On this day in history - November 20th, 1945

On this day in history - November 20th, 1945

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - The International Military Tribunal begins the trial of 23 Nazi leaders for war crimes at the Palace of Justice in Nuremberg, Germany.

In their "Declaration of German Atrocities in Occupied Europe," the United States and Great Britain assured Nazi Germany that when its defeat arrived, justice would be served against those responsible for war crimes. Germany's Instrument of Surrender gave the Allies the legal right to convene a special military court. Each major Allied country sent a presiding judge and one alternate judge, as well as one chief prosecutor. Each of the 24 defendants along with seven major organizations including the Schutzstaffel (SS) and the Gestapo faced four charges: conspiracy to plan war, planning war, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

Adolf Hitler, Heinrich Himmler and Josef Goebbels avoided the Nuremberg trials by killing themselves months beforehand. Major defendants present at the trial included Admiral Karl Dönitz, who briefly succeeded Hitler as President of Germany; Wilhelm Frick, Hitler's Minister of the Interior; Rudolf Hess, Deputy Führer; Albert Speer, Hitler's architect, and Hermann Göring, Reichsmarshall and Luftwaffe commander and the highest ranking Nazi in the dock.

Most of the defendants were convicted on one or more counts and received the death penalty or a minimum of ten years imprisonment.

The night before his scheduled hanging, Göring swallowed a cyanide capsule smuggled into his cell and committed suicide. Some believe he bribed his American guard with his gold watch, pen and cigarette case so that he could cheat the hangman's noose.

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