The Nuremberg Trials:
Crimes Against Humanity (Persecution)
Just months after the conclusion of the Second World War, international trials of leading Nazi officials began in Nuremberg, Germany.
Prosecutors at Nuremberg recognized the insidious role that the Nazi hate speech campaign had played in the Third Reich’s atrocities. Hate speech-focused charges against leading propagandists Julius Streicher, Hans Fritzsche and Otto Dietrich were pursuant to the offense of persecution as a Crime against Humanity. Streicher and Dietrich were found guilty while Fritzsche, in what many view as a flawed decision, was acquitted. However, a German Spruchkammer (or Denazification court) later found against him and sentenced him to nine years’ imprisonment, the maximum allowable punishment.
Founder and Editor-in-Chief of the virulently antisemitic newspaper
Der Stürmer (1923-1945) and Gauleiter of Franconia (1929-1940)
Julius Streicher was born on February 12, 1885, in the Upper Bavarian village of Fleinhausen. Having served with distinction as a soldier in World War I, he became the leader of the “German Socialist Party” and was initially a rival of Hitler. But given their ideological affinities, they joined forces and Streicher became a loyal Hitler lieutenant. Streicher soon amassed much power, becoming, in rapid succession, a general in the SA Storm Troopers, the Gauleiter (district leader) of Franconia, and a member of the Reichstag. On his own initiative, he also founded a viciously anti-Jewish newspaper in 1923 called Der Stürmer. Read by 600,000 subscribers at its peak, this crude rag published a constant stream of hate screeds and grotesque caricatures meant to vilify and dehumanize Jews. Displayed on public bulletin boards in glass-covered cases, the publication exerted a significant influence on German attitudes toward the Jewish community.
The IMT judgment against Streicher started with an observation regarding his antisemitic rhetoric and reputation: “For his twenty-five years of speaking, writing, and preaching hatred of the Jews, Streicher was widely known as ‘Jew-Baiter Number One.’” The judgment reviewed a skein of pre-and post-war pieces Streicher penned himself calling for the annihilation, “root and branch,” of the Jewish people. It wrote that “[I]n his speeches and articles week after week, month after month, he infected the German mind with the virus of antisemitism, and incited the German people to active persecution.” The judgment further specified that Streicher wrote a good portion of these genocidal texts at the same time that Jews being liquidated in Eastern Europe. And Streicher, the Tribunal concluded, knew about Nazi atrocities in the east when he published these articles. The judgment concluded: “Streicher’s incitement to murder and extermination at the time when Jews in the East were being killed under the most horrible conditions clearly constitutes persecution on political and racial grounds in connection with war crimes, as defined by the Charter, and constitutes a crime against humanity.” Streicher was sentenced to death and hanged on October 16, 1945.
Head of the Press Division (1938-1942) & Head of the Radio
Division (1942-1945) of the Nazi Propaganda Ministry
Hans Fritzsche served as head of the German Press Division from 1938-1942. From that position, he issued guidance to the German press editors regarding the themes – including, at times, the so-called “Jewish Problem” – they should address.
Later, he became the head of the German Radio Division, a position he held throughout the war. He hosted a daily radio program “Hans Fritzsche Speaks”, which often featured anti-Semitic propaganda.
Fritzsche, whose testimony self-servingly (and incredibly, based on the totality of the evidence) claimed ignorance of the Holocaust during the war, was not convicted by the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg, however. The judges found his anti-Semitic broadcasts did not directly urge the persecution of Jews and “[h]is position and official duties were not sufficiently important…to infer that he took part in originating or formulating propaganda campaigns.”
But the Fritzsche judgment is out of step with the important international criminal law principles established by the IMT at Nuremberg. In particular, that he may have complied with Goebbels’s overall propaganda strategy, rather than formulate it himself, should have been irrelevant. Pursuant to Article 8 of the Nuremberg Charter, “[t]he fact that the Defendant acted pursuant to order of his Government or of a superior shall not free him from responsibility . . .”
