The Nuremberg Trials : Brief Overview of Defendants & Verdicts

Publié le par Jewish Virtual Library by Ben S. Austin

The Nuremberg Trials : Brief Overview of Defendants & Verdicts

On October 1, 1946, the International Military Tribunal handed down its verdicts in the trials of 22 Nazi leaders - eleven were given the death penalty, three were acquitted, three were given life imprisonment and four were given imprisonment ranging from 10 to 20 years. A brief sketch of the principal defendants in the Nuremberg Trials, their connection to the Holocaust and the sentence each received:

The Nuremberg Trials : Brief Overview of Defendants & Verdicts

Martin Bormann :

Bormann was with Hitler and Goebbels in Hitler’s subterranean bunker on April 30, 1945. Hitler and Goebbels committed suicide while Bormann and others fled the bunker in an attempt to escape the rapidly advancing Soviet army. While he was presumed dead or captured, his whereabouts were unconfirmed at the time of the trials in Nuremberg.

Bormann replaced Hess as Hitler’s Deputy in charge of Party affairs after Hess was asked to resign following his unofficial flight to England to persuade England to negotiate peace with Hitler. Bormann’s reputation among members of his own Party and, especially, the German army was very negative. He was seen as uncivilized, ruthless and brutal.

In his absence from the trial, the Bormann investigation proceeded on the basis of voluminous documentary evidence linking him to the expulsion of millions of Jews to Poland, the utilization of Ukrainian women as slave labor.

Martin Bormann was sentenced in absentia to death by hanging.

Karl Doenitz :

After Hitler’s rejection of the Versailles Treaty in 1935, Karl Doenitz was made commander of the submarine unit of the German navy (Germany was forbidden submarines by the treaty). By 1940 he had risen to the rank of Vice Admiral. He was indicted under Counts One, Two and Three of the Indictment and mainly for that section of the Indictment dealing with War Crimes on the seas, particularly in connection with the charges that German U-Boats had sunk British merchant ships.

His main defense consisted of counter charges that the U.S. had also sunk Japanese merchant vessels. This was not, primarily, a "you are another" defense. Rather, his defense counsel argued for acquittal on the grounds that the German Navy and the U.S. Navy had committed identical military actions and with the same justification -- that Japanese and British merchant vessels were part of the military effort of those nations.

There was no strong evidence that Doenitz had attended planning sessions of the German War Department and only minimal evidence that he had been involved in the extermination or enslavement of civilian populations. His guilt was mainly in the area of "War Crimes."

Karl Doenitz was given 10 years imprisonment at Spandau Prison.

Hans Frank :

Hans Frank joined the Nazi Party in 1927 and was appointed Minister and Reich Commissioner for Justice in 1933. He served as Governor of the Generalgouvernment of Poland from 1939 to the end of the war. Under his administration the approximately 2.5 million Jews in the occupied territories of Poland were exploited in slave labor. Also during his administration, the extermination camps in eastern Poland were constructed implemented. In the initial stages of his testimony, Frank denied knowing anything about Auschwitz or Maidanek, even though Auschwitz was only 30 miles from Cracow, the seat of his administrative offices. However, when the thirty-six volumes of his journal were brought into the courtroom on October 8, Frank’s testimony shifted from denial of knowledge to denial of responsibility and finally to open condemnation of Hitler, acceptance of guilt and pleas for mercy. His confession, however, according to Telford Taylor, was a civic confession rather than an individual one.

Hans Frank was sentenced to death by hanging.

Wilhelm Frick :

Frick became a Nazi as early as 1923 served as the Nazi Minister of the Interior until from 1933 to 1943. He played a significant role in the formation of Nazi racial laws and antisemitic legislation, including the Nuremberg Laws of 1935 and 1938. He was also instrumental, along with Goering in the Aryanization of Jewish assets following Kristallnacht.

Wilhelm Frick was sentenced to death by hanging.

