The Holocaust Historiography Project

Fact File 1 — War Crimes Trials

Note: The fact file series is intended to present facts of history, free from the polemics and misinformation so often presented in this medium. Hopefully the facts contained herein will serve the cause of truth in history.

"The Nuremberg Trials … had been popular throughout the world and particularly in the United States. Equally popular was the sentence already announced by the high tribunal: death. But what kind of trial was this?… The Constitution was not a collection of loosely given political promises subject to broad interpretation. It was not a list of pleasing platitudes to be set lightly aside when expediency required it. It was the foundation of the American system of law and justice and [Robert Taft] was repelled by the picture of his country discarding those Constitutional precepts in order to punish a vanquished enemy.” U.S. President, John F. Kennedy John Kennedy, Profiles in Courage (New York: Harper and Row, 1964), p.189-190.
"No matter how many books are written or briefs filed, no matter how finely the lawyers analyzed it, the crime for which the Nazis were tried had never been formalized as a crime with the definiteness required by our legal standards, nor outlawed with a death penalty by the international community. By our standards that crime arose under an ex post facto law. Goering et al deserved severe punishment. But their guilt did not justify us in substituting power for principle.” U.S. Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas Kennedy, Profiles in Courage p.190.
"About this whole judgment there is the spirit of vengeance, and vengeance is seldom justice. The hanging of the eleven men convicted will be a blot on the American record which we shall long regret.” U.S. Senator Robert A. Taft Kennedy, Profiles in Courage, p.191.
"It was clear from the outset that a death sentence would be pronounced against me, as I have always regarded the trial as a purely political act by the victors, but I wanted to see this trial through for my people’s sake and I did at least expect that I should not be denied a soldier’s death. Before God, my country, and my conscience I feel myself free of the blame that an enemy tribunal has attached to me.” Reichsmarschall Herman Göring David Irving, Goering: A Biography, (New York: William Morrow and Co.,1989) p.506.
"This kangaroo court at Nuremberg was officially known as the 'International Military Tribunal.' That name is a libel on the military profession. The tribunal was not a military one in any sense. The only military men among the judges were the Russians…. At Nuremberg, mankind and our present civilization were on trial, with men whose own hands were bloody sitting on the judges' seats. One of the judges came from the country which committed the Katyn Forest massacre and produced an array of witnesses to swear at Nuremberg that the Germans had done it.” Rear Admiral, U.S.N. Dan V. Gallery H.K. Thompson, Jr., and Henry Strutz ed., Doenitz at Nuremberg: A Re-appraisal, (Torrance: Institute for Historical Review, 1983) pp.XXI-XXII.
"I think the Nuremberg trials are a black page in the history of the world … I discussed the legality of these trials with some of the lawyers and some of the judges who participated therein. They did not attempt to justify their action on any legal ground, but rested their position on the fact that in their opinion, the parties convicted were guilty…This action is contrary to the fundamental laws under which this country has lived for many hundreds of years, and I think cannot be justified by any line of reasoning. I think the Israeli trial of Adolf Eichmann is exactly in the same category as the Nuremberg trials. As a lawyer, it has always been my view that a crime must be defined before you can be guilty of committing it. That has not occurred in either of the trials I refer to herein.” Edgar N. Eisenhower, American Attorney, brother of President Dwight D. Eisenhower. In Thompson, and Strutz ed., Doenitz at Nuremberg: A Re-appraisal, p.168.
"My opinion always has been that the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials were acts of vengeance. War is a political and not a legal act, and if at the termination of a war, should it be considered that certain of the enemy’s leaders are politically too dangerous to be left at large, then, as Napoleon was, they should be banished to some island. To bring them to trial under post facto law, concocted to convict them, is a piece of hideous hypocrisy and humbug.” Major General J.F.C. Fuller, C.B., C.B.E., D.S.O. Thompson, and Strutz ed., Doenitz at Nuremberg: A Re-appraisal, p.43.
"To me the Nuremberg trials have always been totally inexcusable and a horrible travesty on justice. This is especially true when such trials are used to punish the men of the military services who were directing those services in time of war, and thus giving nothing more than an expression of the basic purposes of their whole adult life. In the execution of their wartime duties, these officers naturally carried out, to the letter, the orders and directions which they received fromt he head of their government.

If an officer … should ever, for one instant, consider disregard or disobedience to his government’s orders, all cohesion in the military services would fail, from that moment, and the military sevices would fail in the one reason for their existence-the waging of successful war in the interests of their country.” Rear Admiral Robert A. Theobald, U.S.N. Thompson, and Strutz ed., Doenitz at Nuremberg: A Re-appraisal, p.39.
"I am quite clear that any trial of defeated foes by their victors is a mistake and a precedent which should not be followed among what are commonly described as civilised nations.” Dr. George Peabody Gooch, C.H., British historian and author. Thompson, and Strutz ed., Doenitz at Nuremberg: A Re-appraisal, p.87.
"[The Nuremberg] war-crimes trials were based upon a complete disregard of sound legal precedents, principles and procedures. The court had no real jurisdiction over the accused or their offenses; it invented ex post facto crimes; it permitted the accusers to act as prosecutors, judges, jury and executioners; and it admitted to the group of prosecutors those who had been guilty of crimes as numerous and atrocious as those with which the accused were charged. Hence, it is not surprising that these trials degraded international jurisprudence as never before in human experience.” Professor Harry Elmer Barnes, Ph.D. Thompson, and Strutz ed., Doenitz at Nuremberg: A Re-appraisal, p.148.
"The Tribunal claimed in theory the right — it certainly had the power — to declare any act a war-crime. But it interpreted Article 6 of the Charter creating it, as excluding from its consideration any act committed by the victorious powers. As a consequence any act proved to have been committed by the victorious powers could not be declared by the Tribunal a war-crime. For this reason, the indiscriminate bombing of civilians which had indisputably been initiated by Great Britain was excluded from consideration as a war crime by the Tribunal.” F.J.P. Veale, English jurist and author Thompson, and Strutz ed., Doenitz at Nuremberg: A Re-appraisal, p.146.