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Ehrenfreund, book cover

The Legacies That Arose From The Nuremberg Trials

Book Essay on: Norbert Ehrenfreund, The Nuremberg Legacy: How Nazi War Crime Trials Changed the Course of History
(New York: Palgrave Macmillian, 2007), 257 pages.
UCSB: KZ1176.5 .E37 2007

by Kristen Dimperio
December 4, 2008

for Prof. Marcuse's lecture course
Germany, 1945-present
UC Santa Barbara, Fall 2008

About the Author
& Abstract
and Links
Plagiarism Warning & Links
Amazon.com book page

About Kristen Dimperio

I am a senior at UCSB majoring in business economics with an emphasis in accounting. I have found World War II and all of its dynamics fascinating since high school. This is my second class on the history of Germany and I am very interested in learning about the effects and legacies of the Nuremberg Trials.

Abstract (back to top)

Norbert Ehrenfreunds book, The Nuremberg Legacy: How The Nazi War Crimes Trials Changed the Course of History, explains the results of the Nuremberg legacies and the legacies that were brought about because of it. My paper argues, what I feel are the three most important legacies that arose from the Nuremberg Trials, with evidence from Ehrenfreund's book. I feel that the written record, the fact that everyone was given a fair trial, and that certain human rights were established were the three most important legacies that arose from the trials. The written record of the trials provides proof that the Holocaust and all the atrocities that came along with it actually happened. The written record also set precedents for any leader who would come into power in the future, and the procedure every person was given a trial was a new concept in the judicial system. Many prominent leaders, in that day, did not believe the perpetrators of the Holocaust deserved a fair trial. By giving the perpetrators a fair trial they rose above the Nazis by showing concern for human rights. The last legacy that I feel is important was the fact that human rights became an issue. Human rights was one of the four charges used in the Nuremberg trials and now is used in many trials around the world. These three important legacies have changed the way many approach the judicial system today.

Essay (back to top)

The Nuremberg trials, held in Nuremberg, Germany at the Palace of Justice, began in 1945 and ended on April 14, 1949. These trials were in response to the atrocities that were carried out during the Holocaust in Germany. There were thirteen trials all together, which prosecuted many political leaders, military leaders, economic leaders and business holders. The legacies of the Nuremberg trials still live on in our justice system today, and the outcome of these trials is an important part of present day life. The Nuremberg Legacy: How the Nazi War Crimes Trials Changed The Course Of History by Norbert Ehrenfreund discussed many of the legacies and the outcomes of these trials. I feel that the three most important legacies that arose from the Nuremberg trials were the written record of the trial, the fact that everyone was given a fair trial, and that certain human rights were established.

Some of the many people prosecuted in the Nuremberg trials include Rudolf Hess, the Deputy Fuhrer; Hermann Goering, Hitler’s second in command; Ernst Kaltenbrunner, the most senior surviving official of the Gestapo; and many others who had been involved in these crimes. However, many of the important people from the Holocaust were missing, including Adolf Hitler, chancellor of Germany and the leader of all the crimes; Heinrich Himmler, the SS leader; Joseph Goebbels, the propaganda minister; and Robert Ley, chief of the labor front. All four of them committed suicide before the trials had even begun. The first Nuremberg trial was the most famous. This trial named twenty-two defendants. Twelve defendants were sentenced to hang, three were sentenced to life in jail, four were sentenced to a lesser amount of time in jail, and three were acquitted. Even though twelve were sentenced to hang, only ten were executed. The two that did not get executed were Martin Bormann, Hitler’s secretary, and Hermann Goering. Bormann was missing from the start of the trial but the prosecutors still felt that it was necessary to give him a fair trial, and since he was never found and was presumed dead he was never officially executed. In Goering’s case, he had actually committed suicide before he could be executed. When the guards came to get Goering from his cell, he was found dead. Goering had apparently obtained and then bit into a cyanide pill. “The twelve other trials, often called the ‘American Nuremberg trials,’ supposedly dealt with Nazis of lesser stature than those in the main trial, but in fact they also brought to justice men who played prominent roles in the Nazi infamy and who should have been indicted in the first trial, such as Alfried Krupp and Dr. Karl Brandt” (Ehrenfreund, pg. 93).

