The trials of leading German officials before the International Military Tribunal (IMT), the best known of the postwar war crimes trials, formally opened in Nuremberg, Germany, on November 20, 1945, only six and a half months after Germany surrendered. Each of the four Allied nations -- the United States, Great Britain, the Soviet Union, and France -- supplied a judge and a prosecution team. The trial's rules were the result of delicate reconciliations of the Continental and Anglo-American judicial systems. Translators provided simultaneous translations of all proceedings in English, French, German, and Russian.
After much debate, 24 defendants (only 21 of whom appeared in court) were selected to represent a cross-section of Nazi diplomatic, economic, political, and military leadership. Adolf Hitler, Heinrich Himmler, and Joseph Goebbels never stood trial, having committed suicide before the end of the war. The IMT indicted the defendants on charges of crimes against peace, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. The IMT defined crimes against humanity as "murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation...or persecutions on political, racial, or religious grounds." A fourth charge of conspiracy was added both to cover crimes committed under domestic Nazi law before the start of World War II. The defendants were entitled to a legal counsel of their choosing. Over 400 visitors attended the proceedings each day, as well as 325 correspondents representing 23 different countries.
American chief prosecutor Robert Jackson decided to argue his case primarily on the basis of documents written by the Nazis themselves rather than eyewitness testimony. Testimony presented at Nuremberg revealed much of what we know about the Holocaust including the details of the Auschwitz death machinery, the destruction of the Warsaw ghetto, and the estimate of six million Jewish victims.
The judges delivered their verdict on October 1, 1946. Three of four judges were needed for conviction. Twelve defendants were sentenced to death. Hermann Goering escaped the hangman's noose by committing suicide. The IMT sentenced three defendants to life imprisonment and four to prison terms ranging from 10 to 20 years. It acquitted three of the defendants.