The 75th Anniversary of the opening at Nuremberg
(From the Jackson List of John Barrett)
a.m. on Tuesday, November 20, 1945, Lord Geoffrey Lawrence of the United
Kingdom, president judge of the International Military Tribunal (IMT),
commenced its trial of the principal Nazi war criminals. The trial
occurred in Courtroom 600 in the Palace of Justice in Nuremberg, in the United
States occupation zone of the former Nazi Germany.
The World War II Allied nations—the U.S.A., the United
Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the government of the Union of
Soviet Socialist Republics, and the Provisional Government of the French
Republic—had created the IMT in their August 8, 1945, London Agreement.
In October 1945, prosecutors from the Allied nations filed
with the IMT an indictment charging twenty-four Nazi prisoners and six Nazi
organizations with four international crimes: common plan, agreement and
conspiracy; waging aggressive war; committing war crimes; and committing crimes
The trial opened on November 20 with prosecutors reading the
extensive Indictment. French assistant prosecutor Pierre Mounier read a
portion of Count Three, charging defendants with committing particular War
Crimes in France. The charge included—Mournier stated in court—the word
“genocide.” This was the first official public utterance of this new
word, which had been coined by Polish lawyer Raphael Lemkin and, at his urging,
added by the Americans as they finished drafting the Indictment.
Seventy-five years ago today, on November 21, 1945, twenty
individual defendants—Hermann Goering, Rudolf Hess, Joachim von Ribbentrop,
Wilhelm Keitel, Alfred Rosenberg, Hans Frank, Wilhelm Frick, Julius Streicher,
Walter Funk, Hjalmar Schacht, Karl Doenitz, Erich Raeder, Baldur von Schirach,
Fritz Saukel, Alfred Jodl, Franz von Papen, Arthur Seyss-Inquart, Albert Speer,
Constantin von Neurath and Hans Fritszche—announced to the IMT their pleas of
not guilty. The four other defendants were not present—Ernst
Kaltenbrunner was absent due to illness, Martin Bormann was being tried in abstentia,
Gustav Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach had been declared incompetent to stand
trial, and Robert Ley had committed suicide. The IMT permitted no
defendant to make a speech—the USSR
had agreed to begin the trial only on that condition because its chief
prosecutor, General Roman Rudenko, had not yet arrived in Nuremberg.
Justice Robert H. Jackson, U.S. Chief of Counsel, then
delivered his opening statement, which he had been writing and honing for over
a month. The first five paragraphs, here as he spoke them, explained the
entirety of the Nuremberg trial undertaking:
The privilege of opening the first trial in history for crimes against the peace of the world imposes a grave responsibility. 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. That four great nations, flushed with victory and stung with injury, stay the hand of vengeance and voluntarily submit their captive enemies to the judgment of the law is one of the most significant tributes that power has ever paid to reason.
Now me—here in one phrase, “the most significant tribute that power has ever paid to reason” is the clearest expression of our sickness. We no longer believe in reason as the foundation of law or anything else.