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Law Should not Stop with the Punishment of Petty Crimes Committed by Little People, but Reach to Men of Great Power and Use it to Commit Great Evil: Robert Jackson’s Opening Statement at Nuremberg


Putin with his Generals


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

In light of Vladimir Putin’s genocidal campaign against Ukraine and its people, I am revisiting the war crimes trials held in Nuremberg, Germany between 1945 and 1948. It is my considered opinion as a historian and subject matter expert in military ethics, that Putin and the Russian leaders now conducting a genocidal war against Ukraine need to be brought to justice before an international war crimes tribunal. Such a trial could be convened at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, or a specially convened international tribunal similar to the International Military Tribunal that brought high ranking Nazi officials and military officers to justice at Nuremberg.

I also think of former President Donald Trump and his supporters that made a concerted attempt to overthrow the newly elected President by an planned assault on the Capitol that the President urged on and failed to stop, and his supporters who still support such actions today.

Associate Justice of the Supreme Court was appointed by President Harry S. Truman as the Chief American Counsel. Jackson helped draft the London Charter of the International Military Tribunal which created the legal basis for the Nuremberg Trials. During the trial Jackson served as the lead American prosecutor.

Before those Trials Jackson noted something incredibly profound, which too many Americans, regardless of their political party or ideology fail to comprehend.

“If certain acts of violation of treaties are crimes, they are crimes whether the United States does them or whether Germany does them, and we are not prepared to lay down a rule of criminal conduct against others which we would not be willing to have invoked against us.” Justice Robert Jackson International Conference on Military Trials, London, 1945, Dept. of State Pub.No. 3080 (1949), p.330.

On November 20th, 1945 twenty Nazi leaders took their seats in the dock in Saal 6oo (Courtroom 600) at the Palace of Justice in Nuremberg. The men were among the top leaders of the Third Reich, though there were a number of conspicuous absences. Adolf Hitler, Joseph Goebbels, and Heinrich Himmler had committed suicide as the Reich collapsed. Martin Bormann was missing and was believed to have escaped. Reinhard Heydrich died of wounds caused by Czech partisans in 1942.

Now, the men who ruled over most of Europe just three years before presented a sad sight. Deprived of their opulent uniforms and power they looked terrifyingly ordinary.

At 10 A.M., Presiding Judge, Sir Geoffrey Lawrence banged his gavel on his desk looking across the courtroom at the defendants and made his opening statement, saying:

“Before the defendants in this case are called upon to make their pleas to the indictment which has been lodged against them, and in which they are charged with Crimes against Peace, War Crimes, and Crimes against Humanity, and with a Common Plan or Conspiracy to commit those Crimes… The trial which is now about to begin is unique in the history of the jurisprudence of the World and it is of supreme importance to millions of people all over the globe…” 


Five years ago during I stood next to that same defendant’s dock where Hermann Goering and nineteen other men sat. Goering had been Hitler’s number two man and designated successor until the last days of the war. The others in the dock with Goering were Governor General of Poland, Dr. Hans Frank; Minister of the Interior and Reich Protector of Bohemia-Moravia, Dr.Wilhelm Frick; General Alfred Jodl, Chief of Staff of the Oberkommando Der Wehrmacht; Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, Chief of the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht; Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop; Gauleiter of Thuringia, and head of Slave Labor programs, Fritz Sauckel; Dr. Arthur Rosenberg, Reich Minister for the Occupied Easter Territories, Dr. Arthur Seyess-Inquart, Reichskommissar of occupied Netherlands; Julius Streicher, Gauleiter of Franconia and publisher of the Nazi propaganda paper, Der Sturmer; Commander of the German Navy and Hitler’s successor, Grand Admiral Karl Donitz; Minister of Economics, Dr. Walter Funk; Deputy Fuhrer Rudolf Hess;;Foreign Minister, Baron Konstantin von Neurath; the First Commander of the German Navy under Hitler, Grand Admiral Erich Raeder; Head of the Hitler Youth, and Gauleiter of Vienna, Baldur von Schirach; Armaments Minister, Albert Speer; Hans Fritzsche of the Propaganda Ministry, Dr. Hjalmar Schlacht pre-war head of the Reichsbank, and Economics Minister, Franz von Papen, who also had served as Vice Chancellor, Ambassador to Austria and later Turkey.

Also indicted but not in the dock, were SS Obergrüppenfuhrer and Chief of the Reich Security Main Office, Ernst Kaltenbrunner, who was recovering from a mild stroke; Gustav Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach, Head of the Armaments and heavy industry conglomerate Friedrich Krupp AG, and Chief of The Nazi Party Chancellery Martin Bormann. Robert Ley, leader of The German Labor Front committed suicide in his cell before the trial began. Krupp was too sick and senile to go to trial.

On the second day of trial Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court, Robert Jackson who was serving as Chief Prosecutor for the United States gave one of the most powerful opening statements in any trial. He said:

May it please Your Honour, the privilege of opening the first trial in history for crimes against the peace of the world imposes a grave responsibility. The wrongs which we seek to condemn and punish have been so calculated, so malignant and so devastating, that civilisation cannot tolerate their being ignored, because it cannot survive their being repeated. That four great nations, flushed with victory and stung with injury, stay the hands of vengeance and voluntarily submit their captive enemies to the judgement of the law, is one of the most significant tributes that Power ever has paid to Reason. 

This Tribunal, while it is novel and experimental, is not the product of abstract speculations nor is it created to vindicate legalistic theories. This inquest represents the practical effort of four of the most mighty of nations, with the support of seventeen more, to utilise International Law to meet the greatest menace of our times -aggressive war. The common sense of mankind demands that law shall not stop with the punishment of petty crimes by little people. It must also reach men who possess themselves of great power and make deliberate and concerted use of it to set in motion evils which leave no home in the world untouched. It is a cause of that magnitude that the United Nations will lay before Your Honour. 

In the prisoners’ dock sit twenty-odd broken men. Reproached by the humiliation of those they have led, almost as bitterly as by the desolation of those they have attacked, their personal capacity for evil is forever past. It is hard now to perceive in these miserable men as captives the power by which as Nazi leaders they once dominated much of the world and terrified most of it. Merely as individuals their fate is of little consequence to the world. 

What makes this inquest significant is that these prisoners represent sinister influences that will lurk in the world long after their bodies have returned to dust. We will show them to be living symbols of racial hatreds, of terrorism and violence, and of the arrogance and cruelty of power. They are symbols of fierce nationalism and of militarism, of intrigue and war-making which embroiled Europe, generation after generation, crushing its manhood, destroying its homes, and impoverishing its life. They have so identified themselves with the philosophies they conceived, and with the forces they have directed, that tenderness to them is a victory and an encouragement to all the evils which attached to their names. Civilisation can afford no compromise with the forces which would gain renewed strength if we deal ambiguously or with the men in whom those forces now precariously survive. 

