WWII Punishment of German Soldiers

By Mitch Maxwell

Nermenberg Trials

After the war, some of those responsible for crimes committed during the Holocaust were brought to trial. Nuremberg, Germany, was chosen as a site for trials that took place in 1945 and 1946. Judges from the Allied powers—Great Britain, France, the Soviet Union, and the United States—presided over the hearings of twenty-two major Nazi criminals.

Did You Know:

The city of Nuremberg in the German state of Bavaria was selected as the location for the trials because its Palace of Justice was relatively undamaged by the war and included a large prison area. Additionally, Nuremberg had been the site of annual Nazi propaganda rallies; holding the postwar trials there marked the symbolic end of Hitler’s government, the Third Reich.

AUGUST 8, 1945

The Allies eventually established the laws and procedures for the Nuremberg trials with the London Charter of the International Military Tribunal (IMT), issued on August 8, 1945. Among other things, the charter defined three categories of crimes: crimes against peace (including planning, preparing, starting or waging wars of aggression or wars in violation of international agreements), war crimes (including violations of customs or laws of war, including improper treatment of civilians and prisoners of war) and crimes against humanity (including murder, enslavement or deportation of civilians or persecution on political, religious or racial grounds). It was determined that civilian officials as well as military officers could be accused of war crimes.

OCTOBER 6, 1945

The four chief prosecutors of the International Military Tribunal (IMT)—Robert H. Jackson (United States), Francois de Menthon (France), Roman A. Rudenko (Soviet Union), and Sir Hartley Shawcross (Great Britain)—hand down indictments against 24 leading Nazi officials. The indicted include Hermann Goering (Hitler's heir designate), Rudolf Hess (deputy leader of the Nazi party), Joachim von Ribbentrop (foreign minister), Wilhelm Keitel (head of the armed forces), Wilhelm Frick (minister of the interior), Ernst Kaltenbrunner (head of security forces), Hans Frank (governor-general of occupied Poland), Konstantin von Neurath (governor of Bohemia and Moravia), Erich Raeder (head of the navy), Karl Doenitz (Raeder's successor), Alfred Jodl (armed forces command), Alfred Rosenberg (minister for occupied eastern territories), Baldur von Schirach (head of the Hitler Youth), Julius Streicher (radical Nazi antisemitic publisher), Fritz Sauckel (head of forced-labor allocation), Albert Speer (armaments minister), and Arthur Seyss-Inquart (commissioner for the occupied Netherlands).

OCTOBER 1, 1946

The International Military Tribunal (IMT) announces its verdicts. It pronounces the death sentence on 12 defendants (Goering, Ribbentrop, Keitel, Kaltenbrunner, Rosenberg, Frank, Frick, Streicher, Sauckel, Jodl, Seyss­Inquart, and Bormann). Three are sentenced to life imprisonment (Hess, economics minister Walther Funk, and Raeder). Four receive prison terms ranging from 10 to 20 years (Doenitz, Schirach, Speer, and Neurath). The court acquits three defendants: Hjalmar Schacht (economics minister), Franz von Papen (German politician who played an important role in Hitler's appointment as chancellor), and Hans Fritzsche (head of press and radio). The death sentences are carried out on October 16, 1946, with two exceptions: Goering committed suicide shortly before his scheduled execution, and Bormann remained missing. The other 10 defendants are hanged, their bodies cremated, and the ashes deposited in the Iser River.

Did You Know

The death sentences imposed in October 1946 were carried out by Master Sergeant John C. Woods, who told a reporter from Time magazine that he was proud of his work. "The way I look at this hanging job, somebody has to do it . Ten men in 103 minutes. That's fast work."

War Crime Trials

both international and domestic courts conducted trials of accused war criminals. Beginning in the winter of 1942, the governments of the Allied powers announced their determination to punish Axis war criminals. On December 17, 1942, the leaders of the United States, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union issued the first joint declaration officially noting the mass murder of European Jews and resolving to prosecute those responsible for crimes against civilian populations.

Quotes from Holocaust Survivors

  • "For evil to flourish, it only requires good men to do nothing." Simon Wiesenthal.
  • "My number is 174517; we have been baptized, we will carry the tattoo on our left arm until we die." Primo Levi.


  • Museum, United States Holocaust Memorial. "War Crimes Trials." United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. United States Holocaust Memorial Council, 29 Jan. 2016. Web. 11 May 2016.
  • History.com Staff. "Nazi Party." History.com. A&E Television Networks, 01 Jan. 2009. Web. 11 May 2016.
  • INC., Ibis Communication. "The Sentencing and Execution of Nazi War Criminals, 1946." The Sentencing and Execution of Nazi War Criminals, 1946. EyeWitness to History, 18 May 2004. Web. 18 May 2016.
  • "Holocaust Timeline: Aftermath." Holocaust Timeline: Aftermath. Florida Center for Instructional Technology, 2005. Web. 25 May 2016.