Primary Source: Prosecution's Closing Argument at the Nuremberg Trials

Instructor: David Wilson

David has taught college history and holds an MA in history.

The Nuremberg Trials sought to bring Nazi leaders and generals to justice after the atrocities of World War II and the Holocaust. Learn about the conclusion of these trials in this lesson.

Nuremberg Trials

After the conclusion of World War II, Allied leadership brought criminal charges against the leaders of the Nazi government and military. Seeking justice for war crimes and the perpetration of the Holocaust, dozens of prominent Nazis were sentenced to prison or execution. While some Nazis fled from the Allies' prosecution and some Nazis were acquitted of any crimes, the prosecution of these war criminals remains one of the great achievements in the history of law.

However, the Nuremberg Trials were not a slapdash procedure with the assumption that all persons put on trial would be found guilty. Instead, the prosecution put forth a meticulous argument about each person they put on trial: Nazis who had administered concentration camps faced different charges than those who carried out medical experiments or who ran the death squads on the frontlines of the war.

The Nuremberg Trials came to a conclusion in 1946. The prosecution brought its last charges against the defendants, thoroughly laying out the crimes committed, the testimony received, and the recommendations for sentencing. Let's take a look at some excerpts from this closing argument now. The full text can be found at this link:

Text from Prosecution Closing Argument at the Nuremberg Trials:


Today marks the closing week of this trial, which began on December 9, 1946. Today we have behind us 133 trial days, approximately 33 of which were consumed by the Prosecution in presenting the case-in-chief and rebuttal evidence. Thirty-two witnesses gave evidence for the Prosecution and thirty witnesses, in addition to the twenty-three defendants, gave evidence for the Defense. The Prosecution submitted in evidence 570 exhibits, most of which were German documents captured by the Allied armies. Defense exhibits totaled 855, consisting primarily of affidavits. By the time the judgment has been read, the record will exceed 12,000 pages.

It is appropriate, in looking back over the history of this proceeding, to note the fairness with which the trial has been conducted. Whatever the defendants could say in their behalf, they were allowed to say. The Tribunal has been unstinting in its efforts to procure such witnesses, documents, and facilities as the Defense has requested. As Justice Jackson has stated, ''They have been given the kind of a trial, which they, in the days of their pomp and power, never gave to any man.'' Several of these defendants are peculiarly able to appreciate that fact to the fullest. The defendant Karl Brandt, for example, is no stranger to Nazi justice. In April 1945, as a result of difficulties with Hitler and Bormann, he was afforded a trial of a few hours on a charge of treason. Tried by an SS Obergruppenfuehrer commander, he was sentenced to death. Only the confusion of the dying days of the war saved him for this reunion.

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