The Nuremberg Trials
Towards the end of the Second World War, the Allies decided to bring to justice those accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity once the war finished.
Trials of leading German officials took place between 18 October 1945 and 1 October 1946 in Nuremberg, Germany, before judges representing the Allied powers. These are now known as the Nuremberg Trials.
Twelve of those convicted were sentenced to death, among them Hermann Goering, Hans Frank, Alfred Rosenberg and Julius Streicher. On the eve of Goering’s execution, he committed suicide in his prison cell. Three other defendants were sentenced to life imprisonment and four to prison terms ranging from 10 to 20 years. Three of the defendants were acquitted.
Many of the defendants had argued that they had been following orders. The judges at the trial ruled that ‘following orders’ was not a legitimate defence for criminal acts.
Between December 1946 and April 1949, twevle further trials of high-ranking German officials took place at Nuremberg. Some 177 persons were tried, including many leading physicians, lawyers, judges, government and industrial figures. In addition, some members of the Einsatzgruppen were also tried. Out of this number, only 97 were convicted and sentenced.
Many more trials were held, the overwhelming majority involving lower-level officials and functionaries. Over the next few years, concentration camp commandants, guards and others who had committed crimes against Jews and others were tried. Camp survivors gave witness testimonies at the trials.
Nevertheless, the majority of the perpetrators and collaborators were never brought to justice. Many of them returned to the jobs or professions they had left before the war.