Einsatzgruppen trial: US prosecution condemns genocide

After the trial of major war criminals before the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg, the United States held a series of other war crimes trials at Nuremberg—the Subsequent Nuremberg Proceedings. The ninth trial before the American military tribunal in Nuremberg focused on members of the Einsatzgruppen (mobile killing units), who had been assigned to kill Jews and other people behind the eastern front. In this footage of the prosecution's opening statement, US prosecutor Ben Ferencz explains the distinction between war crimes and crimes against humanity. In the process, Ferencz condemns genocide.


Sir Hartley Shawcross, the British prosecutor at the international trial, pointed out that "The right of humanitarian intervention on behalf of the rights of man trampled upon by a state in a manner shocking the sense of mankind, has long been considered to form part of the Law of Nations." German law professors, too, declared this in their writings. The jurisdictional power of every state extends to the punishment of offenses against the law of nations, quote, "by whomsoever and wheresoever committed," end quote. It is, therefore, wholly fitting for this court to hear these charges of international crimes, and to ajudge them in the name of civilization.The nature of the charges. The charges we have brought accuse the defendants of having committed crimes against humanity. The same acts, we have declared under count one as "Crimes against humanity" are alleged under count two as "war crimes." The same acts are, therefore, charged as separate and distinct offenses. In this, there is no novelty. An assault, punishable in itself, may be part of the graver offense of robbery, and it is proper pleading to charge both of the crimes. So here, the killing of defenseless civilians during a war may be a war crime, but the same killings are part of another crime. A graver one, if you will--genocide, or a crime against humanity. This is the distinction we make in our pleading. It is real, and most significant. To avoid at the outset any possible misconception, let us point out the differences between the two offenses. War crimes are acts and omissions in violation of the laws and customs of war. By their very nature, they can affect only nationals of a belligerent, and cannot be committed in time of peace. The crime against humanity is not so delimited. It is fundamentally different from the mere war crime in that it embraces systematic violations of fundamental human rights committed at any time against the nationals of any nation.


  • National Archives - Film

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