Nuremberg Trials museum
NUREMBERG PALACE OF JUSTICE BUILDING
The Palace of Justice in the city of Nuremberg is nothing more no less than the largest institution of its kind in Bavaria. It took seven years to erect this complex of building to be ceremonially opened by Ludwig III, a king of Bavaria back in September 1916. Since the location was a little more than a random choice, the Palace of Justice was built a stone’s throw from the Nuremberg prison, an architectural colossus of four wings erected in 1868. In a span of years before 1933 and the rise of the Nazis in Germany, the prison had witnessed common criminals on criminal or administrative charges. With the Third Reich ascent, the Palace of Justice in Nuremberg was now meant to conduct trials against political opponents of the new regime as well as the Jews.
The historical landmark survived the Second World War and the air raids on Nuremberg and since April 1945 were occupied by the Allied forces. A new wooden passage was constructed between the Eastern wing with detention premises for the main war criminals and the Palace of Justice, meant to be a much more functional solution than the underpass that had been grounded years before the war. These complex of buildings near the Nuremberg city center have become infamously well-known due to the NUREMBERG TRIALS or NUREMBERG PROCESS, a series of military tribunals against the major war criminals of the perished Third Reich. The years between 1945 and 1949 have witnessed a number of war tribunals against prominent executives of Nazi Germany, a historical and legal precedent when the representatives of any country were taken to trials to be prosecuted for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Already in 1952 the Palace of Justice, as well as the former prison, were placed under the control of the Nuremberg city authorities to be once again used for the intended purpose. In 1961 the ‘new-old’ proprietors dismantled the major engineering innovations of the Nuremberg trials and restored the initial architecture of the premises, including the famous COURTROOM 600. Since that then for now more than half a century the Palace of Justice has been performing its primary functions. Regardless of the historical importance of the complex of buildings, three of four prison blocks, including the wing which was to be a detention basis in 1945-149, were demolished in the 1980s. Nowadays, hundreds of thousands of tourists all over the globe annually come here to experience the historical landmark and the COURTROOM 600 with one eye, yet organized access has been granted only in May 2000. The ever-increasing importance of the site has resulted in establishing ‘MEMORIUM NUREMBERG TRIALS’ on the buds of the Palace of Justice and the current exhibition came within access since November 2010.
THE COURTYARD OF THE NUREMBERG TRIALS BUILDING
Once finding oneself in front of the world-known Palace of Justice in Nuremberg, it’s a common thing to notice the modest scale of its Eastern wing as a part of the whole complex. The Palace of Justice on Further Strasse 110 (not to be confused with ‘Fuhrer’) occupies an area of a city district with a total of 530 premises, 80 of which once (at the end of the War) were meant to serve as the courtrooms. The world-recognized Eastern wing at Bärenschanzstraße 72, which in fact includes Courtroom 600, covers only a tiny architectural part of the complex. The Palace of Justice was historically ‘lucky’ to avoid the massive bombardments of the city of Nuremberg, as well as liberation battles. In this landmark respect, it has been preserved very much the same appearance, as it used to have in the Weimar Republic, the dark years of the Third Reich, and during the Nuremberg trials back in 1945-1949.
The famous colored image of the year 1945 not only complements an informational board for the tourist but also provides a glimpse of a look the courtyard of the Nuremberg Trials once had. A sign for the military vehicles parking, lorries with white Allied stars, and the white-helmeted American soldiers. Shifting our attention from the photo, we could indeed observe that the courtyard has changed a little since 1945 with only an auto workshop ‘dislocates’ the original panorama from Further Strasse. The eastern wing itself has also remained nearly unchanged up to the details, including windows, stone bas-reliefs, the ink color of the roof, and the gates. It’s easy enough to experience oneself surrounded by history in its pure meaning.