Hans Fritzsche :

It was probably Goebbels who, more than and of the witnesses or documents called in on Fritzsche’s account that saved him from being convicted. As a radio broadcaster he had indeed disseminated information and propaganda that was extremely important to the Nazi organization; however, it could never be demonstrated that he was the originator of the materials. The media was under such tight control of Goebbel’s Ministry of Propaganda that the only source of information available to journalists and broadcasters was the information provided them by Goebbels’ office. His antisemitism seems to have been an ideology of assent rather than one which he pressed upon the German population.

Hans Fritzsche was acquitted.

Walter Funk :

As a close friend of President Hindenberg, Walter Funk was accustomed to high-level political and administrative interactions. When Hitler came to power, Funk was appointed to the position of Press Chief of Hitler’s government. Shortly after his appointment, Goebbels formed the Ministry of Propaganda and Funk’s office was subordinated to Goebbels. Later he was appointed to replace Hjalmar Schacht as Minister of Economics. That office, too, came under the control of Goebbels. Some months later, he was appointed by Hitler as President of the Reichsbank. The bank was assigned the role of economic planning for the war effort.

Funk also attended the high-level meeting following the events of Kristallnacht. It was at this meeting that the decision was made to hold the Jews responsible for the destruction visited upon them by roving Nazi gangs. Under Heydrich’s and Goebbels leadership, it was also decided at that Jews would be excluded from the German economy — a distinct first step in the direction of the Holocaust.

One tense moment in the trial occurred when documentary evidence was presented by the prosecutor’s staff that the Reichsbank received and held a large deposit from the SS. The deposit consisted of bags of jewelry and other valuables, including dental gold, taken from Jewish victims in eastern Europe. Funk consistently denied knowledge of the contents of those bags and the prosecutors could never show conclusively that he did have such knowledge. Now could they demonstrate conclusively that he was instrumental in planning military operations, or that he was directly involved in “crimes against humanity.”

Walter Funk was sentenced to life imprisonment. He was released from Spandau Prison in 1957 and died in 1960.

Hermann Goering :

Goering was perhaps the most influential person, next to Hitler, in the Nazi organization. He was one of only 12 Nazis elected to the Reichstag in 1928. He orchestrated the Reichstag fire on February 27, 1933 and, with Goebbels assistance, used the fire as a propaganda tool against the communists. In the mid-1930's Goering was in charge of the Aryanization of Jewish property, a policy which extended to Jews throughout Europe following the Anschluss.

After the events of Kristallnacht, November 8 and 9, 1938, Goering (under instructions from Hitler) called a high-level meeting of the party, on November 12, to assess the damage done during the night and place responsibility for it. Present at the meeting were Goering, Goebbels, Reinhard Heydrich, Walter Funk and other ranking Nazi officials. The intent of this meeting was two-fold: to make the Jews responsible for Kristallnacht and to use the events of the preceding days as a rationale for promulgating a series of antisemitic laws which would, in effect, remove Jews from the German economy. An interpretive transcript of this meeting is provided by Robert Conot, Justice at Nuremberg, New York: Harper and Row, 1983:164-172):

“Gentlemen! Today's meeting is of a decisive nature,” Goering announced. “I have received a letter written on the Fuehrer’s orders requesting that the Jewish question be now, once and for all, coordinated and solved one way or another.”

Kristallnacht turns out to be a crucial turning point in German policy regarding the Jews and may be considered as the actual beginning of what is now called the Holocaust. Following that meeting, a wide-ranging set of antisemitic laws were passed which had the clear intent, in Goering’s words, of "Aryanizing" the German economy. The path to the "Final Solution" had been chosen.

Hermann Goering was sentenced to death by hanging. He evade the sentence by committing suicide in his cell.

