War Crimes Trials at Nuremberg

On November 1, 1943, as the tides of World War Two began to turn, leaders of the United Kingdom, the United States and the Soviet Union convened in Moscow. Germany had been put on notice in 1941 and 1942 that perpetrators of war crimes would be held to personal account "through the channel of organized justice." The earlier warnings were renewed as President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Soviet Marshal Joseph Stalin issued a solemn "Declaration on German Atrocities." On behalf of thirty-two allied Powers, they proclaimed that Germans responsible for war crimes committed in territories overrun by Hitlerite forces would be sent back to be judged by the people they had outraged. Major criminals, whose offenses had no particular geographic location would be punished by joint decision of the allies.

US Army War Crimes Trials at Dachau

The war ended with Germany's unconditional surrender in May 1945. Captured German records disclosed that millions of Germans had been avid supporters of the Nazi party and policies. Allied trials for such large numbers was logistically and politically impossible. They could be dealt with later in German "denazification" procedures. The United States army lost no time in bringing to justice suspected war criminals who were already in custody. US Military Commissions were convened to try Germans accused of murdering downed flyers or prisoners of war as well as perpetrators or accomplices responsible for atrocities committed in concentration camps freed by US forces. Ironically, these little- known " US army trials" were held in the liberated camp at Dachau, near Munich.

Prosecutors, Defense Counsel and Judges were all US army officers. Defendants were grouped according to the camps where they were captured. The summary proceedings generally followed rules for courts martial. Between June 1944 and July 1948, when the trials were unceremoniously ended, over 1600 defendants had been tried. Almost all were convicted and over 400 were sentenced to death. After military reviews, less than 300 of the death sentences were confirmed. The guilty were confined in "War Crimes Prison No. 1", formerly renowned as the Bavarian jail at Landsberg, where Adolf Hitler, after his failed coup in 1923, had written his best-selling book,"Mein Kampf".

The First International Military Trial at Nuremberg

The trials in Dachau were overshadowed when the spotlight shifted to a new International Military Tribunal (IMT) established in Nuremberg, where Hitler's Deputy, Hermann Goering, and other prominent Nazi accomplices held center stage. The four victorious powers, US, USSR, UK and France, in their capacity as the sole acting government of what had been the Third Reich, signed an agreement in London on August 8,1945 which provided that an International Military Tribunal would be established "for the just and prompt trial and punishment of the major war criminals of the European Axis".

The jurisdiction and rules for the IMT were set forth in a Charter that was annexed to the London Agreement. The court's authority was limited to three categories of crimes: Crimes Against Peace (e.g. aggressive war); War Crimes (traditional violations of the laws of war) and Crimes Against Humanity (such as exterminations that were later known as genocide). Following piracy principles, those who embarked on a criminal enterprise could also be held accountable. Accessories and accomplices who knowingly joined the common plan or criminal conspiracy could be found guilty. The powers of the tribunal and regulations were prescribed to ensure fair trials. The Charter became the foundation stone for the IMT trial and for twelve lesser-known Nuremberg trials that soon followed.

The IMT prosecution began on November 30, 1945. After a trial that was generally considered to be eminently fair, the judgment against the twenty-four defendants was handed down on October 1, 1946. The learned judges meticulously reviewed the historical and legal basis for their proceedings. They concluded: "The Charter is not an arbitrary exercise of power on the part of the victorious Nations, but, it is the expression of international law existing at the time of its creation..." Reference was made to treaties like the Kellogg Pact and Hague Conventions that laid down binding rules that had been violated. The Court respected the principle that no one should be punished for deeds that were not previously declared to be illegal, but that rule of equity was held inapplicable where the accused were leaders of such high authority that they must have known their abominable deeds were criminal by any civilized standard.

Presiding Judge, Lord Geoffrey Lawrence of Great Britain, read the sentences. Three of the defendants were acquitted. Twelve others were sentenced to death for having planned and participated in aggressive war, which the Tribunal condemned as "the supreme international crime", as well as for crimes against humanity and violations of the laws of war, After confirmation by the Allied Control Council, those condemned to die were hanged. Goering committed suicide and Martin Bormann, Hitler's Deputy, who was tried in absentia, was never found. Those sentenced to imprisonment were confined in Spandau prison in Berlin, where they remained under strict quadripartite supervision until their sentences were fully served.

