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Volume 19, Fall 2006
Nuremberg Trials 60th Anniversary
The Defendants

Section 1
Background and Preparation for the Nuremberg Trials
Section 2
Chief Prosecutors
Highlights of the Military Tribunal
Examination of Goering
Verdicts and Sentences
The Executions
Section 3
Twelve Subsequent Trials

Indictments in the International Military Tribunal

The Nuremberg Trials prosecuted the leaders of Germany, those who were close to Hitler, for initiating and waging aggressive war and for crimes against humanity. The defendants included chiefs of the armed forces as well as others involved in strategic planning and the operational efforts. On August 29, 1945, it was announced that twenty-four war criminals would be tried at the International Military Tribunal. Although several of the Nazi elite had committed suicide or escaped in the immediate aftermath of the war, the Nuremberg defendants had played key roles in the military and political leadership of the Third Reich.

Indictments of Individuals

As the legal scholar Michael Sharp has pointed out, the defendants at the International Military Tribunal read like the “Who’s Who” of the Third Reich. The defendants included the following: (Among the defendants Robert Ley, committed suicide shortly before the International Military Trial began; Gustav Krupp was deemed medically unfit to stand trial; and Martin Bormann, Hitler’s Deputy for Nazi Party affairs, was never found and thus tried in absentia. Joseph Goebbels, one of the top Nazis and the chief propagandist for the “final solution,” was not brought to trial; he had had his six children poisoned with a lethal injection by an SS doctor and then his wife, Magda, and himself shot by an SS orderly on May 1, 1945.)

Indictments of Nazi Organizations

In addition to the indictments of individuals, six Nazi organizations—the SA (Sturmabteilung [German for "Storm Division," usually translated as stormtroopers] functioned as a paramilitary organization of the NSDAP—the German Nazi party, the SS (Schutzstaffel ["defense squadron"], a large paramilitary organization that was a principal component of the Nazi party), The Reich Cabinet, The General Staff and High Command, the Gestapo, and the Corps of Political leaders of the Nazi Party—were indicted. These indictments were intended to deal with the thousands of individuals who had been involved with leading Nazi organizations.

During the trial, the twenty one defendants were dealt with first and during the final month of the trial the tribunal heard testimony regarding the Nazi organizations.

Question for Reflection and Discussion:
  • As you look at the list of defendants, what do you notice about the roles the individuals played? What do you see as their main crimes?

  • Discuss whether you think they should have been included among the top war criminals.

  • Several of these defendants had never directly killed people. Do you think those not directly involved in killing should be held to the same standards as those who were directly involved in the killing process?

  • Read the list of defendants. Then create a list ranking those defendants you consider most responsible for the war and Holocaust at the top and those of lesser responsibility toward the lower end of the list. What is your reasoning for the ranking?

  • If you were defense counsel, how would you defend them?

  • If you were a member of the prosecution team, how would you prosecute them?
Classroom Activity: Conducting Mock Nuremberg Trials

One of the most effective ways of helping students deal with questions of judgment and responsibility is to have them reenact the Nuremberg Trials.

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