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Nuremberg trials: 75 years on – Joan Salter MBE

After the end of the Second World War, members of the Nazi leadership were tried in Nuremberg, Germany. Now, 75 years on, we asked Holocaust survivor Joan Salter MBE how she felt watching video footage of the trials for the first time.

Film transcript:

I have to say horror at the evidence given of what had happened of the camps and things like that, but you looked at these perpetrators and their arrogance the way they sat there; I mean one of them even took his earphones off I remember that, and the smirks on their faces they didn’t give a damn, they really did not give a damn. So, it was all very black and white wasn’t it the Nazis were the bad guys the prosecutors the Americans, the Brits, the French, the Soviets they were the good guys and I think that was my impression of the Nuremberg trials at that stage, yes.

And have your impressions changed over what happened in Nuremberg over the years?

Yes, because I have done a lot of research and I’ve seen the Foreign and Commonwealth Office files here of the discussions of how the British refused; they didn’t want us and so and I’ve also read a lot more about what happened in France and so I really no longer see it as black and white, I mean of course the Nazis what they did was horrendous but you know the so-called free nations, the allies, a lot of what happened was caused by their turning a blind eye refusing to help; of course, what the Nazis committed was absolutely in inhumane but they didn’t do it in a vacuum, so you know the prosecutors gave their evidence it was very moving and it did give voice to what had happened to some of the victims and from that point of view there was some justice at Nuremberg but it was only a part of the story and the fact that it still continues, this narrative still continues, Britain is held up as having brought over ten thousand children; Britain turned down and the United States, the offer to save the children from France and from Hungary and there’s very little even in Holocaust education about that, so the whitewash still continues; what the Nazis did they were only able to do because the free nations turned a blind eye and even at Nuremberg they had their own agendas they had their own culpability that they avoided being examined so that’s my feeling about justice at Nuremberg.

Right, so for a crime as horrific as genocide, I just wonder … what does justice look like for you?

Well, gosh! Yes, what is justice? All I can say for me is that justice is the whole truth, the reality of the world and its attitude towards the Jews, its reluctance to intercede its own political agendas and these are very complicated you know, it’s much easy to paint a picture of these 22 men, nasty arrogant in the beginning, it was try to show that the Nazis were just all psychopaths and the truth is the Holocaust could not have happened because of a handful of psychopaths; there were social and political pressures involved and as I said there were a lot of blind eyes turned so that to me is all part of the justice, the truth, the whole truth and the United States and the British accepting that they were culpable as well; all right they didn’t man the camps, they didn’t personally did not do the most horrific things but by their silence, by turning a blind eye they allowed it to happen there’s no justice when you just make everything black and white and you exclude your own culpability; and they excluded it by the rules of what could be prosecuted, crimes against humanity; there were loads of other things in Nuremberg people don’t realise that.

So, when you look back at Nuremberg, I just wonder what emotions run through you; is it relief that it happened or anger that it left a lot of questions unresolved?

I think cynic, cynical, cynical about how political entities can cover up their own culpability, how easy it is to escape; I mean, the Nazis, I haven’t got a good word to say for them, you know the things they did were beyond our imagination but you know the British and American governments didn’t have to imagine it, there was a lot of evidence, they could have done a lot; so, yes, it’s anger and I do not feel there was justice in that; the voice of what had happened in the camps and it was as much  the horror of the British and Soviet troops who entered those camps of what they saw that was put forward as evidence quite rightly and yes, they were horrified but the truth is the British, Americans and French and Soviets were not horrified and in their own way they were culpable.

Click here for the life story of Holocaust survivor Joan Salter MBE. You can get more details about the Nuremberg trials here.