The Holocaust in Perspective, Crime and Punishment: The Nuremberg Trials

Nuremburg_p92These Nazi crimes were “….so calculated, so malignant and so devastating that civilization cannot tolerate their being ignored, because it cannot survive their being repeated..”

Robert H. Jackson, opening the Nuremberg trial-at right

For all the survivors, no matter what their country of origin or from what camp they were liberated, the memories of liberation would always remain a mixture of joy at being alive and free; of hope for a new life, and of pain at the realization of the magnitude of their losses. For many it also included the “guilt of the survivor,” an irrational feeling of guilt for having survived, when loved ones or friends through no fault of their own did not. They hoped for some justice and for punishment of those who had committed those horrendous crimes. Not only for the sake of justice, but as a reminder and a deterrent for the future, so that the atrocities of the Holocaust would never be repeated on anyone or any nation.

The unconditional surrender of Germany to the Allied forces on May 8th 1945, marked the end of World War II in Europe . Adolf Hitler did commit suicide on April 30th, 1945. Other war criminals were put on trial by the Allies, accused of “crimes against humanity.”

Hitler had chosen Nuremberg for the annual Nazi party rallies, because this medieval city lent itself to all the pomp and splendor of the torch-lit parades and spectaculars. The allies chose that same city to convene an international military tribunal to pass judgment on major German war criminals. The 22 men put on trial all claimed innocence, stating they had merely “followed orders.” Twelve were condemned to death by hanging and seven received prison sentences ranging from ten years to life.

Discussion Questions:

  1. When do you consider the statement of “just following orders” as valid and when is it not?
  2. Can you find incidences in this text when “not following orders” was the right thing to do?
  3. What would you do if you were told by someone in authority to commit an act that you considered immoral? How would you go about counteracting this order? Would you?