NUREMBERG, Germany – A new exhibit is opening to mark the 65th anniversary of the Nuremberg war crimes trial — the landmark process that brought top Nazis to justice and established precedents that now underpin international law.
The exhibit is being opened Sunday, the day after the anniversary of the opening of the trial in 1945, in the Palace of Justice building where it was held. It allows visitors to view original video and hear audio recordings from the trial, and peer inside the courtroom where men like Hermann Goering, Rudolf Hess and Julius Streicher defended their crimes.
It also takes visitors through the prosecutions of Nazis that followed the Nuremberg trial, then on to modern examples born out of the Nuremberg principles like the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal that began trials in 1993, and today's International Criminal Court in The Hague.
The Nuremberg proceedings broke new ground in holding government leaders individually responsible for their aggression and slaughter of millions of innocents.
They also established new offenses: crimes against peace, waging a war of aggression, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.
Over 218 trial days, the 21 high-ranking Nazis in the dock faced a panel of judges that represented the victorious Allies — the United States, the Soviet Union, Britain and France.
U.S. Sen. Christopher Dodd, whose father Thomas Dodd was a deputy U.S. prosecutor at the trial, said that in the aftermath of the Nazi dictatorship the Allies felt it important to show the rule of law had been restored.
"Even these dreadful human beings deserved, in my father's view, that there be a trial," Dodd said in an interview in Washington. "As a result of it, we know what happened under the Nazi rule, because the very defendants told the story."
In addition to punishing the surviving leading figures of the Nazi regime to justice and ensuring the world knew of their crimes, the trial also served to ensure that the horrors of the Nazi era could not be swept under the rug at home, said historian Hans-Christian Taeubrich, the director of the new exhibit.
"The trials were and are important for Germany to come to terms with what happened," he said. "This is still an ongoing process."
For Ernest Michel, a Jew from Mannheim — then 22 — who had just spent five years in Nazi concentration camps, it was a way to face those responsible for the Holocaust face-to-face.
"Twenty-five feet away from me was Herman Goering and I wanted to jump down," Michel, now 87, recalled in an interview in New York. "Why did you do this? What had I done to you?"
Michel covered the trial for DANA, a German news agency, and insisted that his byline "must read Ernest Michel, Auschwitz Survivor 104995."
On Oct. 1, 1946, Goering, Hitler's air force chief and right-hand man, was sentenced to death along with 11 others, including Martin Bormann, Hitler's vanished deputy, who was tried in absentia. Seven drew long prison sentences and three were acquitted.
Fifteen days later, the condemned men were hanged in the courthouse's adjacent prison. Goering committed suicide by swallowing a poison pill in his cell the night before.
The new exhibit is spread through four rooms above the oak-paneled Courtroom 600, where the original trial was held. Though the original courtroom is still in use today for trials, visitors can also walk through it when court is not in session, or look inside through a glassed-in viewing area if a trial is ongoing.
Siobhan Starrs in London, Adam Pemble in New York, and Lila Ibrahim in Washington contributed to this report.