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The Nuremberg Trials 75 years on

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Content Warning: This article contains graphic content that some readers may find distressing.

The wrongs which we seek to condemn and punish have been so calculated, so malignant, and so devastating, that civilization cannot tolerate their being ignored, because it cannot survive their being repeated.

Robert H. Jackson, Chief of Counsel for the United States, Nuremberg, November 21st 1945

THIS weekend marks 75 years since the opening of the Nuremberg trials into crimes against humanity, perpetrated by the Nazi regime during the 1930s and 40s. The execution of prisoners of war, unrestricted submarine warfare, the bombing of civilian cities and the breach of various treaties and agreements, including Versailles, were covered.

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At the centre of these trials though, was a crime so appalling, that even now it is impossible to fully grasp the scale of the atrocities committed. The systematic internment and genocide of 6 million Jews, and millions of others in concentration camps and mass executions across Germany and occupied Europe.

Such was the unprecedented nature of the crimes by the Nazis that when the camps first became public knowledge there was scepticism from many over the scale of the massacres. Many journalists and politicians from Allied countries made publicised visits to the camps to bear witness to the brutal and harrowing realities at Buchenwald, Belsen, Auschwitz, and many other camps and sites. 

Below is a video from British Pathé narrated by British MP Mavis Tate, of a visit by her and others to the Buchenwald concentration camp in the aftermath of the war. She begins with the words – “Some people believe that the reports of what happened there are exaggerated. No words could exaggerate. We saw, and we know.”

The trial centred on the 24 accused members of the Nazi high command that could be immediately brought to justice (or tried in absentia in the case of of Martin Boorman).

Of those tried 12 were sentenced to death including Hermann Göring (who committed suicide before his execution), Wilheim Keitel (part of the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht ) and Ernst Kaltenbrunner (the most senior member of the SS available for trial), who were both hung in October 1946.

The two most notable missing persons from the trial were Josef Mengele, dubbed “the angel of death”, who performed experiments on prisoners at Auschwitz, and Adolf Eichmann, one of the architects of the “Final Solution”. Both Mengele and Eichmann were amongst a number of senior Nazis who fled to South America, evading capture. Mengele never faced trial but Eichmann was eventually captured by Israeli intelligence operatives and brought back to Israel to face trial over a decade later before finally being hanged in 1962.

The Nuremberg trials concluded in 1946 and have served as an important landmark in the history of international law being the first major successful prosecution of war crimes. Almost 60 years later in 2002, the International Criminal Court was formed at The Hague in the Netherlands with the purpose of prosecuting individuals for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Feature image credit – wikimedia

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