The IMT Charter, adhered to by 19 other nations, and the legal principles that emerged from the IMT judgment, were unanimously affirmed by the first General Assembly of the United Nations on 11 December 1946. The law had taken a significant step forward to meet the needs of a changing world.

Trials Under Allied Control Council Law

Defeated Germany was divided into four zones. Each zone was occupied and administered by one of the four victorious powers, UK, US, USSR and France. Berlin was occupied jointly. The governing body was the quadripartite Control Council. Since the London Charter anticipated the possibility of more than one trial, the Control Council enacted Law 10, on December 20, 1945, to provide a uniform legal basis for any subsequent trials and to add some needed clarifications. The most important change was to make clear that crimes against humanity could be punishable even if committed in peacetime against one's own nationals. "Invasions" as well as "wars" were specifically made punishable, and "rape" was added as a specific example of a crime against humanity. These articulations would play an important role in the evolution of international criminal and humanitarian law.

The single trial by the IMT against two-dozen culprits could not adequately portray the full extent of Nazi criminality. The allies all agreed that additional speedy trials would be desirable to hold to account those mid-level policymakers and accomplices without whose assistance Hitler's overwhelming reign of terror would not have been possible. Where and how such trials would be held posed a problem. The leading architect for the Nuremberg trial, Justice Robert M, Jackson, on temporary leave from the US Supreme Court to serve as Chief Prosecutor for the United States, noted that quadripartite trials in four languages were both costly and time-consuming. Failing to reach an accord on another international trial, it was finally decided that each of the occupying powers could handle future war crimes prosecutions in their own zones of occupation as each might see fit.

In time, the French conducted a few trials in their zone and the British did the same under rules prescribed by traditional Royal Warrants for military procedures. What the Soviets did in areas they occupied remains obscure but millions of German prisoners of war were kept in Soviet custody for many years. The United States decided that justice would best be served by additional trials against a wide array of high level Germans suspected of being the powers behind the Nazi hierarchy of crime. United States Zone Ordinance No.7 . on October 18, 1946 (amended by Ordinance 11 on February 17, 1947,) laid down rules to implement Control Council Law 10 to guarantee a fair and speedy trial for all accused. Although the later proceedings were conducted in the name of the United States and the prosecutors and judges were Americans, the trials, based on the London Charter, had characteristics of international law rather than national law. The courts were created and the trials conducted pursuant to the quadripartite Control Council decrees and ordinances. They were bound to respect the legal findings of the International Military Tribunal.

Nuremberg, ravaged by war, was in the US zone. The old German courthouse had been refurbished for the IMT and would be available as soon as the international trial was completed. Telford Taylor, a Harvard law graduate who had served on the staff of Justice Jackson was charged with responsibility for organizing and directing any "subsequent proceedings." Taylor, promoted to Brigadier General, was designated Jackson's Deputy and named Chief of Counsel for further trials. Nazi leaders who were not tried by the IMT as well as their principal agents and accessories, and members of Nazi groups found by the IMT to be criminal organizations, were potential targets for the new war crimes courts.

The evidence before the IMT had only outlined the broad sweep of Nazi criminality. Crimes of such magnitude could not have been committed without help from many sectors. German doctors, for example, had performed brutal medical experiments on victims considered racially undesirable or subhuman. German judges and lawyers had used the law as a tool for persecuting presumed enemies. High ranking military officers directed or assisted massive war crimes in violation of the laws of war. The Nazi party had been financed by banks and industrialists who were fully aware of Hitler's plans and programs. German companies had seized foreign assets and helped build concentration camps where helpless inmates were worked to death. German diplomats and ministers had planned and aided Hitler's repeated aggressions. To follow-up on the IMT, a sample of such wrongdoers would be called to account in courts of law set up in Nuremberg by the United States.