One of the most important legacies that came from the Nuremberg trials was the written record of the trial. The written record showed the world what really happened in Germany during the Holocaust and taught many people that not only were these actions extremely wrong and horrible, but if anyone were to actually try to do something like this again they would be punished in a court of law. In a letter written by Oisin Morris, who was a former graduate student of Ehrenfreund at the University of Halle, to Norbert Ehrenfreund, Morris said, “the heritage of the Nuremberg trial is that everybody regardless of nation, race and religion is responsible for making sure that never again such crimes can be committed” (Ehrenfreund, pg, 145). All leaders were responsible for not letting history repeat itself, especially an event as horrific as this one. Not only did the record of the trial “set precedents that changed the world” (Ehrenfreund, pg 139), but also it proved to so many people that the concentration camps, the gas chambers, the dead bodies, and all the atrocities were real and that the survivors were telling the truth. Before the Nuremberg trials, some people from different countries, especially some Germans, denied that the Holocaust ever happened and this trial gave proof to the atrocities that were so real to the millions of people who were affected by it. “Proof of the Holocaust was based on the record of solid evidence produced at the trial. Many of the German people [Ehrenfreund] encountered during six years of working in Germany as a journalist after World War II claimed surprise when the record unfolded at Nuremberg” (Ehrenfreund, pg 140). The records were a rude awakening for many people who did not realize how bad the Holocaust actually was and shocking for people who did not even believe that the Holocaust happened. The written records of the trial were also important so that the survivors and their stories of the Holocaust will live on even after they die. “Nuremberg is the single event that more than any other guarantees that these atrocities will not be forgotten,” and the legacy of the survivors will never die (Ehrenfreund, pg. 218). Even though many people get their information about the Holocaust from movies or books written much later, the first and most factual record is the record from the trial. Most of the information that we see in the movies and books originally came from the records of the Nuremberg trials. Without the trials, many people would still be unaware of the atrocities of the Holocaust.

Another legacy that arose from the Nuremberg trials was that every person must be given a fair trial, no matter how severe or miniscule that crime is. Many people, including Winston Churchill and, originally, Franklin D. Roosevelt, believed that the Nazis did not deserve a fair trial or any trial at that, and should be executed immediately. They felt that since the Nazis did not allow any rights to the millions of people they executed, they should not have any rights themselves. Henry Morgenthau, Jr., the United States Secretary of Treasury, advised Roosevelt “the people want revenge, not a long drawn-out legal proceeding” (Ehrenfreund, pg. 7). However, many people argued against this theory, including Henry Stimson, Secretary of War, and Robert H. Jackson, associate justice of the Supreme Court. Stimson felt that “to execute the Nazi leaders without giving them the chance to defend themselves would be similar to what the Nazis were doing to their victims. It would be, he told Roosevelt, a ‘crime against civilization’” (Ehrenfreund, pg. 8). He felt that the Allied forces should not lower themselves to the level that the Nazis were at, and if they did not give them a fair trial they would be no better than the Nazi regime. Stimson was also worried that if the Nazis did not have a fair trial it could lead to another world war. In 1945, after many meetings and the death of Roosevelt with the takeover of the presidency by Harry Truman, the Allied forces decided to hold the trials. Robert H. Jackson was named chief prosecutor for the first of the thirteen trials in Nuremberg. The decision to have a fair trial for the Nazi leaders was a turning point in our history and “Jackson was making a declaration to the world that anyone accused of a crime, no matter how high or low his station in life, no matter how heinous the charge against him, is entitled to a fair trial” (Ehrenfreund, pg 13). All of the defendants that were put on trial were thought to be innocent until proven guilty. Without this fight for a fair trial, our justice system would be a lot different than it presently is. These principles of justice existed long before the Nuremberg trials in international law, however they were never fully accepted until the Nuremberg trials took place. “Nuremberg stood for the highest standards of law and due process – innocent until proven guilty, an attorney for every criminal defendant, a fair trial no matter how grave the charge” (Ehrenfreund, pg. 153). These principles may be seen as basic and standard for any trial to us now, but without the Nuremberg trials these principles may have not been the norm for trials around the world.

Another legacy that developed from the Nuremberg trials was the fact that human rights became an issue. One of the four charges that were used in the Nuremberg trials was “crimes against humanity (includes the torture and slaughter of millions on racial grounds, now known as the Holocaust)” (Ehrenfreund, pg. 17). Before these trials people had no protection against horrible things that were being brought upon them by their government. If their leaders were ordering that people be murdered or raped, these people had no one to go to for recourse and no one who would help them. The Nuremberg trials changed that. “By charging this count of crimes against humanity, Nuremberg sent a caution to dictators everywhere that if they mistreat their people they can be brought to justice before an international court” (Ehrenfreund, pg. 123). Nowadays, leaders of nations can be charged for harming their citizens and the citizens now have some way that they can seek protection. The citizens now know they do not have to suffer through any torture or harm that the government might want to place on them. This is a very important legacy in our present day life. Many countries throughout the world, such as in the Sudan and Darfur, are being criticized for their crimes against humanity. People across the world are aware of these crimes and are now fighting to protect the citizens of these countries. Nowadays, it is the United Nations and the International Criminal Court in The Hague that is responsible for protecting the citizens of the world from crimes against humanity.

