“Nuremberg” is a very familiar name. The “Nuremberg Trials” even get a mention in popular media like the US TV series “Sex and the City”. On the anniversary of the start of the Nuremberg Trials 70 years ago, an international law congress organised by the International Nuremberg Principles Academy has now been held at Nuremberg Convention Center and the Palace of Justice Nuremberg-Fürth.
They were young. They were needed. Because they were able to do what needed to be done – acting as translators and interpreters, court assistants or bodyguards. And so they helped to bring to trial the leading representatives of the Nazi regime. Now, on the 70th year after the start of the Nuremberg Trials, they have been remembering this event where it all took place, in Courtroom 600 in the Nuremberg Palace of Justice.
It’s raining outside. The evening is fading into the blackness of the night. The Nuremberg Palace of Justice stands out like a colossus against the sky. In Courtroom 600, the three men stand exactly where 70 years ago, the war criminals of the Nazi regime were convicted. The three men are: Dr Yves Beigbeder, former court assistant, Moritz Fuchs, former bodyguard to Chief US Prosecutor Robert H. Jackson, and Dr George Sakheim, former interpreter. None of them younger than 90, they are three of the last five surviving eye witnesses.
“As I recall, Nuremberg lay in ruins, everything had been destroyed. It is unbelievable what has become of this town and how it has changed nowadays. I am really very impressed.”
Sakheim is a native of Hamburg. He speaks American English with an unmistakable German accent, while his German is marked by the Hamburg dialect. Because he emigrated to Palestine in his youth with his mother and later to America, he can speak both German and English. After all these years he didn’t recognise Nuremberg: “I remember that Nuremberg was in ruins, everything had been destroyed. It is unbelievable what has become of this town and how it has changed today. I am really very impressed.”
This surviving eye-witnesses described the enormous effort involved in listing and describing the crimes and atrocities committed by the regime. Nuremberg had the necessary infrastructure to accomplish this work, which is why the city became the venue for the trials: The prison was still intact and the Palace of Justice had not been destroyed. No other German city was able to offer such a building, explained Chief U.S. Prosecutor Robert H. Jackson at the time about the choice of location.
Over 218 days of proceedings, countless documents were submitted by both the prosecution and the defence. The material was so extensive that the post-trial printed documentation could not include all documents submitted, even in 42 volumes. “Accordingly, there were thousands of pages to translate, like commands and service instructions,” says Sakheim, who also interpreted for defendants appearing on their own behalf as witnesses for the defence.
Stage play at original site
To end the congress, well-known actor Katja Riemann (“F*ck You, Goethe”) gave a brilliant performance of the song “A song of good and evil,” written and also performed by human rights lawyer Philippe Sands. The performance piece, which premiered in London with Vanessa Redgrave, is about three individuals who are involved in the Nuremberg Trials in different ways: as a defendant, a prosecutor and a defence lawyer. What they have in common is a love of the music of Bach, Beethoven, Rachmaninoff and Leonard Cohen. For the performers and the audience, the setting of Courtroom 600 was very moving. Sands: “We are going to tour with this piece worldwide, to the U.S. and China – but we will never be able to find the kind of intense atmosphere that we have here at the original site.”
The Nuremberg Trials became part of world history and laid the foundation for modern international criminal law. The International Nuremberg Principles Academy (IANP) is a foundation for the promotion of international law based in the Nuremberg Palace of Justice, the historic location of the Nuremberg Trials. It is an international, interdisciplinary forum for the discussion of contemporary issues relating to international criminal law. The Nuremberg Trials and the Nuremberg principles created the basis for modern international criminal law. The objective of the IANP is therefore to continue to develop this legacy and promote the legitimacy, lawfulness and acceptance of international criminal law and its application worldwide.