The Nuremberg Trials: Whom and what history teaches

The Nuremberg Trials: Whom and what history teaches
The Nuremberg Trials: Whom and what history teaches
23 November 2020, 11:28Photo:
On November 20, 1945, in Nuremberg, the trial began over the top of Nazi Germany. Hitler, Himmler and Goebbels did not get into the dock, committing suicide. But the Nuremberg Tribunal clearly defined who was the aggressor and who was the victim.

Yelena Ivanova, Natalia Seibil

The road to the tribunal

Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt signed the Moscow Declaration on the responsibility of Nazi Germany for the atrocities committed back in 1943. After 2 years in London, the victorious countries agreed to establish an International Military Tribunal. The Tribunal was established in the interests of all countries of the United Nations, created in the same year in San Francisco. In the UN Charter, states wrote that the main goal of the organization is "to save future generations from the scourge of war: and to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and value of the human person".

The court consisted of judges, their deputies and chief prosecutors from the USSR, USA, Great Britain and France. The Western allies were initially reluctant to hold a tribunal. Historian Mark Solonin says:

- Churchill, as you know, proposed and, in my opinion - absolutely rightly suggested, not to arrange any courts, any long and tedious legal burden, but simply to draw up by a joint decision of the leaders of Great Britain, the United States and the Soviet Union a list of the main Nazi criminals, in relation to whom the death penalty must be applied immediately after identification. Caught, identified, shot. It was a simple decision that absolutely corresponded to the ideas of truth and justice of hundreds of millions of people at that time.

But the Soviet side was against quick decisions and insisted on a legal procedure, says historian, chief specialist of the Russian State Archive of Socio-Political History Sergey Soloviev:

- You can treat the Soviet leadership as you like, but Stalin at the Big Three conferences opposed the partition of Germany into several independent states in order to shoot the Nazi leaders without trial or investigation. Stalin was the first of the "Big Three" to insist on a public legal formulation of the process, what later became Nuremberg. And Churchill and Roosevelt at first strongly objected.

Stalin persistently promoted the idea of a tribunal, and in August 1945 the Allies agreed. The tribunal was not to be held in Berlin, as the Soviet side wanted, but in Nuremberg, the city of congresses of the NSDAP, praised by Leni Riefenstahl, marching with torches of the SA and Hitler Youth units, and the American occupation zone with the surviving palace of justice and a prison connected to it...

Обвиняемые на Нюрнбергском процессе
Геринг и Гесс

In the dock, with the exception of Hitler, Himmler and Goebbels, who committed suicide in May 1945, sat the elite of the Third Reich: military, politicians, diplomats, bankers and industrialists. Goering, Marshal of the Air Force that bombed Coventry and Stalingrad, favorite of the Fuhrer Hess, Ribbentrop, architect of the Munich Agreement and the Austrian Anschluss, SS Obergruppenführer Kaltenbrunner, head of the Reichsbank Schacht, “steel baron” Krupp... As the French journalist R. Cartier wrote trial over the regime as a whole, over an entire era, over the whole country".

Guilty and not so

The son of the chief prosecutor from the Soviet Union, Sergey Rudenko, emphasizes that the essence of the process was that not only the tribunal, but the entire international community found the Nazis guilty:

- Their guilt was proved on the basis of legally substantiated facts, evidence provided, in particular, the confession of Field Marshal Paulus himself, who said that he participated in the advance planning of the attack on the Soviet Union.

During the trial, many documents, photographs and chronicles were shown in the hall. Rudenko talks about a Soviet documentary film about the atrocities of the Nazis in the occupied territories, which was shown during the trial. Immediately after the film, one of the defendants Keitel, the chief of staff of the German High Command, said that he was ashamed of being German. Ribbentrop said emotionally: “Hitler himself could not have watched such a film. I didn't think that such orders could be given".

But - not one of the defendants from the first to the last day of the trial pleaded guilty. From the main argument - we carried out the orders of the Fuhrer, who led us.

