On the 11th April 1961, the trial of Nazi SS Lieutenant Colonel Adolf Eichmann began in Israel. Eichmann was known as the architect of the Final Solution, the man who coordinated the transportation of Jews from across Europe to Death Camps in the East.
At the end of the Second World War, Eichmann had fled Europe in an attempt to escape being tried for war crimes. Eventually arriving in Argentina with his family, he lived for a number of years under the assumed name Ricardo Klement. However, as one of the world’s most wanted Nazi war criminals, the Israeli secret police – the Mossad – spent years tirelessly searching for him. After being given the tip-off that he may be in Buenos Aires, they eventually captured him and forcibly took him to Jerusalem for trial.
With Eichmann sitting inside a purpose-built bullet-proof glass booth, the trial lasted 16 weeks and exposed for the first time the extent of the atrocities that occurred in the Holocaust. Eichmann’s main line of defense was that he was not personally involved with the killings, and was just following orders. However, on the 15th December 1961, the three judges hearing the case unanimously found him guilty of the 15 charges against him and sentenced him to death. Eichmann was executed by hanging six months later, his body cremated, and his ashes scattered at sea.
On the 13th December 1937, the Nanking Massacre began at the end of the Battle of Nanking – part of the Second Sino-Japanese War. Troops from the Imperial Japanese Army captured the city, which at the time was the capital of the Republic of China, and began a six-week long series of atrocities against the city’s residents. A highly contentious historical event, estimates of the number of victims vary from 40,000 to over 300,000 dead.
Japanese troops arrived at the city on the 9th December, and despite attempts by a group of foreigners in the city to negotiate a peaceful handover of the city, Chinese Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek ordered that the city be defended “to the last man”. Meanwhile, Japanese troops were ordered to “kill all captives”.
The Chinese defence collapsed on the 12th, and the victorious Japanese army entered the following day. According to eyewitness accounts, the following six weeks saw them engage in numerous war crimes including rape, murder, theft and arson. Captured Chinese troops were the victims of extrajudicial killings by machine gun or by being used for live bayonet practice. Meanwhile children, the elderly, and approximately 20,000 other women of the city were raped with many killed immediately afterwards.
Japanese General Iwane Matsui expressed his regret at the behaviour of his troops just a few days after taking control of the city, but atrocities didn’t end until the start of February 1938. At the end of the Second World War, the International Military Tribunal for the Far East convicted only two people for their role in the massacre.
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.