What these men stand for we will patiently and temperately disclose. We will give you undeniable proofs of incredible events. The catalogue of crimes will omit nothing that could be conceived by a pathological pride, cruelty, and lust for power. These men created in Germany, under the “Fuehrerprinzip,” a National Socialist despotism equalled only by the dynasties of the ancient East. They took from the German people all those dignities and freedoms that we hold natural and inalienable rights in every human being, The people were compensated by inflaming and gratifying hatreds towards those who were marked as “scapegoats.” Against their opponents, including Jews, Catholics, and free labour the Nazis directed such a campaign of arrogance, brutality, and annihilation as the world has not witnessed since the pre-Christian ages. They excited the German ambition to be a “master race,” which of course implies serfdom others. They led their people on a mad gamble for domination. They diverted social energies and resources to the creation of what they thought to be an invincible war machine. They overran their neighbours. To sustain the “master race” in its war-making, they enslaved millions of human beings and brought them into Germany, where these hapless creatures now wander as “displaced persons.” At length, bestiality and bad faith reached such excess that they aroused the sleeping strength of imperilled Civilisation. Its united efforts have ground the German war machine to fragments. But the struggle has left Europe a liberated yet prostrate land where a demoralised society struggles to survive. These are the fruits of the sinister forces that sit with these defendants in the prisoners’ dock.

In justice to the nations and the men associated in this prosecution, I must remind you of certain difficulties which may leave their mark on this case. Never before in legal history has an effort been made to bring within the scope of a single litigation the developments of a decade covering a whole continent, and involving a score of nations, countless individuals, and innumerable events. Despite the magnitude of the task, the world has demanded immediate action. This demand has had to be met, though perhaps at the cost of finished craftsmanship. In my country, established courts, following familiar procedures, applying well-thumbed precedents, and dealing with the legal consequences of local and limited events, seldom commence a trial within a year of the event in litigation. Yet less than eight months ago to-day the courtroom in which you sit was an enemy fortress in the hands of German S.S. troops. Less than eight months ago nearly all our witnesses and documents were in enemy hands. The law had not been codified, no procedures had been established, no tribunal was in existence, no usable courthouse stood here, none of the hundreds of tons of official German documents had been examined, no prosecuting staff had been assembled, nearly all of the present defendants were at large, and the four prosecuting powers had not yet joined in common cause to try them. I should be the last to deny that the case may well suffer from incomplete researches, and quite likely will not be the example of professional work which any of the prosecuting nations would normally wish to sponsor. It is, however, a completely adequate case to the judgement we shall ask you to render, and its full development we shall be obliged to leave to historians.

Before I discuss particulars of evidence, some general considerations which may affect the credit of this trial in the eyes of the world should be candidly faced. There is a dramatic disparity between the circumstances of the accusers and of the accused that might discredit our work if we should falter, in even minor matters, in being fair and temperate.

Unfortunately, the nature of these crimes is such that both prosecution and judgement must be by victor nations over vanquished foes. The world-wide scope of the aggressions carried out by these men has left but few real neutrals. Either the victors must judge the vanquished or we must leave the defeated to judge themselves. After the First World War we learned the futility of the latter course. The former high station of these defendants, the notoriety of their acts, and the adaptability of their conduct to provoke retaliation make it hard to distinguish between the demand for a just and measured retribution, and the unthinking cry for vengeance which arises from the anguish of war. It is our task, so far as is humanly possible, to draw the line between the two. We must never forget that the record on which we judge these defendants today is the record on which history will judge us tomorrow. To pass these defendants a poisoned chalice is to put it to our lips as well. We must summon such detachment and intellectual integrity to our task that this trial will commend itself to posterity as fulfilling humanity’s aspirations to do justice.

At the very outset, let us dispose of the contention that to put these men to trial is to do them an injustice entitling them to some special consideration. These defendants may be hard pressed but they are not ill used. Let us see what alternative they would have to being tried.

More than a majority of these prisoners surrendered to or were tracked down by the forces of the United States. Could they expect us to make American custody a shelter for our enemies against the just wrath of our Allies? Did we spend American lives to capture them only to save them from punishment? Under the principles of the Moscow Declaration, those suspected war criminals who are not to be tried internationally must be turned over to individual governments for trial at the scene of their outrages. Many less responsible and less culpable American-held prisoners have been and will continue to be turned over to other United Nations for local trial. If these defendants should succeed, for any reason, in escaping the condemnation of this Tribunal, or if they obstruct or abort this trial, those who are American-held prisoners will be delivered up to our continental Allies. For these defendants, however, we have set up an International Tribunal, and have undertaken the burden of participating in a complicated effort to give them fair and dispassionate hearings. That is the best known protection to any man with a defence worthy of being heard. If these men are the first war leaders of a defeated nation to be prosecuted in the name of the law, they are also the first to be given a chance to plead for their lives in the name of the law. Realistically, the Charter of this Tribunal, which gives them a hearing, is also the source of their only hope. It may be that these men of troubled conscience, whose only wish is that the world forget them, do not regard a trial as a favour. But they do have a fair opportunity to defend themselves -a favour which, when in power, they rarely extended even to their fellow countrymen. Despite the fact that public opinion already condemns their acts, we agree that here they must be given a presumption of innocence, and we accept the burden of proving criminal acts and the responsibility of these defendants for their commission.

When I say that we do not ask for convictions unless we prove crime, I do not mean mere technical or incidental transgression of international conventions. We charge guilt on planned and intended conduct that involves moral as well as legal wrong. And we do not mean conduct that is a natural and human, even if illegal, cutting of corners, such as many of us might well have committed had we been in the defendants’ positions. It is not because they yielded to the normal frailties of human beings that we accuse them. It is their abnormal and inhuman conduct which brings them to this bar.

We will not ask you to convict these men on the testimony of their foes. There is no count in the Indictment that cannot be proved by books and records. The Germans were always meticulous record keepers, and these defendants had their share of the Teutonic passion for thoroughness in putting things on paper. Nor were they without vanity. They arranged frequently to be photographed in action. We will show you their own films. You will see their own conduct and hear their own voices as these defendants re-enact for you, from the screen, some of the events in the course of the conspiracy.

We would also make clear that we have no purpose to incriminate the whole German people. We know that the Nazi Party was not put in power by a majority of the German vote. We know it came to power by an evil alliance We would also make clear that we have no purpose to incriminate the whole German people. We know that the Nazi Party was not put in power by a majority of the German vote. We know it came to power by an evil alliance between the most extreme of the Nazi revolutionists, the most unrestrained of the German reactionaries, and the most aggressive of the German militarists. If the German populace had willingly accepted the Nazi programme, no Storm-troopers would have been needed in the early days of the Party, and there would have been no need for concentration camps or the Gestapo, both of which institutions were inaugurated as soon as the Nazis gained control of the German state. Only after these lawless innovations proved successful at home were they taken abroad.