THE LOBBY OF THE NUREMBERG TRIAL MUSEUM
The first or ground floor of the historic landmark has a cozy reception desk with two polite and ‘well-English-speaking’ museum regulars who sell tickets at a symbolic price, provide audio guides, and answer your foreseeable questions with great respect. It’s also a good chance to use a small museum shop to purchase pamphlets, books, postcards, and guidebooks, devoted to the Nuremberg trials. Both black-and-white and colored cards generally depict the historical shots from 1945-1946. The audio guide included in the ticket price (6€) should not be neglected if you have failed to ‘do your homework’ before coming to Nuremberg. You can use either a lift or stairs to get to the main exhibition on the second and third floors (first and second according to German tradition).
Without waxing too historically poetic, Courtroom 600 can be deservedly called one of the most recognized sites, connected with the Second World War. The ‘official’ information for tourists makes a notice of the accessibility of Courtroom 600, which is still used for its direct purposes and is out of access within particular days, which in fact is a rare occasion. Within this access workflow, the ‘jewel in the crown’ of the whole Nuremberg Trials Museum is nearly always accessible. Forwarding our way to the second (first) floor, we found ourselves within a small inter-room lounge, only a few confident steps to connect with history.
On the surface, Courtroom 600 is pretty the same as it was depicted in a historical newsreel, yet in detail is the truth. The main courtroom of the Nuremberg trials 1945-1949 is sort of felt so tiny that it is breathtaking to try to ‘emplace’ all the participants and viewers inside it. In fact, we should consider away more than a perception difference between the photo/video and reality. The lounge we used a minute before entering the courtroom was restored after the trials and back in 1945-1949, this space was occupied by two large tribunes. One stand was erected for the press with 235 seats and one for the visitors with additional 128 seats.
Back in 1945, the tribune for the judges was resettled to the right part of the room, beneath the windows and in front of the criminal defendants. Now it occupies its primordial location. Furthermore, you would fail to find the spotlights under the ceiling, which once provided the balancing steady illumination to footage the tribunals properly, while the windows were curtained. It is also a never-to-be-taken challenge to find the additional little windows in the back wall, once installed to take photos and videos with the faces of the Major War Criminals on their defendants’ benches. One of such windows was added above the main entrance, which once used to be located to the left.
By the light of nature, the modern courtroom 600 has not preserved the section for interpreters, who had used the IBM machinery to provide a simultaneous translation into four languages at once. A section for the defendants’ benches now occupies a massively smaller space with only one row. An assumed wooden upstand divides the courtroom into the spectator area and the main court space with benches and space for judges and lawyers, partially accessible for tourists.
NUREMBERG TRIALS MUSEUM EXHIBITION
The permanent exhibition of the Nuremberg Trials has gained the same historical importance as the Palace of Justice and Courtroom 600. The multi-room exhibition on the third floor (or second, German-like manner) is thematically divided into three sections. It’s not hard to guess that the primary one is devoted to the war tribunal of 1945-1946 against the major war criminals. It was created to intimately correlate the pre-war years before the Second World War, the establishment of the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg back in 1945, and to pay attention to the major participants of the trials: Defendants / Prosecution / Witnesses. The second section of the permanent exhibition deals with the 1946-1949 follow-up trials, a Tokyo trial in particular. The third section is related to the Legal, Historical, and Social heritage of the Nuremberg trials.
THE BACKGROUND. The initial station of the historical exposition intimately deals with the background history of the Third Reich, the racial policy against Jews, and the Second World War. Three major boards are called: KRIEG UND FRIEDEN (War and Peace); DER WEG IN DER KRIEG (World at War) and VERGELTUNG ODER RECHENSCHAFT (Nemesis and Retribution).
EVIDENCE BOX. The far-left corner of the exhibition hall places one among the authentic US army boxes dating back to the years of the Second World War. One among many of the same kind, which was once used to transport the evidence documents to the Nuremberg Trials, had been captured as the trophies of the vanished Third Reich.
