The first major war crime trials in Nuremberg began on November 20, 1945. 24 leading personalities of the German state were held accountable for the war and mass murder.
Erich Kästner, present as reporter in Nuremberg courtroom 600, says: “The chairman of the court opens the session. The American chief prosecutor is followed by the French. He brings up the crimes that Western Europe is accusing the war criminals of. Murder of prisoners of war, murder of hostages, robbery, deportation, sterilization, mass shootings with music, torture, food deprivation, artificial cancer transmissions, gassing, freezing of the living body, mechanical dislocation of bones, further use of human remains for fertilizer and soap production … a sea of tears … a hell of horror …“
When the Allies tried the leading representatives of the German state in its version as the “Third Reich”, they broke new legal territory. This was an absolute novelty for the history of peoples and international law. The personal responsibility of leading war criminals and mass murderers should be punished under criminal law. The trials ended with 12 death sentences and some long prison terms.
The trial contributed to the investigation of the Nazi crimes. National laws or holding a state office would not offer absolute protection from prosecution since the Nuremberg Trials. This procedure represented an important further development of international criminal law.
With the Nuremberg “learning process”, which began on November 20, 1945, the Federal Republic of Germany as a constitutional democracy state began to take shape. But the first Germans were already looking the other way again. Both processes are still in full swing.