This outline provides a comprehensive examination of the Nuremberg Trials, and can be used to address issues raised in the Justice, Memory and Legacy section of Holocaust and Human Behavior. Readings from the resource book are accompanied by selected websites and videos.
The Nuremberg trials, held from 1945 to 1949, were a galvanizing moment in history, international law, and human rights. This documentary about the trials combines archival footage and modern-day interviews with trial participants who served in a variety of roles, including members of the legal team for the prosecution and a journalist reporting on the events for the press. Some of these people include Sally Falk Moore, Ernest Michel, Bernard Meltzer, Benjamin Ferencz, and Richard Sonnenfeldt.
This lesson is designed to accompany the 12-minute documentary Nuremberg Remembered. Using this lesson along with the documentary will introduce teachers and their students to the essential questions of guilt, judgment and responsibility that were initially posed at the end of World War II and continue to be raised in the twenty-first century.
- examine their own views guilt and responsibility during wartime.
- analyze who should have been judged - the individuals who gave orders, the people who carried them out, or the people allowed the atrocities to occur
- evaluate whether justice was achieved at the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials.
Beginning with the end of World War II, a series of war crimes trials have been conducted, the first being the trials held in Nuremberg in 1946. Since this lesson outline examines the goals and methods of these trials, the following readings from Holocaust and Human Behavior build a vocabulary and chronology necessary for the activities included in this outline: Chapter 9, Judgment, "Overview," "The Rules of War," "Humanity's Aspirations to Do Justice," "We Were Not Supposed To Think.
Readings In addition to the selections above from Holocaust and Human Behavior, the following readings could be used to highlight specific aspects of this outline:
- Chapter 9, Judgment, "Obedience to Orders," "Betraying the Children," "The Scientists of Annihilation," "Less than Slaves," "Toward International Standards," "On Trial," and "The United Nations and Genocide."
Videos The following videos are essential to this activity. For more information on how to obtain copies of these videos, visit the Facing History Lending Library.
1. Have students begin with a pre-writing activity by asking them to comment on their journals about the following questions (For more information on how other Facing History teachers have used journals, go to Strategic Ways to Use a Facing History Journal.)
Who is guilty and who is responsible for the atrocities committed during the World War II?
Are individuals responsible for wartime atrocities if they have obeyed the laws of their nation?
2. Debrief their reactions to this quote in small groups or with a think-pair-share activity.
3. A homework or classwork journal assignment can be used at this point to transition these activities towards an examination of the Nuremberg trials. Combined with Chapter 9, of Holocaust and Human Behavior, The Overview, the following questions could be useful in directing students attention to the trials of the Germans after World War II:
- Are there rules for war?
- Who should enforce them?
- What happens if you break them?
4. Begin an examination of Nuremberg by showing the short film Nuremberg Remembered. This introduction can be reinforced through a careful examination of The Rules of War in Chapter 9, Judgment. Students may want to compare the legally defined rules of war described here with the reactions to the journal prompt from above.
Optional: The personal reflections by Alfons Heck in both the video Heil Hitler: Confessions of a Hitler Youth and Betraying the Children in Chapter 9, could also be used to begin an examination of the trials.
5. Based upon the following readings, students will participate in a barometer activity in which they respond to the assertion:
The Nuremberg War Crimes Trials were successful in punishing those responsible for the crimes of World War II
After reviewing the following selections from Holocaust and Human Behavior, students should organize themselves into a line, with one end representing absolute agreement with the statement and the other end absolute disagreement. Once they have situated themselves, invite students from either the extremes or the middle to explain their reasoning, and see if they can shift the location of other students.
- Chapter 9, Judgment, "Humanity's Aspirations to Do Justice," "Obedience to Orders," "A Man of Words," "We Were Not Supposed To Think," "The Scientists of Annihilation," and "Less than Slaves."
- Have students read the selection On Trial from chapter 9 of Holocaust and Human Behavior. This reading describes the experiences of a German journalist attending one of the trials held in Frankfurt in 1964. The first two Connections questions examine important questions about guilt, innocence and responsibility.
- A second reading in chapter 9, Choices, includes the 1991 Yale commencement address by Guido Calabresi. This reading examines additional questions about justice, war guilt and responsibility.
- Facing History has produced a companion study guide to the documentary Facing the Truth with Bill Moyers, which examines the Truth and Reconciliation Committee in South Africa.
Sources & Notes
This lesson was made possible in part by funds granted by the Charles H. Revson Foundation. The statements made and the views expressed, however, are solely the responsibility of Facing History and Ourselves.