Nuremberg, Germany — The 7th Army Training Command’s (7ATC) Office of the Staff Judge Advocate (OSJA) and Nuremberg’s judiciary conducted mock trials in Courtroom 600 of the Nuremberg Palace of Justice to demonstrate the differences between the two judiciaries and how they are implemented in the court of law, Oct. 21, 2023.
Courtroom 600, a renowned historical venue, has a rich and significant past that can be traced back to the year 1945. This iconic courtroom played a pivotal role in hosting the Nuremberg Trials, a series of landmark proceedings conducted by the Allies.
In this courtroom, the Allies tried and brought to justice major Nazi war criminals for crimes against humanity and the genocide of European Jews, commonly known as the Holocaust.
Today, Courtroom 600 is used as a court of law for the Nuremberg Palace of Justice and biennial mock trials conducted by Nuremberg’s judiciary and the 7ATC OSJA as part of the Long Night of Science.
The Long Night of Science is a cultural and scientific event held in Nuremberg. During this event, people can visit more than 300 scientific institutions, lectures and other educational activities.
Approximately 500 people were in the courtroom for the two mock trials. Visitors came from all walks of life and ages.
“This time there were also a lot of young revelers in Courtroom 600,” said Waltraut Bayerlein, Vice-president of the Higher Regional Court of Nuremberg. “Which made us extremely happy because we wanted to appeal to young people and get them interested in the justice system. What they all have in common is that they are excluded from new and unknown things and dare to think outside the box.”
When Nuremberg’s judiciary and 7ATC have held this event in the past, visitors have asked the question, “Which legal system is better?” This was not the purpose of the event. The aim was to illustrate the differences and similarities between the American and German judicial systems and spark discussions among all legal professionals.
“What do I, as a post WWII German lawyer, see when I look at this event: The US and German legal system as ‘Brothers-in Arms’, to use a military phrase,” said Meggy Benkert, Chief of Host Nation Law at the 7ATC OSJA. “In 1945, Germans were the accused; in 2023, Germans are equal partners in the search of and the fight for justice. So, to me, personally, this event is living proof that we have built a bridge between the past and now, and that change is possible, if one really wants it. The rule of law can prevail. Looking at today’s world, that is a very powerful signal to send.”
During the Nuremberg judiciary’s mock trial, a man was escorted into the courtroom in handcuffs. All eyes were on the man. He gave a menacing glare to the audience.
“The event makes it clear that both legal systems have equal status and that both legal systems respect the principles of the rule of law,” said Bayerlein. “In addition, the event offers viewers something that is unthinkable in practical life, namely a case that is brought in direct comparison before a German and an American court and an expert explanation of the details of the processes in both negotiations. In this way, we can not only create a broader understanding of everyday life in court, but also contribute to the acceptance of both procedural rules. Even if there was a ‘stage atmosphere’ in the hall and a fictitious case was the basis, the processes depicted should appear lifelike and real at the same time, and should not just be an act or ‘theatre’. That’s why real constables, real judges and prosecutors in robes or military uniforms were involved, and a witness in a real police uniform.”
Behind Judge Silke Weidner of the Nuremberg judiciary, a slide was projected onto the wall of Courtroom 600. On the slide, “Two systems, one goal: justice.” This was the motto developed by the Nuremberg judiciary and the 7ATC OSJA. This was what the 7ATC OSJA and the Nuremberg judiciary wanted people to take away from the event.
“In my eyes, the Long Night of Science was a success,” said Benkert. “The spectators asked many questions so that is a good sign as well: They were curious, paid attention and were able to follow along.”
As Benkert mentioned, the continuation of this biennial event proves just how far we have come by partnering with Germans in the search of and the fight for justice. No one is above the law—not even our own people.
“I would like to take the opportunity to thank Meggy Benkert, Major Elder and the entire 7ATC OSJA,” said Bayerlein. “They were fantastic and as always, it was perfectly prepared. We had a lot of fun working with the American team and I hope that the other way around was also the case. We are looking forward to the next time, although I will no longer be there as I retire in January 2025.”