Today was another incredible day on this amazing cycling trip across Europe.
My target was Nuremberg, which lay 100km away and with just one road to take me there (or so the map said). I wanted to visit the Nuremberg Trial room, which is closed on Tuesdays, so I had to get there early today.
Waking up at 0600, I was eager to hit the road but it was already bucketing it down. I somehow managed to motivate myself and was packed and out of the door in minutes, but it wasn’t long before I was soaked to the bone. Better yet, the road that was marked as suitable for cyclists on the map had somehow turned into a motorway! Evidently I had missed the ‘no-cycling signs’ – were they even there? I therefore found myself pedalling as fast as possible to the next exit on the hard shoulder. Not fun. The alternative was to walk the wrong way down a motorway which would have been more dangerous, especially in the dark. Eventually I found a path that would take me in the rough direction I wanted so I followed it, wasting valuable time and making me rather demoralised about the whole thing.
After hours of cycling in the rain, soaked, cold, tired, I finally reached my destination at about 1300. The place I had thought about cheating to reach by taking a train. The journey today was mentally tough, but all my troubles paled into insignificance when I reached the court rooms.
Through a series of posters, videos and audio clips, I was fed the summation of the abominable atrocities, abhorrent war crimes against humanity and of the peace at the end of World War II.
The first thing I did when entering the museum was walk into the court-room. Immediately I felt the emotion from the place. I have never had this happen to me before. Perhaps my subconscious over the past few days was suppressing emotions as I slowly cycled across Germany; but now I found myself standing there, the very same room so many evil people who were responsible for so many deaths stood awaiting the court’s sentences.
21 people were tried here. Göring, Donitz, Hess, Raeder, Von Ribbentrop, Keitel, Schirach, Kaltenbrunner, Sauckel, Rosenberg, Jodl, Frank, Von Rapen, Frick, Seyss-Inquart, Streicher, Speer, Funk, Von Neurath, Schaucht, Fritzsche.
Most received a sentence of death by hanging. A few got lengthy prison sentences and 3 managed to be acquitted. These sentences were given to the defendants over a year after the end of the war.
They were tried for:
Crimes Against Peace
Crimes Against Humanity
There was a call by many to “liquidate” those who clearly had involvement, but the idea of a fair trial prevailed. Indeed the consensus after the trial was that it was fair and just.
There were many pieces of evidence that were examined for the trials; some of which were mentioned at the museum. One that stuck in my mind is of a German commander saying that “the lowest German is 1000 times better than any of the people here [in the Ukraine].”
I was in Kiev to trace my family history a few years ago and visited the site of Babi Yar. All of the Jews of the town there were rounded up and shot on top of a hill; the bodies pushed down a ditch and buried over. In some of the follow up trials people were called to take responsibility for such events. Paul Blobel was prosecuted for Babi Yar and the suspected 33,000 deaths there, although other reports suggest up to 3 times as many people were slaughtered in this way here. Blobel was hanged after being found guilty.
There were also trials for the camps of Auschwitz where the highest number of murders had taken place, and for another camp in Majdanek where conditions were reportedly even more horrendous and unspeakable. These happened over 20 years after the war ended and so evidence was a lot harder to gather.
IG Farben, the chemical company that supplied things like Cyclone-B gas and organised the Auschwitz camp were mostly given short sentences – if at all. Some even obtained successful positions in the pharmaceutical industry after the war.
The doctors who tortured patients and killed many through their tests (e.g. giving them hypothermia to study the affects) were also prosecuted, with some being sentenced to hanging but some eluding even a prison sentence.
At the end of the visit to the museum, there was a display with a summary of reports of war crimes – those crimes being against more than 1000 people. The map shows the true extent of the horrors.
I wanted to point out that this journey is to learn about Europe’s recent war history and honour those killed in them. I could (and probably will) write about many other events that have happened since, and even some that are happening now. However my current journey’s purpose is to learn about and understand better WWII.
Tomorrow I am continuing to Flossenburg concentration camp.
p.s. I have just finished the day by going to an independent cinema on a “Gay-Filmnacht” to watch a movie entitled “The Butler” which is a hollywood story about the history of civil rights for black people over the last several decades in America. I think this part of the world has definitely come on a bit…