Like it or not, but I believe that one of the first things that comes to mind when people hear the word "Nuremberg" is the Nuremberg war-crimes trials. Yet, up until recently (late Spring of 2000) the courthouse where the trials took place was closed to the public. Now, anyone can revisit the building and the actual courtroom where history took place.
From November 20, 1945, until October 1, 1946, the International Military Tribunal convened in room 600 in the Nuremberg Palace of Justice. (Incidentally, even now the room has the same number.) Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson who was the chief prosecutor at the trials recommended Nuremberg as the site for the trials for several reasons. The Courthouse was big enough to accommodate many people-530 offices and about 80 courtrooms. It was well preserved after the war (90% of the city was destroyed). And, conveniently enough, a prison was a part of the complex.
(TNT recently released a movie "Nuremberg" about the trials, starring Alec Baldwin as Justice Jackson.)
24 Nazi leaders were indicted and tried as war criminals. The indictment against them contained four points:
1) Conspiracy to commit crimes against humanity
2) Planning, initiating and waging wars of aggression
4) Crimes against humanity
Among the defendants were such infamous Nazi leaders as Hermann Goering who created the Secret Police, which later developed into the Gestapo; Rudolf Hess, who was Hitler's deputy in the NSDAP; Ernst Kaltenbrunner, who was the head of the Security Police (SD); Joachim von Ribbentrop, Germany's Foreign minister who signed the non-aggression agreement with Stalin shortly before Germany invaded the Soviet Union, and many others.
The verdicts were announced on September 30 and on October 1, 946: three acquittals, 12 sentences to death by hanging, 7 sentences to life imprisonment or to lesser terms. Those sentenced to death were executed in the early morning of October 16, 1946, in the old gymnasium (no longer exists) of the Nuremberg prison, except for Goering who committed suicide by taking cyanide of potassium the night before his execution. The source of poison still remains a mystery.
Visiting the room 600 was a memorable experience. So much history took place here that it was hard to believe I was actually there, sitting on the bench in the courtroom, which was the focus of international attention 45 years ago. I found the room to be much smaller than it looks on photographs. The current layout is not exactly the same as it was in 1945, but the benches of Nazi criminals and the benches of the judges are still facing each other like in the old times.
Room 600 is still a working courtroom and trials are held there on weekdays. However, now, for the first time since 1946, the courtroom is open for the touring public. I was there in late June of 2000, only 4 weeks after the opening. It is only open on weekends from 1 to 4 and only by escorted tours, which at that point were only in German. I'm sure that English tours are not in the distant future. The tour consists of a bout ½ lecture about the trials inside the courtroom followed by the documentary film. Watching the film inside the courtroom where it was shot is an unforgettable experience. Luckily, I have a friend who lives in Nuremberg, who is German (Hi Pamela!), and who is fluent in English, so she interpreted everything for me. I was somewhat surprised that there were only a few people on tour. I thought that the courthouse would be a much bigger tourist attraction. Perhaps the word has not spread yet that it's now open.