Historian Sergey Soloviyev believes that the defendants wanted to avoid responsibility in this way. They understood that a noose was hanging over them, that they could well expect the death penalty, which happened:

- They wanted to leave a memory of themselves as heroes, fighters, and not as executioners. They had a form of evading responsibility. First of all, “I was only following the order”, they all blamed on Hitler, Himmler, who committed suicide, on those who were not defendants, but should have been there if they had not committed suicide. Or they excused themselves by ignorance, also a very popular form, that this is all Himmler, Kaltenbrunner, who was also among the defendants, these are all the SS, the Gestapo, and they have nothing to do with it. The task of the prosecution was to destroy the logic of the accused, which was successfully done in most cases, unfortunately not in all.

Despite the fact that not all those sitting in the dock were executed, as the Soviet prosecution demanded, and not all organizations - like the Wehrmacht and the General Staff - were recognized as criminal, the Nuremberg trial became an example of the unification of the forces of the world community against a common enemy - fascism. Acting Scientific Director Mikhail Myagkov says:

- Here is the case with Schacht, the President of the Reichsbank, who appeared before the Nuremberg Tribunal. This is the man who was largely responsible for the rearmament of Germany and the preparation for the Second World War - he was acquitted, and then he founded his own bank in West Germany. The Americans tried to take under their wing scouts, designers, like von Braun, who they needed. That is, they acted on the principle - he is a son of a bitch, but he is our son of a bitch.

During the Nuremberg trials, there was a struggle. The countries of the anti-Hitler coalition are countries with different political, legal, judicial systems, with different views. And it was difficult to expect that the members of the anti-Hitler coalition would speak from a unified position, says Sergey Rudenko:

- The non-recognition of the Wehrmacht as a criminal organization, the fact that not everyone was sentenced to death, as the Soviet delegation demanded, can be seen as a compromise that was reached in the Nuremberg trials. The interaction there was well-coordinated. Even Churchill's speech at Fulton had no effect on the course of the trial. Not everything was achieved, as the Soviet delegation insisted. This is the result of a compromise.

Results and significance of the Nuremberg trials

The German press says the Nuremberg Tribunal was a "thunderbolt" for the Third Reich. He called the aggressor an aggressor for the first time in the history of mankind and abolished "Westphalian Law" - the right of the sovereign to attack other states, as well as the obligation of vassals to follow the sovereign.

- The Nuremberg trial is important because it sets a certain framework for understanding and lessons of the Second World War. Who was the aggressor, who was the main victim. After Nuremberg, concepts that did not exist before entered the legal practice. There were defined such concepts as crimes against humanity. The concept of "unleashing an aggressive war" has entered into legal practice. It was clearly defined there that the aggressor was Nazi Germany, she unleashed a war, - recalls the historian Mikhail Myagkov.

The Holocaust was recognized as genocide. Six million Jews were killed by the Nazi "evil machine". Before the Second World War, the genocide did not concern the peoples of Europe. Genocides took place in Africa, Australia, Tasmania, says historian Soloviev. These people did not have their own voice, they could not leave written evidence, and condemnation of extermination based on ethnicity did not penetrate into the recognized political space, Soloviev explains.

- In Europe, it turned out that some white people slaughter other white people, and they do it by mechanized means on an industrial scale. It was really new because before the extermination industry, what the death camps and the Holocaust were like did not exist. I'm not even talking about the scale that this should have taken in the territories occupied in the USSR, because the Nazis had the corresponding plans.

In Germany itself, after the war, several stages of the perception of the Nuremberg trials changed. The generation of the 50s-60s who felt their involvement in Nazism. The second generation - the generation of the 60-70s, whose parents lived during the Nazi era, blamed them for the fact that they so sparingly admitted their responsibility, says the head of the representative office of the Foundation. Konrad Adenauer and Commissioner for the Russian Federation Thomas Kunze. Now the third generation after the Third Reich lives in Germany:

- In our time, the culture of memory is very widespread in Germany. It can be argued that in the world it is one of the most serious, developed down to the smallest details culture of memory, the development of the history of the Nazi past. Germany has been very intensively developing the topic of Nazi crimes since that time, and of course you will not find a person who says that the Germans can be exempted from this responsibility.

