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Volume 19, Fall 2006
Nuremberg Trials 60th Anniversary
Highlights of the International Military Tribunal

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

Many commentators have mentioned that the International Military Tribunal was a boring process. William Donovan of the prosecution team said that the prosecution should show more film. However, many hours were consumed with procedural matters and the reading of documents. Since Jackson decided that the bulk of evidence would come from the Nazis’ own documents rather than eyewitness testimony of victims, relevant documents had to be read before the judges. Observers frequently alluded to the boredom of the courtroom that was even reflected in the faces of the judges on the tribunal.

Dramatic Moments in the Trial

There were dramatic moments in the eleven-month trial that relieved the tedium and boredom. Among these dramatic moments were the following three:
  • The showing of the documentary Nazi Concentration Camps

  • Robert Jackson’s cross-examination of Hermann Goering

  • Revealing testimonies of other International Military Trial defendants
The Documentary: Nazi Concentration Camps

After the opening speech by Justice Robert Jackson on November 21, the courtroom procedures tended to become drawn out procedures and many observers became bored with the process. All this changed on November 29 when the American prosecution presented the hour-long film Nazi Concentration Camps, directed by George Stevens, which was presented as evidence at the Nuremberg war crimes trial of Hermann Goering and twenty other Nazi leaders. Not only did the documentary set a precedent for the use of film as evidence in the courtroom, but it made visceral for many of the participants the evil that had been committed during the Third Reich. In the 21st century, we have become more accustomed to viewing brutality and violence on television but in 1945 when Nazi Concentration Camps aired in the International Military Trial’s courtroom; audiences were less accustomed to the images of mass violence and murder.

The film opened with affidavits of the directors attesting to the authenticity of the information. Then, twelve lagers (concentration camps) are revealed. The footage had been done by Allied Military Forces as they entered the camps at the end of the war.
General Eisenhower

Nazi Concentration Camps had an impact on all parts of the court audience. Even though prosecutors had come across documents attesting to the camp brutalities, the film enhanced what had been learned through documents. Defendants also reacted to the film footage. Gilbert, a psychologist who worked with the defendants during the trial, described their reactions after the documentary aired:

The psychiatrist G.M. Gilbert noted how the defendants reacted on December 11, 1945 as Nazi Concentration Camps was shown:

Morning Session: The showing of Nazi films on their own rise to power brought a resurgence of the prisoners’ old emotional reactions to their old symbols: speeches by Hitler, Goebbels, Hess, Rosenberg; pictures of the growing Wehrmacht; solving the unemployment problems; goose-stepping parades, Sieg Heil, etc.

Even Schacht’s eyes were watery as he watched the scenes of reconstruction of Germany after Hitler’s rise to power. Later he said to me, ‘Do you see anything wrong in solving unemployment?’

Fritzsche said, ‘At least it gives me the satisfaction of knowing that there once was a Germany worth working for—up to 1938.’.....

Lunch Hour: Ribbentrop was completely overwhelmed by the voice and figure of the Fuhrer. He wept like a baby, as if a dead father had returned to life. ‘Can’t you feel the terrible strength of his personality?—Can’t you see how he swept people off their feet? I don’t know if you can, but we can feel it. It is erschutternd!’

Afternoon Session: The Nazi film continued. The war and early victories were portrayed. [The generals and admirals gloated as they saw themselves in their pristine glory. During the showing of the courtroom scene trying the plotters of July 20, 1944 assassination attempt, Goering and Ribbentrop kept whispering to Hess to pay close attention—those were the traitors who planned to kill the Fuhrer.] Quoted in Gilbert, G.M. Nuremberg Diary. New York: De Capo P, 1995. Entry December 11, 1945: 65-6.

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