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1945: Nuremberg trial of Nazis begins

Twenty of Germany's Nazi leaders have gone on trial in the German city of Nuremberg charged with war crimes.

The four judges who make up the International Military Tribunal took their seats at 1000 hours to hear the charges read out.

The offences included waging a war of aggression, violating the customs of warfare and committing crimes against humanity.

The three major wartime powers, the United States, Soviet Union and Britain will sit on the tribunal, and France has also been awarded a place.

The British president of the tribunal, Justice Geoffrey Lawrence, opened the trial, calling it "unique in the history of the jurisprudence of the world and of supreme importance to millions of people all over the globe.

War crimes

"For this reason there is laid upon everybody who takes any part in this trial the solemn responsibility to discharge his duties without fear or favour in accordance with the sacred principles of law and justice," he said.

The accused include Hermann Goring, Commander of the Luftwaffe, Admiral Karl Donitz, who became German president following Hitler's death, Albert Speer, a close friend of Hitler's, and Martin Bormann, successor to Hess as Nazi Party Secretary, is being tried in his absence.

They were seated in two rows in the dock, which has been specially adapted to contain all 20 of them. American military police in their trademark steel white helmets were seated behind and at either end of the dock.

The whole day's sitting was then taken up with the simultaneous reading of the 24,000-word indictment in four different languages.

Everyone in the court was issued with headphones to allow them to hear the charges being read in their native language, but the accused showed little interest.

They are represented by counsel and the prosecution has made available all its documents to allow a just defence.

Talks about how to punish the Nazi leadership once the war ended began months ago.

The British Government wanted to shoot the leaders once they were caught and formally identified - but the Soviet Union and US favoured a legal process.

The International Military Tribunal was finally set up on 8 August by which time the main parties had agreed a compromise on a set of internationally recognised offences.

They had also accepted Soviet insistence that only Axis aggression was covered by the new court - otherwise the Soviet authorities would have been in the dock as well for carving up Poland in 1939 and attacking Finland three months later.

The defendants are expected to enter their pleas in the morning - most are expected to plead not guilty.


In Context
The case against the leaders of Nazi Germany opened the following morning with an address by the American chief prosecutor, Justice Jackson. His 20,000-word speech took up most of the day's sitting. <br>

All 20 men pleaded not guilty. <br>

The trial lasted until 1 October 1946 when 11 of the Nazi leaders were sentenced to death by hanging. Martin Bormann was also sentenced to death in his absence. <br>

Three of the defendants, including Hess, were given life sentences and the remaining four were sentenced to jail terms of between 10 and 20 years. <br>

Verdicts of not guilty were recorded on three men, financial expert Hjalmar Schacht, Nazi politician and diplomat Franz von Papen and senior Nazi official Hans Fritzsche. The Soviet representative on the tribunal recorded his opposition to this decision and the verdict on Hess. <br>

Hermann Goering committed suicide the day before his planned execution by swallowing a cyanide pill. On 16 October 1946 the ten remaining defendants were hanged. <br>

A second set of trials of lesser war criminals was conducted at the US Nuremberg Military Tribunals and included the famous Doctors' Trial, which heard evidence against 23 German physicians who conducted experiments on concentration camp prisoners. <br>

Altogether there were four more military tribunals in Nuremberg, the last one of which finished in April 1949. <br>

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Watch/Listen
Scene inside court
The defendants were surrounded by American military police

Attorney Shawcross reads an account of a massacre - 27.7.1946


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