Would that it didn't have to be, but at least on this day, October 1, 1946, the Nazi leaders were finally sentenced at the Nuremburg Trials. Most were sentenced to death by hanging with the significant exception of Albert Speer.
The tribunal was given the task of trying 23 of the most important political and military leaders of the Third Reich, though one of the defendants, Martin Bormann, was tried in absentia, while another, Robert Ley, committed suicide within a week of the trial's commencement. (Not included were Adolf Hitler, Heinrich Himmler, and Joseph Goebbels, all of whom had committed suicide in the spring of 1945, well before the indictment was signed.)
The first, and best known of these trials, described as "the greatest trial in history" by Norman Birkett, one of the British judges who presided over it, was the trial of the major war criminals before the International Military Tribunal (IMT). It is considered to be a major step in the formulation of modern international law and the establishment of the ICTY, ICTR, the ICC and the ad hoc courts for Cambodia and Sierra Leone.
On this day, May 11, 1960, four Israeli Mossad agents capture fugitive Nazi Adolf Eichmann who is living under the alias of Ricardo Klement in Buenos Aires, Argentina. After his execution, his remains were cremated and the ashes scattered at sea.
On this day, June 1, 1962, at 8 p.m. on May 31st Adolf Eichmann was informed that his legal appeal had been declined.
Eichmann's execution at a prison in Ramla was scheduled for midnight, but due to a slight delay it happened a few minutes after midnight. He refused a last meal (preferring instead a bottle of wine) as well as the traditional black hood. His last words were:
"Long live Germany. Long live Argentina. Long live Austria. These are the three countries with which I have been most connected and which I will not forget. I greet my wife, my family and my friends. I am ready. We'll meet again soon, as is the fate of all men. I die believing in God."
Within four hours Eichmann's body had been cremated at a secret location, and his ashes were scattered in the Mediterranean Sea, outside of Israeli territorial waters by an Israeli Navy patrol boat.
On this day, September 30, 1941, Friedrich Jeckeln, Otto Rasch, Paul Blobel, Kurt Eberhard and the Einsatzgruppen, Ordnungspolizei, Sonderkommando 4a massacred 33,771 Jewish men, women and children.
The massacre was the largest single mass killing by the Nazi regime and its collaborators within the Soviet Union and is also considered to be "the largest single massacre in the history of the Holocaust" to that particular date, surpassed later only by the Aktion Erntefest of November 1943 in occupied Poland (42,000-43,000 victims) and the 1941 Odessa massacre of more than 50,000 Jews committed by Romanian troops.
On this day, June 16, 1940, Marshal Henri Philippe Pétain became Chief of State of the puppet state of Vichy France.
As a result of his outstanding military leadership in World War I, particularly during the Battle of Verdun, he was viewed as a national hero in France; He was a French general who reached the distinction of becoming a Marshal of France.
With the imminent fall of France in June 1940, Pétain was appointed Premier of France by President Lebrun at Bordeaux, and the Cabinet resolved to make peace with Germany. On June 22, France signed an armistice at Compiègne with Germany that gave Germany control over the north and west of the country including Paris and all of the Atlantic coastline, but left the remaining two-fifths of France's prewar territory, unoccupied.
The new government immediately used its new powers to order harsh measures, including the dismissal of republican civil servants, the installation of exceptional jurisdictions, the proclamation of antisemitic laws, and the imprisonment of opponents and foreign refugees. Censorship was imposed, and freedom of expression and thought were effectively abolished with the reinstatement of the crime of "felony of opinion."
After the liberation of France on 7 September 1944, the Germans involuntarily relocated Pétain and other members of the French cabinet to Sigmaringen in Germany, where they became a "government-in-exile" until April 1945. Pétain, however, refused to participate in this government and so Fernand de Brinon now headed the 'government commission.'
Pétain voluntarily returned to France and de Gaulle's provisional government put Pétain on trial for treason. Dressed in the uniform of a Marshal of France, Pétain remained silent through most of the proceedings after an initial statement that denied the right of the High Court, as constituted, to try him.
Although the three judges recommended acquittal on all charges, the jury convicted him and sentenced him to death by a one-vote majority. Due to his advanced age, the Court asked that the sentence not be carried out and De Gaulle commuted the sentence to life imprisonment.
Petain died on July 23, 1951, at the age of 95.
Thomas E. Keefe
Assistant Professor of Humanities,