Tag Archives: Nuremberg Trials

Remembering History: Pierre Laval Executed (15 Oct 1945) and Hermann Goering Commits Suicide (15 Oct 1946)

FRANCE – JANUARY 02: Marshal Petain And Prime Minister Pierre Laval In The Park Of The Sevigne Pavillion In Vichy In 1942. Behind Them, On The Left, Dr. Bernard Menetrel Keeps Out Of Their Conversation. (Photo by Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images)
Public Doman via Wikimedia Commons

After the German invasion of France in 1940, the Vichy state was created with Henri Pétain in charge and Pierre Laval as head of state. Laval had originally begun his political life as a pacifist but during the 1930’s shifted more towards supporting Fascism. In 1935 he sought France to align with Italy rather than make a deal with the Soviet Union (he had become anti-communist by then). By 1939 he was against war with Germany and encouraged the antiwar faction to keep the government from using troops against Germany when it invaded Poland in September 1939. After the German invasion in 1940, he helped push for an armistice and got himself into the new Vichy government.

Pétain did not care much for him and dismissed him in 1940 after he found he was negotiating with Germany on his own. He had developed a friendship with Hitler and thus by 1942 had become the real ruler of Vichy while Pétain remained as a figurehead. During the time he ran the regime, he actively collaborated with Germany in carrying out their deportation of Jews and enforcing oppressive laws on French citizens. Laval had to flee to Germany when France was liberated in August 1944. He escaped to Spain when Germany was defeated in 1945, but Franco had him expelled. He tried hiding out in Austria but ultimately surrendered to American forces. He was then sent back to France to stand trial for his actions during the German occupation. The trial was quite sensational and revealed his complicity in working with the Germans. He was convicted of treason and sentenced to death. He tried taking his own life, but he was nursed back to health so he could be executed by firing squad on 15 October 1945. Petain, revered for his leadership in World War I, was tried and found guilty of treason. He was also to be executed but French president Charles de Gaulle changed it to life imprisonment. He was sent to the island of Yeu and died there in 1951.

Hermann Goering (15 October 1946)

Hermann Goring, 6 Jan 1943
Public Domain via Wikipedia

Hermann Goering once was not only the head of the Luftwaffe (German Air Force) but at one time Hitler’s designated successor. As Reichsmarschall, he held the highest military rank and answered only to Hitler. He had other titles as well (president of the Reichstag, prime minister of Prussia, chief liquidator of sequestered estates and much more). He established concentration camps to imprison enemies and was instrumental in many anti-Jewish policies such as Kristallnacht and confiscation of Jewish money and property. Known for his flamboyant outfits that showed off his decorations and his displays of stolen artwork, his only threat was from Heinrich Himmler head of the SS.

His stature began to fall when the Luftwaffe failed to deliver in the Battle of Britain, and failing to deter Allied bombings of Germany. Other German officers had a low opinion of his military strategies leading him to become depressed and more addicted to painkillers. By the end of the war, Hitler had turned away from his old comrade and dismissed him when he learned he was negotiating with the Allies. He was captured at the end of the war and was tried in Nuremburg for various crimes against humanity.

Herman Goering body, 15 Oct 1946
Public Domain

He was convicted and sentenced to be hanged. Before that could be carried out, he took a potassium cyanide capsule and died. Speculation on how he obtained the capsule is either he had managed to hide it successfully when he was initially captured, or it had been secretly delivered to him. Cyanide capsules were found on his person when he was captured. Some speculate that US Army lieutenant Jack G. Wheelis had retrieved a capsule after Goering gave him some personal effects, but it has never been substantiated. Former US Army private Herbert Lee Stivers claimed in 1945 that it was likely hidden in a fountain pen a German woman asked him to smuggle into the prison. Goering’s body was later cremated, and ashes thrown into the Isar River.


Pierre Laval

Hermann Goering


Nuremberg Trials Started Today in 1945

Nuremberg Trials. Defendants in their dock, circa 1945-1946.
(in front row, from left to right): Hermann Göring, Rudolf Heß, Joachim von Ribbentrop, Wilhelm Keitel
(in second row, from left to right): Karl Dönitz, Erich Raeder, Baldur von Schirach, Fritz Sauckel)
Public Domain (Wikipedia)

In the aftermath of World War II, there was debate about how to hold accountable those responsible for war crimes and especially the Holocaust. Adolf Hitler, Heinrich Himmler and Joseph Goebbels were already dead by suicide. Churchill had the simplest approach of wanting to simply execute them but it was decided that tribunal would be a better method. The tribunal would reveal to the world the extent of the crimes upon humanity the persons were responsible for.

The concept of an international tribunal was novel and had never been done before. Then again, no nation had before committed to full scale extermination of whole peoples as the Nazi’s had tried to do. An international tribunal composed of representatives from Great Britain, France, the Soviet Union, and the United States was formed. Defendants faced charges that varied from war crimes to crimes against humanity. Twenty- four were indicted along with six Nazi organizations such as the Gestapo that were also determined to be criminal. One was declared medically unfit to stand trial and another committed suicide before the trial began.

Each defendant was allowed to choose their own lawyers. They all pled not guilty and either argued that the crimes they committed were declared crimes after the London Charter (meaning ex post facto) or that they were applying harsh standards as they were the victors. The trials would last under October 1946 when verdicts were handed down. Twelve were sentenced to death and others got prison terms. Hermann Goering committed suicide the night before he was to be executed.



Nuremberg Trials. Defendants in their dock, circa 1945-1946.
(in front row, from left to right): Hermann Göring, Rudolf Hess, Joachim von Ribbentrop, Wilhelm Keitel
(in second row, from left to right): Karl Dönitz, Erich Raeder, Baldur von Schirach, Fritz Sauckel)
Public Domain (Wikipedia)

When World War II came to an end, it was decided to hold accountable officials and others responsible for crimes of war and the Holocaust. Some like Martin Bormann were tried in absentia. It was the first time in history this ever had been done. Usually when wars ended, treaties were signed, and prisoners of war released.  In this case an international tribunal comprising representatives from France, Great Britain, United States, and the Soviet Union (USSR), held trials for defendants who faced a wide range of charges.

The defendants were both high ranking officials of the Nazi government as well as military and SS leaders. 199 defendants were tried in Nuremberg. 161 were convicted and 37 were sentenced to death (there were some tried by the US outside of the tribunal, namely those involved with the Einsatzgruppen).  Unfortunately, Hitler and some of his closest aides (like Joseph Goebbels) committed suicide so they were never brought to trial.

Many Nazi’s fled Germany and were never held accountable for their crimes. Trials of Nazi’s would continue after the tribunal ended in many countries as they were brought to justice. Adolf Eichmann, who helped plan and carry out the deportations of Jews, was found in Argentina. Israeli agents captured him and brought him to Israel in 1960 where he stood trial. He was found guilty and executed in 1962.