Many other things have arisen from the Nuremberg trials including medical and business ethics. Karl Brandt, Hitler’s personal physician, was the lead defendant in one of the thirteen trials. Brandt and twenty-two other doctors performed experiments on prisoners in the concentration camps, and some doctors “were involved in a so-called ‘euthanasia’ program in which elderly persons, the mentally incompetent, deformed children and others unable to work were secretly executed by lethal injections” (Ehrenfreund, pg. 95). Sixteen of the doctors were convicted, seven were sentenced to death, and the rest were sentenced to jail time. However, these trials did not just punish these doctors, it led to changes in the way doctors can behave. The judges wanted to make sure that these medical atrocities would never happen again. As a result, the judges set up the Nuremberg Code, which consisted of ten principles that gave the patients of any doctors the rights that they deserved. Doctors now have to get patient consent before they perform any experiments on a patient. If a doctor does not receive consent from the patient, the doctor is subject to having their licenses taken away and the patient or their family can sue for malpractice. These changes in medical rights, which we now hold to be an important right, were a result of the Nuremberg trials.

Another outcome of the Nuremberg trials was changes in the way people could do business. Alfried Krupp was Hitler’s biggest financial supporter and benefited from the slave labor that the Nazis provided for his factories. Krupp was another defendant in Nuremberg that was placed on trial in 1948. The court ruled the Krupp was guilty of crimes against humanity and placed in prison and stripped of his fortune. Prior to this trial, businesses could abuse their workers without the government taking any action and businesses could provide funding to any leader that they knew was violating human rights. Once Krupp was found guilty, “the big American corporations operating abroad – allegedly supporting dictators who are engaged in such practices as forced labor and torture – could likewise be found guilty, or at least liable in a civil suit” (Ehrenfreund, pg. 179). Without the Nuremberg trials businessmen might not be following the ethics that we now think is the only ethics to follow.

Even though there were many good things that came out of the Nuremberg trials, there was still some controversy over the trial. One of the main arguments that Jackson faced was that the trial relied heavily on illegal ex posto facto law, which made this trial an unfair trial. The ex posto facto law “refers to criminal law that is passed or created after the act in question was committed. If a person commits an act at a time when there is no law against it, the person should not be held liable” (Ehrenfreund, pg. 52). Many people felt that since there was no law against waging aggressive war, then the defendants had done nothing wrong. However, even if the law that you cannot wage aggressive war on another country was made after the trial, the Nazi leaders still had to be brought to justice. Telford Taylor, chief prosecutor in the twelve other Nuremberg trials, “conceded that the court’s judgment on counts one and two relied on ex post facto law”. However, he explained that “ex post facto or not, the trial was a necessary response to Hitler’s infamy” (Ehrenfreund, pg. 57). Another argument that Jackson faced was the question of victors’ justice. Every judge who sat on the bench represented an Allied power, no neutral country was represented and there was no German judge that sat on the bench. There were no Allies that were on trial and only the losers of the war were on trial. Many people felt that this was not fair and Senator Robert A. Taft of Ohio said, “the trial of the vanquished by the victors cannot be impartial by no matter how it is hedged about with forms of justice” (Ehrenfreund, pg. 46). However, it was going to be very hard to get a German judge to sit on the bench because there was no German government to turn to and it would be unlikely that any person they found that was not a Nazi would have been impartial. Also, it was hard to include different countries since World War II was so vast there were hardly any neutral countries in the world. This trial was a necessary thing that had to happen in our history, and Jackson did his best to make sure that this trial was as fair as possible.

The Nuremberg trials happened over half a century ago, however they are still affecting the way we live today. Wars and crimes may still be happening all over the world, but “we shall never know, however, how many national leaders have been deterred from initiating military conquest and cruel abuse of innocent civilians by the threat of a Nuremberg-type prosecution” (Ehrenfreund, pg. 215). The Nuremberg trials changed the way people are prosecuted, established human rights, and also changed the way doctors and businessmen do their job. The profound effects of the Nuremberg trials can still be seen today.