The German people should know by now that the people of the United States hold them in no fear, and in no hate. It is true that the Germans have taught us the horrors of modern warfare, but the ruin that lies from the Rhine to the Danube shows that we, like our Allies, have not been dull pupils. If we are not awed German fortitude and proficiency in war, and if we are not persuaded of their political maturity, we do respect their skill in the arts of peace, their technical competence, and the sober, industrious and self-disciplined character of the masses of the German people. In 1933, we saw the German people recovering prestige in the commercial, industrial and artistic world after the set-back of the last war. We beheld their progress neither with envy nor malice. The Nazi regime interrupted this advance. The recoil of the Nazi aggression has left Germany in ruins. The Nazi readiness to pledge the German word without hesitation and to break it without shame has fastened upon German diplomacy a reputation for duplicity that will handicap it for years. Nazi arrogance has made the boast of the “master race” a taunt that will be thrown at Germans the world over for generations. The Nazi nightmare has given the German name a new and sinister significance throughout the world, which will retard Germany a century. The German, no less than the non-German world, has accounts to settle with these defendants.

The fact of the war and the course of the war, which is the central theme of our case, is history. From September 1st, 1939, when the German armies crossed the Polish frontier, until September, 1942, when they met epic resistance at Stalingrad, German arms seemed invincible. Denmark and Norway, the Netherlands and France, Belgium and Luxembourg, the Balkans and Africa, Poland and the Baltic States, and parts of Russia, all had, been overrun and conquered by swift, powerful, well-aimed blows. That attack on the peace of the world is the crime against international society which brings into international cognizance crimes in its aid and preparation which otherwise might be only internal concerns. It was aggressive war, which the nations of the world had renounced. It was war in violation of treaties, by which the peace of the world was sought to be safeguarded. 

This war did not just happen -it was planned and prepared for over a long period of time and with no small skill and cunning. The world has perhaps never seen such a concentration and stimulation of the energies of any people as that which enabled Germany, twenty years after it was defeated, disarmed and dismembered, to come so near carrying out its plan to dominate Europe. Whatever else we may say of those who were the authors of this war, they did achieve a stupendous work in organisation, and our first task is to examine the means by which these defendants and their fellow conspirators prepared and incited Germany to go to war. 

In general, our case will disclose these defendants all uniting at some time with the Nazi Party in a plan which they well knew could be accomplished only by an outbreak of war in Europe. Their seizure of the German State, their subjugation of the German people, their terrorism and extermination of dissident elements, their planning and waging of war, their calculated and planned ruthlessness in the conduct of warfare, their deliberate and planned criminality toward conquered peoples -all these are ends for which they acted in concert; and all these are phases of the conspiracy, a conspiracy which reached one goal only to set out for another and more ambitious one. We shall also trace for you the intricate web of organisations which these men formed and utilised to accomplish these ends. We will show how the entire structure of offices and officials was dedicated to the criminal purposes and committed to the use of the criminal methods planned by these defendants and their co-conspirators, many of whom war and suicide have put beyond reach.

It is my purpose to open the case, particularly under Count One of the Indictment, and to deal with the Common plan or Conspiracy to achieve ends possible only by resort to Crimes against Peace, War Crimes, and Crimes against Humanity. My emphasis will not be on individual perversions which may have occurred independently of any central plan. One of the dangers ever present in this trial is that it may be protracted by details of particular wrongs and that we will become lost in a “wilderness of single instances.” Nor will I now dwell on the activity of individual defendants except as it may contribute to exposition of the Common Plan. 

The case as presented by the United States will be concerned with the brains and authority behind all the crimes. These defendants were men of a station and rank which does not soil its own hands with blood. They were men who knew how to use lesser folk as tools. We want to reach the planners and designers, the inciters and leaders without whose evil architecture, the world would not have been for so long scourged with the violence and lawlessness, and racked with the agonies and convulsions, of this terrible war.

The case as presented by the United States will be concerned with the brains and authority behind all the crimes. These defendants were men of a station and rank which does not soil its own hands with blood. They were men who knew how to use lesser folk as tools. We want to reach the planners and designers, the inciters and leaders without whose evil architecture, the world would not have been for so long scourged with the violence and lawlessness, and racked with the agonies and convulsions, of this terrible war. 

I shall first take up the lawless road by which these men came to possess the power which they have so used. The chief instrumentality of cohesion in plan and action was the National Socialist German Workers Party, known as the Nazi Party. Some of the defendants were with it from the beginning. Others joined only after success seemed to have validated its lawlessness or power had invested it with immunity from the processes of the law. Adolf Hitler became its supreme leader or “Fuehrer” in 1921. 

On the 24th February, 1920, at Munich, it publicly had proclaimed its programme (1708-PS). Some of its purposes would commend themselves to many good citizens, such as the demands for “profit-sharing in the great industries,” “generous development of provision for old age,” “a land reform suitable to our national requirements,” and “raising the standard of health.” It also made a strong appeal to that sort of nationalism which in ourselves we call patriotism and in our rivals chauvinism. It demanded “equality of rights for the German people in its dealing with other nations and the evolution of the peace treaties of Versailles and St. Germain.” It demanded the “union of all Germans on the basis of the right of self-determination of peoples to form a Great Germany.” It demanded “land and territory (colonies) for the enrichment of our people and the settlement of our surplus population.” All of these, of course, were legitimate objectives if they were to be attained without resort to aggressive warfare.

The Nazi Party from its inception, however, contemplated war. It demanded the “abolition of mercenary troops and the formation of a national army.” It proclaimed that “in view of the enormous sacrifice of life and property demanded of a nation by every war, personal enrichment through war must be regarded as a crime against the nation. We demand, therefore, ruthless confiscation of all war profits.” I do not criticise this policy. Indeed, I wish it were universal. I merely wish to point out that in a time of peace, war was a preoccupation of the Party, and it started the work of making war less offensive to the masses of the people. With this it combined a programme of physical training and sports for youth that became, as we shall see, the cloak for a secret programme of military training. 

The Nazi Party declaration also committed its members to an anti-Semitic programme. It declared that no Jew or any person of non-German blood could be a member of the nation. Such persons were to be disfranchised, disqualified for office, subject to the alien laws, and entitled to nourishment only after the German population had first been provided for. All who had entered Germany after 2nd August, 1914, were to be required forthwith to depart, and all non-German immigration was to be prohibited. 

The Party also avowed, even in those early days, an authoritarian and totalitarian programme for Germany. It demanded creation of a strong central power with unconditional authority, nationalisation of all businesses which had been “amalgamated,” and a “reconstruction” of the national system of education, which “must aim at teaching the pupil to understand the idea of the State (state sociology).” Its hostility to civil liberties and freedom of the Press was distinctly announced in these words: “It must be forbidden to publish newspapers which do not conduce to the national welfare. We demand the legal prosecution of all tendencies in art or literature of a kind likely to disintegrate our life as a nation, and the suppression of institutions which might militate against the above requirements.”

The forecast of religious persecution was clothed in the language of religious liberty, for the Nazi programme stated “We demand liberty for all religious denominations in the State.” But it continued with the limitation, “so far as they are not a danger to it and do not militate against the morality and moral sense of the German race.” 

The Party programme foreshadowed the campaign of terrorism. It announced, “we demand ruthless war upon those whose activities are injurious to the common interests,” and it demanded that such offences be punished with death. 