The challenge was daunting. Evidence had to be assembled quickly to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the suspects knowingly committed crimes within the jurisdiction of the court. The alleged perpetrators would have to be in custody and in mental and physical condition to stand trial. New staff had to be recruited and trained, bilingual researchers, investigators and translators had to be hired. Qualified and available judges had to be recruited in the United State. Witnesses had to be located, housed and safeguarded. Budgets were limited. Most important of all, it was imperative that the subsequent trials, would, as Jackson said, "commend itself to posterity as fulfilling humanity's aspirations to do justice."

The Twelve Subsequent Trials at Nuremberg

(1) Doctors and lawyers on trial

The lead defendant in Case No. 1, the "Medical Case", was Karl Brandt. Like many other Nazi leaders, he was given high rank in the SS (Security Services) and reported directly to Hitler. Dr. Brandt, together with twenty-two others, was indicted on December 9, 1946 for cruel experiments on helpless concentration camp inmates and prisoners-of-war. The unwilling "guinea pigs" were deliberately infected with diseases and subjected to wounds designed to test the limits of human endurance. Euthanasia and sterilization programs had been organized against the aged, incurably ill and others characterized as "useless eaters." The defendants all denied personal culpability, argued that they were acting under "superior orders" and that such experiments were carried on legally elsewhere.

The American Judges, who came from superior courts in Oklahoma, Florida and Washington, found that there was unquestionable proof that war crimes and crimes against humanity had been committed. Individual responsibility had to be established beyond a reasonable doubt. Seven defendants were acquitted. The others were convicted on July 19, 1947 and sentenced to long prison terms. Five were condemned to hang and in due course were executed in Landsberg prison. The Tribunal laid down ten basic principles that had to be observed to satisfy ethical and legal standards for medical experiments. These guidelines became important signposts for the medical profession throughout the world.

Nazi lawyers and judges did not escape scrutiny. In the "Justice Case" that opened on January 4,1947, fourteen leading official of the judicial system of the Reich were accused of crimes against humanity by distorting the legal process to justify and support Hitler's programs of persecution and extermination. The trial judges came from benches in Ohio, Oregon and Texas. They found that "the dagger of the assassin was concealed beneath the robe of the jurist." The proceedings, which lasted less than a year, reinforced principles laid down by the IMT and became the subject of a popular Hollywood film "Judgment at Nuremberg".

The American judges denied that they were imposing ex post facto law. International law, in contrast to national law, was described as an evolving process that relies on broad principles of justice and fair play which underlie all civilized concepts of law and procedure. No one was convicted without proof that he " knew or should have known that in matters of international concern he was guilty of participating in a nationally organized system of injustice and persecution shocking to the moral sense of mankind". The fairness of the trial was evidenced by the fact that four of the accused were acquitted. The six remaining were sentenced to life imprisonment or lesser terms.

(2) Nazi Administrators and Executioners

Three subsequent trials were directed against leaders of different Nazi offices. The "Pohl Case" indicted Oswald Pohl, Chief of the Economic and Administrative Departments and seventeen of his highest associates accused of kidnapping and enslaving millions of civilians, and constructing and administering concentration camps where forced laborers toiled under conditions that made work and death almost synonymous. Defendants argued that during the war food was scarce for everyone and hard work was mandatory but not unlawful. The judgment in November 1947 held that there is no such thing as benevolent slavery; compulsory, uncompensated labor under the most inhumane conditions was a crime. The trial lasted about six months and resulted in death sentences for Pohl and three of his cohorts. Three others were acquitted, while the rest received prison terms.

The second case against Nazi officials, indicted 14 leaders of the Main Race and Resettlement Office,("RuSHA") whose assignment was to safeguard the purity of German blood by eliminating ethnic "inferiors", like Jews, Gypsies and Poles. Other non-Aryans were to be resettled or "Germanized". The trial lasted about four months and ended on March 10, 1948. The lead defendant, Ulrich Greifelt, was sentenced to life imprisonment. The one female defendant in any of he Nuremberg trials was acquitted. Others received prison sentences and those convicted only of membership in criminal organizations were allowed to go free for time already served.