INTERNATIONAL MILITARY TRIBUNAL STATUTE. Another information board depicts the diversification of the authorities and powers among the ‘Victor-countries’ within the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg. The USA, GREAT BRITAIN, USSR, and FRANCE. Robert Jackson, the chief prosecutor was honored with a board just in front of the tribunal statute.
THE PARTIES OF THE PROCESS. The five separate exhibition mounts for a rectangular zone for the visitor to get an insight into the parties, which once took part in the Nuremberg Trials alongside the DEFENDANTS. The PROSECUTORS of the Allied countries. The DEFENCE COUNCILS and defense strategies. The JUDGES of the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal. The WITNESSES of both Prosecution and Defense. The INTERPRETERS of the Nuremberg Trials.
VENUE OF THE TRIAL. The GERIGHSORT NURNBERG (The venue of the trial: Nuremberg) board briefly describes the history of the city within the Third Reich and during the Second World War, particularly the notorious Nazi Party Rallies, as well as the primary motivation and causes to choose Nuremberg as the venue of the Nuremberg Trials.
DEFENDANTS. Every visitor to the exhibition has a chance to see the authentic dock, a defendant’s bench. In fact, this corner disposes of two of the very benches, which have become world-known due to the photos of the major war criminals in Courtroom 600. There are two informational boards on both sides of the dock with photos and brief biographies of every defendant of the 1945-1946 process.
MEDIA AND PRESS. It’s easy to guess from the title, that this station reveals the journalist once accredited to highlight the Trials from the separate tribune, implemented within the Courtroom 600.
CONDUCT AND VERDICTS. The boards in keywords summarize the major periods and events of the Nuremberg trials as well as the verdicts, pronounced on October 1, 1946. A large digital reprint of the German SUDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG newspaper recollects the sentences for each of the defendants in Nuremberg.
TOKYO TRIAL. In a similar historical equivalent to the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg, Japan did conduct its own process against the major war criminals in the years from 1946 to 1948.
PANORAMA OVER OLD PRISON. The old authentic Nuremberg trials building of the prison, built back in the XIX century and once used as a detention for the major war criminals, has been preserved by means of only one wing. A view from one of the windows reveals a number of modern constructions, yet a regardant eye still can catch the crumbling building.
THE FOLLOW-UP TRIALS. This part of the permanent exhibition is known as NACHFOLGEPROZESSE or the follow-up process. The after-war years of 1946-1949 witnessed another twelve war tribunals against the German war criminals: doctors, judges, warlords of the Wehrmacht, and the Eastern front.
FROM NUREMBERG TO THE HAUGE. The next two halls tell us about the historical heritage of the Nuremberg trials. The way the world has been changed once and for all, a number of new legal and political institutions were established all over the world in order to prevent wars of aggression after the lessons of the Second World War and the Holocaust. The informational boards trace a path for the Nuremberg Trials to become a forefather of the Hague tribunal, which now is the main platform to condemn war crimes and crimes against Humanity.
ELECTRIC CONTROL PANEL. The very last station of the exhibition still can impress and excite us with a preserved electric control panel of American origin, which was directly involved in the illumination of the Courtroom 600 during the 1945-1949 trials.
VIEW INTO THE COURTROOM 600. This very spot was once occupied with two tribunes for the press and visitors of the Nuremberg trials, granted to become a part of the history. In this respect, there were no windows here during the process and this ‘amendment’ was added in the 2000s while building up the exhibition. Being tolerant of dim glass, you can make incredible photos of Courtroom 600 and correlate the perspective with the famous historical footage. A wooden model of the courtroom’s 1945 appearance provides a glimpse of the former disposition of all the parties, involved in the process.
I am very grateful to war archives, museums, libraries, private collections, and writers for the historical photos in this article. To the extent that some author or a copyright owner may not want some of the above black-and-white photos to be used for educational purposes here, please contact me for adding credits or deleting the pictures from the article.