Rudolph Hess :

Hess is not to be confused with Rudolph Hoess, commandant of Auschwitz who was tried in Warsaw in 1947 and executed at Auschwitz. Hess served as Hitler’s deputy minister and was next in line if Goering should be unavailable for any reason. According to Telford Taylor (The Anatomy of the Nuremberg Trials, 1992:25), Churchill made statements at the Yalta Conference in February, 1945, which indicate that he did not consider Hess to be a "major war criminal" and should be given a "judicial trial." Apparently, Churchill was not fully aware of Hess’ involvement in Nazi atrocities.

Vera Laska, ed., Women in the Resistance and in the Holocaust: The Voices of Eyewitnesses. Westport & London: Greenwood Press, 1983 tells us:

These preparatory schools for murder [euthanasia centers, BSA] offered the training course for the roughnecks who learned by killing thousands of Christian German and Austrian individual victims and, thus insensitized, graduated to the main task, which was to be the genocide of millions of Jews, and eventually of Gypsies, Poles, Russians, Czechs and other less worthy Slavs. The program was administered under Rudolf Hess and, after his departure, under Martin Bormann. Medical supervision was under Werner Heyde, M.D., professor at the University of Wurzburg; 100,000 people were dispatched this way. They experimented with various gasses and injections; they photographed the effect, clocked the speed of death by a stopwatch, filmed it in slow motion and then dissected the brain -- all as an undergraduate course preparatory for genocide.

Rudolf Hess was sentenced to life imprisonment. He served over 40 years of that sentence at Spandau Prison and committed suicide in 1987 at age 93.

Alfred Jodl :

Alfred Jodl was Chief of the Operations Section of the Wehrmacht [the regular German Army], under the direction of Blomberg and Keitel. In that capacity, he was involved in the destruction of Czechoslovakia. During his trial, Jodl asserted that it was the Czechs who initiated it by massing troops on the German border, knowing full well that plans for the invasion of Czechoslovakia were in place at least six months prior to the invasion. He characterized the invasion of the Soviet Union as a "preventive measure" since Soviet troops were concentrated along the German border.

In regard to "crimes against humanity," Jodl was strongly implicated in promoting forced labor -- particularly against the civilian populations of Denmark, Holland, France and Belgium.

His primary defense was the "higher authority" plea. At the end of the cross-examination, Jodl stated, "It is not the task of a soldier to be the judge of his Commander in Chief. May history or the Almighty do that." (quoted in Taylor, 1992:439).

Alfred Jodl was sentenced to death by hanging.

Ernst Kaltenbrunner :

Chief of the Reich Security Main Office (RSHA), Ernst Kaltenbrunner, went on trial at Nuremberg on April 11, 1946. He replaced Reinhard Heydrich who was assassinated by Czech agents in May, 1943 and assumed control over the SD and the Gestapo. Like most other security positions, Kaltenbrunner came under the direct authority of Heinrich Himmler. His position placed him in direct contact with the Einsatzgruppen. SS officer, Otto Ohlenberg, appearing as a witness at the trials Under questioning by Col. Amen, Ohlendorf offers the following testimony:

COL. AMEN: What were the positions of Kaltenbrunner, Mueller, and Eichmann in the RSHA, and state for what periods of time each of them continued to serve in his respective capacity?

OHLENDORF: Kaltenbrunner was Chief of the Sicherheitspolizei and the SD; as such, he was also Chief of the RSHA, the internal organizational term for the office of the chief of the Sicherheitspolizei and the SD. Kaltenbrunner occupied this position from 1/30/1943 until the end of the war. Mueller was Chief of Amt IV, the Gestapo. When the Gestapo was established, he became Deputy Chief, and as such he logically became Chief of Amt IV of the RSHA. He occupied this position until the end of the war. Eichmann occupied a position in Amt IV under Mueller and worked on the Jewish problem from approximately 1940 onwards. To my knowledge, he also occupied this position until the end of the war.

Regarding Kaltenbrunner’s involvement with the Einsatzgruppen (mobile killing units), Ohlendorf testified:

COL. AMEN: In what respects, if any, were the official duties of the Einsatz groups concerned with Jews and Communist commissars?

