BERLIN – The Nuremberg trials against major Nazi war criminals, which began 75 years ago, represented the beginning of the Germans’ confrontation with the horrors of National Socialism, amid the trauma and debris left by the war disaster. .
The commemoration, which will be attended by German President Frank Walter Steinmeier, will not be well attended due to the pandemic, but will be broadcast throughout the country, including a video message from the last surviving prosecutor, Benjamin Ferenz, who has already turned 100.
The significance of the trials has been transformed throughout history, but from the beginning they involved a confrontation with horror, although at the beginning there was resistance.
Günter Grass maintains, in his memoir “Peeling the onion” (2006), that he only accepted the crimes of National Socialism when he heard on the radio that, after the sentences in Nuremberg, the head of the Nazi Youth, Baldur von Schirach , he accepted to have had knowledge of the plan of extermination of the Jews.
Grass’s experience, which he says he was not convinced by what US officials in charge of reeducation programs told him earlier, seems to have been shared by many people at the time.
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In 1945, 65% claimed to have learned from the Nuremberg trial of things they did not know. By the summer of the following year the figure had risen to 87 percent.
Among what respondents claimed to have heard for the first time were concentration camps and extermination plans.
The legal bases for the process had been established by the Treaty of London between the allied powers – the United States, the United Kingdom, France and the Soviet Union – in which the statute for the creation of the court with prosecutors and judges from the four countries was determined. .
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The idea was to carry out several processes before that court, but in the end – due to differences between the allies – only one was carried out that began on November 20, 1945 and ended with the reading of the sentences on October 1, 1946.
The subsequent processes, also carried out in Nuremberg against other former Nazis – and which ended on April 14, 1949 – were carried out alone by the US occupation forces.
In any case, the so-called London statute is considered as a precedent for what would later become the statute of the International Tribunal in The Hague.
More than 750 people were evacuated for the sappers’ operation on the southern edge of the popular Baltic Sea resort of Swinoujscie, which like Szczecin was a busy Nazi military port during the war.
“The idea of the London statute was that the prohibition of retroactivity of the law is an important legal principle, but that there could be crimes so serious that that prohibition could be declared out of force,” says Bauerkämper.
“Among those crimes were crimes against humanity, and that crime is something that is actually found in the statute of the International Tribunal in The Hague. You can see some continuity,” he adds.
In court, 24 people were called to answer: the most important during the years of National Socialism had been Hermann Göring and Joachim von Ribbentropp, since Hitler, Goebels and Himmler were already dead.
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In the end only 21 of the accused were able to be subjected to the process.
Nazi hierarch Robert Ley committed suicide before it started; Martin Bormann, whose whereabouts was unknown, was tried and sentenced to death in absentia, and industrialist Gustav Krupp could not be tried for health reasons.
After 218 days, during which the court heard 236 witnesses and examined 200,000 affidavits and 5,230 documents, including film material, twelve of the defendants were sentenced to death, seven to prison terms and three acquitted.
In the Ley and Krupp cases, the process ended without sentencing.
Göring, sentenced to death, committed suicide in prison before being hanged. His body was cremated and the ashes were thrown into the Isar River, as was the case with those who were executed, including Ribbentropp.
Those sentenced to prison terms began to serve out their sentences in Nuremberg, but in 1947 they were transferred to Spandau Prison in Berlin, which continued to function until 1987, when the last of the prisoners, the Nazi hierarch Rudolf Hess, who had been sentenced to life imprisonment, he committed suicide in jail. Later, it was demolished.