Nuremberg: Steeped in History
My husband Joe and I have traveled through Germany twice (three times if you count our 1986 overnight train journey from The Netherlands to Denmark). In May 1991, we had a car which made it relatively easy to see parts of Berlin, Wittenberg, Leipzig, Munich, Heidelberg, Bad Honnef, and Bonn. Ten years later, we returned to Berlin with my brother Chris and added Potsdam to our “been there” list. One city we can’t add to that list is Nuremberg, and I really wish we could. It’s a beautiful city (I’ve seen pictures) and it’s steeped in historical significance.
Much of Nuremberg’s beauty had to be rebuilt after World War II as it was a major destination for Allied bombers (U.S. and British) during the war. The British Royal Air Force (RAF) got a head start with their initial (and relatively minor) bombing runs in August 1940, and the first U.S. bombs were dropped on the city in February 1944.
The most significant attack on the city occurred on the evening of January 2, 1945, when 514 RAF Lancasters and seven RAF Mosquitos dropped 1,825 tons of high-explosives and 479 tons of incendiary bombs on Nuremberg’s old town/city center. As a result, that part of the city was destroyed. There were almost 2,000 civilian deaths, 3,000 were wounded, and more than 100,000 people were left homeless.
Four years earlier, in December 1940, the RAF targeted the symbolically important Nazi Party Rally Grounds at Zeppelin Park in Nuremberg. From 1933 to 1938, Adolf Hitler and his National Socialist party held their annual rallies there, and they were the most important and costliest party events of the year. During his first “Party Rally of Victory” in 1933, Hitler decreed that all subsequent party rallies would take place in Nuremberg. The following year, Hitler’s close ally, architect Albert Speer, was tasked with designing the Nazi Party Rally Grounds (Reichsparteitagsgelände) in the southeast section of the city. The 1934 rally was filmed by German filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl who released her resulting Nazi propaganda film Triumph des Willens (Triumph of the Will) in 1935.
Since 1973, all the buildings on the former Nazi Party Rally Grounds have been listed as historic monuments, conspicuous reminders of Germany’s darkest past. In the 1980s, the first exhibition on the Nazi party rallies was established inside the Zeppelin Grandstand, and in 2001, the Documentation Centre opened inside Congress Hall (above). Over three million people have visited the Centre since it opened. Although the City of Nuremberg has invested a significant sum of money for the upkeep of these buildings over the years, the passage of time has taken a toll. Without a serious renovation effort, permanent ruin is inevitable. A restoration plan has been devised by the City Building Department, and estimates say it will cost as much as eighty-five million Euros (to be shared by the city, the state of Bavaria, and the federal government). They hope to complete the project by 2025. Nuremberg’s Jewish community has embraced the restoration plan. Agreeing with the planners, they recognize the opportunities to educate future generations about the totalitarian ideology of the National Socialists from the 1930s and 1940s. The lasting message? Never again.
The city of Nuremberg is also known for another important World War II connection: the Nuremberg trials. From November 1945 to October 1946, a series of military tribunals were held at the Palace of Justice in Nuremberg (one of the few buildings that had remained largely undamaged throughout the war). The trials were most notable for the prosecution of many major Nazi party leaders who were charged with various war crimes. The participating judges and the chief prosecutors came from the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, France, and the United States. Most of the defense attorneys were German lawyers who were supported by seventy assistants, clerks, and other lawyers.
All defendants were charged with one or more of these four counts:
—Participation in a common plan or conspiracy for the accomplishment of a crime against peace
—Planning, initiating, and waging wars of aggression and other crimes against peace
—Participating in war crimes
—Crimes against humanity
Twelve of the twenty-four major defendants, including Hermann Göring, Alfred Jodl, and Wilhelm Keitel, were sentenced to death. (Göring committed suicide the night before his scheduled execution.) Three men were acquitted and another three were given life sentences. Most of the remaining defendants, including Albert Speer, were given 10-20 years imprisonment. The penalty for two defendants was listed as “No decision”: one was medically unfit for trial, and the other committed suicide before his trial began.
Only one woman, Herta Oberheuser, a Nazi physician, stood trial in Nuremberg for crimes against humanity—performing medical atrocities on prisoners at the Ravensbrück women’s concentration camp in Germany. She was convicted in August 1947 during the “Nuremberg Doctors’ trial” and sentenced to twenty years.
My regular readers have no doubt noticed that I occasionally like to reference movies that pertain to my blog subject. Judgment at Nuremberg is definitely worthy of mention today. It was released in 1961 and starred Spencer Tracy, Burt Lancaster, Richard Widmark, Maximilian Schell, Werner Klemperer (Colonel Klink from Hogan’s Heroes), Marlene Dietrich, Judy Garland, and William Shatner (in a minor role as U.S. Army Captain Harrison Byers). Stanley Kramer (Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, Inherit the Wind, Ship of Fools) was the director and producer.
The movie is a fictionalized account of the Nuremberg Judges’ Trial of 1947, one of the twelve U.S. Nuremberg Military Tribunals conducted before the U.S. military. Four German judges (there were sixteen in the actual Judges’ Trial) are accused of crimes against humanity. It’s a complex story that takes place against the background of the Berlin Blockade (fodder for another blog, perhaps). There is pressure on the Spencer Tracy character (Chief Judge Dan Haywood) to assign lighter sentences to the four defendants which could potentially gain some German support in the developing Cold War with the Soviets.
Judgment at Nuremberg was the first mainstream movie to show actual footage taken by British and American soldiers as they liberated European concentration camps in 1945. It was used as evidence during one trial scene in the movie.
The film’s world premiere was held in Berlin, Germany on December 14, 1961 and it was released in the U.S. five days later. The reviews were mostly very positive. In 1962, it received eleven Oscar nominations, garnering wins for Best Actor (Maximilian Schell) and Best Screenplay (Abby Mann). Stanley Kramer also received the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award that year as well as a Golden Globe Award for Best Director.
After an intense five-day battle, Nuremberg fell to the U.S. 7th Army on April 20, 1945.
Have you been to Nuremberg? What did you think? Let me know.
Blessings to all.
Sally Jameson Bond is retired and lives in Southwest Virginia with her husband and two dogs. My Mother’s Friend is her first novel. You can find her web site here: www.sallyjamesonbond.com.