OHLENDORF: On the question of Jews and Communists, the Einsatzgruppen and the commanders of the Einsatzkommandos were orally instructed before their mission.

COL. AMEN: What were their instructions with respect to the Jews and the Communist functionaries?

OHLENDORF: The instructions were that in the Russian operational areas of the Einsatzgruppen the Jews, as well as the Soviet political commissars, were to be liquidated.

COL. AMEN: And when you say "liquidated" do you mean "killed?"

Then, a few questions later:

COL. AMEN: Do you know whether the mission and the agreement were also known to Kaltenbrunner?

OHLENDORF: After his assumption of office Kaltenbrunner had to deal with these questions and consequently must have known details of the Einsatzgruppen which were offices of his.

Under further questioning and cross-examination, Col. Amen presented documentary and witness evidence linking Kaltenbrunner to Mauthausen, the crematoria and the extermination of Jews (cf. Taylor, 1992:361).

Ernst Kaltenbrunner was sentenced to death by hanging.

Wilhelm Keitel :

Whereas some of the defendants were relatively [difficult] cases for the tribunal because of their minimal involvement, Keitel was relatively easy because of his extensive involvement in the Nazi organization. He served as Hitler’s military Chief of Staff and, consequently, was directly involved in the planning of the war at the highest level. His direct involvement in the "terror fliers" policy, which resulted in the wanton downing of British and American planes and the summary execution of the fliers and the "Night and Fog" decrees of 1941 which resulted, over the next three years, in the summary execution without court martial or trial, of military prisoners-of-war, were extremely damaging to his defense. Even while admitting his complicity in "war crimes," Keitel declared his loyalty, as a soldier, to his commander-in- chief.

Wilhelm Keitel was sentenced to death by hanging.

Erich Raeder:

Like Doenitz, Erich Raeder was a German naval commander and, as Commander-in-Chief of the Navy, he was Doenitz’ superior officer. He, like Doenitz, was charged under Counts One, Two and Three of the Indictment. Also, as in the case of Doenitz, the most serious charges came in connection with German U-Boat activity. Unlike Doenitz, however, strong evidence was presented to sho that Raeder was also involved in the "general plan and conspiracy" to wage aggressive war in violation international law and existing treaties.

Erich Raeder was given life imprisonment. Because of failing health, he was released from Spandau Prison in 1955 and died in 1960.

Alfred Rosenberg :

Rosenberg was a Baltic German who had migrated to Germany in 1918 and became a member of the Nazi Party in 1919. He was Hitler’s chief racial ideologist. Throughout his career, he was obsessed with the idea that the Russian Revolution was, in large part, the work of an "international Jewish conspiracy." Early in his Nazi career he served as editor of the Nazi Newspaper, People’s Observer. He was not well-liked be other members of the party, but he had Hitler’s favor. In 1930 he was elected to the Reichstag and, after holding several minor offices in Hitler’s organization, he was appointed as Reich Minister for the Occupied Eastern Territories during the way and worked for a German- subjugated Russia, free of Jews and colonized by people of Aryan blood.

He admitted knowledge of the Einsatzgruppen’s extermination of Jews and he admitted participating in the forced labor programs involving of subjugated people in the eastern Occupied Territories.

Alfred Rosenberg was sentenced to death by hanging.

Fritz Sauckel :

As Plenipotentiary General for the Allocation of labor, it was Sauckel’s responsibility to provide laborers for the industrial component of the German war economy. With so many of Germany’s able-bodied men in uniform, it became increasingly difficult to secure laborers. Under Saukel’s leadership nearly 5 million laborers were imported involuntarily from France and other foreigners in German occupied territories -- principally from eastern Europe and the Slavic states. He was charged with the solicitation of slave labor -- in violation of the Geneva Convention of 1930.

Sauckel was sentenced to death by hanging.

