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A U.S. Army tank guards the trials site. Photo: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

The Nuremberg trials were held in the city’s big courthouse, the Palace of Justice.

When I lived there, the U.S. already had occupied the Palace for two decades. Over time, parts of the building and finally the whole building were returned to the Germans, who used it for trials at multiple court levels.

WWII victors’ flags still fly in front of the courthouse in 2023

At the time, it wasn’t possible to see courtroom 600 as it looked when it held the trials. The courtroom had been renovated and was being used for capital-crimes trials. The idea of getting inside with a camera was laughable.

Years later, the Nuremberg trials museum was created in the attic.

Technology makes it possible to see the room as it was during the trials.

The last verdict of modern times in room 600 was read in February 2020, and the room became part of the museum.

Photo: U.S. Army

Today the east wing is being used by the museum and the International Academy of Nuremberg Principles. Capital crimes now are tried in a new center on the west side of the complex.

Now that the east wing is available, a full visitors center is being created near Room 600, including seminar rooms, a shop and a cafe.

Photo: Stadt Nürnberg

The trials took place in the Justizpalast (Palace of Justice) because it was big enough, almost undamaged and included a large prison complex.

The Memorium Nürnberger Prozesse (Nürnberg Trials Memorial) museum provides insights about the defendants; their crimes of racial hatred, terror and violence; the trials of 1946-49; and the impact of the trials up to the present.

Photo: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Judges from the Allied powers—Great Britain, France, the Soviet Union and the United States—presided over the hearings of 22 major Nazi criminals for almost a year during 1945 and 1946.

The charges included crimes against humanity and other offenses. A dozen high-ranking Nazis were convicted. Ten were hanged; one committed suicide the night before the hangings; and one received a life sentence. 

One other, Nazi architect Albert Speer, received a 20-year prison sentence. During German study, I read Speer’s account of his years in prison, Spandauer Tagebücher (Spandau Diaries). The book contained a chilling account of the clanging and tramping in the dark of night when the jailers came for those to be hanged on a gallows in the prison gym in Berlin.

Visitors depart the East Wing

The symbolic value of holding the trials in Nuremberg, the City of Nazi Party Congresses, wasn’t lost on anyone. Responsibility at the highest levels was assigned, even though no law prohibited some of the crimes at the time.

The president of the International Academy of Nuremberg Principles, which shares the building, said that despite the defenses of the defendants, certain moral principles are as self-evident as the Ten Commandments and it doesn’t matter whether they are written down in laws.

A dozen lesser-known trials dealt with charges against doctors accused of experiments on humans, concentration-camp guards accused of cruelty, lawyers and judges who used the legal system to enforce racial purity and industrialists who profited from slave labor.

Nearly 150 were convicted and 25 death sentences resulted. Another 900 trials occurred during the rest of the 20th Century.

Photo: International Criminal Court, The Hague, Netherlands

The trials have had an enormous influence on international criminal law and were a central force behind creation of the International Criminal Court in the Hague.

The museum in Nuremberg was opened a few months before President Trump ordered sanctions on officials of the international court in an effort to discourage examination of CIA and U.S. military conduct in Afghanistan.

It’s understandable that in the birthplace of the legal concept of international human rights, a stone testament should make those rights visible. The Straße der Menschenrechte (Way of Human Rights) near Nuremberg’s medieval city wall is nearly 30 years old.

There, in the work of Israeli artist Dani Karavan, the articles of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights can be read on 27 white round pillars over a stretch of more than 500 feet. You can’t walk through there without going just a little bit more humbly.

In 2023, I stayed the first night in Nuremberg in what used to be the Bavarian-American Hotel, right in the center of town across from the main train station.

I had an office on the top floor for two years, and young reporters could sneak out windows in the roof and sit, “smokin’ and jokin’,” and watch life in the central square below.

I felt in good company. It was the hotel where lawyers for the Nuremberg Trials had stayed.

Today, the former Bavarian-American hotel is the Radisson Park Plaza. A receptionist said that seven years ago, a renovation converted the top-floor offices into rooms.

Next: First Reich stronghold


4 responses to “NUREMBERG: The Trials”

  1. Joe Mazur Avatar
    Joe Mazur

    Great work, Clint! My father would have appreciated this. Very timely lesson in accountability as well.

    1. Clint Swift Avatar
      Clint Swift

      Sorry your dad isn’t here to see the post. He’s one of my heroes.

  2. Ken Avatar

    Lots of interesting issues raised by the Nuremberg trials. I’m particularly intrigued by Albert Speer, who cleverly passed himself off as a “good Nazi” unaware of the Holocaust and escaped the death sentence. Given his actual record overseeing the slave labor, he may have been the most diabolical of all.

  3. Clint Swift Avatar
    Clint Swift

    Speer had his share of supporters, too, not that I want to look hard at their motives. As I recall, Speer got out of Spandau prison just before I got to a newspaper job in Germany, and he had a home in Heidelberg, right down the road from me in Mannheim. He was keeping relatively quiet at the time. Maybe because of the different ways people felt about him. Maybe because he had a couple of book contracts. Think he died in London of a heart attack a decade or so later.

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