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The Significance of the Nuremburg Trials and How the Nazi Leaders Were Punished

A senior air warrior, graduate from the Staff College and a PG in military studies. He is qualified to write on war and allied matters.



The Nuremberg trials are extremely important. There are many critics of the trial. One of them is Harlan Stone (1872-1946), chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. He described the proceedings as a “sanctimonious fraud” and a “high-grade lynching party.” Another judge who was at that time an associate U.S. Supreme Court justice, William O. Douglas (1898-1980) said the Allies “substituted power for principle” at Nuremberg.

There are many who held the opposite view. Notable being Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin who at one time had suggested that about 50-,100 thousand German officers and men involved in the killings be summarily executed. The British seriously thought about it but then the American view prevailed and it was decided to make the trials as fair as possible so that at a later date the allies are not blamed for executing war criminals without giving them a chance to defend themselves.

The course of the trial is well known and lasted about a year in which 12 of the main leaders of Nazi Germany were sentenced to death by hanging. One man the tallest German leader after Hitler, Hermann Goering escaped the gallows when a cyanide capsule was smuggled to him.

The executions were carried out by the Americans, who volunteered for it. From what I have been reading, they were pretty enthusiastic about the executions. These were carried out by Master Sergeant John C Woods ( 1903-50). He was happy to do the job and commented that he had carried out these executions in just 103 minutes.


The Trials significance

The importance of the Nuremberg trials cannot be understated as they form a very important part of international law. I am not going to discuss the conduct of the trial here. This is available in so many books and articles. It is important to lay stress on the fact that these trials have laid the foundation of the International Court of Justice. It also brought into focus the famous showcase trials of the 1930s by Joseph Stalin when he got most of his political opponents executed by a farcical trial. The Russians deny this but those trials had a bearing on Nuremberg as well.

One fact does emerge and which was the main ploy of the defense was that the trials and the laws framed were done after the crimes had been committed and as such violated the principle of natural justice. This was rejected by the judges but nevertheless, it would have been appropriate and within the framework of legal procedure in case the accused had been tried under the laws available which also in any case would have led to the same result.

The Nuremberg trials later were referred to in the Tokyo tribunal which also is very important and it is worthwhile to read the judgment by the Indian judge at that time who had held the entire trial to be illegal and had asked the American generals who had dropped the atomic bombs on defenseless people be also tried for war crimes. One cannot escape from the fact that this was a victors justice but the important point is that it did lay the foundation for International Criminal law to emerge in the world



The framework of the Nuremberg trials has no precedent and thus much of the work which was done was pretty shoddy. One of the reasons for this was that there had never been any case of any international trial of any war criminals. I remember reading that one of the confederate army officers Henry Wirz (1823-65) was tried for his actions against Union prisoners of war during the American civil war (1861-65). The Turks had also punished a few Army personnel who had organized the Armenian massacre in 1915. These were isolated cases and the trials took place within the purview of the national laws of that country. In this case, the four powers ( UK, USA, France, and USSR) who had different legal traditions joined together to punish a crime against humanity.

Another point that needs emphasizes is that the precedent of the Nuremberg trials is mostly applicable to the western world ( eg Kosovo). Outside this cloistered world, there is little or no application like the massacres in Cambodia and Afghanistan where all sorts of crimes against humanity have been committed by the Taliban and nothing much is going to happen to them.



The Nuremberg Trials (English, Paperback), Roland Paul

Nuremberg: Infamy on Trial(Paperback) - Joseph E Persico

Nuremberg - Airey Neave.

The Nuremberg Trials: The Nazis brought to Justice, London(2016) - A Macdonald.

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MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on October 13, 2021:

Thank you, Dreamer Meg, nice you commented.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on October 13, 2021:

Peggy, thank you for commenting. The Nuremberg trials haven't served their purpose as crimes against humanity continue.

DreamerMeg from Northern Ireland on October 13, 2021:

Interesting article. I was only a child at the time these trials were held but I remember hearing about them. I think "Victor's Justice" is a very good term, equivalent to the adage "It is the victors who write the history books".

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on October 13, 2021:

The Nuremburg trials set a precedent for future trials, but as you wrote, many atrocities continue to happen and go unpunished. Those trials are now a footnote in history.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on October 13, 2021:

Bill, it's always a pleasure to read your comment especially the one given now which is so positive.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on October 13, 2021:

John, so nice you commented thank you very much.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on October 13, 2021:

Your articles are always fascinating, educational, and thought-provoking. That's not a bad legacy for a writer...not bad at all. :)

John Hansen from Gondwana Land on October 13, 2021:

You offer interesting details always MG. The Nuremburg trials were certainly very significant as far as setting a precedent for punishing war crimes.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on October 13, 2021:

Tank you Pamela, it's always a pleasure to read hour comment.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on October 13, 2021:

Thanks Chitrangada, Nuremberg is interesting. Thanks for your comment.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on October 13, 2021:

Devika, so nice

you spared time and commented.

Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on October 13, 2021:

An informative article, as always. I have read about the Nuremberg trials.

Thank you for sharing the historical facts in details.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on October 13, 2021:

This is a very well-written and interesting article, MG. I like to read historical articles.

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on October 13, 2021:

emge Your hub is informative, interesting and in detail about Nuremburg Trials. History is always interesting and you share what enlightens us about it.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on October 13, 2021:

Thank you Liz, for commenting.

Liz Westwood from UK on October 12, 2021:

This is an interesting assessment of the Nuremberg trials. Even today I hear occasionally of very old people being found and prosecuted for war crimes from this period. Although I feel that so much time has passed that we must be near the end of these prosecutions.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on October 12, 2021:

Umesh, thank you for your comment.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on October 12, 2021:

Sankhajit, Thank you for commmenting

Sankhajit Bhattacharjee from MILWAUKEE on October 12, 2021:

an authentic presentation...

Umesh Chandra Bhatt from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India on October 12, 2021:

Well researched article, nice presentation.

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