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DJCG-300 The Nuremberg Trials

What were the Nuremberg Trials?

The Nuremberg trials were a series of twelve trials held between 1945 and 1949 involving over 100 defendants who were important officials in Adolph Hitler’s Nazi Germany. (Chronology from Truman Library)

The trials were held in Nuremberg, Germany and were conducted by a judicial tribunal composed of judges from the Allied Powers, which included Great Britain, France, the Soviet Union and the United States.

The most famous of the trials took place in 1945 and 1946. This first trial examined the criminal conduct of the highest-ranking officials. Of the 24 defendants, half would receive the death penalty for their crimes of war, crimes against peace and crimes against humanity.

Maier, W. A. (2005). Nuremberg trials. In T. Adam (Ed.), Germany and the Americas: Culture, politics, and history. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO. Retrieved from

Aerial View of Nuremberg

Overview of the Trials

When Nazi Germany surrendered in 1945, the U.S., Soviet and British governments had decided to hold war trials rather than summarily execute the highest-ranking members of the German government. In June 1945 representatives of these governments, along with the newly liberated French government, met in London at the International Conference of Military Trials. In August they signed a convention called the Agreement for the Prosecution and Punishment of the Major War Criminals of the European Axis Power.

This convention, which is usually labeled the London Agreement or Nuremberg Charter, set out the procedures for prosecuting Nazi officials and established the International Military Tribunal (IMT). This tribunal was composed of eight judges, evenly divided among the four powers. However, only four judges were charged with deciding the cases. The other four judges served as alternates.

The London Agreement sought to provide fairness and due process to the defendants. To this end each defendant was represented by a lawyer and the standard U.S. criminal rules applied, including the presumption of innocence and the need to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Evidentiary rules also generally followed the Anglo-American system, allowing cross-examination and the right to introduce evidence that excused the alleged criminal acts. However, the rules on admissibility of documents were relaxed in light of the difficulty of authenticating papers taken by the victors. The IMT decided on the admissibility of evidence and all other matters by a majority vote.

The U.S. judge was former attorney general Frances Biddle. Sir Geoffrey Lawrence of Great Britain served as chief judge, with a Soviet and French judge filling out the panel. U.S. Supreme Court justice Robert H. Jackson was the lead prosecutor, heading a large group of American civilian and military lawyers. Jackson played a large part in the drafting of the London Agreement and had argued that it was not unfair to charge Nazi leaders with war crimes that had not been previously recognized as crimes. He contended that many of their crimes such as the extermination of six million Jews, had been illegal since the dawn of civilization.

The trial of the Nazi leadership centered on four broad counts of criminal conduct. The counts included:

  • conspiracy
  • crimes against peace
  • war crimes and
  • crimes against humanity.

The charge labeled crimes against peace was a new concept, making it a crime to plan and start wars in violation of international treaties or agreements. The count of war crimes was the most traditional charge, as it was based on the laws and customs of war that were commonly accepted at the time. in violation of the laws and customs of war as accepted and practiced around the world. The count of crimes against humanity was the most novel concept, as it addressed the Nazis’ murderous conduct toward civilian populations both inside and outside of Germany. This has remained the most contentious part of the trials, as it permited the international community to police genocide and other conditions that occur within a sovereign nation.

Of the 24 Nazi officials tried at Nuremberg, 19 were convicted and three were acquitted. Of the two remaining individuals, one committed suicide before the proceedings and one was deemed incompetent to stand trial. The IMT convicted:

Nuremberg trials. (2002). In S. Phelps (Ed.), World of Criminal Justice, Gale. Farmington, MI: Gale. Retrieved from

The Blue Series

This 42-volume series, also known as The Blue Series,” is the official record of the trial of the major civilian and military leaders of Nazi Germany who were accused of war crimes. 

The London Agreement of 8 August 1945 established the tribunal, which was composed of one member and an alternate from each of the four Allied countries: the French Republic, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and the United States of America.  English, French, German, and Russian were the languages used throughout the hearings.

Documents entered into evidence were reproduced in this series only in the original language, but as the result of the absence of a Soviet editorial staff, none of the Russian-language documents were published.


Alternate site for the Blue Series

The Red Series

Nazi Conspiracy and Aggression

This eight-volume, 12-book series, also known as “The Red Series,” is a “Collection of Documentary Evidence and Guide Materials Prepared by the American and British Prosecuting Staffs for Presentation before the International Military Tribunal at Nurnberg, Germany.” 

The Final Report

Final Report to the Secretary of the Army on the Nuernberg War Crimes Trials.

By Telford Taylor
Brigadier General, U.S.A.
Chief of Counsel for War Crimes

Washington, D.C., 15 August 1949

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Walter Cronkite; J.Q. Barrett --- PBS Video