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Nuremberg and the Deniers

by M. S.

A student essay from Dr. Elliot Neaman's History 210 class (historical methods - spring 1996)

© Elliot Neaman / PHDN
Reproduction interdite par quelque moyen que ce soit / no reproduction allowed


During the period of the holocaust, anti-Semitic, and ultra-nationalists beliefs turned fanatical, then genocidal. After approximately fifty years from the time of the holocaust one would hope that these beliefs of Aryan supremacy would deteriorate. Yet, anti-Semitism still continues and is evident in the arguments of the holocaust deniers. One such instance, to be discussed below, is in the trials at Nuremberg.

Due to the dramatic effect the holocaust had on society, the Nuremberg trials were established to determine two factors. First, to determine whether or not the Nazi leaders were guilty of particular war crimes. Second, in cases of proven guilt to issue the appropriate punishment, or, in cases of innocence, to discharge the accused. Prior to the holocaust, no European nation had ever witnessed such a severe loss of lives in an attempt to eradicate the Jewish people. But, since no laws against genocide had been established prior to the charges brought against the Nazi leaders at Nuremberg, the deniers have attempted to argue that there is no basis of support for "crimes against humanity," that the Nuremberg trials were themselves illegal.

In 1935 Germany passed the Nuremberg Laws, which legalized discrimination against Jews. However, no nation at that time had laws forbidding crimes against humanity. The deniers argue that the crimes of the holocaust were not the responsibility of Germany, since the trials exceeded their own jurisdiction.

The deniers also defend the German perpetrators by arguing that they were forced into committing the mass murders by shootings and gas executions. The deniers argue that the generals were obliged to obey the commands of their superiors, and that the generals were unaware of the intentions of their superiors. They fail to realize that none of the Nazi leaders attempted to resign from their jobs, or did they state any opposition to the commands of their superiors. "Members of the group knew that Hitler's military plans were aggressive, and that they willingly joined in the execution of those plans. Their knowledge was readily established by their attendance at Hitler's meetings" (Taylor 250). The same people who committed these crimes voted Hitler into power and cooperated with his every desire, exemplifying no disapproval to his orders.

Another argument frequently made by the deniers is that the Nuremberg Trials were unfair. However, each Nazi war criminal brought to trial was given the right to present his own case, cross examine the prosecution, and all arguments were translated to the proficient language of the accused. Those who were brought to trial by making the British list were tried on the bases of evidence, not guilt.

Although the deniers use several arguments to question the validity of the Nuremberg trials, the aim in every argument remains the same. Each statement of the deniers has as its underlying aim the desire to denigrate the significance of the holocaust and to promote their own nationalistic or anti-Semitic views.

The deniers' questioning of the validity of the Nuremberg trials is linked to a desire to question the uniqueness of the holocaust, and ultimately to deny all of the factual events. While it is true that the trials contained flaws, the historical evidence shows that justice was carried out. Such problems existed: the length of the trial, the choice of the accused, and laying charges for a crime for which there were no previous statutes of law. These controversies concerning the trial at Nuremberg do not in the end diminish the value of the trials. The trials at Nuremberg effectively determined the guilt of the Nazi war criminals and determined suitable punishment for those crimes.

The Holocaust Deniers' Arguments

Although the Nuremberg trials were an effective way of determining the guilt or innocence of the crimes committed during the war, certain deniers still argue that the trials at Nuremberg were illegitimate. One common complaint against the trials is that the Nazi war criminals were forced to admit guilt, through threats of their lives. Paul Rassinier, a former communist and current socialist argues that the Nazis were forced to speak of a story of falsehoods in order to please the ears of the Allies. Rassinier further states that the testimonies of the accused Nazis cannot be trusted because there lives were threatened, and were only acting out of fear for their lives. According to Rassinier, the testimonies of Nazi leaders were illegitimate because they were "testifying under the threat of death" and the generals confessed "what he thinks will be most likely to save his life" (Rassinier 216). Another denier, Arthur Butz, believes that it was better for the Nazis to admit guilt than to risk the loss of their lives by pleading innocent to the charges made against them. "For Butz it was all quite simple: It was better to admit to the crime of the century and risk losing one's life than to protest against monstrous fraud" (Lipstadt 130). Yet, by admitting guilt their crimes were punishable and the end result of death was the same in each instance.