It is significant that the leaders of this Party interpreted this programme as a belligerent one, certain to precipitate conflict. The Party platform concluded: 

“The leaders of the Party swear to proceed regardless of consequences -if necessary, at the sacrifice of their lives -toward the fulfilment of the foregoing points.” 

It is this Leadership Corps of the Party, not its entire membership, that stands accused before you as a criminal Organisation. 

We have not sought to include every person who may, at some time, have supported the Nazi Party, but only the leadership core which pledged itself to achieve its ends at the risk of their lives. 

Let us now see how the leaders of the Party fulfilled their pledge to proceed regardless of consequences. Obviously, their foreign objectives, which were nothing less than to undo international treaties and to wrest territory from foreign control, as well as most of their internal programme, could be accomplished only by possession of the machinery of the German State. The first effort, accordingly, was to subvert the Weimar Republic by violent revolution. An abortive “putsch” at Munich in 1921 landed many of them in jail. A period of meditation which followed produced “Mein Kampf,” henceforth the source of law for the Party workers and a source of considerable revenue to its supreme leader. The Nazi plans for the violent overthrow of the feeble Republic then turned to plans for its capture.

No greater mistake could be made than to think of the Nazi Party in terms of the loose organisations which we of the Western world call “political parties.” In discipline, structure, and method the Nazi Party was not adapted to the democratic process of persuasion. It was an instrument of conspiracy and of coercion. The Party was not organised to take over power in the German State by winning the support of a majority of the German people; it was organised to seize power in defiance of the will of the people. 

The Nazi Party, under the “Fuehrerprinzip,” was bound by an iron discipline into a pyramid, with the Fuehrer, Adolf Hitler, at the top and broadening into a numerous Leadership Corps, composed of overlords of a very extensive Party membership at the base. By no means all of those who may have supported the movement in one way or another were actual Party members. The membership took the Party oath which in effect amounted to an abdication of personal intelligence and moral responsibility. This was the oath: “I vow inviolable fidelity to Adolf Hitler; I vow absolute obedience to him and to the leaders he designates for me.” The membership in daily practise followed its leaders with an idolatry and self-surrender more Oriental than Western. We will not be obliged to guess as to the motives or goal of the Nazi Party. The immediate aim was to undermine the Weimar Republic. The order to all Party members to work to that end was given in a letter from Hitler of 24th August, 1931, to Rosenberg, of which we will produce the original. 

Hitler wrote:-“I am just reading in the Volkischer Beobachter, edition 235/ 236 page 1, an article entitled ‘Does Wirth intend to come over?’ The tendency of the article is to prevent on our part a crumbling away from the present form of government. I myself am travelling all over Germany to achieve exactly the opposite. May I therefore ask that my own paper will not stab me in the back with tactically unwise articles …” (047-PS)

Captured film enables us to present the defendant, Alfred Rosenberg, who from the screen will himself tell you the story. The S.A. practised violent interference with the elections. We have here the reports of the S.D., describing in detail how its members later violated the secrecy of elections in order to identify those who opposed them. One of the reports makes this explanation:

“The control was effected in the following way: some members of the election-committee marked all the ballot-papers with numbers. During the ballot itself, a voters list was made up. The ballot-papers were handed out in numerical order, therefore it was possible afterwards with the aid of this list to find out the persons who cast no-votes or invalid votes. One sample of these marked ballot-papers is enclosed. The marking was done on the back of the ballot-papers with skimmed-milk.” (R-142) 

The Party activity, in addition to all the familiar forms of political contest, took on the aspect of a rehearsal for warfare. It utilised a Party formation, “Die Sturmabteilungen,” commonly known as the S.A. This was a voluntary organisation of youthful and fanatical Nazis trained for the use of violence under semi-military discipline. Its members began by acting as bodyguards for the Nazi leaders and rapidly expanded from defensive to offensive tactics. They became disciplined ruffians for breaking up opposition meetings and the terrorisation of adversaries. They boasted that their task was to make the Nazi Party “master of the streets.” The S.A. was the parent organisation of a number of others. Its offspring included “Die Schutzstaffeln” commonly known as the S.S., formed in 1925, and distinguished for the fanaticism and cruelty of its members; “Der Sicherheitsdienst,” known as the S.D.; and “Die Geheime Staatspolizei,” the Secret State Police, the infamous Gestapo formed in 1934 immediately after Nazi accession to power.

A glance at a chart of the Party Organisation is enough to show how completely it differed from the political parties we know. It had its own source of law in the Fuehrer and it had its own courts and its own police. The conspirators set up a government within the Party to exercise outside the law every sanction that any legitimate State could exercise and many that it could not. Its chain of command was military, and its formations were martial in name as well as in function. They were composed of battalions set up to bear arms under military discipline, motorised corps, flying corps, and the infamous “Death Head Corps,” which was not misnamed. The Party had its own secret police, its security units, its intelligence and espionage division, its raiding forces, and its youth forces. It established elaborate administrative mechanisms to identify and liquidate spies and informers, to manage concentration camps, to operate death vans, and to finance the whole movement. Through concentric circles of authority, the Nazi Party, as its leadership later boasted, eventually organised and dominated every phase of German life -but not until they had waged a bitter internal struggle characterised by brutal criminality. In preparation for this phase of their struggle they created a party police system. This became the pattern and the instrument of the police State, which was the first goal in their plan. 

The Party formation, including the Leadership Corps of the Party, the S.D., the S.S. the S.A. and the infamous Secret State Police, or Gestapo -all these stand accused before you as criminal organisations; organisations which, as we will prove from their own documents, were recruited only from the recklessly devoted Nazis, ready in conviction and temperament to do the most violent of deeds to advance the common programme. They terrorised and silenced democratic opposition and were able at length to combine with political opportunists, militarists, industrialists, monarchists and political reactionaries. 

A glance at a chart of the Party Organisation is enough to show how completely it differed from the political parties we know. It had its own source of law in the Fuehrer and it had its own courts and its own police. The conspirators set up a government within the Party to exercise outside the law every sanction that any legitimate State could exercise and many that it could not. Its chain of command was military, and its formations were martial in name as well as in function. They were composed of battalions set up to bear arms under military discipline, motorised corps, flying corps, and the infamous “Death Head Corps,” which was not misnamed. The Party had its own secret police, its security units, its intelligence and espionage division, its raiding forces, and its youth forces. It established elaborate administrative mechanisms to identify and liquidate spies and informers, to manage concentration camps, to operate death vans, and to finance the whole movement. Through concentric circles of authority, the Nazi Party, as its leadership later boasted, eventually organised and dominated every phase of German life -but not until they had waged a bitter internal struggle characterised by brutal criminality. In preparation for this phase of their struggle they created a party police system. This became the pattern and the instrument of the police State, which was the first goal in their plan. The Party formation, including the Leadership Corps of the Party, the S.D., the S.S. the S.A. and the infamous Secret State Police, or Gestapo -all these stand accused before you as criminal organisations; organisations which, as we will prove from their own documents, were recruited only from the recklessly devoted Nazis, ready in conviction and temperament to do the most violent of deeds to advance the common programme. They terrorised and silenced democratic opposition and were able at length to combine with political opportunists, militarists, industrialists, monarchists, and political reactionaries.

