The Nuremberg Trials and Their Legacy
The Holocaust was an unprecedented crime—a crime composed of millions of murders, wrongful imprisonments, and tortures, of rape, theft, and destruction. In the immediate aftermath of the Holocaust, the world was faced with a challenge—how to seek justice for an almost unimaginable scale of criminal behavior. The International Military Tribunal (IMT) held at Nuremberg, Germany, attempted to broach this immense challenge on a legal basis. In 2015, we mark the 70th anniversary of the IMT, a watershed moment in international justice. The commemoration of this anniversary coincides with numerous atrocities occurring in our world today—crimes that again challenge us to ask: Can justice ever be done?
“We must establish incredible events by credible evidence.”
—US Chief Prosecutor Robert Jackson, June 7, 1945.
Nazi Germany planned and implemented the Holocaust within the devastating maelstrom of World War II. It was in this context that the IMT was created, a trial of judgment for war crimes. The IMT was not a court convened to mete out punishment for the Holocaust alone. The tribunal was designed to document and redress crimes committed in the course of the most massive conflict the world has ever known. In October 1945, the IMT formally indicted the Nuremberg defendants on four counts: crimes against peace, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and conspiracy to commit these crimes.
The Holocaust was, in the legal language of the IMT, “a crime against humanity.” Convened within months of the end of the war, from the trial’s first public session on November 20, 1945, until the verdicts were delivered on October 1, 1946, the tribunal at Nuremberg set precedents: in international law, in documentation of the historical record-in seeking some beginning, however inadequate, in the search for justice.
A single landmark of justice and honor does not make a world of peace.
— Former US Secretary of War Henry Stimson, January 1947.