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"The Meaning of the Gallows"

The Meaning of the Gallows
Nasze słowo, No. 8, Warsaw and Łódź, 1946

During the trials of high-ranking Nazi leaders and German officials at Nuremberg, the prosecution relied heavily on evidence produced by German authorities to recount the planning and implementation of the so-called "Final Solution." Because prosecutors did not rely on witness testimonies, Jewish perspectives were marginalized.1 Some people thought that Jews would make emotional or unreliable witnesses whose testimonies might not be believed.

Though Jews did not feature prominently as witnesses at Nuremberg, they were very attentive observers.2 Jewish newspapers around the world covered the trial in depth, and their readers followed with great interest. Some of these newspapers even posted permanent correspondents in Nuremberg to issue daily reports.3

This October 1946 article from the Polish Jewish daily Nasze słowo ["Our Word"] shows how these trials were especially meaningful for many Jews. The trial's location tied it to the notorious anti-Jewish Nuremberg laws, which defined Jews according to Nazi ideas of race. The topic of Jewish marginalization at the trial was widely discussed, but the question of collective guilt for the atrocities committed during the Holocaust loomed larger. Henryk Szner, a Jewish journalist from Poland, argued that the judgment should be a lesson for "all German people."4 Szner concluded that no sentence could ever match the crimes they were accused of committing. "The concept of crime and punishment are here completely disproportionate," Szner wrote. "Their death on the gallows is just an external symbol that is designed to help the German people to fathom and understand their guilt."

Hanna Yablonka, "The Eichmann Trial: Was It the Jewish Nuremberg?," 34 Loy. L.A. Int'l & Comp. L. Rev. 301 (2012), 307.

The IMT heard testimony from only three Jewish survivors: a partisan from Vilna, Avrom Sutzkever; a former prisoner at the Treblinka extermination camp, Szmuel Rajzman; and Izrael Eizenberg, a Polish Jew who had worked as a mechanic for the SS in Lublin. Subsequent trials at Nuremberg featured more Jewish witnesses.

See Laura Jockusch, "Justice at Nuremberg? Jewish Responses to Nazi War Crimes Trials in Allied Occupied Germany," in Jewish Social Studies 19, 1 (Fall 2012): 107-147.

Henryk (Cwi) Szner was a Jewish journalist from Poland. He survived the war in Siberia and after returning to Poland in 1946 became head of the Culture and Propaganda branch of the Central Committee of Jews in Poland. In 1948, he immigrated to Israel.

Cwi (Henryk) Szner (1912–1984) was a Jewish journalist from Poland. He survived World War II in Siberia and on returning to Poland in 1946 became active in the Central Committee of Jews in Poland. In 1948, he emigrated to Israel, where he was one of the founders of the Ghetto Fighters House kibbutz. 

Szner here lists several of the most prominent defendants sentenced to death at the Nuremberg trial, including Joachim von Ribbentrop, Wilhelm Keitel, Alfred Rosenberg, Hans Frank, Wilhelm Frick, Julius Streicher, Fritz Sauckel, Alfred Jodl, Arthur Seyss-Inquart, and Hermann Göring.

In Greek mythology, the goddess of justice.

The aristocratic council of ancient Athens; it also functioned as a court for trying homicides.

Here Szner refers to Nazi functionaries Fritz von Papen, Hjalmar Schacht, and Hans Fritzsche.

German: Sturmabteilung, the "Storm Troopers," also known as the Brownshirts, was the paramilitary wing of the Nazi Party. The SA played an important role in Hitler's rise to power before being marginalized in the purge of the "Night of the Long Knives" in 1934.  

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H. Szner1

The Meaning of the Gallows

             On the night of October 16, the ultimate act of justice was carried out on the German war criminals.

             Ribbentrop and Keitel, Rosenberg and Kaltenbunner, Frank and Frick, Streicher and Sauckel, Jodl and Seyss-Inquart,2 one by one ascended the steps of the gallows, by their infamous deaths settling accounts with a world they caused such grief through their crimes. Göring, second only to Hitler in the Third Reich, was able to escape punishment at Themis'3 hands by choosing suicide. The bodies of the hanged criminals and Göring's corpse were burned.

