The Nuremberg Trials were the first of their kind. They started on November 20, 1945, with more than 20 indicted Nazi leaders in the dock accused of the most horrendous war crimes. Their trial lasted ten months.
To put this historical context: the Nazi Party held a massive rally in the city of Nuremberg in 1933 shortly after Hitler became Chancellor. Such events were not unusual; the Nazi party staged annual Nuremberg rallies in the 20s and 30s. Hundreds of thousands of the parties’ faithful attended the extravaganzas of music, parades, rousing speeches cloaked in pomp and circumstance, and propaganda.
William L. Shirer, a correspondent for the Columbian Broadcasting Service in Berlin and author of the Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, described in his diary what he saw at the Nuremberg Rally at on September 7, 1935.
“Another great pageant tonight. Two hundred thousand party officials packed in the
Zeppelin Wiese…, ‘We are strong and will get stronger,’ Hitler shouted at them. And
there in the flood-lit night, jammed together like sardines, in one mass formation,
the little men of Germany who have made Nazism possible achieved the highest state
of being the Germanic man knows the shedding of their individual souls and minds…
they were merged completely in the Germanic herd.”
Berlin Diary: the Journal of a Foreign Correspondent, 1934-1941 by William L. Shirer (1941).
The Bavarian city of Nuremberg was devastated by Allied bombing during the war. However, partly because Nuremberg had been the site of Nazi triumph and power highlighted by the notorious rallies held there, it was the location of choice for the trials of Nazi leaders indicted on one or more of four charges:
1) Participation in a common plan or conspiracy for the accomplishment of a crime against peace.
2) Planning, initiating and waging wars of aggression and other crime against peace.
3) War Crimes
4) Crimes against humanity.
Four judges who were, German, French, English and Russian speakers required immediate translations during the court proceedings. The solution was an instantaneous translation system created and provided by IBM. The recently coined crime of “genocide,” was prosecuted for the first time at the trials was developed by Raphael Lemkin, a Polish-born lawyer who lost 50 members of his family in the Holocaust.
Also, for the first time, film provided indisputable evidence both of the war and the liberation of concentration camps. Hollywood directors John Ford, George Stevens and Samuel Fuller captured raw footage that became a documentary titled, Nazi Centration Camps. This film became crucial evidence, presenting the crimes the Nazis committed in an unflinching and authentic format to the court.
The Museum’s current special exhibit, Filming of the Camps, From Hollywood to Nuremberg: John Ford, Samuel Fuller, George Stevens, is viewable through August 3, 2017, at the Dallas Holocaust Museum. It introduces viewers to the three filmmakers who expertly filmed the liberation of the camps. You’ll explore their experiences during WWII, see their footage and the incredibly detailed “captions” they wrote for the scenes they captured, and the impact of what they witnessed had on their lives. The exhibit includes interviews with the directors as well. Visit this Museum through August 3rd to learn about the using film as evidence during the Nuremburg trials.
Subsequent trials ensued in Nuremberg, and other locations as Nazi war criminals who escaped to South and North America and beyond were found and brought to justice.
During the following seventy years since the Nuremburg Trials, famed Nazi hunters, such as Simon Wiesenthal, continued to research and ferret out Nazi war criminals and bring them to justice. Join us for opening night of the play, Wiesenthal.
The American Heritage World Picture Book of World War II by C.L. Sulzberger and the Editors of
American Heritage, The Magazine of History
Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent, 1934-1941 by William L. Shirer (1941)