Hjalmar Schacht :

Why Hjalmar Schacht was included in the list of defendants is unclear. In fact, the only charges brought against him were: contributing to Hitler’s, and the Nazi Party’s rise to power and promoting preparations for war. His dislike of the Versailles Treaty, his belief that the German military should once again be strong and his support of the Anschluss were well known, but these are hardly "war crimes." He was never in a position to exercise significant influence in any of the planning and preparation for war. Likewise, Schacht had never concealed his antisemitism and his agreement that Jews should be excluded from governmental and civil service positions

Hjalmar Schacht was acquitted.

Artur Seyss-Inquart :

In March, 1938, under Hitler’s urging, Kurt von Schuschnigg, the Austrian Chancellor, appointed Artur Seyss-Inquart as Austrian Minister of the Interior of Public Safety. When Schuschnigg resigned a month later, Hitler appointed Seyss-Inquart Chancellor. Immediately, the new Chancellor invited German troops to enter Austria. The Anschluss was under way. In October, 1939 he was appointed Deputy Governor-General in Poland under Hans Frank. In that position he was instrumental in the formation of the Lublin Plan for the deportation of Jews from the Reich (cf. Jozeph Michman, ""Artur Seyss-Inquart," in Israel Gutman, ed. Encyclopedia of the Holocaust: Vol. 4, 1990:1346ff)

In May, 1940, Hitler appointed him Reich Commissioner of the Occupied Netherlands to pave the way for the annexation of that country. In late 1940 and 1941, Seyss-Inquart was active in the Aryanization of Jewish property and the deportation of Dutch Jews to the extermination camps in Poland. His knowledge of Hitler’s intentions, both militarily and with regard to the Jews was extensive and intimate.

Artur Seyss-Inquart was charged on all four counts and was sentenced to death by hanging.

Albert Speer :

The following section of Justice Jackson’s cross-examination of Speer clarifies his involvement in the Nazi movement:

JUSTICE JACKSON: You have stated a good many of the matters for which you were not responsible, and I want to make clear just what your sphere of responsibility was. You were not only a member of the Nazi Party after 1932, but you held high rank in the Party, did you not?

SPEER: Correct.

MR. JUSTICE JACKSON: And what was the position which you held in the Party?

SPEER: I have already mentioned that during my pre-trial interrogations. Temporarily in 1934 I became a department head in the German Labor Front and dealt with the improvement of labor conditions in German factories. Then I was in charge of public works on the staff of Hess. I gave up both these activities in 1941. Notes of the conference I had with Hitler about this are available. After 2/8/1942 I automatically became Todt’s successor in the central office for technical matters in the Reichsleitung of the NSDAP.

MR. JUSTICE JACKSON: And what was your official title?

SPEER: Party titles had just been introduced, and they were so complicated that I cannot tell you at the moment what they were. But the work I did there was that of a department chief in the Reichsleitung of the NSDAP. My title was Hauptdienstleiter or something of the kind.

MR. JUSTICE JACKSON: In the 1943 directory it would appear that you were head of the "Hauptamt fur Technik."

MR. JUSTICE JACKSON: And your rank appears to be "Oberbefehlsleiter"?

SPEER: Yes, that is quite possible.

MR. JUSTICE JACKSON: Which as I understand corresponds 1 roughly to a lieutenant general in the army?

SPEER: Well, compared to the other tasks I had it was very little.

MR. JUSTICE JACKSON: And you attended Party functions from time to time and were informed in a general way as to the Party program, were you not?

SPEER: Before 1942 I joined in the various Party rallies here in Nuremberg because I had to take part in them as an architect, and of course besides this I was generally present at official Party meetings or Reichstag sessions.

MR. JUSTICE JACKSON: And you heard discussed, and were generally familiar with, the program of the Nazi Party in its broad outlines, were you not?

SPEER: Of course.

Albert Speer was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment. He was released from Spandau Prison on September 30, 1966. Speer died in 1981.

