Nazism: 75 years after the Nuremberg trials, the starting point to confront the horror

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The judicial process brought against the surviving Nazi hierarchs is considered one of the foundations of international law.

The Nuremberg trials against major Nazi war criminals, which began 75 years ago, represented the beginning of the Germans’ confrontation with the horrors of National Socialism, amid the trauma and debris left by the war disaster.

The commemoration, which will be attended by the German President, Frank Walter Steinmeier, will not have a large public attendance due to the pandemic, but will be broadcast throughout the country, including a video message from the latest surviving prosecutor, Benjamin Ferenz, which has already turned 100 years old.

The significance of the trials has changed throughout history, but from the beginning they involved a confrontation with horror, although at first there was resistance.

In his memoir, Peeling the onion (2006), Günter Grass maintains that he only accepted the crimes of National Socialism when he heard on the radio that, after the sentences in Nuremberg, the head of the Nazi Youth, Baldur von Schirach, accepted to have had knowledge of the plan of extermination of the Jews.

Grass’s experience, which he says he was not convinced by what US officials in charge of reeducation programs had told him so far, appears to have been shared by many people at the time.

In a survey conducted in the US occupation zone in November 1945, 65 percent claimed to have learned from the Nuremberg process of things they did not know. By the summer of the following year, the figure had risen to 87 percent.

Among what respondents claimed to have heard for the first time were concentration camps and extermination plans.

Behind those answers could undoubtedly have been an attempt at exoneration on the part of many. Grass himself says that if he had not known before the crimes of the Nazis it had been, like so many others, because i didn’t want to know.

However, according to historian Arnd Bauerkämper, it was after their celebration that the Nuremberg trials began to be interpreted as the beginning of a culture of remembrance.

“The Nuremberg Process did not play a very important role in the culture of remembrance in Germany at the beginning, but later, since the 1960s, it has been interpreted as the beginning of a critical confrontation with the German past, especially with war crimes , crimes against humanity and the preparation of a war of aggression, “the historian explained to the EFE agency.

“The Allies tried to make this confrontation start much earlier, already in 45 or 46, but it was not achieved because the Germans, especially in the West, tended to suppress and minimize the memory of the Nazi past“he adds.

It took a more critical generation to value the Nuremberg process as the beginning, not only of the legal confrontation over the Nazi past, but also as the starting point for creating a culture of memory.

The legal bases for the process had been established by the Treaty of London between the allied powers (USA, the United Kingdom, France and the Soviet Union) in which it determined the statute for the creation of the court with prosecutors and judges from the four countries.

The idea was to carry out several processes before that court, but in the end, due to differences between the allies, only one was held that began on November 20, 1945 and ended with the reading of the sentences on October 1, 1946.

The subsequent processes, also carried out in Nuremberg against other former Nazis (and which ended on April 14, 1949), were carried out alone by the US occupation forces.

In any case, the so-called London statute is considered as a precedent for what would later become the statute of the International Tribunal in The Hague.

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