Of special interest was the case against the special extermination squads known as "SS Einsatzgruppen". Twenty-four high-ranking officers, including six Generals, were accused of slaughtering over a million Jews, Gypsies and others - men, women and children - as part of the Nazi "final solution" to eradicate perceived opposition to Hitler's Reich. The defendants were commanders of units, totaling about three thousand men, who followed behind the German advance into Poland and the Soviet Union where they rounded up helpless civilian victims for execution in ditches or gas vans. Their daily reports to higher headquarters and ministries tabulated the number of victims "eliminated," the location and identity of the units and the commanders in charge. Unfortunately for them, these official records, from about June 1941 to the middle of 1942, fell into the hands of US war crimes investigators.

Relying on the defendant's own reports. the Prosecution rested its case two days after its Opening Statement on September 29, 1947. The defense took 136 trial days. They challenged the authenticity of the documents, offered alibis, denials, excuses and purported justifications including the standard plea of "superior orders". Presiding Judge Michael Musmanno, of Pennsylvania, allowed the defendants to introduce any evidence they felt might save them. But they could not escape the damaging impact of the overwhelming proof against them. The judgment was comprehensive and devastating. On April 10, 1948, all of the defendants were convicted and 14 were sentenced to death. Executions were stayed pending appeals. The trial was widely publicized as "the biggest murder trial in history"

The defendants were well educated men. Eight of them were lawyers and most others had doctor's degrees. The lead defendant, an intellectual SS General Ohlendorf, freely admitted that his unit had killed about ninety-thousand Jews. He testified that he would do it again to answer his country's call. Even after he was sentenced to death he showed not the slightest remorse. The trial offered new insights into the mentality of fanatics who are so convinced of the righteousness of their cause that they remain willing to kill or be killed for their own perverted ideals.

The victims were killed because they did not share the race, religion or creed of their executioners. The Prosecution emphasized that no penalty could balance the enormity of the genocidal crime. The goal of the trial was not vengeance or merely justified retribution. It was a plea of humanity to law- that all people should have a legal right to live in peace and dignity regardless of their race or creed. The Opinion of the three American judges confirmed that genocide and crimes against humanity were crimes that could never be tolerated. The trial and judgment set significant landmarks to advance the evolution of international criminal and humanitarian law.

(3) Industrialists called to account

Three more trials focused on industrial leaders and financiers who backed the Hitler regime. The "Farben", "Krupp" and "Flick" cases also reflected the mentality of persons who aided and abetted the Nazi reign of terror without any regret or subsequent remorse. They were accused of benefiting from the slave labor programs of the Third Reich and from confiscation of properties from occupied countries and from Jews. Many of the defendants argued that it was necessary to go along with the governing regime.

In the trial against Friedrich Flick and five of his associates, the powerful industrialist, who became the richest man under Hitler, was charged with seizing properties as well as exploiting camp inmates under the most atrocious conditions. It was shown that he took the initiative for economic plunder and was a big contributor to Nazi entities. German defense lawyers argued that their clients had done no more than others would have done in defense of home and country. The arguments of economic and military necessity persuaded the American judges to acquit three of the accused. On December 22, 1947, Flick was sentenced to five years imprisonment and the two remaining defendants received lesser terms. With time off for good behavior, they would all soon be released.

Alfried Krupp was the sole owner and director of Hitler's major arms producer. (His father Gustav had been dropped as a defendant in the IMT trial when it was found that he was senile.) Alfried and eleven other key members of the company were indicted on a variety of charges. The court acquitted all of them of having been accessories to crimes against peace. The judges were not convinced that they had sufficient knowledge of Hitler's aggressive intentions to be found guilty. Judge Anderson, from Tennessee, thought that liability for planning aggressive war should be limited to the leaders who did the planning and not civilians who were not policy-makers.

