The resonance of history


Sometimes you think that history rhymes, and it turns out that it doesn’t.

I’d always believed (without ever having done any research) that the Allies had chosen Nuremberg as the site for the trials of the Nazi leaders as a marker, since it was the home of the Nazi Party rallies, Streicher’s grotesque propaganda paper Der Sturm, and the racist Nuremberg laws that turned the Jews in to second (or third) class citizens.

But it turns out – as I discovered on a recent visit to Nuremberg – that the reason the trials were held in Nuremberg was largely down to logistics.

Post-war Nuremberg. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Post-war Nurember. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

By the end of the war most German cities had been more or less completely flattened by Allied bombing. Nuremberg was no exception; 90% of the city centre had ben destroyed. The Palace of Justic, though, and the prison, just outside of the centre, were still standing and needed only some repair work to make them serviceable.

Nuremberg Palace of Justice, Winter 1945. Source: Nuremberg City Archives.
Nuremberg Palace of Justice, Winter 1945. Source: Nuremberg City Archives.

There was also just about enough accommodation to house the legal teams, the court staff and officials, and journalists, although the journalists complained about their lodgings in the spartan-to-eccentric castle of the pen magnate Faber-Castell.

So, the first trials were held in Nuremberg because it was possible to hold them there. It’s also striking how quickly the legal infrastructure was put in place – from translators to stenographers – while Allied jurists wrestled with the task of agreeing the legal process for a war crimes trial and aligning it to fit three different legal systems – Anglo-American, French and Russian. As it was French judges voted against any conspiracy verdicts because they had no equivalent in French law.

The outcome of the trial – some found guilty and sentenced to death, some found guilty and jailed, some acquitted – also persuaded some observers that the process was not just punitive, although looking back, Albert Speer was lucky not to get the death sentence for his role as Minister for Armaments from 1942 to 1945, overseeing forced and slave labour.

Still: even when history doesn’t rhyme, it sometimes resonates.

The image at the top of the post is by Andrew Curry, and is published here under a Creative Commons licence. Other images as credited in the captions.


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