Nuremberg, or Nurnberg as the locals call it, became the city of the Nazi party rallies for the Third Reich and, as I am parked on the edge of the 11 square kms which make up the former rally grounds, it seems silly not to take a look.
On the 27th February 1933 the Reichstag in Berlin burned down. Officially, the fire was set by a Dutch communist but there are many conspiracy theories about this historic moment. For it was this event that gave the socialist party the excuse to remove political opponents and place them in concentration camps, such as Dachau which was established on 22nd March 1933. Then on the 10th May 1933 book burning took place at the University, destroying the works of communist authors such as Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud. The Nazi party politics were gaining strength and they needed a place to showcase their support.
With the help of architect Albert Speer, Hitler proposed to build huge structures and parade areas in the city of Nuremberg. The central axis of the Rally Grounds was Grosse Strasse (Great Street). 2 kms long and 60 m wide, the street was constructed with 60,000 granite slabs, many of which were provided by prisoners of the concentration camps set up for just such a task. At the end of the war it was used by the U.S. army as a temporary airstrip and today it serves as a car park during major city events.
A large congress hall was proposed to seat 50,000 people but it was never completed and, despite many proposals for new uses of the site, it has never been developed. However, one wing holds a concert hall while the other houses the Documentation Centre, a modern museum with exhibits explaining the creation of the National Socialist Party and their reign of terror, leading up to and during WWII. I’m given a useful audioguide which translates all the display boards into English as well as synching with any video footage.
On the way back to the motorhome I visit Zeppelin Field, so called because a Zeppelin airship landed there in 1909. During the 1920s a large sports and leisure park was built here but in 1933 it became the main parade ground for the Nazi troops. A couple of years later, Albert Speer oversaw the creation of a new square complex with a monumental grandstand inspired by the Pergamon Altar in Berlin and allowing the Fuhrer to look down upon 20,000 supporting members of his party. Today the area has reverted to its use as a sports field while the grandstand, blown up by allied troops after a victory parade, provides a good spot to watch the sunset, though sadly the locals don’t care to clean up after their sundowners.
After the Allies secured victory, it was necessary to hold a trial for the war criminals. Luckily the Palais de Justice in Nuremberg was not badly damaged during the allied bombing of the city in 1945 and so it was chosen as a suitable place to set up the court. The adjacent prison also proved useful to house the accused during the trial. I’m lucky to be able to visit courtroom 600 where the trials took place as it is still regularly used today. It had to be modified in 1945 to accommodate the press and provide suitable lighting for the proceedings to be recorded, but it was later restored to its original state.
The Nuremberg trials were based on the 1864 Geneva Convention Rules of War and conducted in the same manner as the UK and US law courts of the time. Robert H Jackson was appointed Chief Prosecutor and the accused were allowed defence lawyers. The first trial took place in November 1945. The Nazi ideals had been to Germanise eastern territories whilst removing former inhabitants, many of whom were sent to concentration camps to die or be executed. Leading Nazi politicians were held accountable for the atrocities and the 21 accused men included Goring, Hess and Speer.
On the 10th October 1946 their sentences were read: 12 death by hanging, 3 life sentences, 4 long term imprisonment and 2 acquitted. Those who were acquitted were released but quickly rearrested by the German authorities and placed in work camps. Goring escaped the hangman’s noose by committing suicide only 2 hours before the execution. Hitler, Goebbels and Himmler took the same way out at the end of the war and so were never tried for their crimes.
From the window of the exhibition area I can still see the site of the prison cells and the gymnasium where the accused were executed, but the old prison buildings were replaced with more modern ones in the 1980s. 12 more trials took place and the Nuremberg principles that were used then, now form the basis of the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Interestingly, my interest in the Nuremberg Trials was sparked many years ago by the Hollywood film “Judgement in Nuremberg” which starred one of my favourite actresses, Judy Garland, in an unusually serious role for her.