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

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

This second issue on the Nuremberg Trials will take a closer look at the proceedings of the International Military Tribunal and the Twelve Subsequent Trials also known as the Nuremberg Military Trials.

Opening of the International Military Tribunal

Ben Ferencz, one of the chief prosecutors at the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal, explains, " We must never forget that the record on which we judge these defendants today is the record on which history will judge us tomorrow.”

Benjamin Ferencz then

Benjamin Ferencz now

Analysis of Opening Speech by Justice Jackson - Nuremberg Trials, International Military Tribunal

Jackson calls it a privilege to open the first trial in history for crimes against “the peace of the world.” He acknowledges that four great nations had agreed to stay the hand of vengeance and submit the captives to the judgment of the law. He goes on to say that the trial must not just try the “little people” but those who possessed “the great power,” men he calls “living symbols of racial hatred” and “fierce nationalisms.” Jackson warns against compromise, ambiguity, or indecisiveness when dealing with these men, because the forces they represent “would gain renewed strength.”

Jackson emphasizes that the trial does not intend to incriminate the German people but only “the planners and designers, the inciters and leaders” who are being tried for moral as well as legal wrongdoing, for their immoral and inhuman conduct. Jackson specifically cites the campaign against the “scapegoats,” Jews, Catholics, and working men (members of trade unions). Jackson dedicates a long section of his opening to the “Crimes against the Jews”—the plan to annihilate all the Jews in the world, explaining how the Nazis promoted antisemitism and then took gradual steps leading to the murder of “two-thirds” of Europe’s Jews, first removing the Jews from the economic, social, and intellectual life of the community, then segregating them in ghettos, and finally deporting them to slave labor and death camps. He mentions that the written and photographic records that the Germans kept will be enough to incriminate them.

In addition, Jackson discusses Germany’s war of aggression, especially its attack on the Soviet Union, as well as Germany’s conspiracy with Japan. Jackson also talks about the treatment of prisoners of war and of civilians, both of whom were treated with cruelty and brutality and frequently murdered. Jackson concludes this section with his account of the looting and plundering of resources and art.

In the final section of his speech, Jackson addresses the question of legal precedents for the trial, reviewing the laws against aggressive war, concluding that “whatever grievance a nation may have, however objectionable it finds the status quo, aggressive warfare is illegal means for settling those grievances or for altering those conditions.” He also considers the question of individual responsibility, asserting that “crimes always are committed only by persons.” Jackson concludes speaking of the grave responsibilities of the Tribunal, recognizing that the trials are only a step in the efforts to make the world peaceful and referring to the United Nations organization and its joint responsibility for preventing war.

Jackson’s speech is eloquent, using a great deal of balance and repetition to make his points gracefully and memorably and to great effect. Let us analyze the last section of his speech for examples of this balance and repetition:

But while the United States is not first in rancor, it is not second in determination.

No charity can disguise the fact that the forces which these defendants represent, the forces that would advantage and delight in their acquittal, are the darkest and most sinister forces in society: dictatorship and oppression, malevolence and passion, militarism and lawlessness. By their fruits we best know them. Their acts have bathed the world in blood . . . . They have subjected their European neighbors to every outrage and torture . . . . They have brought the German people to the lowest pitch of wretchedness . . . . They have stirred hatreds and incited domestic violence . . . . These are the things that stand in the dock shoulder to shoulder with these prisoners.

Moreover, his speech contains many powerful images, such as the last one above—“the things that stand in the dock shoulder to shoulder with these prisoners.”

Dimensions Online
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Using Testimonies for Researching and Teaching about the Holocaust-- Part I

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