Nazi Germany finally surrendered on the 8th of May 1945, bringing an end to the “Thousand Year Reich” 988 years short of its target. But in that historically brief period, the Third Reich and its leaders had inflicted unspeakable terror on as much of humanity as it could lay its hands on.
And after being defeated on the blood-soaked battlefields, Germany faced retribution and its leaders faced trial. 70 years ago exactly, the Nuremberg Trials reached their climax.
The Nuremberg Trials lasted for almost a year: they had begun on 20th of November 1945 and concluded on the 1st of October 1946. The three top leaders of the Third Reich – Adolf Hitler y”sh, Joseph Goebbels y”sh, and Heinrich Himmler y”sh – had all evaded justice by committing suicide: Hitler in his Berlin bunker a few days before Germany surrendered, Goebbels the next day in the same bunker, and Himmler while in British custody.
The Nuremberg Trials tried the remaining top 24 Nazi leaders.
Of those 24, Martin Bormann y”sh was tried in absentia, having fled Berlin to avoid falling into Soviet captivity. He was sentenced to death by hanging, which was moot because he had already committed suicide on the 2nd of May 1945 – but this would only be confirmed decades later when his body was discovered in 1972.
Robert Ley y”sh, head of the Deutsche Arbeitsfront (German Labour Front), and responsible for slave labour throughout the Reich, committed suicide in the first few days of the Nuremberg Trials.
Of the 22 remaining defendants, 10 were sentenced to death by hanging:
Alfred Jodl y”sh, Chief of the Operations Staff of the Armed Forces High Command, who signed the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany. He had signed the Commissar Order (6th June 1941) and the Commando Order (18th October 1942), both of which stipulated that enemy soldiers (British and Soviet) who were captured by the Wehrmacht were to be killed.
Ernst Kaltenbrunner y”sh Obergruppenführer (general) in the SS. From January 1943 to May 1945 he was chief of the Reichssicherheitshauptamt (Reich Main Security Office).
Wilhelm Keitel y”sh, Field Marshal who served as chief of the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (Supreme Command of the Armed Forces) for most of World War II, making him the Chief of Defence for Nazi Germany.
Joachim von Ribbentrop y”sh, who had been the German Ambassador to Great Britain 1936-38. He then became Germany’s Foreign Minister.
Alfred Rosenberg y”sh, the Nazi theoretician who was largely responsible for formulating and popularizing Nazi ideology. Following the invasion of the USSR (June 1941), Rosenberg was appointed Reichsministerium für die besetzten Ostgebiete (head of the Reich Ministry for the Occupied Eastern Territories), in which capacity he oversaw the establishment and administration of forced labour camps and extermination camps, and directed the extermination of Jews and other “undesirables” (mainly Slavs and Gypsies).
Fritz Sauckel y”sh, Gauleiter of Thuringia and the General Plenipotentiary for Labour Deployment from 1942 until the end of the war. In this capacity he was responsible in great part for procuring and administering slave labour.
Arthur Seyss-Inquart y”sh, an Austrian Nazi politician who served as Chancellor of Austria for two days (11th to 13th of March 1938) before the Anschluss (the annexation of Austria) by Nazi Germany. After Germany invaded Poland, he served in the General Government of Poland; later he was appointed Reichskommissar in Holland.
Julius Streicher y”sh was one of the earliest members of the Nazi Party. He was the founder and publisher of the virulently anti-Semitic newspaper Der Stürmer, which, with its crude imagery, whipped up violent popular sentiment against Jews.
Hans Frank y”sh was a German lawyer who had worked for the Nazi Party from its earliest years, and later became Hitler’s personal lawyer. After the invasion of Poland, Frank became Nazi Germany’s chief jurist in German-occupied Poland. He instituted a reign of terror against the civilian population, and was one of the key perpetrators of the Shoah.
These ten were sentenced to death by hanging over the course of two days, 30th of September and 1st of October 1946. By a remarkable turn of fate, or coincidence, or Divine Providence (however you decide to interpret history), those two days were the 5th and 6th of Tishrei 5707 – the middle of the Ten Days of Judgement.
The sentences were carried out a few days later, on the 16th of October. Again remarkably, that day was the 21st of Tishrei, Hoshanah Rabbah – the day when the judgement of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is finally and irrevocably sealed.
