Ask any student of Modern History about Nuremburg and they will say “WW2 War Crimes Trials”. They would be right, but why Nuremburg? What was the significance of the trials that mean they are still remembered as important?
Instead of a the usual walking tour of the city, a bus load of us took the opportunity of a morning visiting the sites of the famous Nazi Party mass gathering, the Document Centre( built into the Nazi Congress Hall) and the site of the trials.
After WW1, Germany and it’s Allies were held responsible, their Ruling Families lost their thrones and economically crippling reparation payments were required. In some ways, the severity of the armistice conditions laid the foundations for the birth of the Nazi party under Adolph Hitler and a second “War to end all Wars” within 21 years.
However after WW1, individual responsibility for War Crimes was left to each participant nation and they generally paid lip service to it. In Germany punishments were minor in relation to the offences – people, understandably, just wanted to get back to normal life.
The Zeppelin Grandstand and the Zeppelin Field were built on the Zeppelin meadow between 1934 and 1937. It features in propaganda films showing Adolph Hitler accepting the shouted Zieg Heil salute from more than 100,000 Germans. The photographs show how the review stand looks now, unsafe to stand on, compared with how the field looked in 1937, filled with Germans responding to the Führer Myth.
The Zeppelin Field was altered. In 1945, the US Army blew up the swastika on top of the Zeppelin Grandstand. The rows of columns along the main grandstand, which were in a poor state of repair, were blown up in 1967. The entire reviews stands are crumbling and unsafe to enter. However, the area is heritage listed – there are some things about human nature we should not forget.
Nuremburg’s choice for the trial venue followed discussion between England, France, Russia and the USA. There were difference between such ideological strange bed fellows. While both Churchill and Stalin at one stage suggested summary executions without Trial, Josef Stalin meant 50,000 to 100,000 serving German Staff Officers. Winston Churchill’s response was to “in that case I would prefer you to take me to the courtyard and shoot me now!”. Franklin Rooseveldt, trying to defuse the situation with humour said ,”Maybe Mr Stalin could settle for 49,000?”
There were two compelling reasons to choose Nuremburg for the trials. it’s Palace of Justice was spacious and largely undamaged (one of the few buildings that had remained largely intact through extensive Allied bombing of Germany), and a large prison was also part of the complex. Nuremberg was also the ceremonial birthplace of the Nazi Party, having hosted annual propaganda rallies. It was thus considered a fitting place to mark its symbolic demise.
It’s first trial was of 24 major war criminals. After a trial lasting from January to July 1946, 19 were found guilty, 3 were acquitted and 2 suicided before the end of proceedings. Twelve were executed by hanging, the others given prison sentences ranging from 10 years to Life. Later trials were carried out on Doctors, lawyers and others complicit in carrying out War Crimes under the Nazi regime.
The primary aspect of the Nuremberg Rallies was to strengthen the personality cult of Adolf Hitler, portraying him as Germany’s saviour, chosen by providence. The gathered masses listened to the Führer’s speeches, swore loyalty and marched before him. Representing the Volksgemeinschaft as a whole, the rallies served to demonstrate the might of the German people. The visitors of the rallies by their own free will were subordinate to the discipline and order in which they should be reborn as a new people.
The final images show the room in which these trials were held, still in use as a courtroom today and a photo, taken at the time of trial showing Judges, defendants, prosecutors and defence lawyers.