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The Nuremberg Justice Trial 1947: Vengeance of the Victors?

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posted on 2021-11-10, 07:44 authored by Schnitzer, Jan

Nuremberg became famous for the 13 Nuremberg Trials against the leading German officials after World War II. Following the first trial against the remaining Nazi leaders before the Allied International Military Tribunal in 1945-1946, the United States initiated 12 subsequent proceedings against leading members of all areas of Germany's society. The Justice Trial against 16 representatives of Nazi Germany's judicial system was the third of these trials and held before US Military Tribunal III in 1947. Organised and held under the aegis of the United States as one of the war's victors, the trials were seen by many as simple acts of vengeance, hidden behind a smokescreen of legality. Therefore, especially in post-war Germany, the trials were often described as victor's justice. Yet, besides investigations relating to specific aspects of this allegation, a profound analysis of this issue has not been done for the Justice Trial. This study aims to help in closing this gap. Focussing on the issue of victor's justice, the work analyses and evaluates all stages of the Justice Trial, from its legal basis, to the planning and preparation, to the proceedings and judgments, to the enforcement of the sentences after the trial. In the end, it is concluded that only two aspects, the violation of the principle of separation of powers and the restriction to initiate trials only against German nationals, can be seen as examples of victor's justice. All other aspects cannot be proved as examples of victor's justice; whether Germany's state sovereignty was violated, whether the judges were impartial, whether the ex post facto principle was violated, whether the defendants could be held individually responsible, whether the defendants received a fair trial, whether the trial was justified from a moral point of view, whether the defendants were selected for appropriate reasons, whether the Tribunal analysed and evaluated the Nazi legal system and the defendant's role therein reasonably, whether the US judges and prosecutors were qualified enough, and whether the early release of the convicted defendants in the 1950s was arbitrary. The Justice Trial and all other Nuremberg Trials, in many ways, set unique precedents for international criminal law. The legacy, therefore, is primarily a positive one. Thus, overall, it is concluded that the limited examples of victor's justice within the Justice Trial do not ultimately undermine these achievements.


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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Master of Law

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Law


Morris, Grant