Another common charge against the Nuremberg trials is that the world possessed a bias against Germany. Richard Harwood argues that, since the rest of the world including the Jewish population supported the Treaty of Versailles, the Nuremberg trials cannot be trusted due to the universal hate concerning Germany. This argument is supported by Maurice Bardeche, a French Fascist, who argues that since the Jews were not against the treaty of Versailles they deserve no sympathy, because "they had helped to instigate the war by supporting the Treaty of Versailles" (Lipstadt 50). Bardeche argues that the intent of the Germans was not to annihilate the Jewish population but rather to defeat Stalin. He further argues that the Nuremberg trials were morally wrong because the Nazis only acted by necessity to defeat Stalin (Lipstadt 50). Arthur Butz also argues that the testimonies of the Nazis cannot be trusted. The Nazis gave up their cause to have the truth revealed, since the world was against them because they believed in the holocaust. Butz further states that "the world was intent on finding them guilty" (Lipstadt 130).

Besides arguing that there was a bias against Germany, as well as that the German officials were forced to admit guilt, another frequently accepted belief amongst the deniers is that the Nazi officers cannot be charged since they were only following the orders of their superiors. Another denier approach to disregard the holocaust in Nuremberg is by stating that the denier's "had not meant to confess the existence of an annihilation program. They had not comprehended the questions posed to them by their captors" (Lipstadt 131). Butz argues that the charged Nazis did not understand the questions and were confused. In the occurrence with Herman Goering where Goering admits the existence of a death plan, Butz defends Goering. He argues that Goring was confused and when the prosecution asked Goering about concentration camps, he thought they were speaking of the number of dead corpses in the German concentration camps (Lipstadt 131).

One of the most widely accepted beliefs shared amongst the deniers is that the documents used in the trials at Nuremberg were falsified. Arthur Butz states that the documents were either tampered with, or they are not historically accurate. Documents that are classified by Butz as not historically accurate are the statements made by politicians. Butz believes that documents bearing the signature of a politician should be disregarded because politicians exaggerate and cannot be trusted.(Lipstadt 129)

Although the deniers attempt to use various methods to denigrate the Nuremberg trials, their intent with each method is the same. Each denier argues that his aim is not to defend Germany, nor is it motivated by hate towards the Jews, but rather to promote truth through the revision of history. The denier claims that their sole objective is truth, hiding, however, the true motive which is anti-Semitism.

The Evidence Against The Deniers

The arguments of the deniers involve a broad spectrum of twisted, misquoted, and manipulated information, whose aim is always the same. In each argument, the denier misrepresents the facts of the Nuremberg trial to suit his own purpose of propaganda, nationalism or anti-Semitism. A study of the Nuremberg Trial shows widespread misuse of quotes, documents, and other relevant historical facts that form the basis of the deniers arguments.

According to Arthur Butz, the accused Nazis admitted their guilt of crimes concerning the holocaust camps because they were confused and were unable to answer the questions. Butz leads the historian to inaccurately believe that the prosecution posed difficult questions that caused the defendants a state of confusion so that they were incapable of answering the questions. (Lipstadt 131) In one instance, the defendant Gustav Krupp was unable to comprehend the evidence that was used against him, which the denier displays. Yet, the denier excludes the remaining evidence about Krupp. Because of Gustav's Krupps confusion it was ruled that he was unable to recover from his mental condition, and thus was dismissed from the trial (Calvocoressi 62).

Another example exists in the case of Herman Goering. Goering at first denies any knowledge of the crimes that were committed throughout the war. During his
cross-examination a document is shown bearing Goering's signature of an approval of an order. After the document has been studied by Goering, he simply replied that he forgot about the order. Goering was not confused about the questions, and only admitted guilt of the war crimes due to the overwhelming evidence against him. "Goering had arrogantly incriminated himself during his own defense" (Post). This is just one example of the deniers' typical misuse of information by reporting, and singling out a mere portion of the facts instead of the entire context.

Another invalid argument by the deniers is that the Nazis were only following the orders of their superiors and had no knowledge of their intentions. The accused cannot hide behind their superiors in order to escape punishment because the law was known to the accused. According to Nuremberg, the facts the law, the consequences, the Nazis were required to attend meetings during which they listened to the speeches of Adolf Hitler. The deniers argue that the same people who signed documents of orders of annihilation were unaware of the occurrences. "Not a single defendant at Nuremberg ever denied that the mass killings had taken place only that he had lacked personal knowledge and responsibility"(Perisco 441). One example involves von Manstein who stated that he disapproved of the extinction of the Jews, but was later shown documents bearing his signature. He admitted that he signed and permitted the annihilation but he forgot about the documents (Calvocoressi 75).