             The execution at Nuremberg will go down in history as a symbol of a nascent international legal consciousness, as the nucleus of future international cooperation in combating crimes against humanity, as a warning to all those who are pushing the world to crime, to a new war. Carrying out the verdict of Nuremberg is finally the last, most powerful chord of the lesson the Nuremberg Trial was meant to be for the German nation, which, in the name of an insane theory of world domination, became the faithful and obedient executor of plans born in the criminal minds of Nuremberg's 11 condemned.

            The criminals were hanged at Nuremberg, but it was the crime itself that was judged and on trial. The verdict of the international Areopagus4 was a condemnation of the greatest crime in human history—unleashing a war of aggression, breaking international agreements, systematically violating the laws of war, overexploiting the occupied countries, and the greatest of crimes, the crime of genocide. The people hanged on the gallows performed their criminal activity for long years, bringing it to diabolic perfection. Their deaths cannot be considered a punishment. The death of one man, even Frank, is no punishment for Poles' suffering, for the villages burned and demolished Warsaw. Hanging Streicher and his comrades is insufficient punishment for the crimes committed against the Jewish nation. Notions of crime and punishment are completely insufficient here. Their death on the gallows is merely an external symbol meant to help the German people to fathom and comprehend their guilt.

              Can Germany grasp, in the face of the Nuremberg gallows, the depth of the downfall in which they find themselves? Can they summon from within themselves outrage at the Nazis' crimes, not because in the final calculus they proved pointless, but because they undermine the principles of human co-existence and bring misery and tears to humanity and the German nation? Will they, in the face of the verdict of the Tribunal of Nations, renounce Nazism, not because this is the logic of a war lost and circumstances changed, but because it leads individuals and nations to crime.

             One element of the battle for the character of the new European post-war order is the Nuremberg gallows, built as a result of a painstaking trial and an imperfect judicial verdict. The cremated remains of the 11 condemned, whose deaths did not atone for the enormity of their crimes, have been cast to the four corners of the earth. This prevents a dangerous myth of heroism and martyrdom arising around their deaths. At this moment there is no threat of that danger whatsoever. Encouraged by word and deed of their Anglo-Saxon patrons, the Germans are applying the tactic of completely renouncing their wartime leaders. Protests against a lenient sentence in Nuremberg, a widely manifested desire to bring Papen, Schacht, and Fritzsche5 to justice under their own authority" for crimes committed against the German nation, these are external symptoms of a stance, honest in some and artificial in others, of emphasizing the gap between a criminal handful of leaders and the German nation. "They, Hitler and his confidants, are to blame—the German nation will not accept responsibility for the crimes of 12 years of Nazi rule and 6 years of war."

             If instead of de-Nazification Germany sees the rehabilitation of the SA6 as an organization, if instead of a years-long military occupation, Germany is promised a sovereign state with a central government, and instead of complete economic demobilization it is offered the rebuilding of the German economy—this means that in some states of the anti-German coalition, the meaning of the Nuremberg gallows is narrowing to an act of individual justice. That would mean the Nuremberg verdict and the Nuremberg gallows playing a role exactly contrary to the one they were assigned: they will not be the condemnation of the German people, but a means for their rehabilitation, with all that that entails.

             In this case the saying: "Hitlers come and go, but the German nation remains," could be read in reverse: "The German nation remains, and Hitlers go… and come." The struggle to consolidate democratic regimes in post-war Europe, the struggle for cooperation between nations, for social equality, to trim the claws of those preparing a new war, is a struggle for the true meaning of the Nuremberg gallows. On these gallows were hanged not individual criminals, but representatives of a nation of many millions, which for the third time in 70 years has unleashed a bloody slaughter.

             In the shadow of the Nuremberg gallows, the battle continues for the victory of the principles in whose name Germany was tried before the International Nuremberg Tribunal, the battle continues to ensure Hitlers never again threaten humanity.

Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
Nasze słowo, No. 8, Warsaw and Łódź, 1946
Date Created
October 26, 1946
Page(s) 1
Author / Creator
Cwi (Henryk) Szner
Nuremberg, Germany
Warsaw, Poland
Łódź, Poland
Document Type Newspaper Article
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