A Short History Of The War Crimes Trials After The Second World War

By Jessica Talarico

After the end of the Second World War, the Allies brought the leading civilian and military representatives of wartime Germany and Japan to trial on charges of war crimes, crimes against peace and crimes against humanity.

The principles of the trial of the Nazi leadership were agreed at a meeting of the ‘Big Four’ – Britain, the United States, the Soviet Union and France – in London in the summer of 1945, resulting in the Nuremberg Charter.

The Tokyo Charter similarly laid out the principles and procedures of the trial against Japan’s leaders. It was largely the result of an executive decree by the Allied Supreme Commander, Douglas MacArthur, acting on instructions from the US Joint Chiefs of Staff. Eleven nations were represented in the prosecution team, including Britain, Australia and India.

The International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg was in session from 14 November 1945 to 1 October 1946. Twenty-two leading Nazis were tried, including one in his absence. Twelve were sentenced to death by hanging, seven to terms of imprisonment and two were acquitted. Hermann Göring escaped execution by taking his own life.

The International Military Tribunal at Tokyo sat from 3 May 1946 to 4 November 1948. Twenty-eight defendants were tried, of whom seven were sentenced to death by hanging and 18 to terms of imprisonment. Two of the defendants died during the trial and one was declared unfit to be sentenced.

Image of Laura Knight's painting of the defendants at the Nuremberg Trial with a landscape of desolation floating above the courtroom