Another argument frequently issued by the deniers is that the intentions of the Germans were never to become involved in war, but felt obliged to do so, in order to defend the world against Stalin. However, the Nazi generals' own testimony contradicts the deniers' arguments. According to Hitler and his military generals, the Nazis never contemplated whether or not they should enter war. The main question facing Hitler and the generals was when would be the most effective time to engage in war. Hitler wanted to begin war in 1938, while his military generals wanted to wait until 1943. In 1943, the Germans launched an attack on Czechoslovakia, beginning another world war.

Lastly, the argument that falsified documents were used by the prosecution cannot be accepted by the historian. The documents were collected and kept at Nuremberg, and were provided for the defense to study before the documents were used in court. Not only were the documents used in Nuremberg to determine guilt valid, but the defense received a trial of utter fairness. The defense was provided with secretarial, and transitional services at no cost. They received unlimited time with their clients, and had complete access to all the documents in the hands of the prosecution. "I just wish the average impecunious defendant in an American court could count on assistance as extensive in the preparation of the defense as those men enjoyed" (Taylor 438).

Through the study of the Nuremberg trials one easily perceives the misuse of evidence by the holocaust deniers. Arguments made by those involved in the trial have been manipulated in any possible and unbelievable way in an attempt to support their own viewpoints. Although the denier typically argues that their aim is to provide truth, proven historical facts contradict every statement made by the holocaust denier.

The True Picture

Even though the trials of Nuremberg did indeed possess flaws, these flaws were corrected and produced a fair trial for the Nazi war criminals. Following the period of the holocaust, there existed a controversy over whether or not the Nazis should be punished for their crimes. Van Maisky, a Soviet Ambassador to Britain was the first to suggest that an international counsel should be established for the trial of major war criminals, but his idea was rejected until the time of the Nazis. Eventually, it was decided that an international trial was necessary to govern the trials, because the German counsel was composed of the corrupt people who ultimately took the stand.

Once it was accepted that an international trial was necessary to govern the Germans, committees were established to judge the trials. The first committee consisted of the British who dealt with aggressive war charges. Committees two and three were composed of the Russians and the French respectively. Crimes against humanity that occurred in Eastern Europe were the obligation of Russia, and those occurring in Western Europe were the responsibility of the French. The last committee went to the United States which dealt with the plans and conspiracy of the holocaust. On June 23 1945, the British gradually composed a list of twenty four defendants who would stand trial at Nuremberg.

Robert H. Jackson of the United States began the Nuremberg Trials on November 20, 1945 with his opening statement. He described the upcoming events to take place in the trial, and promised "the prosecution would give them undeniable proofs of the incredible events" (Taylor 168). Jackson further stated the charges brought forth against the defendants, such as the starving of Jews, and a vivid description of the concentration camps.

Following Jackson's opening statements the prosecution began to present their case. The prosecution started their case with an overabundance of disorganized documents. Primarily, the dilemma of the documents was a shortage, causing the defendants not to receive enough copies of the documents, and the documents were not in the defendants proficient language. This problem was soon resolved. On November 23, 1945 Sidney Alderman took over the responsibility of the documents and resolved the problem that was lingering over the prosecution. The first improvement he made was to assemble an array of documents which were of "the utmost value for the proof of Hitler's aggressive intentions and the involvement of others in his war plans" (Taylor 176). In order to avoid the problem of translation of documents, Alderman states that he would read the documents into the record so they would be typed and duplicated into the four used languages of the trial. Each counsel would therefore receive the documents in his proficient language, which would eliminate the language barrier. By immediately resolving the problems of language, the prosecution took the initial step of correcting their mistakes, and producing a fair trial for the war criminals.

