Nurnberg Trials

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On October 18, 1945, the chief prosecutors lodged an indictment with the tribunal charging 24 individuals with a variety of crimes and atrocities, including the deliberate instigation of aggressive wars, extermination of racial and religious groups, murder and mistreatment of prisoners of war, and the murder, mistreatment, and deportation to slave labor of hundreds of thousands of inhabitants of countries occupied by Germany during the war.

Among the accused were the Nationalist Socialist leaders Hermann Göring 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 18 other military leaders and civilian officials. Seven organizations that formed part of the basic structure of the Nazi government were also charged as criminal. These organizations included the SS (Schutzstaffel, German for "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.

The trial began on November 20, 1945. Much of the evidence submitted by the prosecution consisted of original military, diplomatic, and other government documents that fell into the hands of the Allied forces after the collapse of the German government.

AConclusions of the First Trial The judgment of the International Military Tribunal was handed down on September 30-October 1, 1946. Among notable features of the decision was the conclusion, in accordance with the London Agreement, that to plan or instigate an aggressive war is a crime under the principles of international law. The tribunal rejected the contention of the defense that such acts had not previously been defined as crimes under international law and that therefore the condemnation of the defendants would violate the principle of justice prohibiting ex post facto punishments. It also rejected the contention of a number of the defendants that they were not legally responsible for their acts because they performed the acts under the orders of superior authority, stating that "the true test ... is not the existence of the order but whether moral choice (in executing it) was in fact possible." 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 in the territories occupied by its forces. Millions of persons were destroyed in concentration camps, many of which were equipped with gas chambers for the extermination of Jews, Roma (Gypsies), and members of other ethnic or religious groups. Under the slave-labor policy of the German government, at least 5 million persons had been forcibly deported from their homes to Germany. Many of them died because of inhuman treatment. The tribunal also found that atrocities had been committed on a large scale and as a matter of official policy.

Of the seven indicted organizations, the tribunal declared criminal the Leadership Corps of the National Socialist Party, the SS, the SD (Sicherheitsdienst, German for "Security Service"), and the Gestapo.

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. Göring committed suicide in prison a few hours before he was to be executed.