Reactions to the first Nuremberg Trials
Francis Biddle, former United States Attorney General, was the most well-known member of the tribunal during the first Nuremberg trials. During the war Biddle had initially opposed prosecution for any crimes committed prior to the war’s beginning, on legal grounds. After Yalta, and the increasing weight of evidence against the Nazis, his views shifted. When the tribunal found the SS and Gestapo (as well as other Nazi organizations) to be criminal, it established any member of the organizations to be war criminals. Biddle argued that those conscripted into the criminal organizations should not be so considered, and prevailed in his argument.
Harlan Fiske Stone, the Chief Justice of the United States, found the Nuremberg trials to be an example of victor’s vengeance, rather than international justice, and opined they were fraught with inconsistencies. The German High Command which planned and executed the invasion of Poland in 1939 were found guilty of crimes against humanity, for example. The Soviet generals who did the same, conspiring with the Germans, were not, nor were they charged with any crimes. “This is a little too sanctimonious a fraud to meet my old-fashioned ideas,” wrote Stone, while calling the procedures “a high grade lynching party”.
The Chief Prosecutor for the United States was Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson. During and following the trial Jackson expressed his doubts over proprieties to colleagues and to President Harry Truman. Jackson informed the President that the French were so abusing German prisoners of war that the British and American occupying troops were in the process of removing them from French custody, even as French prosecutors were charging the Germans with war crimes based on less harsh treatment of prisoners. Jackson wrote Truman in October 1945 to warn the President of the fact that some of the Allies were committing some of the same crimes for which they were prosecuting the Germans.
“We are prosecuting plunder and our Allies are practicing it,” Jackson wrote to the President. “We say aggressive war is a crime and one of our Allies asserts sovereignty over the Baltic States based on no title except conquest,” referring to the Soviet occupation of the formerly sovereign states. His fellow Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas agreed that the trials were flawed, calling them a creation of law and prosecution under it for acts committed several years before the fact. Douglas later wrote, in a critique of the trials, that they were conducted, “to suit the passion and clamor of the time.” He called the trials and the tribunal “unprincipled”.
Most of the criticism of the trials were based on legal technicalities and procedures. The tribunal, for example, decided for itself that it would “â¦not be bound by the technical rules of evidence.” The tribunal thus claimed to themselves the decision whether to admit evidence without any requirements establishing its validity. It was the tribunal which decided to exempt the Soviets from being charged with conspiring with the Germans to partition Poland after their mutual agreement to invade, despite German Generals Jodl and Keitel, along with Joachim Ribbentrop, being charged with crimes against humanity for being part of the same conspiracy.