CONTRIBUTED BY SARAH FORTE
This summer I had a chance to spend a day in Washington D.C. before hopping on the rotator to Germany. Spending the day in our country’s capitol hours before moving to Germany felt fitting. As we walked the national mall, we came to the relatively new WWII memorial, half way between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial. One side of the memorial represented the war in the Pacific and the other side, the European Theater. I found the section marked “Okinawa,” where we were last assigned, and then found “Germany” where we were headed. That’s when it really hit me how much that war, long over before I was born, has influenced my life.
Without WWII there would be no reason for a girl from the mid-west to move with her husband to a tiny island in the Pacific for three years and pack up everything again and move to Germany for another expected three years. Do I love to travel? Yes! Do I appreciate living in these places? Yes! Would I have done it without the push from the military? Probably not.
And why is the US military presence so large in places like Germany and Okinawa? It all goes back to the events of WWII and the agreements made following the war. America was a major player in the war, but, thankfully, the war was not fought there. The bombs didn’t physically change our cities; the events did not play out in our neighborhoods. But living in Europe, you will often see the marks of war yet today.
If you are a “history person” or not, you will be reminded of the war’s changing hand on Germany. You will see buildings that survived the conflict or others who needed major rebuilding after the war. You might be walking down the street and see a monument. Or you can go to places that are known for their direct correlation to specific events of the war.
We recently visited the Palace of Justice in Nuremberg. It survived the war with exceptionally little damage. It’s what took place there from 20 November 1945 and 1 October 1946 that makes it noteworthy. For almost one year the world watched as high-ranking members of the Third Reich were tried for their war crimes. Twelve other trials followed lasting until 1949 for 177 lower ranking defendants.
The war was over and it was time to decide the fate of those who had lost the war and committed crimes against the treaties and agreements made after the First World War. A trial of this scale and type had never been performed. Where would it be held? Who would be involved? How would fairness and justice be carried out?
It was decided that Nuremberg’s Palace of Justice would be the best choice. The building was relatively undamaged, there was an intact jail next door, and the nearby airport could be repaired easily to handle the load of this international event. Nuremberg had also been a headquarters for the emerging Nazi party and had having the trials there held a certain symbolic importance as well.
Today, when you visit the Palace of Justice, you can see the courtroom where the trial was held. It is still being used as a courtroom today and although modifications have been made, the room holds a solemn feel. On the floor above is a museum explaining the events of the trial and the ramifications for future war trials.
The trial was groundbreaking in many aspects. The French, Soviet, British and American governments along with input from the other occupying countries agreed that 24 leaders as well as seven organizations would stand trial for four different counts of war crimes. The trial would treat the defendants not as military or political heads of state, but as common criminals. The trial was held where the crimes took place and use nearly 6,000 pieces of evidence to try the defendants.
As a result of the trials, the Nuremberg Principals developed as a benchmark for other war crimes and crimes against humanity. These principals do not relieve a defendant of responsibility if they were acting under the orders of a superior.
Although this isn’t a light-hearted or amusing place to visit, I’d still highly recommend it. It highlights an important part of history and highlight’s Germany’s recurring mottos of “Never Forget” and “Never Again.”
What to expect:
- Included with the price of admission is an audio guide. It will explain the layout of courtroom 600 and then translate the panels of information that are printed primarily in German. They are available in English as well as several other languages.
- Parking is all street-side. Carefully watch the signage, but most is free on the weekends.
- I would not suggest this site for small children. I don’t feel it would be traumatic for kids; it’s just not intended for them.
- If you want to listen to all the translations (or read all the panels), plan on being there for about 3 hours.
- Tickets, audio guides, restrooms and coat lockers are on ground level. Take the stairs or elevator up to the next level to see courtroom 600. The museum gallery is on the floor above.
- Courtroom 600 is still an active courtroom and may not be open to visitors. If you cannot enter, you will still be able to see the room from the museum on the third floor.
- The museum space is relatively new, opening in 2010. There is very little “stuff’ in the museum: two original benches the defendants sat on, a chest used for transporting documents, and an electrical switch board. The display is mainly composed of lit panels with pictures, film and explanations of the trial and surrounding events.
Memorium Nuremberg Trials
90429 Nuremberg, Germany
Wednesday – Monday 1000-1800 (last admission 1700)
Includes audio guide in English, French, Italian, Spanish, Russian or Polish
Family Ticket 1 (One adult, all of his or her own children): 5.50€
Family Ticket 2 (Two adults, all of their own children): 10.50€
Nuremberg Day Ticket: For an extra 2.50€ you can visit all other municipal museums free of charge on the same day.
The most closely related museum in topic is the Documentation Center and Party Rally Grounds.