Nov. 20 in history marks the anniversary of the first day of the Nuremberg Trials in 1945. The war crime trials, which took place in Nuremberg, Germany, involved the prosecution of war criminals from the European Axis powers. The trials followed the defeat of Germany at the close of World War II.
Churchill Wanted to Shoot Them Without a Trial
What many people do not know is that Winston Churchill originally planned to shoot and kill the top leaders from Nazi Germany without affording them the right to a trial. However, the United States Secretary of War, Henry Stimson, urged President Roosevelt to demand that the Nazi leaders be put on trial in international court.
Before the trial began, on Nov. 20, 1945, President Roosevelt passed away. His successor, President Harry S. Truman ordered Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson serve as chief prosecutor in the Nuremberg Trials. Four countries in total pressed charges against the Nazi Leaders, including the United States, Russia, Great Britain and France.
During the trial, chief prosecutor Robert Jackson opened the proceedings with the following powerful words: "That four great nations, flushed with victory and stung with injury, stay the hand of vengeance and voluntarily submit their captive enemies to the judgment of law is one of the significant tributes that power has ever paid to reason."
In total, 24 Nazi leaders were tried. They included Hermann Goering (Hitler's intended successor) and Rudolf Hess (Hitler's secretary), among many more. Each of the defendants entered pleas of not guilty to all of the charges. Some of the accusations at trial involved the killing of 30,000 Russians and thousands more when Germany invaded a ghetto in Warsaw.
Efforts were also made to ensure that the defendants received fair representation; and, when one of the defendants asked to be represented by an anti-Semitic attorney, an ex-Nazi was appointed to serve as his defense counsel.
12 of the War Criminals Were Sentenced to Hang
Nineteen of the 24 Nazi leaders were convicted of various crimes. Of them, 12 were sentenced to death by hanging. The remaining received prison sentences. Goering (Hitler's intended successor) escaped his hanging sentence by committing suicide. Another escaped his hanging by avoiding capture.
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