On other counts of the indictment the defendants did not fare as well. The judgment covered `122 printed pages. 11 of the accused were found guilty beyond reasonable doubt, of plunder and violating laws of war by mistreatment of prisoners and camp inmates who slaved in their plants. The arguments that they acted under "superior orders" and feared they might otherwise be penalized, were rejected. It was shown that the industrialists shared the goals of the regime and were in no way coerced. Any disadvantage that might have befallen them was trivial when compared to the suffering of the inmates they abused. Alfried Krupp was sentenced to twelve years in prison plus forfeiture of all his property. His colleagues received lesser sentences. In the spring of 1949, they were transported to War Criminal Prison No. 1 where they began plans to obtain their release. It would not be long in coming.

The most difficult and complicated industrial trial was against the directors of the IG Farben chemical cartel. The "Farben Case" indicted twenty defendants, led by Chairman of the Board, Hermann Schmitz. The charges were essentially the same as those leveled against Krupp. Farben had assisted Hitler in attaining power. Farben directors had worked closely with the military in restoring German might. Farben had financed the building of the concentration camp at Auschwitz. Farben was one of the heaviest users of slave labor in the camps. Farben had planned the unlawful acquisition of foreign companies to strengthen Germany's war potential.

The Tribunal's judgment in July 1948 acquitted all defendants of conspiracy and the crime of aggression. Two of the three judges were not persuaded that the accused were aware of Hitler's plans to start an aggressive war. Judge Paul Hebert, Dean of the Louisiana Law School, was not convinced that justice had been done. He dissented regarding some of the acquittals Of the twenty-three defendants, ten were acquitted of all charges. Thirteen were found guilty of plunder or slave labor abuses. Those convicted received light sentences, of eight years or less - much to the disappointment of the young American prosecutors.

(4) Generals face the court

German Field Marshals and Generals were among the high-ranking military leaders called to account in the "Hostages Case" for the murder of prisoners of war and civilian hostages in occupied territories. The trial lasted about six months and ended in February, 1948. The judgment, led by Charles Wennerstrum of Iowa, helped to clarify the law regarding the status and rights of partisans and other belligerents as well as the limits of "command responsibility" and of "military necessity." "Superior orders" were considered in mitigation. No death sentences were imposed and some Generals were acquitted. 14 of the convicted men were sentenced to prison terms.

The second military trial had only one defendant. In the "Milch" case, Field Marshal Erhard Milch, deputy to Hermann Goering, was sentenced to life imprisonment in April, 1947, for his deep involvement in slave labor programs. In another such trial in the summer of 1948, all fourteen defendants in the "High Command" case were acquitted of planning or waging aggressive war since they were not found to be the policy-makers. Most of the thirteen other defendants were sentenced to prison terms for abuse of forced laborers and other war crimes.

(5) Ministers and diplomats on trial

The last and longest of the subsequent Nuremberg trials was the "Ministries" case which began in January, 1948 with twenty-one defendants and lasted fifteen months. High officials of the Foreign Office and other government ministries were charged with responsibility for crimes against peace, crimes against humanity and a large variety of war crimes and atrocities. Five defendants, including Ernst von Weizsaecker, a career diplomat who was State Secretary in the Foreign Office, were convicted of "crimes against peace". Following IMT reasoning, the court held that those leaders clearly responsible for initiating or cooperating in waging unlawful war, knowing that it was aggression, must be held accountable. They noted particularly that the principles laid down in the judgment were not binding merely on Germans but were applicable to all nations. Those found guilty were sentenced to prison terms ranging from 4 to 15 years.

Clemency for War Criminals

The twelve Nuremberg trials had indicted 185 persons and had convicted 142. The convicts joined more than a thousand prisoners sentenced by the Dachau Military Commissions to confinement in War Crimes Prison No. 1. Life in the Landsberg jail was relatively comfortable but the prisoners lost no time in trying to get out.

