Introduction to the Proceedings

The digitized microfilm in this collection consists of nearly all U.S. federal records, and include U.S. Army investigation and trial records of war criminals for tribunals held in Germany; judicial reviews of US Army war crimes trials in Europe and of Class B and Class C war crimes held at Yokohama, Japan; transcripts and records of trials of Japanese War criminals held at Yokohama, Tokyo, and Manila; and selections from the records of the International Prosecution Section of the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers. These records come from Microfilm reels commissioned from the National Archives and Records by Professor David Cohen, and subsequently accessioned by Stanford Libraries for digitization.

About the U.S. Army War Crimes Trials in Europe

This collection of microfilm contains substantial records from the European Theater and particularly the major program of trials conducted at Dachau by the U.S. Army. The confrontation with the past in divided Germany after 1945 presents one of the most complex cases of transitional justice in the postwar period. There is first the fact that, at least until 1951, the reckoning with past injustice was for the most part imposed, guided, or supervised by outside conquering powers rather than by internal forces which had overthrown the previous regime. Second, the occupying powers exercised their authority in four separate occupation zones, each with its own administration and political goals, as well as its own approach to coming to terms with the Nazi era. The principal collaborators of the Virtual Tribunals have worked for over a decade with the University of Marburg, Germany, to compile information on the post-WWII war crimes trials in Europe. These trial records include the prosecution of German euthanasia institutions, as well as concentration camps. The case files of the entire collection include hundreds of first person statements by victims, witnesses, and perpetrators, revealing their life stories and experiences.

About the Records of War Crimes Trials in the Far East

From a legal significance standpoint this collection includes the controversial proceedings of the US trial of General Yamashita in Manila. It contains the transcript and other records of what is probably the most infamous and widely cited WWII trial apart from the Nuremberg Trials. Although widely cited by many legal scholars and historians, only a tiny fraction of them have ever actually examined the trial record because of its inaccessibility. Yet, when the trial record is taken into account it makes clear that much of what has been written about this important precedent is entirely inaccurate. Digitizing these records and making them widely accessible will be a significant addition to the study of legal precedent established by this trial.

The content of the Japanese trials is highly relevant to debates that continue today in Japan, China, and other parts of Asia. Even less appreciated is the broad significance of the national war crimes trials represented in this collection, including some of the most important of these national war crimes programs. These records are not just important from a legal or human rights standpoint, but have significance for scholars in many disciplines, including history, anthropology, sociology, area studies, and medical ethics, as well as communities, victims' groups, and nations that still struggle with the legacy of mass atrocity in WWII.

About the Nuremberg Military Tribunals (NMT)

In the summer of 1945, while preparing the IMT, the four Allied Powers of France, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom and the United States (the “Four Powers”) were also considering creating a subsequent international military tribunal for high-profile Nazis not prosecuted before the IMT. However, as the relations between the Four Powers soured, it soon became apparent that there would be no further proceedings under the IMT quadripartite formula. In December 1945, the Allied Control Council governing occupied Germany enacted an occupation law, Control Council Law No. 10, authorizing each of the Four Powers to organize trials of war criminals in their respective zones of occupation.

The Office of the United States Chief of Counsel for War Crimes conducted 12 trials, referred to as the Nuremberg Military Tribunals (formally the “Trials of War Criminals before the Nuremberg Military Tribunals”), against 177 defendants in the same courtroom used by the IMT. The NMTs were reduced to these 12 trials on account of changing political circumstances and a lack of funding. However, Chief Prosecutor Telford Taylor’s intention at the outset was to conduct at least 36 trials and to indict between 2,000 and 20,000 individuals from groups representing particular elements of the Nazi system. Although the United States ultimately indicted only 185 defendants (of whom 177 were judged), the scope of the NMTs nonetheless allowed for a representative sample of the worst-offending Nazi groups. The legacy of the NMTs is quite impressive. These Tribunals further developed concepts identified by the IMT and were of great jurisprudential importance to international criminal law. The evidence gathered and submitted to the Tribunals by the prosecution, as well as the testimonies of the witnesses and defendants, documented Nazi criminality in detail and, in the words of Robert Kempner, one of Taylor’s deputies, turned the trials into “the greatest history seminar ever held”. The transcripts of the trials run to 132,855 pages and contain the testimony of over 1,300 witnesses. More than 30,000 separate documents were presented before the Tribunals. The archives of the NMTs, unlike those of the IMT, were not transferred to the ICJ and are held by the United States National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) in Record Group 238 (RG 238).

NMT descriptive text adapted from the booklet The Nuremberg Trial Archives prepared by the Registry of the International Court of Justice, edited for length and clarity.