Crime & Justice

The Nuremberg trials, 75 years on

By Rodrigo Zuleta

Berlin, Sep 30 (EFE).- Seventy-five years have passed since the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal sentenced 12 Nazi leaders to death after a nine-month trial that changed the history of criminal law.

Among those war criminals were highest-ranking Nazi official Hermann Goring, who committed suicide hours before his execution, and Joachim von Ribbentrop, Adolf Hitler’s foreign minister.

Rudolf Hess, who had been Hitler’s right-hand man until 1941 when he made a solo flight to Britain with the intention to negotiate a peace deal, was handed a life sentence.

Other prominent commanders such as the Nazi Party national youth leader Baldur Benedikt von Schirach and then minister of armaments Albert Speer were sentenced to 20 years in prison.

The military tribunal was set up by the Allied powers — the United Kingdom, the United States, the Soviet Union and France — and was the first time in history that top officials stood trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

According to a survey carried out in the US occupation zone in November 1945, 65% claimed to have learned about the atrocities carried out by the Nazi officials through the Nuremberg trials. The figure rose to 87% in the following year.

Some of the convicted war criminals were unaware of how legitimate the tribunal was, with Goring saying that the victors were taking justice by punishing the defeated, while others such as von Schirach, Speer and Hans Frank, governor-general of Nazi-occupied Poland showed remorse.

Some of the convicted were certainly showing remorse for opportunistic reasons.

Frank, a key player in the holocaust who converted to Catholicism while he was in prison, said he considered the trial a God-willed judgment aiming to end Hitler’s horrible era.

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