On January 30,1933 Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of the German Republic. An evil combination, represented in the prisoner’s dock by its most eminent survivors, had succeeded in possessing itself of the machinery of the German Government, a facade behind which they thenceforth would operate to make reality of the war of conquest they so long had plotted. The conspiracy had passed into its second phase. 

We shall now consider the steps, which embraced the most hideous of crimes against humanity, to which the conspirators resorted In perfecting control of the German State and in preparing Germany for the aggressive war indispensable to their ends. 

The Germans of the 1920′ s were a frustrated and baffled people as a result of defeat and the disintegration of their traditional government. The democratic elements, which were trying to govern Germany through the new and feeble machinery of the Weimar Republic, got inadequate support from the democratic forces of the rest of the world. It is not to be denied that Germany, when world-wide depression added to her other problems, was faced with urgent intricate pressures in her economic and political life, which necessitated bold measures. 

The internal measures by which a nation attempts to solve its problems are ordinarily of no concern to other nations. But the Nazi programme from the first was recognised as a desperate programme for a people still suffering the effects of an unsuccessful war. The Nazi policy ends recognised as attainable only by a renewal and more successful outcome of war. The conspirators’ answer to Germany’s problems was nothing less than to plot the the regaining of territories in the First World War and the acquisition of other fertile lands of Eastern Europe by dispossessing or exterminating those who inhabited them. They also contemplated destroying or permanently weakening all other neighbouring peoples so as to win virtual domination over Europe and probably over the world. The precise limits of their ambition we need not define, for it was and is as illegal to wage aggressive war for small stakes as for large ones. 

We find at this period two governments in Germany-the real and the ostensible. The form of the German Republic was maintained for a time, and it was the outward and visible government. But the real authority in the State was outside of and above the law and rested in the Leadership Corps of the Nazi Party.

On February 27, 1933, less than a month after Hitler became Chancellor, the Reichstag building was set on fire. The burning of this symbol of free parliamentary government was so providential for the Nazis that it was believed they staged the fire themselves. Certainly when we contemplate their known crimes, we cannot believe they would shrink from mere arson. It is not necessary, however, to resolve the controversy as to who set the fire. The significant point is in the use that was made of the fire and of the state of public mind it produced. The Nazis immediately accused the Communist Party of instigating and committing the crime, and turned every effort to portray this single act of arson as the beginning of a Communist revolution. Then, taking advantage of the hysteria, the Nazis met this phantom revolution with a real one. In the following December, the German Supreme Court, with commendable courage and independence, acquitted the accused Communists, but it was too late to influence the tragic course of events which the Nazi conspirators had set rushing forward. 

Hitler, on the morning after the fire, obtained from the aged and ailing President von Hindenburg a Presidential decree suspending the extensive guarantees of individual liberty contained in the constitution of the Weimar Republic. The decree provided that “Sections 114, 115, 117, 118, 123, 124, and 153 of the constitution of the German Reich are suspended until further notice. Thus, restrictions on personal liberty, on the right of free expression of opinion, including freedom of the Press, on the right of assembly and the right of association, and violations of the privacy of postal, telegraphic, and telephonic communications and warrants for house searches, orders for confiscation as well as restrictions on property, are also permissible beyond the legal limits otherwise prescribed.” (1390-PS) 

The extent of the restriction on personal liberty under the decree of 28th February, 1933, may be understood by reference to the rights under the Weimar Constitution which were suspended:

Article 114. The freedom of the person is inviolable. Curtailment or deprivation of personal freedom by a public authority is only permissible on a legal basis. Persons who have been deprived of their personal freedom must be informed at the latest on the following day by whose authority and for what reasons the deprivation of freedom was ordered. Opportunity shall be afforded them without delay of submitting objection to their deprivation of freedom. 

Article 115. Every German’s home is his sanctuary and is inviolable. Exceptions may only be made as provided by law. 

Article 117. The secrecy of letters and all postal, telegraphic and telephone communications is inviolable. Exceptions are inadmissible except by Reich law. 

Article 118. Every German has the right, within the limits of the general laws, to express his opinions freely in speech, in writing, in print, in picture form or in any other way. No condition of work or employment may detract from this right and no disadvantage may accrue to him from any person making use of this right.

Article 123. All Germans have the right to assemble peacefully and unarmed without giving notice and without special permission. A Reich law may make previous notification obligatory for assemblies in the open air, and may prohibit them in the case of immediate danger to the public safety. 

Article 124. All Germans have the right to form associations or societies for purposes not contrary to criminal law. This right may not be curtailed by preventive measures. The same provisions apply to religious associations and societies. Every association may become incorporated (Erwerb der Rechtsfaehigkeit) according to the provisions of the civil law. The right may not be refused to any association on the grounds that its aims are political, social-political or religious. 

Article 153. Property is guaranteed by the Constitution. Its content and limits are defined by the laws. Expropriation can only take place for the public benefitand on a legal basis. Adequate compensation shall be granted, unless a Reich law orders otherwise. In the case of dispute concerning the matter to the ordinary civil courts, unless Reich laws determine otherwise. Compensation must be paid if the Reich expropriates property belonging to the Lands, Communes, or public utility associations. Property carries obligations. Its use shall also serve the common good.” (2050-PS) 

It must be said, in fairness to von Hindenburg, that the Constitution itself authorised him temporarily to suspend these fundamental rights “if the public safety and order in the German Reich are considerably disturbed or endangered.” It must also be acknowledged that President Ebert previously had invoked this power. 

But the National Socialist coup was made possible because the terms of the Hitler-Hindenburg decree departed from all previous ones in which the power of suspension had been invoked. Whenever President Ebert had suspended constitutional guarantees of individual rights, his decree had expressly revived the Protective Custody Act adopted by the Reichstag in 1916 during the previous war. This Act guaranteed a judicial hearing within twenty-four hours of arrest, gave a right to have counsel and to inspect all relevant records, provided for appeal, and authorised compensation from Treasury funds for erroneous arrests.

The Hitler-Hindenburg decree of 28th February, 1933, contained no such safeguards. The omission may not have been noted by von Hindenburg. Certainly he did not appreciate its effect. It left the Nazi police and party formations, already existing and functioning under Hitler, completely unrestrained and irresponsible. Secret arrest and indefinite detention without charges, without evidence, without hearing, without counsel, became the method of inflicting inhuman punishment on any whom the Nazi police suspected or disliked. No court could issue an injunction, or writ of habeas corpus, or certiorari. The German people were in the hands of the police, the police were in the hands of the Nazi Party, and the Party was in the hands of a ring of evil men, of whom the defendants here before you are surviving and representative leaders.

ADN-ZB: Im faschistischen Deutschland 1933-45 Unmittelbar nach der faschistischen Machtergreifung werden im Frühjahr 1933 überall im Land Konzentrationslager errichtet. SA-Männer als Lagerwache des KZ’s Oranienburg bei Berlin.

