On the 20th November 1945 the first, and best known, of the Nuremberg Trials began. Held by the Allies in order to bring senior Nazis to justice for their part in the war crimes committed by the regime, the trial lasted for almost a year with verdicts ranging from prison terms to death sentences. Although criticized by some for being a form of “victors’ justice”, the Nuremberg Trials laid the foundations for a permanent international criminal court.
The Allies announced their intention of punishing German war crimes while the Second World War was still being fought and published a number of declarations, all highlighting their resolve to prosecute those who committed crimes during the war. This intention was repeated at both the Yalta and Potsdam conferences 1945.
Procedures for the trials were finally agreed under the London Charter of the International Military Tribunal on the 8th August 1945. This defined three types of crime: crimes against peace, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, and stated that members of the military and civilians could be brought to trial.
The first trial, of 24 defendants and a number of Nazi organisations, began on the 20th November at the Palace of Justice in Nuremberg. Martin Bormann was tried and sentenced in absentia, although it was later discovered that he had committed suicide many months previously. Another defendant, Robert Ley, committed suicide a week after the trial began.
All but three of the defendants were found guilty, of whom twelve were sentenced to death. The highest ranking of these was Hermann Göring, who committed suicide the night before his execution.