Three days after the executions, Whitney R. Harris, an official of the Office of Military Government for Germany (U.S.), sent his eyewitness report of the hangings to his former boss, Mr. Justice Robert H. Jackson of the Supreme Court of the US: “Streicher shouted ‘Heil Hitler!’ as he climbed the stairs and followed with the words: ‘Now I go to God, Purim Festival 1946. And now to God’”.
Newsweek magazine (October 28, 1946, Foreign Affairs Section, page 46), described the hanging more graphically: “Only Julius Streicher went without dignity. He had to be pushed across the floor, wild-eyed and screaming: ‘Heil Hitler!’ Mounting the steps he cried out: ‘And now I go to God.’ He stared at the witnesses facing the gallows and shouted: ‘Purimfest 1946’.”
A cryptic remark indeed, and one wonders what this sub-human psychopath saw in his last few seconds of life, facing the gallows and about to mount the scaffold.
And here we go beyond the visible and tangible world, and into the metaphysical.
The Nazis were the modern incarnation of Haman, whose hanging and the hanging of his ten sons we celebrate on the festival of Purim – “Purimfest” in German. Streicher y”sh no doubt understood that the hanging of the ten top Nazis paralleled the hanging of Haman’s ten sons millennia earlier.
And now we note a peculiarity in the script of the Book of Esther. “...In Shushan, the capital [of Persia], the Jews killed off five hundred men, and Parshandata and Dalfon and Aspata and Porata and Adaliya and Aridata and Parmashta and Arisay and Ariday and Vayezata, the ten sons of Haman the persecutor of the Jews...” (Esther 9:6-10).
In this listing of Haman’s ten sons, four letters are written by the scribe so that they stand out.
The letters tav in Parshandata, shin in Parmashta, and zayin in Vayezata are written smaller than all the other letters (in Masoretic nomenclature, tav ze’ira, shin ze’ira, and zayin ze’ira). And the vav in Vayezata is written larger than all the other letters (in Masoretic nomenclature, vav rabbati).
These letters – as anyone familiar with the Jewish calendar will immediately recognise – indicate a year. The letter vav has a value of 6, indicating the sixth millennium (i.e. the thousand years from 5000 to 5999). The smaller letters tav, shin, zayin indicate the number 707. This is to say, these four letters are a very abstruse allusion to the year 5707 in the Jewish calendar – the year in which, on Hoshanah Rabbah, the day of final judgement, corresponding to 16th October 1946, the ten modern-day sons of Haman were hanged.
And we note another peculiarity in the Book of Esther. After Haman’s ten sons had been hanged, and after the Jews of Shushan had been saved from Haman’s decree of genocide, when the almost hysterical relief sweeping the Jewish community is almost palpable in the text of the Book of Esther, King Achashverosh (Ahasuerus) addressed Queen Esther: “Whatever you ask for – it will be given to you! And whatever your additional request is – it will be given to you!” (Esther 9:12).
Offered this blank cheque by the king, what was Queen Esther’s request?
– “If it is good with the king, may the Jews in Shushan be allowed to do also tomorrow as they did today, and let the ten sons of Haman be hanged from the gallows” (Esther 9:13).
A strange request indeed. The ten sons of Haman had already been hanged – so why would Esther ask this of the king?
The Midrashim tell us that since G-d is nowhere mentioned directly in the Book of Esther, whenever it mentions “the king Achashverosh”, the simple meaning applies and it refers only to the mortal king. But when it mentions “the king”, it refers not only to King Achashverosh but also, on a deeper level, to the Supreme King. So Queen Esther’s request – “If it is good with the king...let the ten sons of Haman be hanged from the gallows” was as much a prayer to G-d as a request from her husband King Achashverosh.
Her prayer was for “tomorrow” – thousands of years in the future.
Is it just coincidence that the ten sons of Haman – the ten top Nazis – would be hanged from the gallows in precisely the year which is encoded in the listing of Haman’s ten sons?
We conclude with another observation. Haman and his sons were hanged on the self-same gallows which Haman himself had built to hang Mordechai on. The gallows which Haman had built in his own courtyard.
And the ten top Nazis were tried, sentenced, and hanged in Nuremberg – the self-same city in which the Nazis had plotted their monstrous crimes, the city in which the Nazis had held their notorious Nuremberg Rallies (massive, pompous Nazi propaganda festivals) year by year, the city in which they had passed the Nuremberg Laws, preparing the tortuous road to genocide.
They were hanged in their own ideological courtyard.