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.

Art

The Nuremberg Trial, 1946

Art

The Nuremberg Trial, 1946

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.

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 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

Related Content

Winston Churchill, Franklin D Roosevelt and Jospeh Stalin sit for photographs during the Yalta ('Big Three') Conference in February 1945.
Second World War

How Churchill, Roosevelt And Stalin Planned To End The Second World War

Yalta, a seaside resort on Russia's Black Sea Crimean coast, was the scene of the second and last wartime conference between the 'Big Three' Allied war leaders, Winston Churchill, Franklin D Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin between 4 and 11 February 1945.
Majdanek served as a slave labour camp that provided materials and manpower for German construction projects in occupied Poland and the Soviet Union. This jacket is part of the uniform worn by prisoners at Majdanek.
Holocaust

What Was The Holocaust?

The Holocaust was the systematic murder of Europe's Jews by the Nazis and their collaborators during the Second World War. For the first time in history, industrial methods were used for the mass extermination of a whole people. Between 1933 and 1945, Jews were targeted for discrimination, segregation and extermination.
Nuremberg thumbnail
Holocaust

Nuremberg Trials: Films that brought the Nazis to justice

The Nuremberg Trials were held at the end of the war to try the leading figures of the Nazi regime. This was the first time that international leaders had attempted to put another nation on trial for war crimes, and numerous innovations were introduced in the trials, including the extensive use of film. 
A soldier stands in front of a sign erected by British Forces at the entrance to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, Germany, 29 May 1945.
© IWM BU 6955 A sign erected by British Forces at the entrance to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, Germany, 29 May 1945.
Holocaust

Belsen On Trial, 1945

The Belsen Trial gave the world its first real glimpse of the fathomless horror of the Holocaust. 
Holocaust exhibition with two visitors
©IWM
Permanent Display

The Holocaust Galleries

IWM London
Permanent

Visitors exploring the Second World War exhibition
Permanent Display

Second World War Galleries

IWM London
Permanent