October 16, 1946: Ten Nazi leaders are hanged at Nuremberg.
Of the twenty-four men who stood on trial at the “greatest trial in history”, twelve were sentenced to death. Of these twelve, one had been tried in absentia and had probably died in May of 1945 (Martin Bormann), while another escaped the noose by committing suicide the night before his scheduled execution (Hermann Göring). Although these twenty-four men represented who the tribunal believed could be held most accountable for aggravating and planning a war of aggression (not to mention genocide), several key figures were missing from the trial. Hitler, Himmler, and Goebbels had all committed suicide months before the trial began. Reinhard Heydrich had been assassinated 1942, and Adolf Eichmann had fled to South America. The doctors’ and judges’ trials were conducted separately. The officials who were tried were each indicted for at least two of the following charges:
- Participation in a common plan or conspiracy for the accomplishment of a crime against peace
- Planning, initiating and waging wars of aggression and other crimes against peace
- War crimes
- Crimes against humanity
The ten who were eventually found guilty and executed were:
Hans Frank,General-Governor of the Nazi-administrated portion of Poland. Like many of his colleagues, Frank earned a nickname for his fruitful career. His was the “Jew Butcher of Kraków”. Frank, one of the few of the accused to show remorse for his actions, said before his death that “a thousand years will pass and still Germany’s guilt will not have been erased.”
Wilhelm Frick, Reich Minister of the Interior. Frick also co-authored the Nuremberg Laws, and his last words were “long live eternal Germany”.
Alfred Jodl, colonel general and a high-ranking figure of the OKW. In 1953, Jodl was acquitted of the main charges brought against him at Nuremberg.
Ernst Kaltenbrunner, Chief of the Reich Main Security Office. He was the highest-ranking SS member present at the Nuremberg Trials, and one of his last statements was that he regretted “that crimes were committed of which [he] had no knowledge” - an almost laughable statement (based on the evidence presented, the court had found him guilty of crimes against humanity and of war crimes).
Wilhelm Keitel, head of the OKW and Hitler’s unofficial war minister. Keitel requested that the International Military Tribunal execute him as a military man (by firing squad), but his request was denied. In his last words, he asked for “God Almighty to have mercy on the German people”.
Some maintain that the American executioner John C. Woods purposely botched the executions, because the length of the rope was not sufficient to snap the necks of the accused immediately; Keitel’s hanging was particularly gruesome - it took twenty-four minutes for him to strangle himself to death.
Joachim von Ribbentrop, Reich Minister for Foreign Affairs. His last words were “I wish peace to the world”. Ribbentrop’s execution was also carried out poorly; according to most accounts, it took somewhere between ten to twenty minutes for him to die.
Alfred Rosenberg, Leader of the Foreign Policy Office, Reich Minister for the Occupied Eastern Territories, party Reichsleiter, and, most importantly, primary author of many components of Nazi ideology. Rosenberg met his execution stoically, and his hanging was one of the swiftest.
Fritz Sauckel, Gauleiter of Thuringia and director of German labor. As “General Plenipotentiary for Labour Deployment”, Sauckel was responsible for the administration of the hundreds of thousands (to millions) of people who were forced to labor for German industry. Sauckel went to the gallows defiantly, declaring “I am dying innocent. The sentence is wrong. God protect Germany and make Germany great again. Long live Germany!”
Arthur Seyss-Inquart, Reichskommissar of the occupied Dutch territories. His IQ was reportedly the second-highest of all the defendants, at 141. Seyss-Inquart was the last to be executed, and his last words were “I hope that this execution is the last act of the tragedy of the Second World War and that the lesson taken from this world war will be that peace and understanding should exist between peoples. I believe in Germany.”
Julius Streicher, publisher of the inflammatory newspaper Der Stürmer and Gauleiter of Franconia. Streicher was not a high-ranking official, nor did he participate in the planning of the war or the Holocaust, but his role as “Jew-Baiter Number One” was enough for the IMT to find him guilty of crimes against humanity. His execution was the most melodramatic, and he made many theatrical statements as he went to his death (“Heil Hitler!” and “The Bolsheviks will hang you one day!” among them). His IQ was also the lowest of any of the defendants, at 106.
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