As the passions of war cooled and the political climate in Germany changed, the attitude toward the convicts in Landsberg also changed. The Soviet Union, that had been a wartime partner, soon came to be regarded as an enemy by the United States. West Germany, that had been a wartime enemy, was seen as a potential ally in opposing communist expansion. German veteran's organizations, Nazi sympathizers, influential friends of the prisoners, as well as church and humanitarian groups, joined respected German politicians who beseeched the Americans to release the prisoners in Landsberg. They were not without friends in the US Congress where Senator Joseph McCarthy and others argued that the real enemy was not Germany but the communists. German militarists made plain that they could not be expected to join allied forces as long as their revered war-time commanders were imprisoned as criminals.

General Lucius Clay, as US Military Governor, had personally reviewed both the Dachau and the subsequent Nuremberg trials in 1948. He had affirmed practically all of the verdicts including hundreds of death sentences. As part of the movement away from military occupation, he was replaced in 1949 by a High Commissioner, John J. McCloy, a prominent New York lawyer who had served as Assistant Secretary of War. McCloy was left with the unenviable task of signing death warrants that would trigger the hanging of fifteen prisoners who had been convicted at Nuremberg but whose execution had been postponed pending appeals.

In July, 1950, McCloy appointed an Advisory Board for Clemency for War Criminals to advise him. The board was instructed not to challenge any of the findings of law or fact reached by Nuremberg judges. It was requested only to consider discrepancies in sentences for the same offense as well as personal hardships of health or family. It was not an appellate review and no Nuremberg prosecutors were consulted. On January 31, 1951, after all legal appeals had been exhausted, including petitions to the Supreme Court of the United States, that refused to accept jurisdiction, McCloy announced his final decisions. Thirty-one of the Nuremberg defendants, including the nine industrialists who had been sentenced to prison in the Krupp case, all had their terms reduced to "time served." On February 5, 1951, Krupp walked out of prison a free and happy man. All of the enormous Krupp fortune had been returned to him by High Commissioner McCloy.

Taking account of every consideration in favor of the prisoners, McCloy commuted ten of the 15 death sentences to life imprisonment. He could find no grounds for clemency for four Einsatzgruppen commanders (Paul Blobel, Werner Braune, Erich Naumann, Otto Ohlendorf) or for Oswald Pohl who was responsible for mass murders in concentration camps. Aware that Germany had abolished the death penalty, he nevertheless confirmed that those five genocidal killers should be executed.

At the same time, the Commander for the US Army in Europe, General Thomas Handy, who was responsible for the prisoners convicted in the army trials at Dachau, reduced sentences for about four-hundred of those under his charge who were still detained in the war crimes prison. He commuted eleven death sentences that were still pending but directed that two others face the gallows. The five Nuremberg defendants on death row plus the two convicted at Dachau were hanged in Landsberg on June 7, 1951.

In December, 1951, many of the war criminals convicted at Dachau or Nuremberg were granted their freedom as a "Christmas Amnesty. " Attempts to gain the release of the remaining Landsberg prisoners were unrelenting. The sympathetic US authorities were increasingly creative in quietly finding ways to reduce sentences or grant paroles to remaining prisoners. Similarly, the British, eager to have German forces join in the defense of Europe, found reasons to release Hitler's leading commanders, Field Marshals Kesselring and Manstein in 1952 and 1953. By the end of 1958, all war criminals convicted at any of the twelve subsequent trials at Nuremberg were free.

Significance of the Nuremberg Trials

The significance of the trials at Nuremberg can best be understood as part of an evolutionary process. It is part of a much larger mosaic in which clearer laws, international courts and a system of effective enforcement of universal norms gradually gain international acceptance. It was repeatedly made clear by Jackson and Taylor, and the judgments of the courts, that law must apply equally to everyone.

The thirteen judicial proceedings at Nuremberg were designed to protect the fundamental rights of all human beings to live in peace and dignity regardless of their race or creed. In careful and well reasoned judgments, the law was clarified and affirmed. Bringing at least a handful of Nazi leaders before the bar of justice helped to diminish some of the anger and pain of survivors of persecution and encouraged hope for a more humane world in which perpetrators of such crimes would never be immune from punishment. The number of convictions was not as important as the confirmation of the principles emerging to guide future international behavior of nations and individuals.