"The banality of evil"

In 1946, the Americans conducted a survey among the Germans in their zone of occupation. They were asked about the punishment for Nazi criminals. 80% of Germans were in favor of condemning them, more than 50% were in favor of the death penalty. But historians say the poll was not an admission of collective guilt. This realization came later, when upbringing and education were connected. It took one or two more generations, the historian Myagkov believes:

- During that period, their consciousness seemed to be altered. Someone may not have known about these crimes, but they received photographs and letters from the front, and they told about the atrocities on the Eastern Front.

Everybody goes berserk in war, historians say. When the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union, the soldiers had an order not to have jurisdiction over the civilian population, recalls Sergey Soloviev.

- Nazi soldiers and officers were not responsible for crimes on Soviet territory. Soviet soldiers (on German territory) carried. It is clear that if people fought with each other in the same battalion, went through the hell of war, then passed off each other for the fact that he then shot a German or even raped a German woman, this is psychologically... People in war all go wild. Soviet soldiers and officers who committed crimes on the territory of Germany were subject to trial, and there were many such courts, there were execution sentences, including in relation to officers who had awards for the Great Patriotic War.

The Nuremberg trials made clear what Hannah Arendt would later call "the banality of evil." The layer of human culture, humanism is very thin. Thanks to the state's violence against a person taken out of all sorts, after coming to power in 33, the Nazis purposefully engaged in the education of those who would be a race of masters and who would not shy away from massacres, says historian Soloviev. The Nazis, through propaganda, through genocide, formed among the Germans the idea that people who are no different from them can be subhuman.

- The banality of evil lies in the fact that it is at arm's length from us. This is not a prerogative of the past, and this is not only about Germany, although there were indeed unique conditions that resulted in the emergence of Nazism. But nevertheless, from us today, it is too close.

About values and facts

In all countries, including the West, there is a rise in extremism. It doesn't matter if it's extremism on the left, Islamic or right-wing, says Thomas Kunze. And the strategy of what to do with it is boring.

- There are values that protect our states. People who disagree with them, even if they do not live too badly, can be ideologically educated. We need to show what countries they live in, what opportunities they have if they just accept these values, says Kunze.

Values are created, inter alia, on the facts set forth in historical documents. In the meantime, in Russia, even the orders of the Supreme Commander-in-Chief are not fully declassified, says Echo of Moscow editor-in-chief Alexey Venediktov. Vladimir Putin has extended secrecy for the archives of the Ministry of Defense until 2035. More than 700 thousand documents from the archives of the highest command personnel have been classified. On November 26, 1945, the commission for the preparation for the Nuremberg trial approved a list of issues that are not allowed for discussion at the trial.

- And what not to discuss? The Soviet non-aggression pact or issues that have anything to do with it, Molotov's visit to Berlin, Ribbentrop's visit to Moscow, the Soviet-Baltic republics - discussion is unacceptable. Soviet-German agreement on the exchange of the German population of Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia. Balkan question, Soviet-Polish relations, Western Ukraine. And this is an official document of the commission dated November 26, 1945. And we see how Prosecutor Rudenko fought to ensure that neither Katyn was discussed there, nor the Soviet-German pact, nor the protocols to it. Everything is in the transcripts, - says Alexey Venediktov.

I would like to read the transcript of the Nuremberg Trials in Russian, while the German and English versions have been published. Still, 75 years is a sufficient period, it is time for Russian citizens to learn the full version in their native language.

Locked documents are not only a Russian problem. In Italy, the Chief Military Prosecutor of the Italian Republic, Marco de Paolis, who personally supported the charges against 57 former Nazi criminals, of whom 53 were sentenced to life, raised the question of opening "closets of shame", materials of cases of crimes of Nazis and Italian fascists, which are more than 50 years were "buried" in the archives:

- It was important to open this "closet of shame" because it is important to at least try to achieve justice. Because thousands of affected Italian families had no way to get this justice. Many millions of people do not even know what was in history. And I am sure that knowing this part of history is especially important for young people who are becoming real citizens of their countries.

Access to classified Russian documents for researchers and the public will also help Russians understand their history, and not just that part of it that is exempt from the "top secret" column.

Read detailed interviews on the topic on the Novye Izvestia website here, here and here.

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