Precedents

November 20, 1945


In the aftermath of World War II, victorious Allied forces responded to widespread atrocities carried out by the Nazi regime under color of war. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill had urged that Nazi leaders be “hunted down and shot.”

But those favoring a legal process prevailed with the creation of an international tribunal commissioned to try German officials accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Meticulous Nazi record-keeping provided much of the evidence against the 22 defendants. Official documents, along with wrenching eyewitness testimony, opened the world’s eyes to the horrors of the Holocaust.

After 11 months, 12 defendants were sentenced to death, seven to prison terms ranging from 10 years to life, and three were acquitted. Hitler’s No. 2, Hermann Göring, remained unrepentant throughout, and he committed suicide the night before he was to be executed.

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