What Was the Purpose of the Nuremberg Trials?

The purpose of the Nuremburg trials, held in Nuremburg, Germany between 1945 and 1949, was to prosecute Nazi war criminals after World War II. The International Military Tribune that conducted the trails consisted of judges from each of the main Allied powers: the United States, Great Britain, France and the Soviet Union.

Leaders of the Nazi Party were indicted on four counts. Crimes of conspiracy involved planning or assisting those involved in crimes against the peace. Crimes against the peace involved preparation, initiation and waging of wars of aggression. War crimes included the killing of civilians and POWs and the wanton destruction of property. Crimes against humanity included enslavement, torture, deportation and genocide. Twenty-four people were indicted in the initial war crimes trial, and 185 people were indicted in later trials.

Some of the most prominent Nazi leadership, including Adolf Hitler and Joseph Goebbels, committed suicide before the beginning of the trials. Of the 24 defendants who were accused of war crimes, 12 received death sentences, nine received prison sentences ranging from 10 years to life, and three were acquitted. Of the 185 people later tried, 12 received death sentences and 85 others received prison sentences. Though the Nuremberg trials were controversial at the time, they established a precedent for international law and eventually led to the establishment of the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court.