The details presented in open court at Nuremberg made plain how an entire nation could be led astray by a ruthless tyrant. Revulsion against the horrors encouraged acceptance of the Charter of the United Nations and the slow awakening of the human conscience. The Genocide Convention, introduced on December 9, 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted on December 10, 1948, and a growing host of other international agreements gave birth to new disciplines focused on humanitarian law and the protection of human rights everywhere.

The impulse of Nuremberg spread internationally. Trials of Japanese war criminals were based on the IMT Charter. Countries that had been occupied by Nazi Germany also held war crimes trials following similar principles. German courts conducted post-war trials against concentration camp personnel. A central office in Germany directed investigations of war criminals throughout the land. War crimes suspects who had fled abroad were seized and called to account. An ad hoc tribunal was set up by the United Nations Security Council in 1993 to deal with crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in Yugoslavia. A similar tribunal was created in 1994 to cope with genocide in Rwanda. Their decisions built upon the law laid down at Nuremberg. Several new national or international criminal courts are being planned to cope with terrorism and other atrocities in other parts of the world. They all bear the mark of Nuremberg.

After many years of difficult negotiation, a permanent international criminal court, widely recognized as "the missing link in the world's legal order," was sworn into office in the Hague on March 11, 2003. Its aim was to establish universally binding rules of law, based on the Nuremberg principles and precedents. Its primary goal was to prevent perpetrators of massive crimes from remaining immune. Its eighteen distinguished judges, male and female, came from all regions of the world. Its first Prosecutor, a renowned human rights lawyer, was unanimously elected and sworn to impartiality. Nations retained the right to try their own nationals and a fair trial for all was guaranteed under binding rules. By the end of 2003, over ninety nations, including the entire European community, had ratified the treaty and accepted responsibility for the proper functioning of the new international criminal tribunal.

The many legal fruits that have grown from the seeds planted at Nuremberg reflect the enduring hopes of humankind. But, as seen from the clemency shown to criminals convicted at Nuremberg, the progress of the law does not proceed upward in a straight line or in a political vacuum. The creation of new judicial institutions with universally binding authority on matters of vital concern to many nations is not something that can be achieved quickly or easily.

There have always been those who oppose enforceable international rules as an infringement on national sovereignty. They prefer to rely on their own economic or military might rather than trust any untried new legal tribunals. Without looking for solutions, they point to shortcomings, even though some problems must be expected in every new institution. Opposition to the new international criminal court is, in effect, a repudiation of the principles and goals enunciated at Nuremberg. The historical record shows, however, that despite hesitation and vacillation, the Nuremberg principles live on. A peaceful and humane world requires an improved and enforceable rule of law that applies equally to everyone. The universal acceptance of that principle will be the enduring legacy of the Nuremberg trials.

J.D. Harvard, 1943. Chief Prosecutor in the Einsatzgruppen trial at Nuremberg.

+ Show Endnotes


Bloxbam, D. (2001). Genocide on Trial. Oxford University Press.

Cooper, B.,ed. (1999). War Crimes- The Legacy of Nuremberg.New York: TV Books.

Greene, J.M. (2003). Justice at Dachau. New York:Broadway Books.

Ferencz, B.B. (1980). An International Criminal Court, 2 vols. New York, Oceana Publications.

Ferencz, B.B. (2002). Less Than Slaves, Bloomington: Indiana University Press. (Originally published by Harvard University Press.)

Maguire, P. (1993). Law and War - An American Story. New York: Columbia University Press.

Sadat, L.N. (2002) The International Criminal Court and the Transformation of International Law. Ardsley, New York: Transnational Publishers.

Taylor, T. (1949). "Nuremberg Trials - War Crimes Law and International Law." International Conciliation, April 1949, No. 450, Carnegie Endowment, New York.

Taylor, T. (1992. The Anatomy of the Nuremberg Trials. New York: Knopf.

U.S. Government Printing Office ( 1946-1949).15 vols. Trial of War Criminals Before the Nuremberg Military Tribunals Under Control Council Law No. 10.