The Nazi conspiracy, as we shall show, always contemplated not merely overcoming current opposition, but exterminating elements which could not be reconciled with its philosophy of the State. It not only sought to establish the Nazi “new order” but to secure its way, as Hitler predicted, “for a thousand years.” Nazis were never in doubt or disagreement as to what those dissident elements were. They were concisely described by one of them, Col. General von Fritzsche, on 11th December, 1938, in these words:

“Shortly after the first war I came to the conclusion that we should have to be victorious in three battles if Germany were to become powerful again: (1) The battle against the working class -Hitler has won this; (2) Against the Catholic Church, perhaps better expressed against Ultramontanism (3) Against the Jews.” (1947-PS)

The warfare against these elements was continuous. The battle in Germany was but a practice skirmish for the world-wide drive against them. We have here in point of geography and of time two groups of crimes against humanity -one within Germany before and during the war, the other in occupied territory during the war. But the two are not separated in Nazi planning. They are a continuous unfolding of the Nazi plan to exterminate peoples and institutions which might serve as a focus or instrument for overturning their “new world order” at any time. We consider these Crimes against Humanity in this address as manifestations of the one Nazi Plan and discuss them according to General von Fritsche’s classification… 

Jackson would continue his statement and address the battle against the Working Class, the battle against the churches, the crimes committed against the Jews, crimes in the conduct of war. I will deal with each of these In later articles.

Jackson concluded his opening statement with this words, and they are important, not only to the Nuremberg Process, but in our day today:

While the defendants and the prosecutors stand before you as individuals, it is not the triumph of either group alone that is committed to your judgement. Above all personalities there are anonymous and impersonal forces whose conflict makes up much of human history. It is yours to throw the strength of the law behind either the one or the other of these forces for at least another generation. What are the forces that are contending before you? 

No charity can disguise the fact that the forces which these defendants represent, the forces that would advantage and delight in their acquittal, are the darkest and most sinister forces in society-dictatorship and oppression, malevolence and passion, militarism and lawlessness. By their fruits we best know them. Their acts have bathed the world in blood and set civilisation back a century. They have subjected their European neighbours to every outrage and torture, every spoliation and deprivation that insolence, cruelty, and greed could inflict. They have brought the German people to the lowest pitch of wretchedness, from which they can entertain no hope of early deliverance. They have stirred hatreds and incited domestic violence on every continent. There are the things that stand in the dock shoulder to shoulder with these prisoners.

The real complaining party at your bar is Civilisation. In all our countries it is still a struggling and imperfect thing. It does not plead that the United States, or any other country, has been blameless of the conditions which made the German people easy victims to the blandishments and intimidations of the Nazi conspirators.

But it points to the dreadful sequence of aggression and crimes I have recited, it points to the weariness of flesh, the exhaustion of resources, and the destruction of all that was beautiful or useful in so much of the world, and to greater potentialities for destruction in the days to come. It is not necessary among the ruins of this ancient and beautiful city with untold members of its civilian inhabitants still buried in its rubble, to argue the proposition that to start or wage an aggressive war has the moral qualities of the worst of crimes. The refuge of the defendants can be only their hope that International Law will lag so far behind the moral sense of mankind that conduct which is crime in the moral sense must be regarded as innocent in law. 

Civilisation asks whether law is so laggard as to be utterly helpless to deal with crimes of this magnitude by criminals of this order of importance. It does not expect that you can make war impossible. It does expect that your juridical action will put the forces of International Law, its prospects, its prohibitions and, most of all, its sanctions, on the side of peace, so that men and women of good will, in all countries, may have “leave to live by no man’s leave, underneath the law.”


Following the trials of the major war criminals, eleven more trials were held, including the Doctor’s Trial, a General’s Trial, also known as the Hostage Trial, and the Einsatzgruppen Trial, as well as others.

To stand in the courtroom where such evidence was presented and powerful testimony given was humbling. To see where learned men, powerful, and even respected men, who had so willingly sacrificed any trace of personal honor and morality, men who aided and abetted a regime which committed the most heinous crimes committed by a civilized “Christian” nation in history left me silent. I have studied these trials since I was in college over 35 years ago. My primary professor, Dr. Helmut Haeussler was an interpreter at the trials.

Since that time I have continued to study them and today as I see the rise of Right Wing movements in Europe, as well as the United States, movements which have at their core many of the same beliefs and principles held by Hitler, the Nazi Party, and the men who stood trial at Nuremberg I find myself frightened.

This is especially so in the United States where former President Donald Trump during and after office made repeated policy statements similar to Hitler and the Nazis. They included: limiting civil rights and freedom of speech, the role of the courts, curtailing freedom of the press, favoring one religion above others, curtailing the legal and civil rights of whole groups of people, expelling millions of people, banning whole groups of other people entry into the country, promising to rid the government of his opponents, to fire military leaders who disagreed with him in mass, and to commit the military to use methods that are condemned as war crimes, war crimes such as were prosecuted by the United States and her Allies at Nuremberg. Many of his radical supporters, and rivals in the Republican Party are legislating such policies at state level, while members of the House of Representatives are using the same tactics as Nazi members of the Reichstag before and during the Nazi seizure of power.

To make matters more frightening, many of Trump’s supporters see no problem with this and are often shown on video threatening opponents, advocating even more extreme and violent measures than Trump himself. They justify their proposed polices by saying that these measures are to “protect the country,” and to Make America Great Again.” 

But at what price?

In Judgement at Nuremberg, the film version of the Judges’ Trial, Spencer Tracy played Judge Dan Heywood. In the scene at which the verdicts were read, he gave this speech, some of which echoed the words of Justice Robert Jackson’s closing argument in the Major War Criminal Trial.

“Janning, to be sure, is a tragic figure. We believe he loathed the evil he did. But compassion for the present torture of his soul must not beget forgetfulness of the torture and the death of millions by the Government of which he was a part. Janning’s record and his fate illuminate the most shattering truth that has emerged from this trial: If he and all of the other defendants had been degraded perverts, if all of the leaders of the Third Reich had been sadistic monsters and maniacs, then these events would have no more moral significance than an earthquake, or any other natural catastrophe.

But this trial has shown that under a national crisis, ordinary – even able and extraordinary – men can delude themselves into the commission of crimes so vast and heinous that they beggar the imagination. No one who has sat through the trial can ever forget them: men sterilized because of political belief; a mockery made of friendship and faith; the murder of children. How easily it can happen. There are those in our own country too who today speak of the “protection of country” – of ‘survival’. A decision must be made in the life of every nation at the very moment when the grasp of the enemy is at its throat. Then, it seems that the only way to survive is to use the means of the enemy, to rest survival upon what is expedient – to look the other way. Well, the answer to that is ‘survival as what’? A country isn’t a rock. It’s not an extension of one’s self. It’s what it stands for. It’s what it stands for when standing for something is the most difficult! Before the people of the world, let it now be noted that here, in our decision, this is what we stand for: justice, truth, and the value of a single human being.”

A nation is what it stands for. Russia in all of its guises has never been a beacon of liberty. It has from the times of the Czars, to the Soviet State, to Putin has always been an autocratic state built on terrorizing its own people and conquering its neighbors. The Russian genocide against Ukraine is simply another chapter in a long history of brutality.

