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 Nuremberg Trial, 1946

On the right two benches of the accused leaders stretch away from the foreground to the centre of the painting. Behind the defendants stands a line of white-helmeted military police who guard the benches and separate them from the court beyond. On the left, in front of the defendants, sit two rows of lawyers, largely in black robes. The lawyers and the defendants study sheaves of paper.
© IWM Art.IWM ART (LD 5798)

The Nuremberg Trial, 1946, by Laura Knight. Artist Laura Knight gained special access to the broadcasting box just above the defendants, where she was able to make charcoal studies of the main protagonists amongst the lawyers and the accused. Knight was deeply disturbed by what she heard during the trial, and the painting shows a landscape of desolation floating above the courtroom like a shared nightmare.

The International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg was in session from 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 three were acquitted. Hermann Göring committed suicide the night before his scheduled execution.

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.

This article was edited by Jessica Talarico . Several IWM staff members contributed to writing an older version of this piece

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