20 November 1945
Nuremberg Trials Begin
While a whole series of Nazi leaders were put on trial in the German city of Nuremberg between 1945 and 1949, the most famous of these was the first. Conducted by an International Military Tribunal between November 20, 1945, and October 1, 1946, this trial determined the fate of the twenty-four most important Nazis who had been captured to date. Among those tried were Luftwaffe commander Hermann Goering, army commander Wilhelm Keitel, and Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop.

The primary argument of the defense was that the court was behaving ex post facto—that is, they were prosecuting actions that were only declared to be crimes after they were committed. Therefore the International Military Court was accused of practicing “victor’s justice.” Nevertheless, of the twenty-four Nazis on trial nineteen were convicted, of crimes against the peace, war crimes, and/or “crimes against humanity.” Three others were acquitted, one was declared medically unfit to stand trial, and one more committed suicide before his verdict was read.

In spite of its controversial nature, the Nuremberg Trials would set a long-lasting precedent for international organizations to prosecute a nation’s political leaders. Soon after the trials a movement was launched for the creation of some kind of permanent international criminal court, but such a court did not come into existence until the 1990s.

- The Nuremberg War Crimes Trials