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Nuremberg Trial Summation

Nazis on Trial for War Crimes

circa A.D. 1946

||  SUMMARY  ||  SUMMATION  ||

      On October 18, 1945, chief prosecutors lodged an indictment with the International Military Tribunal charging twenty-four individuals with a various crimes and atrocities. Among the accused were the Nationalist Socialist leaders Hermann Goring and Rudolf Hess, the diplomat Joachim von Ribbentrop, the munitions maker Gustav Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach, Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, Grand Admiral Erich Raeder, and eighteen other military leaders and civilian officials. In addition, seven Nazi organizations were also charged as being criminal. These organizations included the SS (Schutzstaffel "Defense Corps"), the Gestapo (Geheime Staatspolizei, "Secret State Police"), the SA (Sturmabteilung, "Storm Troops"), and the General Staff and High Command of the German armed forces.

Summary of Events

      The trial began on November 20, 1945. Much of the evidence presented consisted of original documents obtained from the Allied forces after the collapse of the German government. The judgment of the Tribunal was handed down between September 30 and October 1, 1946. With respect to war crimes and crimes against humanity, the tribunal found overwhelming evidence of a systematic rule of violence, brutality, and terrorism by the German government. The tribunal also found that atrocities had been committed on a large scale and as a matter of official policy.

      Twelve defendants were sentenced to death by hanging, seven received prison terms ranging from ten years to life, and three, including the German politician and diplomat Franz von Papen and the president of the German Central Bank Hjalmar Horace Greeley Schacht, were acquitted. Those who had been condemned to death were executed on October 16, 1946. Goring committed suicide in prison a few hours before he was to be executed. Of the seven indicted organizations, the tribunal declared criminal the Leadership Corps of the National Socialist Party, the SS, the SD (Sicherheitsdienst, "Security Service"), and the Gestapo.

Prosecutor's Trial Summation

      We charge unlawful aggression but we are not trying the motives, hopes, or frustrations which may have led Germany to resort to aggressive war as an instrument of policy. The law, unlike politics, does not concern itself with the good or evil in the status quo, nor with the merits of grievances against it. It merely requires that the status quo be not attacked by violent means and that policies be not advanced by war. We may admit that overlapping ethnological and cultural groups, economic barriers, and conflicting national ambitions created in the 1930's, as they will continue to create, grave problems for Germany as well as for the other peoples of Europe. He may admit too that the world had failed to provide political or legal remedies which would be honorable and acceptable alternatives to war. We do not underwrite either the ethics or the wisdom of any country, including my own, in the face of these problems. But we do say that it is now, as it was for sometime prior to 1939, illegal and criminal for Germany or any other nation to redress grievances or seek expansion by resort to aggressive war.

      Let me emphasize one cardinal point. The United States has no interest which would be advanced by the conviction of any defendant if we have not proved him guilty on at least one of the counts charged against him in the Indictment. Any result that the calm and critical judgment of posterity would pronounce unjust would not be a victory for any of the countries associated in this prosecution. But in summation we now have before us the tested evidences of criminality and have heard the flimsy excuses and paltry evasions of the defendants. The suspended judgment with which we opened this case is no longer appropriate. The time has come for final judgment and if the case I present seems hard and uncompromising, it is because the evidence makes it so.

      Of one thing we may be sure. The future will never have to ask, with misgiving, "What could the Nazis have said in their favor?" History will know that whatever could be said, they were allowed to say. They have been given the kind of a trial which they, in the days of their pomp and power, never gave to any man. But fairness is not weakness. The extraordinary fairness of these hearings is an attribute of our strength. The prosecution's case, at its close, seemed inherently unassailable because it rested so heavily on German documents of unquestioned authenticity. But it was the weeks upon weeks of pecking at this case by one after another of the defendants that has demonstrated its true strength. The fact is that the testimony of the defendants has removed any doubts of guilt which, because of the extraordinary nature and magnitude of these crimes, may have existed before they spoke. They have helped write their own judgment and condemnation.

      But justice in this case has nothing to do with some of the arguments put forth by the defendants or their counsel. We have not previously and we need not now discuss the merits of all their obscure and tortuous philosophy. We are not trying them for possession of obnoxious ideas. It is their right, if they choose, to renounce the Hebraic heritage in the civilization of which Germany was once a part. Nor is it our affair that I they repudiated the Hellenic influence as well. The intellectual bankruptcy and moral perversion of the Nazi regime might have been no concern of International Law has it not been utilized to goose-step the "Herrenvolk" across international frontiers. It is not their thoughts, it is their overt acts which we charge to be crimes. Their creed and teachings are important only as evidence of motive, purpose, knowledge, and intent.

      It is against such background that these defendants now ask this Tribunal to say that they are not guilty of planning, executing, or conspiring to commit this long list of crimes and wrongs. They stand before the record of this trial as bloodstained Gloucester stood by the body of his slain King. He begged of the widow, as they beg of you, "Say I slew them not." And the Queen replied, "Then say they were not slain. But dead they are." If you were to say of these men that they are not guilty, it would be as true to say there has been no war, there are no slain, there has been no crime.


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