Nuremberg war crimes court opens as museum

Sunday, November 21, 2010

BERLIN - The Nuremberg courtroom in which a dozen senior Nazis were sentenced to death in 1946 was opened as a museum Sunday.

The sombre ceremony was attended by both Germany’s Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov. British, French and US officials were also present, representing the four Allied World War II powers.

The museum, called Memorium, provides information on the 11-month main trial and follow-on trials, in a 750-square-metre attic space at the courthouse.

Westerwelle praised the role of the trials as a “response to the perversion of justice in Nazi Germany”, which set a precedent for the development international law.

“It was a great historic achievement that the Allies resisted the temptation to carry out revenge,” he said of the world’s first war crime trials.

Lavrov said this was never an option, insisting, “The Nuremberg trials were not supposed to be an act of revenge by the victors over the vanquished”.

As a sign of allegiance with present-day Germany, Lavrov presented the city of Nuremberg with unreleased files about the military tribunal. He said they were copies of Russian archives, detailing preparations for the trials, which he hoped would help process the Nazi past.

The inauguration, on the 65th anniversary of the start of the Nuremberg trials, was also attended by Benjamin Ferencz, one of the surviving prosecutors from the time.

In his address, Ferencz, 91, called for the prohibition of offensive warfare.

“This was the lesson of the Nuremberg trials - one should no longer be able to launch offensive wars without being punished for it,” the former prosecutor told the 400 guests at the ceremony.

“People are sitting here who have the power to make this happen. Use it to make the world safer and more peaceful,” Ferencz appealed to the officials present.

Westerwelle said the tribunal had already set an important example to the world.

“Because a lot was risked here in Nuremberg — politically, legally and personally — international law was able to develop and rules could be set for future cases,” Westerwelle said.

As a result the UN was founded to provide legal structures in a restive world, he added. “We all know how imperfectly we are succeeding. But the UN can only be as strong as the member states allow.”

The UN’s seven “Nuremberg Principles” defined special offences that are worse than murder and massacre and are now called crimes against peace, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

“Strengthening international law is a measure of our action in the UN, also in the UN Security Council,” Westerwelle said. Germany joins the Security Council as a non-permanent member for two years from 2011.

He also appealed for more states to join the 114 who accept the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice in The Hague, six decades on from the Nuremberg trials.

“We will campaign for the judgements of the court to prevail,” Westerwelle said.

The Nuremberg trials made history by exposing Nazi oppression through the day-by-day reporting in the world’s media.

“German history reminds us how thin the lacquer of our civilisation is,” the foreign minister said. He referred to recent findings that his ministry had been far more implicit in Nazi crimes than previously acknowledged.

Westerwelle said the NATO summit, which concluded Saturday in Lisbon, was proof of the fact that states once seen as victors and vanquished were now partners. “For that we are thankful,” he added.

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