In the court, the Nazis were charged with war crimes, crimes against fighting, and crimes against humanity. The war crimes included violations of laws of customs of war such as murder, ill-treatment, deportation and killing of hostages. War crimes were based on the Hague convention of 1907 and the Geneva convention 1927, which stated "Any act which goes beyond the necessity created by the war situation is not covered by exemption, refrains its criminal character and involves liability to punishment" (Calvocoressi 46). Organized murder and crimes against civilization were categorized as crimes against fighting. The last type of crime charged against the defendants were the crimes against humanity which included: murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation and other inhumane acts targeted against civilian population. Through the different types of charges brought against the defendants, the prosecution produced a strong case which proved the guilt of the accused based on concrete evidence. Primarily, the prosecution relied on the testimonies of witnesses and documents from the war to establish their case. The testimony received from the cross-examinations of the defendants proved to highly strengthen the case of the defendants which is evident in the case of Otto Ohlendorf. Ohlendorf's testimony provided the court with concise answers about the killings at Einsatzgruppen. "Ohlendorf's bureaucratic, dispassionate manner only heightened the shock with which his recitation was received" (Conot 235). When Ohlendorf was asked about his instructions regarding the Jews and the Communists he responded, "the instructions were that in Russian operation areas of Einsatzgruppen the Jews, as well as the Soviet political commissioners, were to be liquidated" (Taylor 247). Frank, another defendant, agreed with Ohlendorf and said "there was absolutely no question about the reliability of his testimony" (Taylor 247). Not only did the oral testimony of witnesses bring Nazi war criminals their due justice, but also documentary evidence. Through documents the prosecution defeated the defendants' argument that they had no knowledge of the events. This is evident in the case of Goering, who denies all knowledge of the events, until he is forced to admit otherwise. After a statement is revealed bearing his signature, Goering merely states that he forgot about the order. The case of the prosecution provided the defendants with a fair trial, in which nineteen of the accused were proven guilty, and three were acquitted. "All those who had participated in the planning and prosecution of aggressive war were guilty...They are not to be deemed innocent because Hitler made use of them if they knew what they were doing" (Conot 493).


Within every argument of the Holocaust denier exists Anti-Semitic and ultra-nationalistic perspectives. Through the study of the Nuremberg trials one must learn to disregard the information produced by the deniers, and focus on the lasting effects and benefits that the trials produced.

The Nuremberg Trials contribute to the overall perspective society has on the Holocaust. Not only did they provide the Nazi war criminals with a fair trial, they revealed the disturbing truth about the Holocaust. Since the Nuremberg Trials required a tremendous amount of time to complete, they were able to accurately provide society with an accurate description of the events in the Holocaust.

Although there existed opposition on an international court judging the Nuremberg Trials, they provided the convicted Nazis with justice. During the Holocaust, the Nazis became accustomed to their own justice, which involved adapting to the interests of a political party or class. The Nuremberg Trials proved to the Germans that inhumane treatment will not be tolerated, and it is punishable. "The signal advancement at Nuremberg centers on holding a country internationally responsible for what it does to its own citizens not only to other nations or peoples regardless of what their own domestic laws allow" (Rosenbaum 31).

Since the Nuremberg Trials were effective in punishing the convicted Nazis, it established the basis in governing similar offenses. The verdict made at the Nuremberg trials not only punishes the accuse Nazis but also provides the beginnings of a new morality. "No state or power may commit crimes against its citizens and go unpunished, and that, it is the duty of civilized society as a hole" (Bosch 120). The trials at Nuremberg provided society with a lasting example of justice. They demonstrated a standard in which war crimes in the future should be handled, without having to experience the same difficulties that the Nuremberg Trials faced.

Works Cited

Belgion, Montgomery. Epitaph on Nuremberg. London: The Falcon Press, 1946.

Biddiss, Michael. "Victor's Justice: The Nuremberg Tribunal." History Today May 1995: 40-47.

Bosch, William J. Judgement at Nuremberg. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1970.

Calvocoressi, Peter. Nuremberg the facts, the law, and the consequences. London: Oxford University Press, 1947.

Conot, Robert E. Justice at Nuremberg. New York: Harper and Row, 1983.

Davidson, David. "How I didn't kill Herman Goering." American Heritage August 1994: 83-87.

Douglas, Lawrence. "Film as witness: Screening 'Nazi Concentration Camps' before the Nuremberg tribunal." Yale Law Journal Nov. 1995: 449-481.

Lipstadt, Deborah. Denying The Holocaust. New York: Penguin Group, 1994.

Post, Tom. "The trial of the century." Newsweek 6 Nov. 1995: 56-58.

Rassinier, Paul. Debunking the Genocide Myth: A study of Nazi Concentration Camps and the alleged extermination of European Jewry. Torrance, Calif. 1978

Rosenbaum, Alan S. Prosecuting Nazi War Criminals. New York: Westview Press, 1993.

Taylor, Telford. The anatomy of the Nuremberg Trials. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1992.

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