The Nuremberg Tribunal: Legacy to be preserved

…75 years since opening of trials

THE Nuremberg Trials opened 75 years ago, six months after the crushing defeat of the Nazis, and the whole world was watching these court proceedings. The merciless Nazi regime that unleashed the criminal war and committed atrocities of an unprecedented scale may have been defeated, but it was too early to put this matter to rest. The military triumph had to be complemented by a political, legal and moral condemnation of Nazism and its deadly ideology. That was the main purpose of the establishment of an open International Military Tribunal over Nazi leaders.

The Second World War became the worst tragedy in human history. For 75 years now, we have been analysing its premises and consequences, and also making every effort to ensure that such conflicts never occur on our planet.

By the end of the main hostilities in Europe, when the Red Army had taken over Berlin and raised the Soviet Banner of Victory on the Reichstag building, the fate of the instigators of this world horror (the leadership of the Third Reich and the high military command of the Wehrmacht) had not yet been decided.

Despite the fact that some representatives of the Allies proposed to execute those responsible for obvious crimes without trial, the Soviet Union was repeatedly declaring the need for a thorough and impartial investigation of the atrocities of the fascist aggressors.

Someone may ask “Why was it necessary to organise a trial when all the terrible crimes of the Nazis were obvious?” If the Nazis were just executed without proper inquiry, it would show that they achieved their goals. That they managed to change our world, leaving only fear and anger. But the Soviet Union, defending its land and liberating Europe, fought for law, justice and the right of all people to a peaceful and happy life.

The final decision on the format of the judicial proceedings was made at the London Conference in summer 1945. The participants (the Soviet Union, France, the United Kingdom and the USA) agreed to organise an international military tribunal in a German city called Nuremberg, which began its work on November 20 1945.

The first session was presided over by the Soviet judge, I. Nikitchenko. The prosecution entered indictments against 24 major war criminals and seven organizations – the leadership of the Nazi party, the Reich Cabinet, the Schutzstaffel (SS), Sicherheitsdienst (SD), the Gestapo, the Sturmabteilung (SA) and the ‘General Staff and High Command’, comprising several categories of senior military officers.

The indictments were for: participation in a common plan or conspiracy for the accomplishment of a crime against peace; planning, initiating and waging wars of aggression and other crimes against peace; participating in war crimes; crimes against humanity. The accusations were accompanied by a lot of physical evidence and eyewitness statements. The horrific photos and videos taken by Soviet soldiers in Auschwitz and other camps liberated by the Red Army showed the whole world the true face and thoughts of Nazism.

The court proceedings in compliance with all the standards and the rights of the accused to the defence lasted for almost a year and ended in October 1946. Most of the defendants were found guilty and sentenced to capital punishment, imprisonment for life or many years.

But not only the officials and organisations of the Third Reich were convicted by the international court. The operative part of the verdict of the Nuremberg Tribunal contains the following words: “War is essentially an evil thing. Its consequences are not confined to the belligerent States alone, but affect the whole world. To initiate a war of aggression, therefore, is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.”

Therefore, by organising this court, the international community made it clear that “the evil of the whole” was defeated and completely failed in making our world a hell.

It’s well known, that there was no main organiser of all these crimes among the defendants. Adolf Hitler put himself on trial without waiting for the end of the war. But what were Hitler’s goals when he began to pursue an aggressive policy? Everyone can find an answer in a book of a German politician, H. Rauschning, who’s quoting the leader of the Third Reich: “We are obligated to depopulate as part of our mission… If you ask me what I mean by depopulation, I mean the removal of entire racial units. And that is what I intend to carry out… I have the right to remove millions of an inferior race that breeds like vermin!”.

With these goals, Hitler invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, when most of Europe had already been captured by him. Our nation paid a huge price for the liberation of our territory and many other countries from the invaders. The war killed more than 27 million men and women, most of whom were civilians. Many of them became victims of genocide, cases of which are still being investigated.

At the same time, today we see attempts to revise the events of Second World War and the Nuremberg Trials, when some people and even countries, trying to rewrite the history, identify criminals as heroes and liberators as invaders.

For instance, in Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Ukraine the process of dismantling Soviet war monuments has been accelerated in recent years. In some European countries these monuments are still remaining targets of sporadic defacement and vandalism. Such situations are really disgraceful, since these events affect negatively the importance and memory of those glorious and tragic pages of history to which they are dedicated.

Speaking about the problem of disrespect for history, in his address to the 75th Anniversary Session of the United Nations General Assembly, President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin noted: “Forgetting the lessons of history is short-sighted and extremely irresponsible, just like the politicized attempts to arbitrarily interpret the causes, course and outcomes of the Second World War and twist the decisions of the conferences of the Allies and the Nuremberg Tribunal that are based on speculation instead of facts. It is not just vile and offending the memory of the fighters against Nazism. It is a direct and devastating blow to the very foundation of the post-war world order, which is particularly dangerous in view of the global stability facing serious challenges…”

In order to preserve the historical memory of the Second World War and the Nuremberg Tribunal’s legacy, the Russian Federation traditionally initiates in the UN General Assembly a resolution on Combatting glorification of Nazism, neo-Nazism and other practices that contribute to fuelling contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.

This year, along with Russia, the document was co-sponsored by 58 countries from all regions of the world. The resolution was supported by 122 countries, including Namibia. Once again, it was opposed by only two countries – the United States and Ukraine, while 53 delegations, including EU member states, abstained.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs of RussiaSergey Lavrovin his address to the International Scientific and Practical Forum, “Lessons from Nuremberg: The Impact of the Nuremberg Process on the Modern World Order”, that took place in November 2020, noted: “Clearly, the Nuremberg Tribunal’s legacy is not limited to law, but has enormous political, moral and educational value. A strong vaccination against the revival of Nazism in all its forms and manifestations was made 75 years ago. Unfortunately, the immunity to the brown plague that was developed in Nuremberg has seriously worn off in some European countries. Russia will continue to vigorously and consistently oppose any attempts to falsify history, to glorify Nazi criminals and their henchmen, and to oppose the revision of the internationally recognised outcomes of the Second World War, including the Nuremberg rulings. The overwhelming majority of the international community members agree with us in this regard.”

Therefore, the Russian Federation will always preserve the memory of the millions of victims of the Second World War and the legacy of the Nuremberg Tribunal, which is one of the main factors of peace and tranquility on our planet today.

Authored by Russian Embassy