After the liberation
The Allied troops were met with a horrible sight when they arrived in the extermination- and concentration camps in 1945: piles of dead bodies, human remains, and ashes.
The survivors in the concentration camps were barely alive. The prisoners suffered from starvation and disease – and many thousands died in the first months after the liberation.
In many cases the surviving Jews refused to return to their homes – or their homes had simply ceased to exist. The local residents often persecuted those Jews who tried to return. As in Poland, where Jews returning to Kielce in 1946 fell victim to pogroms committed by Poles. 42 Jews were killed in the Kielce pogrom of 1946.
Thus, hundreds of thousands of Jews were without a home in a Europe destroyed and impoverished by war. For a second time, the Jews had to be placed in camps. Frequently, it was the same camps that they had been placed in during the war. The Jews had become ‘displaced persons’, and for most governments and nations a Jew was persona non grata.
Following the war, high-ranking Nazis, the military leaders and leading party functionaries were prosecuted. For this purpose, the International Military Tribunal was established in Nuremberg in August 1945, later followed by other tribunals.
The Tribunal was set up by the Allied great powers: The United States, the Soviet Union, United Kingdom and France. Until October 1946 22 accused were prosecuted for crimes against peace (the planning and carrying out of wars of aggression), war crimes, and crimes against humanity.
The Court defined crimes against humanity as murders, annihilation, slavery, deportation…or persecution based on political, racial or religious affiliation. The accused were top Nazi politicians, party functionaries, military personnel and technocrats.
The tribunal sentenced 12 of the accused to death by hanging, including Hermann Göring (Hitler’s second-in-commande, who committed suicide before the execution), Hans Frank , Alfred Rosenberg, Julius Streicher, Joachim von Ribbentrop, Wilhelm Keitel, Ernst Kaltenbrunner, Fritz Sauckel, Alfred Jodl, Arthur Seyss-Inquart, Wilhelm Frick and Martin Bormann (in absentia).
Three other accused were sentenced to life in prison: Rudolf Hess, Walther Funk and Erich Raeder. A dozen other accused received long-term prison sentences.
The result of the trial
The extermination of the European Jews was not an independent count at the trial, but was included in ’crimes against humanity’. Many of the murderers, tormentors and henchmen have since 1945 been convicted for the murder of Jews based on the guidelines from the Nuremberg Tribunal. Several of these have been executed.
The International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg thus declared that:
• Several Nazi institutions were ‘criminal organisations’, among them the Gestapo, SS, SD and the Nazi Party. The members of these institutions could therefore be accused and convicted – if their individual guilt could be established.
• Persons who committed a criminal act according to international law were individually responsible for their actions. As an accused, it was not possible to explain away one’s actions by referring to orders from above. The tribunal thus stated clearly that there existed no excuse for a criminal action.
• All warfare was subject to international treaties.
It is important to note that war criminals were convicted according to European judicial principles of defence, examination of witnesses, evidence, etc. It was thus necessary to prove the accused guilty according to the law before the sentencing.
As a result of the trials, the public came to know much more about the crimes against humanity (and especially against the Jews) that had taken place in the Nazis’ horrible concentration- and extermination camps.
War crimes do not have a statute of limitations. Thus, war criminals can still be prosecuted. Quite a number of Nazis escaped from Europe after World War II – or lived an anonymous life in Europe. Although Nazi-hunters have tracked down many Nazis, some have never been caught.
Perhaps the most famous trial against an escaped Nazi was the trial against Adolf Eichmann. Eichmann escaped from Austria in 1946 and lived in Argentina from the 1950’s. He was brought to Israel in 1961, after he had been captured by Israeli agents in 1960. As one of the key figures in the implementation of the Final Solution – realised in his meticulous deportations of Jews from all over Europe to the extermination camps in Poland – he was convicted and executed in Israel in 1962, among other things for crimes against the Jewish people. The Eichmann Trial paved the way for the accounts of many Holocaust survivors.
Klaus Barbie, the “Butcher from Lyons”, was found and caught in 1971. Klaus Barbie worked as head of the Security Police in Lyons during World War II and was responsible for the arrest of 85 Jews in Lyons. They were all sent to Auschwitz. In 1987 he was convicted of crimes against humanity and sentenced to life imprisonment.