In 1947, a German denazification court (Spruchkammer) judged Fritzsche a “major offender” and sentenced him to the maximum penalty of nine years in prison.
Source: Robert H. Jackson Center
Nazi Party Press Chief (1931-1945), Vice-President of the Reich Press
Chamber (1933-1945), and Reich Press Chief (1937-1945)
After the conclusion of the International Military Tribunal Trial, within their own occupation zone, the Americans prosecuted comparatively inferior Nazi lieutenants before their own Nuremberg Military Tribunals (NMTs) pursuant to Control Council Law (CCL) No. 10, which was largely in line with the IMT’s Nuremberg Charter.
Dietrich’s initial success at evading the post-war Allied dragnet, as well as his nominally subordinate position to Goebbels, spared him being placed in the IMT dock with Hitler’s other top paladins. Rather, he was prosecuted as part of the penultimate American NMT proceeding: the so-called ‘Ministries Case”. The twenty-one defendants were top officials in assorted Reich ministries, senior bankers, or armaments executives.
How did Dietrich become the target of justice efforts at Nuremberg? Born in 1897 in the western German city of Essen, he served in the German army during the First World War, and earned the Iron Cross, First Class. In 1921, he was awarded a political science doctorate. From there, he began a career in the newspaper business. His first position was deputy editor of the Essen Nationalzeitung. The Augsburger Zeitung, a German-national evening paper, then hired him as its business manager. After marrying the daughter of a wealthy newspaper magnate (owner of the influential Rheinisch-Westfälische Zeitung ), Dietrich became more prominent. His father-in-law introduced him to important Rhineland industrialists and, after joining the Nazi party in 1929, he gave Hitler access to them.
Hitler was appreciative and reciprocated by naming Dietrich the Nazi party press chief. After Hitler became chancellor in 1933, he ultimately placed Dietrich in the same role for the German state. As Press Chief, Dietrich assumed total power over German newspapers in two key ways:
1. on a daily basis, similar to Fritzsche, he conducted “press conferences” with the entire corps of German newspaper editors, giving them daily verbal press directives or “Tagesparolen”; and:
2. he policed print media content through the “Editorial Control Law,” which he drafted himself. The law required all newspaper and periodical editors to join the “Reich League of the German Press”. Dietrich served as Chairman of the “Reich League”, which operated a kangaroo-court system that fined, punished and removed newspaper editors whose publications printed material considered offensive by the Nazis.
Former Nuremberg prosecutor Alexander Hardy explained how Dietrich used this position to condition Germans to persecute Jews:
It was Dietrich, the Poisoned Pen, who led the press propaganda phases of the program, which incited hatred and conditioned public opinion for mass persecutions on political, racial, and religious grounds. Heretofore, Dietrich’s role has been ignored by historians, but actually he, more than anyone else, was responsible for presenting to the German people the justification for liquidating the Jews. . . Dietrich had at his disposal not only Streicher’s paper, but more than 3,000 other publications in the newspaper field and 4,000 publications in the periodical field with a circulation of better than 30,000,000 to disseminate anti-Semitism in a vastly more comprehensive manner. And, he did just that!
Based on this conduct, Dietrich was convicted on Count Five of the indictment for crimes against humanity. The Tribunal found that:
It is thus clear that a well thought-out, oft-repeated, persistent campaign to arouse the hatred of the German people against Jews was fostered and directed by the press department and its press chief, Dietrich. That part or much of this may have been inspired by Goebbels is undoubtedly true, but Dietrich approved and authorized every release…The only reason for this campaign was to blunt the sensibilities of the people regarding the campaign of persecution and murder which was being carried out…These press and periodical directives were not mere political polemics, they were not aimless expression of anti-Semitism, and they were not designed only to unite the German people in the war effort. Their clear and expressed purpose was to enrage the German people against the Jews, to justify the measures taken and to be taken against them, and to subdue any doubts which might arise as to the justice of measures of racial persecution to which Jews were to be subjected. By them Dietrich consciously implemented, and by furnishing the excuses and justifications, participated in, the crimes against humanity regarding Jews…
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