The Nuremberg Trials were conducted in the immediate aftermath of World War II by an ad hoc International Military Tribunal.

The JN recently published an obituary for Ben Ferencz on April 20. After a memorable life, Ferencz passed away at 103. He was the last surviving prosecutor at the Nuremberg Trials, 1945-1949.

Mike Smith
Mike Smith
Alene and Graham Landau Archivist Chair

The Nuremberg Trials were conducted in the immediate aftermath of World War II by an ad hoc International Military Tribunal. After WWII ended, the victorious Allied powers — France, Great Britain, the Soviet Union and the United States — organized and administered trials for 197 German Nazi Party and military leaders such as Hermann Goring, Rudolf Hess and Albert Speer. All were tried for war crimes and crimes against humanity; most of them were convicted.

Ferencz was the chief prosecutor for 20 members of the Einsatzgruppen, the Nazi SS’ mobile death squads. Closely following German troops as they occupied Poland, vast areas of the Soviet Union, Hungary, the Ukraine and even into North Africa, the Einsatzgruppen were among the worst of the worst. They formed mobile killing units that murdered up to 2 million Jews, as well as thousands upon thousands of others, including political opponents, Poles, Russians and Roma.

William Davidson Digital Archive

A graduate of Harvard Law School, at the age of 27, Ferencz was given a significant task: Holocaust crimes were at the core of his trial portfolio. But he declared, “Vengeance is not our goal.” Rather, “We ask this court to affirm by international penal action, man’s right to live in peace and dignity, regardless of his race or creed.”

William Davidson Digital Archive

With this beginning, Ferencz went on to lead a storied career in international law and negotiations.

The Nuremberg Trials were a globally watched affair, where surviving instigators of World War II and the “Final Solution” were on trial for their lives, and the world heard about the horrors of the Holocaust. I wondered what stories about the trials might be in the William Davidson Digital Archive of Jewish Detroit History. There were a few surprises.

The first surprise was that only 250 pages in the Archive mention the Nuremberg Trials, and only 29 pages from the 1940s, when they were held. Considering the monumental legal precedent and the global newspaper reporting, I expected to find much greater coverage.

My second surprise was that the Detroit Jewish Chronicle “stole the show.” It had a correspondent at War Crimes Trials in Germany, Irving Hayett. A court reporter for the American War Crimes Commission for the War Crimes Trials in Frankfort, Germany, Hayett agreed to send the Chronicle exclusive reports about the Frankfort Trials (Jan. 18, 1946). These trials were subsidiary to the main trials in Nuremberg.

William Davidson Digital Archive

Hayett sent 30 reports to the Chronicle. Rather than stories about prominent Nazis like Goring or Speer, he reported on the prosecution of Nazis involved in such crimes as the Malmedy Massacre of U.S. soldiers during the famous Battle of the Bulge and the Mauthausen Concentration Camp Case.

The Nuremberg Trials still resonate today. For example, the obituary in the JN for Holocaust survivor Howard Triest notes that, as an interpreter at Nuremberg, Triest was a “Witness to History” (May 19, 2016, JN). Sara Bloomfield wrote about the trials’ meaning as well as that of the Eichmann Trial (June 23, 2011, JN).

Let us hope that the Nuremberg Trials are remembered, and that we won’t have to repeat them in the future.

Want to learn more? Go to the DJN Foundation archives, available for free at

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