Nuremberg Trials: Nazis facing judgment
The first of a series of trials in which leading National Socialists were prosecuted for war crimes by the International Military Tribunal began on November 20, 1945. The hearings laid bare the Nazi regime of terror.
War criminals on trial
Twenty-one defendants were tried in 1945 and 1946 before the International Military Tribunal, a court that had been created specifically for the task of prosecuting war crimes. Among them were Nazi party functionaries, senior military officers, civil servants, diplomats and industrialists — and all had served the Nazi regime.
A symbolic setting
The Soviets initially wanted the trials to take place in Berlin, the capital of the Nazi regime. However, Nuremberg's Palace of Justice was deemed more suitable as it had not been badly damaged by the war, and it also boasted a large jail. The fact that Nuremberg had been the site of the Nazi Party's rallies (seen above in 1934) also lent the location a symbolic significance.
Franz von Papen: Paving the way for Hitler
As vice chancellor, Franz von Papen (center) tried to keep Adolf Hitler in check as part of a coalition government. But he was soon marginalized and relegated to a secondary role as a diplomat. In Nuremberg, he was acquitted of being involved in the annexation of Austria, only to later be sentenced to eight years of hard labor by a West German denazification court. He was released in 1949.
Hermann Göring: 'Reichsmarschall'
Hermann Göring (right) was the highest-ranking Nazi in the dock, considered the second most powerful man in Germany after Hitler. Yet he denied any knowledge or responsibility for the concentration camps. Göring was found guilty on all charges and sentenced to death — but he committed suicide by taking cyanide the night before his execution in October 1946.
Rudolf Hess: Deputy Führer
From the start, Rudolf Hess was an unswerving supporter of the Nazi regime and Hitler, who appointed him deputy party leader in 1933. In 1941, he flew to Scotland on his own initiative in an attempt to arrange peace talks with the British government. In Nuremberg, he was sentenced to life imprisonment. In 1987, at the age of 93, he hanged himself in Spandau Prison, which was under Allied control.
Hans Frank: 'Butcher of Poland'
As governor-general of occupied Poland, Hans Frank was partly responsible for the murder of hundreds of thousands of people, overseeing the creation of ghettos and extermination camps. In a 1939 speech, he said of the Jews "the more die, the better." On the witness stand in Nuremberg, he expressed some remorse. After he was sentenced to death by hanging, he said: "I deserve and expect it."
Joachim von Ribbentrop: Foreign minister
The trial of Joachim von Ribbentrop (left, with Josef Stalin in 1939) made it clear that Germany's Foreign Office was deeply implicated in the crimes of the Nazi regime. Germany's embassies and consulates worked closely with the SS paramilitary and other Nazi organizations to deport and murder Jewish citizens. Ribbentrop, who showed no remorse, was the first defendant to be executed by hanging.
Albert Speer: Hitler's chief architect
Albert Speer (second from left) was the leading architect of the Nazi regime. Hitler was a great fan of his monumental designs, but the Nuremberg tribunal was more interested in his activities as armaments and war production minister. Speer presented himself as a misguided idealist and concealed his responsibility in helping to expand the concentration camps. He narrowly escaped the death penalty.
Gustav Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach: Arms magnate
Originally a diplomat, he turned steel magnate after marrying into the Krupp industrialist family. At first he kept his distance from Hitler, but later he became involved because of his company's role in the armaments industry. Krupp (seen at right) exploited over 100,000 forced laborers and concentration camp inmates, but wasn't tried in Nuremberg because he was considered medically unfit.
Karl Dönitz: 'Reich's last president'
As commander-in-chief of the German navy, Karl Dönitz (center) was known for giving orders to submarine crews that verged on the suicidal. Before taking his life at the end of the war, Hitler appointed him president. Dönitz was sentenced to 10 years in prison in Nuremberg, but insisted for the rest of his life that he had been an apolitical career officer and had done nothing wrong.