On November 20, 1945 the Nuremberg Trials of the main culprits of Nazism began. A lot has been written about them but many people are unaware of the fact some materials on the trials were never fully published. Only eight out of 42 volumes of transcripts have been disclosed. This is why the recollections of participants in those events are of particular interest.
I had more than one conversation with Margarita Nerucheva, a retired Soviet intelligence officer and lieutenant colonel who worked as an interpreter in the Spandau prison where the defendants were held. Later they became convicts.
"The creation of the International Military Tribunal was initially hindered by the USA and England, who possibly feared the disclosure of Hitler's financing mechanisms," she said. "British Prime Minister Winston Churchill insisted on the execution of top Nazis without trial. However, Stalin was against it. He said, “Whatever happens, there should be a court ruling. Otherwise, people might say that Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin just took revenge on their political enemies!"
When Roosevelt heard that Stalin was a supporter of the court, he said that the court procedure should not be "too legal." However, Stalin won in this dispute. The agreement on the establishment of the International Military Tribunal and its statutes was developed by the USSR, the USA, Great Britain, and France during a London conference held from June 26 to August 8, 1945."
A total of 24 political and military figures of the Third Reich became the defendants. At the Nuremberg Trials, the main objectives of Nazism were revealed for the first time. Here is just one example. From testimony by SS Obergruppenfuhrer [one of the highest-rank officers in the Third Reich’s security agency] BАсh-Zelewski and others, it became known about the meeting which had taken place at the beginning of 1941. During the meeting, Himmler directly said that one of the purposes of a future campaign against the USSR should become "extermination of the Slavic people to the number of 30 mln." When asked by a lawyer what was behind this goal, he had to give a self-revealing answer. "This was a logical consequence of our entire National Socialist worldview,” he said. “If people have preached for decades that the Slavs are a lower race, this result is inevitable."
Throughout Europe, 18 mln people passed just through death camps during the war alone. A total of 11 mln were killed.
In the course of the Nuremberg tribunal, several provocations were staged. They caused tension between representatives of the USSR and the USA. In particular, the murder of a Soviet soldier near the Grand Hotel in Nuremberg that was never solved. It was not ruled out this was the work of the U.S. military. In another incident, the Americans seized a Soviet plane. It landed in Nuremberg without notification to US representatives. Public prosecutor Roman Rudenko, the chief trial counsel from the Soviet side at the Nuremberg Trials, demanded to put an end to the arbitrariness, making it a condition for continuing the trial of the main Nazi criminals.
Then, US soldiers pulled a batch of seized Nazi documents out of a Soviet truck and burned them, allegedly to keep warm. The papers had been delivered to the court building. All these provocations took place at a time when US representatives in court tried to exert pressure on the Soviet delegation on key issues. It is also telling that the Americans, who had shown unprecedented reluctance to open the second front, demonstrated extraordinary alacrity in Nuremberg. They quickly took over key seats at the trials. Along with that, they performed prison guard functions and had the power to execute death penalties. At night, a US policeman was on duty near each cell and continuously watched through the peephole. However, two men under their care were not kept safe. First, Robert Ley, the leader of the German labor front, committed suicide before the trial. Two hours before hanging, Hermann Göering took poison.
The trials continued through to October 1, 1946. The following people were sentenced to death by hanging — Goering, Ribbentrop, Keitel, Kaltenbrunner, Rosenberg, Frank, Frick, Streicher, Sauckel, Seyss-Inquart, Bormann (in absentia), and Jodl. Hess, Funk, and Raeder got life imprisonment. Fritzsche, Papen, and Schacht were justified. The rest were sentenced to various prison sentences.
As already mentioned, the U.S. got the right to carry out the execution. Sergeant John Wood carried out the death sentence. The sports hall of the Palace of Justice was prepared for hanging. A high platform with gallows was set up there. To hide the death throes of prisoners, it was upholstered with wood on three sides and curtained with dark cloth on the fourth one. Göering's suicide caused an hour and a half delay and slightly altered the execution procedure. Initially, it was assumed that the convicts would walk from their cells to the scaffold with their hands-free. Then, out of fear of new incidents, members of the execution commission instructed the commandant of the prison to convoy the Nazis with their hands behind their backs and in handcuffs. Only at the gallows installed in the gym the handcuffs were taken off. They were immediately replaced with a solid rope that was untied when a criminal was already standing with a noose around his neck. Convicts were executed one by one.
“That was fast,” Sergeant Wood later bragged in an interview. “Ten men were hung in 103 minutes.” By the way, he himself did not stay much long alive after the execution. In 1950, he passed away under unclear circumstances.
The coffins with the bodies of the Nazis were sent to the Dachau death camp which they had once built for others. In the furnaces of this diabolical institution, the bodies of the main Nazi criminals were burned, and the ashes were thrown into the nearest river.
"Hess, Donitz, Neurath, Raeder, Speer, Schirach, and Funk were serving their sentences in Spandau," Margarita Nerucheva said summing up our meetings. "The prison was managed by representatives of four powers from each of the allied countries. There were a lieutenant-colonel as the head of the facility, a medical officer, as well as an interpreter, and a warden. The guard rotated alternately every month, as well as the heads. The staff inside the prison consisted of male officers from the United Nations member-states. Germans were not accepted for service. All the expenses that amounted to 850,000 Deutschemarks per year were paid by the West Berlin Senate. The pattern lasted more than forty years until the death of Hess, the last prisoner."