Nuremberg Trial Proceedings Vol. 1
Previous Document Volume 1 Contents Judgment


19 November 1945

Two frightful world wars and the violent collisions by which peace among the States was violated during the period between these enormous and world embracing conflicts caused the tortured peoples to realize that a true order among the States is not possible as long as such State, by virtue of its sovereignty, has the right to wage war at any time and for any purpose. During the last decades public opinion in the world challenged with ever increasing emphasis the thesis that the decision of waging war is beyond good and evil. A distinction is being made between just and unjust wars and it is asked that the Community of States call to account the State which wages an unjust war and deny it, should it be victorious, the fruits of its outrage. More than that, it is demanded that not only should the guilty State be condemned and its liability be established, but that furthermore those men who are responsible for unleashing the unjust war be tried and sentenced by an International Tribunal. In that respect one goes now-a-days further than even the strictest jurists since the early middle ages. This thought is at the basis of the first three counts of the Indictment which have been put forward in this Trial, to wit, the Indictment for Crimes against Peace. Humanity insists that this idea should in the future be more than a demand, that it should be valid international law.

However, today it is not as yet valid international law. Neither in the statute of the League of Nations, world organization against war, nor in the Kellogg-Briand Pact, nor in any other of the treaties which were concluded after 1918 in that first upsurge of attempts to ban aggressive warfare, has this idea been realized. But above all the practice of the League of Nations has, up to the very recent past, been quite unambiguous in that regard. On several occasions the League had to decide upon the lawfulness or unlawfulness of action by force of one member against another member, but it always condemned such action by force merely as a violation of international law by the State, and never thought of bringing up for trial the statesmen, generals, and industrialists of the state which recurred to force. And when the new organization for world peace was set up last summer in San Francisco, no new legal maxim was created under which an international tribunal would inflict punishment upon those who unleased an unjust war. The present Trial can, therefore, as far as Crimes against Peace shall be avenged, not invoke existing international law, it is rather a proceeding pursuant to a new penal law, a penal law enacted only after the crime. This is repugnant to a principle of jurisprudence sacred to the civilized world, the partial violation of which by Hitler's Germany has been vehemently discountenanced outside and inside the Reich. This principle is to the effect that only he can be punished who offended against a law in existence at the time of the commission of the act and imposing a penalty. This maxim is one of the great fundamental principles of the political systems of the Signatories of the Charter for this Tribunal themselves, to wit, of England since the Middle Ages, of the United States since their creation, of France since its great revolution, and the Soviet Union. And recently when the Control Council for Germany enacted a law to assure the return to a just administration of penal law in Germany, it decreed in the first place the restoration of the maxim, "No punishment without a penal law in force at the time of the commission of the act". This maxim is precisely not a rule of expediency but it derives from the recognition of the fact that any defendant must needs consider himself unjustly treated if he is punished under an ex post facto law.

The Defense of all defendants would be neglectful of their duty if they acquiesced silently in a deviation from existing international law and in disregard of a commonly recognized principle of modern penal jurisprudence and if they suppressed doubts which are openly expressed today outside Germany, all the more so as it is the unanimous conviction of the Defense that this Trial could serve in a high degree the progress of world order even if, nay in the very instance where it did not depart from existing international law. Wherever the Indictment charges acts which were not punishable at the time the Tribunal would have to confine itself to a thorough examination and findings as to what acts were committed, for which purposes the Defense would cooperate to the best of their ability as true assistants of the Court. Under the impact of these findings of the Tribunal the States of the international legal community would then create a new law under which those who in the future would be guilty of starting an unjust war would be threatened with punishment by an International Tribunal.

The Defense are also of the opinion that other principles of a penal character contained in the Charter are in contradiction with the maxim, "Nulla Poena Sine Lege".

Finally, the Defense consider it their duty to point out at this juncture another peculiarity of this Trial which departs from the commonly recognized principles of modern jurisprudence. The Judges have been appointed exclusively by States which were the one party in this war. This one party to the proceeding is all in one: creator of the statute of the Tribunal and of the rules of law, prosecutor and judge. It used to be until now the common legal conception that this should not be so; just as the United States of America, as the champion for the institution of international arbitration and jurisdiction, always demanded that neutrals, or neutrals and representatives of all parties, should be called to the Bench. This principle has been realized in an exemplary manner in the case of the Permanent Court of International Justice at The Hague.

In view of the variety and difficulty of these questions of law the Defense hereby pray:

That the Tribunal direct that an opinion be submitted by internationally recognized authorities on international law on the legal elements of this Trial under the Charter of the Tribunal.

On behalf of the attorneys for all defendants who are present.



(*) The Tribunal rejected this motion 21 November 1945, ruling that in so far as it was a plea to the jurisdiction of the Tribunal it was in conflict with Article 3 of the Charter. Return to the Text

Previous Document Volume 1 Contents Judgment

127 Wall Street, New Haven, CT 06511.