Julius Streicher :

As Editor-in-Chief of the venomous antisemitic paper, Der Stuermer, Julius Streicher disseminated hatred and the most virulent strain of anti-Jewish sentiment to be found in all of Germany. And Hitler strongly approved of Streicher’s publication. The only real trouble he ever got into with the Nazi Party was for raising questions about Goering’s sexual prowess. When Goering’s wife, Emma, was about to give birth, Streicher suggested that perhaps Emma had been artificially inseminated (Conot, Justice at Nuremberg, 1983:383). Daniel Goldhagen (Hitler’s Willing Executioners, 1996:102) describes him as "the most rabid antisemite in Germany." Jackson called him "the venomous vulgarian." However, Streicher was non-military, he was not part of the planning process of the Holocaust, nor of the invasion of Poland or the Soviet Union. And, yet, his role in inciting the extermination of Jews was significant enough, in the judgment of the prosecutors, to include him in the indictment.

Julius Streicher was sentenced to death by hanging.

Constantin von Neurath :

The sentence of Neurath has been criticized as relatively harsh. His case was little different from that of Papen and Schacht, both of whom were acquitted. The most serious charges against him were relative to his position and actions with regard to the recolonization of Czechoslovakia by Germans in keeping with Hitler’s lebensraum ideology. The Tribunal seemed unimpressed with his claim that he remained in his position in Czechoslovakia to prevent that country from being taken over completely by the SS (cf. Conot, 1983:450). On the other hand, the Tribunal was convinced that Neurath knowledge of Hitler’s plans for aggressive war was to extensive to warrant acquittal.

Constantin von Neurath was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment. Because of failing health, he was released from Spandau Prison in 1954 and died in 1956.

Franz von Papen :

In 1932, President Hindenberg appointed Franz von Papen as Reich Chancellor. With Hitler’s rise to power, Papen became Vice Chancellor and later served as Ambassador in Vienna. The Tribunal charged him with using his positions to promote the rise and extension of the Nazis’ power in Europe. However, the prosecution had serious difficulties linking Papen to conspiracy to initiate an aggressive war.

Franz von Papen was acquitted.

Joachim von Ribbentrop :

In 1938, Joachim von Ribbentrop was appointed as Hitler’s Foreign Minister, replacing Neurath. In that position, he was intimately involved in almost all of the actions to wage "aggressive war." His record in the area of "crimes against humanity" was extremely damning. He had recommended and supported the deportation of Jews from France and Italy to the camps in the east and urged their extermination. Under cross-examination by the British assistant prosecutor, Ribbentrop admitted that he knew of Hitler’s intention to deport all Jews from German territories and that he assisted in that process (cf. Conot, 1983:353).

Joachim von Ribbentrop was sentenced to death by hanging.

Baldur von Schirach :

Shirach was charged on Count One and Count Four of the Indictment. On Count One, planning and preparing for aggressive war, the evidence was slight at best. As head of the Hitler Youth movement, he was accused of preparing the youth of Germany for war. While there is little question of his effectiveness in consolidating all the German youth groups under the Hitler Jungend, Shirach’s counsel was successful in separating the Youth Movement from the German Wehrmacht.

On Count Four however, Schirach was is much deeper trouble. His antisemitism was not only well-known, Schirach had expressed it openly. Interestingly enough, Shirach’s antisemitism was drawn primarily from Henry Ford’s The International Jew rather than from Rosenberg and Streicher. Thr Tribunal produced powerful documentary evidence that he knew and approved the deportation of Jews from Vienna to the extermination camps. He also knew of the Einsatzgruppen’s mobile van extermination of Jews in eastern Poland. This knowledge rendered invalid his claim that he supported the deportation of Reich Jews following Kristallnacht because he thought it was in the best interest of Jews.

Baldur von Schirach was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment. He served the entire term in Spandau Prison and died in 1974.

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