Nuremberg: Memorial tells of trials' history and repercussions
December 13, 2010
The guilt of the leaders of the Third Reich is the focus of a new permanent exhibit at the courthouse in Nuremberg, Germany, where the Nazis were tried and convicted of waging a war of aggression and committing war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The Memorium Nuremberg Trials exhibit in the Nuremberg Palace of Justice includes hundreds of photographic, film, text and audio displays that tell the story of Nazi war crimes and the fate of the men who masterminded them.
Adolf Hitler, propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels and SS chief Heinrich Himmler escaped justice by committing suicide before they could be tried. But many others faced trials, including Luftwaffe and Gestapo commander Hermann Göring, Deputy Führer Rudolf Hess, German navy commander Adm. Karl Dönitz and German military commanders Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel and Col. Gen. Alfred Jodl. Nazi Party secretary Martin Bormann, whose remains were later discovered in Berlin, was tried in absentia.
As World War II came to an end, the victorious Allies — the U.S., Britain, France and the Soviet Union — agreed to try the Nazi leaders before an International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg, a city chosen partly because it was the site of Nazi propaganda rallies. More than 20 major war criminals, along with criminal organizations such as the Nazi Party, the Gestapo and the SS, went on trial when the court opened its first session in October 1945.
The cell block where the Nazis were held still stands next to the Palace of Justice, but inside it is a prison that today houses ordinary criminals and is off-limits to the public. But visitors can sit in Court Room 600 where the trials were held — although since the room continues to be used for criminal trials, entry cannot be guaranteed.
The top floor of the Palace of Justice houses a multimedia exhibit on the Nuremberg trials. Much of the written text is in German, but free audio guides with explanations in English are available at the front desk.
Among the items is the bench where the Nazis sat to hear the evidence against them provided by more than 280 witnesses, including Holocaust survivors. The exhibit doesn’t gloss over the irony of Nazis being judged by officials from the Soviet Union — a nation that had signed a non-aggression pact with Germany before the war then subjugated Eastern Europe, starved millions and exiled political prisoners to gulags. It details unsuccessful attempts by Soviet prosecutors to pin blame for the Katyn Forest massacre of Polish officers by Soviet troops on the Nazis.
On Sept. 30, 1946, the military judges gave their verdicts — three acquittals, 12 death sentences, three life sentences and four lengthy prison sentences. A front-page newspaper photograph of the Nazis’ dead bodies lying in their cells after the executions (and in the case of Göring, suicide by cyanide the night before he was to be hanged) is part of the exhibit.
There is also information on the follow-up trials at Nuremberg that saw the prosecution of hundreds of lesser Nazis, including doctors who experimented on prisoners, judges, lawyers, industrialists, police, military officers, civil servants and diplomats, between 1946 and 1949. Many of them had death sentences commuted or were released early from prison during the Cold War and the founding of the Federal Republic of Germany.