Rosenberg, and Julius Streicher. They were hanged, cremated in Dachau, and their ashes were dropped in the Isar River. Hermann Goering escaped the hangman's noose by committing suicide the night before. The IMT sentenced three defendants to life imprisonment and four to prison terms ranging from 10 to 20 years. It acquitted three of the defendants.