The ideals that have marked the American experiment have never been perfectly practiced by the United States, but they are still the hallmark of the last and greatest hope of civilization. They are the ideals which lead people around the world to want to become Americans, they are the ideals which sustain us. But what Trump, his followers, and many Republicans in Congress is that they are not important, and in fact should be limited or abrogated entirely. But this is the way of expediency, and the end of the American experiment.

Standing beside the dock at Nuremberg I was humbled by the fact that I was where such history had been made, and at the same time I was frightened for my country and the world. This is important because the United States is not immune from going down the path of the Third Reich. Historian Timothy Snyder wrote:

“The European history of the twentieth century shows us that societies can break, democracies can fall, ethics can collapse, and ordinary men can find themselves standing over death pits with guns in their hands. It would serve us well today to understand why.”

The Nuremberg trials help us to understand why. We cannot forget them.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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“A country isn’t a rock. It’s not an extension of one’s self. It’s what it stands for. It’s what it stands for when standing for something is the most difficult!” The Second Trump Impeachment Trial and Judgement at Nuremberg

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am returning to an old article about the Holocaust, the Nuremberg Trials, the film Judgement at Nuremberg in the wake of the attempted Trump Coup of 6 January 2021 where his Cult, led by White Supremacists, Neo-Nazis, Neo-Confederates, Evangelical Christian Theocrats, unconstitutional and illegal “self-proclaimed militias,” True Believers of the QAnon Conspiracy Cult, were urged on by the former President, members of Congress, his family, and his personal lawyer to attack the Capitol. At the time Congress was meeting in its solemn task to finalize and certify the Electoral College Vote to certify President Elect Joe Biden, and Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris as the next President and Vice President of the United States. The assault was the grossest violation of our Republic, Democracy, and Constitution in history, and it was done by Americans, many of whom were military or former military or law enforcement officers. Likewise, elected officials from several states took part in it while Republican members of the House are believed to have aided them from the inside. Despite the fact that Trump is out of office he still controls the GOP which at state and local levels is already conducting a Stalin like Purge of GOP officials from the party and are even threatening well respected elected and appointed officials including the number three Republican in the House of Representative, Liz Cheney. These are not Republicans, they little different than former German Conservatives who joined the Nazis following Hitler’s appointment as Chancellor. They have surrendered any principles they once held and have become swore their unconditional loyalty to Adolf Hitler, only now that loyalty is to Trump and Trump alone.

That means that the danger is not over and in the week leading up to Trump’s Second Impeachment Trial, during and after it means that our Republic and anyone who actually supports and defends the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic is in danger for their lives. This judgement is not some figment of my imagination but based on the words and actions of Trump and his Cult over the last five and a half years.

With that I take you back to a different time and different lan, but one not  so different of cultural and political distress. As I said this is an older article, now somewhat edited, which should send chills up the spine of anyone of any party who still believes in the American Experiment and those words of our Declaration “all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights including life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness…” and that this founding principle is the basis of an ever expanding definition of liberty for all people of all times who are blessed to live after Thomas Jefferson penned those words.

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Pasre Steve+

I read and write a lot about Weimar and Nazi Germany as well as the Holocaust. They were the focus of my undergraduate major working under Dr. Helmut Heussler who served as a translator and interrogator at Nuremberg while I was a student at California State University at Northridge and later in my Masters of Arts in Military History. I read the documents, the histories, the narratives, and the reports both in English and German. I study the perpetrators, the victims, and yes the bystanders as well and there is not enough time in one man’s life to read all of them, but I will try.

Likewise I visit the sites where things happened in Germany, and every time that I make a trip to those places I learn more and believe me it is not comfortable.  When I visited the Palace of Justice in Nuremberg a few years ago I saw a picture of Dr. Heussler doing his work. Back then he was very young and it would be a number of years before he finished college and went on to his doctorate. When I saw his picture I remembered just how important he was in opening my eyes to the dark side of humanity; even those people that are not truly evil; those like most of us who exist between the shades of gray between sainthood and the devil.

The histories, the documents, the narratives paint a dark picture of humanity and the fallibility of people. The portrait that they paint a disturbing picture of the true nature of what is in all of us. When I look at the pictures and see the films I can see that the lessons of that time have not been learned. Dr. Timothy Snyder wrote:

“The world is now changing, reviving fears that were familiar in Hitler’s time, and to which Hitler responded. The history of the Holocaust is not over. Its precedent is eternal, and its lessons have not yet been learned.”

In the age where men who admire tyrants and authoritarians like Trump, Putin, Farage, Erdrogan, Assad, and so many others it is important that we try to learn the lessons lest we fall into the same trap as our ancestors and become perpetrators, victims, or bystanders. I often find myself wondering what will be said we Americans of our time in say fifty years or so. I have a feeling that it will not be favorable or sympathetic.

Such a fascination with the thoughts of others years after I am likely to be dead may seem unusually circumspect. But my call as a priest and a historian doesn’t allow me not to care about the future, or ignore present realities. The fact is that totalitarian regimes and events like the Holocaust are all too common in human history, one of those is the connection of humanity with its past and future, and that humanity being the constant in our history. Yehuda Bauer wrote:

“The horror of the Holocaust is not that it deviated from human norms; the horror is that it didn’t. What happened may happen again, to others not necessarily Jews, perpetrated by others, not necessarily Germans. We are all possible victims, possible perpetrators, possible bystanders.”

The fact is that there are very few true saints and likewise very few truly evil people. Quite obviously Adolf Hitler and many of his associates fell in the latter category. The rest of us, and for that matter most of the people on all sides during from the Nazi seizure of power until the Gotterdammerung of the Third Reich in in the flames of Berlin in 1945 fall somewhere in the gray area between the truly evil and sainthood. Yet, truthfully all of us given the right conditions are capable of becoming perpetrators, victims, or the worst, bystanders who turn their backs on evil because it doesn’t seem to affect us; but it does.

Admittedly this is a dark subject and as I always reminded my students “the one constant in history are fallible human beings.” 

During our recent blizzard and snow event my wife Judy was away, so one of the nights that I was alone I re-watched the film Judgment at Nuremberg. The film is profoundly disturbing not only because of the subjects that it deals with but also when we look at the great uncertainty time that we live and how similar it is to the world of the late 1920s and early 1930s. In one of the more disturbing scenes of the film, Maximillian Schell, who played Hans Rolfe, the defense counsel for Ernst Janning, played by Burt Lancaster gives a summation in the final defense of his client who has already admitted his guilt which is remarkable because he tells the truth about the guilt of everyone.

Rolfe’s summation of his defense following his client’s admission of guilt is damning. It is something that almost all of us do. It is how we look at the atrocities of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, the willful starvation of millions by criminal regimes; and then stand by saying little or nothing and doing nothing, sometimes even supporting the leaders or the regimes that commit these actions.

So please, no matter what your political point of view, take the time to watch clip or the whole film, and read the transcript of Schell’s speech below. It’s far easier than trying to do all the reading, study, and research that I have done.

