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Timeline: The War in Europe and its Aftermath

1933 - 1945 | 1946 - 1949  


Associate U.S. trial counsel Telford Taylor at the trial of war criminals at Nuremberg January 4: Colonel Telford Taylor presents the prosecution's case against the German High Command. He will be appointed lead prosecutor in subsequent Nuremberg trials.

January 28: During the French phase of the prosecution, French journalist Marie Claude Vaillant-Courturier provides eyewitness testimony to atrocities at the Auschwitz and Ravensbruck camps. She describes the process of selecting who would go to the gas chamber and the medical experiments performed on the inmates. The soon-to-be-notorious Auschwitz doctor Dr. Josef Mengele is mentioned for the first time at the trial.

General Roman Rudenko was the chief prosecutor for Russia February 11-12: Chief Soviet Prosecutor Roman Rudenko examines Field Marshal Friedrich Paulus, who incriminates Göring, Jodl, and Keitel in the aggressive war launched against Russia. When Paulus's testimony concludes, Göring shouts at his lawyer: "Ask that dirty pig if he's a traitor! Ask him if he has taken out Russian citizenship papers!"

February 22: George Kennan, an American diplomat based in Moscow, sends Washington the so-called "long telegram," which explains Soviet hostility toward the West and suggests a policy of containment.

March 5: In Fulton, Missouri, Winston Churchill delivers his famous "Iron Curtain" speech, urging the United States and Western Europe to unite against the Soviets.

Hermann Goering testifies at the at the trial of war criminals at Nuremberg March 13-22: Göring testifies. In long answers, he justifies German rearmament and seizing of territory as necessary for the growth of the Third Reich. In cross-examination Göring frustrates Jackson with his discursive answers and side comments permitted by the tribunal.

April 15: A defendant calls Rudolf Höss, a commandant at the Auschwitz concentration camp, who testifies that "hundreds of thousands of human beings were sent to their deaths." When confronted about his apparent indifference, Höss says, "Don't you see, we SS men were not supposed to think about these things; it never even occurred to us. ... We were all so trained to obey orders without even thinking that the thought of disobeying an order would never have occurred to anybody."

Late July: Prosecutors make closing arguments concerning individual defendants.

August 31: Defendants make their final statements.

September 2: The I.M.T. judges begin deliberations.

Defendant Albert Speer was sentenced to a 20 year prison term at the trial of war criminals at Nuremberg October 1: The I.M.T. hands down verdicts against 21 defendants. Three are acquitted, six are sentenced to prison terms, and twelve are condemned to death.

October 15: Göring commits suicide by swallowing a smuggled cyanide pill hours before his scheduled execution.

October 16: Eleven war criminals are hanged in Nuremberg. (The remains of Martin Bormann, who was convicted in absentia, will be located decades later in Berlin.) The bodies are placed face up in wooden coffins and photographed before being taken to Munich for cremation. The shocking photographs are made available to the press and published to wide disproval.

October 25: The United States Military Government for Germany establishes Military Tribunal I, which tries 23 Nazi physicians. The doctors are charged with carrying out the Nazi euthanasia program and conducting medical experiments on thousands of concentration camp prisoners, many of whom died or were permanently crippled. Sixteen of the doctors are found guilty. Seven are executed. This is the first of 12 Nuremberg trials prosecuted by the U.S. alone.


March 12: The Truman Doctrine formalizes the American policy of Soviet containment. Addressing a joint session of Congress on March 12, 1947, Truman declares, "It must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures." The United States supplies $400 million in military and economic aid to Greece and Turkey.

Gen. George C. Marshall June 5: In a speech at Harvard University, Secretary of State George C. Marshall outlines the European economic recovery program that comes to be known as the Marshall Plan. It allocates billions of dollars to European nations "so as to permit the emergence of political and social conditions in which institutions can exist." By 1953 the United States will give Europe $13 billion ($94 billion in 2005 dollars) in aid. Marshall also offers aid to the Soviet Union and its Eastern European allies, but Stalin denounces the program as a political trick and refuses to participate.

June 24: The first serious crisis of the Cold War, the Berlin blockade, occurs when the Soviets order all rail traffic from western sectors of Berlin closed. Two and a half million people are isolated in Berlin with no access to goods, relying on reserves and airlifts for food and medicine.


April 4: Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, the United Kingdom, and the United States form the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) "to safeguard the freedom, common heritage and civilization of their peoples founded on the principles of democracy, individual liberty, and the rule of law." The Soviet Union counters with the formation of the Warsaw Pact, a military alliance of central European countries.

May 23: As U.S.-Soviet relations sour, occupied German territory turns into formal borders. The British, French, and American zones become the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG), known as West Germany. The former capital of Berlin is also divided along east/west lines, with West Berlin completely surrounded by East German territory. The Soviet Union is forced to lift the blockade of Berlin.

1933-1945 | 1946-1949  

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