Two large and on-going international needs emerged as World War II was ending: 1) retribution for perpetrators, and 2) the re-settlement of people uprooted by the war. These complex issues have occupied the hearts and minds of thousands around the world for decades. Even today, unresolved issues about the Holocaust
International and national trials conducted in the Soviet Union, Germany, Austria, Italy, France, and other European countries indicted hundreds of war criminals. Defendants ranged from Hitler's deputy minister, to the editor-in-chief of a malicious antisemitic newspaper, Der Stürmer,
to concentration camp guards and members of Einsatzgruppen.
Seven to nine million people were displaced by the end of the war. At the end of 1945, 1.5 to 2 million displaced persons (DPs)
did not want to return to their homes, fearing economic and social repercussions, or even annihilation. About ten percent of these people were Jewish. The Allies set up DP camps in Germany, which American, British, and French military controlled, and the United Nations took care of. One question that faced the Western world was, "who will offer a home to these displaced people?"
Ten scenes recording the treatment of collaborators after the War and two photos of Nazi plunder of gold and artwork.
Beginning in the summer of 1945, a series of high-level visitors examined the DP camps. Visitors included Earl G. Harrison, President Truman's envoy; David Ben-Gurion, future Prime Minister of Israel; and the Anglo-American Commission of Inquiry.
Harrison wrote, "We appear to be treating the Jews as the Nazis treated them, except that we don't exterminate them."
Reports by these influential visitors resulted in improved living conditions in the DP camps. Jewish DPs were recognized as a special ethnic group, with their own needs, and were moved to separate camps enjoying a wide degree of autonomy. Agencies of the United Nations and of Jews from Palestine, the United States, and Britain became involved with the camps. They provided vocational and agricultural education, and financial, legal, and psychological assistance. Several newspapers were published in the camps, keeping communication open between the DPs and the rest of the world.
Organizations, many with a Zionist focus, formed within the camps. Some Jews envisioned a Jewish homeland, considered by many to be Palestine. The British White Paper of 1939, however, still restricted immigration to Palestine by Jews.
While some of the international community were focusing on the survivors of the Holocaust, others were dealing with punishing to the perpetrators. The Allied troops were so outraged at what they found at concentration camps that they demanded German civilians directly confront the atrocities. U.S. troops led compulsory tours of concentration camps to the neighboring population. Some German citizens were forced to partake in the burial of countless corpses found in the camps.
Other more formal punishment was being discussed in the courtroom. Of the many post-war trials, those held at Nuremberg are the most well known. During the last years of the war, responding to reports of death and labor camps, the Allied countries created a War Crimes Commission and began the process of listing war criminals with the intent to prosecute. After the war, the International Military Tribunal was chartered. It composed of the four Allied nations: the United States, Great Britain, France, and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, and was charged with the task of prosecuting major Nazi war criminals.
Ten photographs of Germans forced to
view Nazi atrocities and help with the burial of victims.
International conventions that formed the basis for the Nuremberg Trials.
In Nuremberg, a war-ravaged town in southern Germany, 22 high ranking Nazi officials were named and brought to trial before the world. Robert Jackson, Chief Prosecutor for the United States at the Nuremberg Trials, addressed the International Military Tribunal on November 20, 1945, the first day in court:
The privilege of opening the first trial in history for crimes against the peace of the world imposes a grave responsibility. The wrongs which we seek to condemn and punish have been so calculated, so malignant and so devastating, that civilization cannot tolerate their being ignored, because it cannot survive their being repeated. That four great nations, flushed with victory and stung with injury, stay the hands of vengeance and voluntarily submit their captive enemies to the judgment of the law, is one of the most significant tributes that Power ever has paid to Reason.
Complete text of Jackson's opening remarks.
This file contains eleven photographs of the Nuremberg War Trials.
This Web site gives a synopsis of defendants and sentences.
The Werner Von Rosenstiel Collection, at the library of the University of South Florida in Tampa, contains a transcript of Von Rosenstiel discussing his experiences as an interpreter at the Nuremberg War Trials.
In addition to the well-known Nuremberg Trials of 1945-46, there were Subsequent Nuremberg Proceedings held between December 1946, and April 1949, which tried 177 persons. Individual countries also prosecuted war criminals in national courts of law. The British held trials of the commandant and staff of the Bergen-Belsen camp
. those responsible for forced labor, and the owners and executives of the manufacturer of Zyklon B
. among others. The Netherlands, Hungary, Norway, Poland, West Germany, and Romania were some of the other countries that brought war criminals to trial.
As the perpetrators were being tried, many survivors were still in limbo, waiting for an opportunity to emigrate from Europe. Joining these survivors, in large numbers in 1946, were Jews who had remained throughout eastern Europe. They felt they could no longer continue living in their former villages which, during the war, had become Jewish graveyards.
Many of these Jewish refugees turned to the American DP camps for temporary asylum. This organized and illegal mass movement of Jews throughout Europe, known as "B'richa," added to the displaced persons' dilemma.
The United States and Britain were the two countries in a position to help resolve this crisis. However, the U.S. was reluctant to increase its immigration quota. Britain, which held Palestine as a mandated territory, was hesitant to take a stand that would alienate the Arabs, who did not want to see Palestine become a Jewish homeland.
Nineteen photographs of displaced persons and the camps established for them after the War.
Henry Cohen, director of the Foehrenwald DP Camp, tells of life at the camp in 1946.
Map of DP camps in Germany and Austria, 1945-46.
It became increasing clear that the problem of approximately one million displaced people, about 80% Christian and 20% Jewish, would not be resolved easily. In 1947, a series of bills was introduced in the U.S. Congress to relax immigration quotas, but none passed.