“Your Honor, it is my duty to defend Ernst Janning, and yet Ernst Janning has said he is guilty. There’s no doubt, he feels his guilt. He made a great error in going along with the Nazi movement, hoping it would be good for his country. But, if he is to be found guilty, there are others who also went along, who also must be found guilty. Ernst Janning said, “We succeeded beyond our wildest dreams.” Why did we succeed, Your Honor? What about the rest of the world? Did it not know the intentions of the Third Reich? Did it not hear the words of Hitler’s broadcast all over the world? Did it not read his intentions in Mein Kampf, published in every corner of the world? Where’s the responsibility of the Soviet Union, who signed in 1939 the pact with Hitler, enabled him to make war? Are we not to find Russia guilty? Where’s the responsibility of the Vatican, who signed in 1933 the Concordat with Hitler, giving him his first tremendous prestige? Are we not to find the Vatican guilty? Where’s the responsibility of the world leader, Winston Churchill, who said in an open letter to the London Times in 1938 – 1938! Your Honor – “were England to suffer national disaster should pray to God to send a man of the strength of mind and will of an Adolf Hitler!” Are we not to find Winston Churchill guilty? Where is the responsibility of those American industrialists, who helped Hitler to rebuild his armaments and profited by that rebuilding? Are we not to find the American industrialists guilty? No, Your Honor. No! Germany alone is not guilty: The whole world is as responsible for Hitler’s Germany. It is an easy thing to condemn one man in the dock. It is easy to condemn the German people to speak of the basic flaw in the German character that allowed Hitler to rise to power and at the same time positively ignore the basic flaw of character that made the Russians sign pacts with him, Winston Churchill praise him, American industrialists profit by him! Ernst Janning said he is guilty. If he is, Ernst Janning’s guilt is the world’s guilt – no more and no less.”

Spencer Tracy who played Judge Dan Haygood in the film pronounced the guilty verdict in these words and in this film clip.

“The trial conducted before this Tribunal began over eight months ago. The record of evidence is more than ten thousand pages long, and final arguments of counsel have been concluded.

Simple murders and atrocities do not constitute the gravamen of the charges in this indictment. Rather, the charge is that of conscious participation in a nationwide, government organized system of cruelty and injustice in violation of every moral and legal principle known to all civilized nations. The Tribunal has carefully studied the record and found therein abundant evidence to support beyond a reasonable doubt the charges against these defendants.

Herr Rolfe, in his very skillful defense, has asserted that there are others who must share the ultimate responsibility for what happened here in Germany. There is truth in this. The real complaining party at the bar in this courtroom is civilization. But the Tribunal does say that the men in the dock are responsible for their actions, men who sat in black robes in judgment on other men, men who took part in the enactment of laws and decrees, the purpose of which was the extermination of humans beings, men who in executive positions actively participated in the enforcement of these laws — illegal even under German law. The principle of criminal law in every civilized society has this in common: Any person who sways another to commit murder, any person who furnishes the lethal weapon for the purpose of the crime, any person who is an accessory to the crime — is guilty.

Herr Rolfe further asserts that the defendant, Janning, was an extraordinary jurist and acted in what he thought was the best interest of this country. There is truth in this also. Janning, to be sure, is a tragic figure. We believe he loathed the evil he did. But compassion for the present torture of his soul must not beget forgetfulness of the torture and the death of millions by the Government of which he was a part. Janning’s record and his fate illuminate the most shattering truth that has emerged from this trial: If he and all of the other defendants had been degraded perverts, if all of the leaders of the Third Reich had been sadistic monsters and maniacs, then these events would have no more moral significance than an earthquake, or any other natural catastrophe. But this trial has shown that under a national crisis, ordinary — even able and extraordinary — men can delude themselves into the commission of crimes so vast and heinous that they beggar the imagination. No one who has sat at through trial can ever forget them: men sterilized because of political belief; a mockery made of friendship and faith; the murder of children. How easily it can happen.

There are those in our own country too who today speak of the “protection of country” — of “survival.” A decision must be made in the life of every nation at the very moment when the grasp of the enemy is at its throat. Then, it seems that the only way to survive is to use the means of the enemy, to rest survival upon what is expedient — to look the other way.

Well, the answer to that is “survival as what?” A country isn’t a rock. It’s not an extension of one’s self. It’s what it stands for. It’s what it stands for when standing for something is the most difficult!

Before the people of the world, let it now be noted that here, in our decision, this is what we stand for: justice, truth, and the value of a single human being.”

Sadly, little has changed in the character of humanity. If we do or say nothing, if we support those who do such things, if we close our eyes and pretend that it is not our problem, then we too are the guilty party.  As Hannah Arendt wrote: “The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.”

Sophie Scholl, a young university student who died at the hands of the Nazis for daring to distribute leaflets telling the truth about Hitler’s regime wrote:

“The real damage is done by those millions who want to ‘survive.’ The honest men who just want to be left in peace. Those who don’t want their little lives disturbed by anything bigger than themselves. Those with no sides and no causes. Those who won’t take measure of their own strength, for fear of antagonizing their own weakness. Those who don’t like to make waves—or enemies. Those for whom freedom, honour, truth, and principles are only literature. Those who live small, mate small, die small. It’s the reductionist approach to life: if you keep it small, you’ll keep it under control. If you don’t make any noise, the bogeyman won’t find you. But it’s all an illusion, because they die too, those people who roll up their spirits into tiny little balls so as to be safe. Safe?! From what? Life is always on the edge of death; narrow streets lead to the same place as wide avenues, and a little candle burns itself out just like a flaming torch does. I choose my own way to burn.”

Whether I live one day, or another fifty years, I do not want to be a person who wants to be remembered as one who “just wants to survive,” or “left in peace,” or as Arendt said one “who never makes up their mind to be good or evil.” Nor can I be one who just goes along with things as Janning did, carrying out the orders of Hitler and the Nazi Regime in Judgment at Nuremberg, even though personally disgusted by them or be one for whom freedom, honour, truth, and principles are only literature.” 

How many Republican officials and Trump appointed judges are doing just what Jannina did without any feeling of remorse of conscience? I would dare say more than any of us would think possible.

That being said, I will never stop speaking the truth regardless of the cost. That is the only way I know how to live. Life has taught me that not to do so is to countenance unspeakable crimes, and surrender to the whims of those of whom the words of the Declaration, the Preamble of the Constitution, the Gettysburg Address, Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s First Inaugural Address and Four Freedoms, Dr. Martin Luther King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail, John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address, and speech at the Berlin Wall, King’s I Have a Dream and I Have Been to the Mountaintop speeches, Frederick Douglass’s Fourth of July Speech, and so many others have called us to. Will will follow in their step’s or those of Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Laval, Petain, and so many other tyrants or would by tyrants like Trump?

That my friends is the question we all must ask ourselves today. It is actually a simple but potential soul rending question. The answer to it determines who you chose to serve and what you will defend, our Declaration, Constitution, Republic,  Democracy and Freedom, or the tyranny of “liberty for the few, slavery for the masses.”

That is the question. As Bob Dylan sang “It might be the Devil, it might be the Lord, but you gotta serve somebody…”

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