Bibliography and Links (back to top)(links last checked 12/16/08)

Book Reviews

  • “The Nuremberg Legacy: How the Nazi War Crime Trials Changed the Course of History” Kirkus Reviews 75.14 (2007): pg. 703. Oct. 2008.
    This book review gives an overview of the Ehrenfreund’s book. The author starts off with some background information on Ehrenfreund and also gives an overview of the trials. The author points out the legacies that Ehrenfreund presents in his book and also notes how important the trials were in setting a precedent for establishing human rights.
  • Michael O. Eshleman, “The Nuremberg Legacy: How the Nazi War Crime Trials Changed the Course of History” Library Journal 132.20 (2007): pg. 132-133. Oct. 2008
    Eshleman discusses the main topics that Ehrenfreund covers in his book. He explains that he does go over the trial and the legal concepts, but his main point in the book is the aftermath. He points out some of the legacies that Ehrenfreund points out, including the written record of the trials and the fact that the trial established human rights.
  • Vernon Ford, “The Nuremberg Legacy: How The Nazi War Crime Trials Changed The Course of History” Booklist 104.7 (2007): pg. 10-11. Oct. 2008.
    This book review explains that the main point of Ehrenfreund’s book was to examine the legacies that arose from the Nuremberg trials – good and bad. Ford points out some of the legacies that Ehrenfreund presents and also points out some of the trials that have similarities to the Nuremberg trials.

Web Sites

  • United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, “The Nuremberg Trials and Their Legacy” http://www.ushmm.org/museum/exhibit/focus/warcrimetrials/comment_post.php
    The author of this article believes that the Nuremberg Trials were a "watershed moment in international justice."  The author feels the most important outcome from the Trials is that the atrocities were documented for the entire world to see.  This article does not go into great detail about the various legacies of the Nuremberg Trials, but only focuses on the documentation of the war crimes.
  • Chris Tucker, “Nuremberg Trials Hold Lessons For the Present” LA Weekly (12/2/2005), http://www.lawweekly.org/?module=displaystory&story_id=952&edition_id=21&format=html
    This article discusses a colloquium that was held to discuss the prosecution of war crimes.  It developed into a discussion of how to define "crimes of aggression."  An interesting outcome of this discussion was whether or not corporate leaders should be prosecuted for participating in war crimes.  Tucker states that the United States does prosecute corporate leaders for crimes of aggression, but other countries do not.  The author feels that corporate war crimes will continue to be a prominent discussion topic in the international community.
  • Luther Washington, “War Crimes After Nuremberg” (1999), http://www.law.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/nuremberg/NurembergEpilogue.html
    The author of this interesting article discusses the difficulty in defining aggression and the substance of crime.  The author also discuss how the precedent of prosecuting people for crimes against humanity has led to the idea of prosecuting countries for genocide.  Also due to the Nuremberg Trials, the United Nations established a Human Rights Commission to examine, internationally, "gross violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms."  Even though war crimes and crimes against humanity still exist today, the author feels that we, as a world, are continually progressing toward the day when war crimes may never exist.
  • Rob Cawston, “Nuremberg and the Legacy of Law” (11/21/2005) http://www.opendemocracy.net/globalization-institutions_government/nuremberg_3049.jsp
    This is a very interesting article about how history should utilize the legacies of the Nuremberg Trials.  The author discusses how other wars have produced changes in peacekeeping agreements but continues on about how the Nuremberg Trials established the idea of war crimes and crimes against humanity.  The author states that the Japanese were brought to trial on the precedents set by the Nuremberg Trials, but more importantly, dictators in Yugoslavia and Rwanda were brought to trial due to rules of war established during the Nuremberg Trials.  The author also states that we must be careful how many conflicts are handled because he feels that President Bush himself could be prosecuted for participating in "state-run crimes."

Books and Articles

  • George J. Annas, The Nazi Doctors and the Nuremberg Code: Human Rights in Human Experimentation (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995) 400 pages. http://www.amazon.com/Nazi-Doctors-Nuremberg-Code-Experimentation/dp/0195101065/
    This book focuses on the legacies of the Nuremberg Trials, however, instead of the judicial side, it focuses more on the medical and human rights legacies that arose from the trials. It explains the Nuremberg code and how it was developed because of the Nuremberg trials.
  • Joseph E. Persico, Nuremberg: Infamy on Trial (New York: Penguin, 1995), 560 pages. http://www.amazon.com/Nuremberg-Infamy-Joseph-E-Persico/dp/014016622X/
    This book not only gives an overview of the Nuremberg Trials, but also shows us what was going on behind the scenes before and during the trials. Persico combines the facts of the trials along with psychological insight. His main question is did the Nuremberg trials matter?

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Any student tempted to use this paper for an assignment in another course or school should be aware of the serious consequences for plagiarism. Here is what I write in my syllabi:

Plagiarism—presenting someone else's work as your own, or deliberately failing to credit or attribute the work of others on whom you draw (including materials found on the web)—is a serious academic offense, punishable by dismissal from the university. It hurts the one who commits it most of all, by cheating them out of an education. I report offenses to the Office of the Dean of Students for disciplinary action.

prepared for web by Harold Marcuse on 12/10/08; last updated: 12/16/08
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