In the late 1920s and early 1930s, the region provided the strongest base of support for Adolf Hitler’s rising National Socialist Party. Given Nuremberg’s strong historical connections to the Holy Roman Empire and its geographic position in the center of (then) Germany, Hitler chose the city as the site for huge Nazi Party conventions in 1927, 1929, and annually from 1933 to 1938.
To show off the might of his party and his nation, Hitler commissioned a massive complex of parade grounds and monumental architecture just outside the city center. The best and brightest soldiers from across the country were rewarded with trips to Nuremberg to march in massive rallies here in front of the Führer. These rallies are the iconic images of a defiant and hugely militaristic Nazi Germany.
During our visit we noticed something else quite peculiar about Nuremberg — an unusually strong presence of Christian proselytizing. Everywhere we looked little groups of people were pressing hands against each other’s shoulders and praying conspicuously. Or standing next to banners about the bible and handing out leaflets. Or strumming guitars and singing those really bad songs about how awesome God is.
We kept asking each other, “What on earth is going on here?” We eventually learned that Nuremberg that weekend was hosting a huge international Christian concert of some sort. Eager evangelicals had flocked to town from all over Europe to talk Christian talk, listen to those bad songs, and inundate the town with their sunny Christian demeanors. For us it was a truly bizarre juxtaposition with the history of mass brain washing already on display here.
After World War II came to an end, Allied troops chose Nuremberg as a fitting venue to prosecute leading Nazi war criminals. In the first and most famous round of the Nuremberg Trials, 24 leading Nazis were tried. A few were acquitted, several were given prison sentences, and 12 were sentenced to death by hanging. Of the 12 sentenced to death on October 15, 1946, only Hermann Göring escaped the hangman by taking a secret stash of cyanide that night. The other 11 went to the gallows the next day.The Nuremberg Palace of Justice today looks just like it did then. After visiting a lengthy exhibit about the trials, you can then visit Courtroom 600, which also looks exactly like it did the day those trials took place. And somehow the history feels even more real because it’s not just a museum, it’s a real courthouse. And real trials of real criminals still take place in Courtroom 600 today. Walking into that courtroom felt a lot like walking into the one in Monroe County, Michigan where my uncle used to preside — except you could instantly recognize the very spot where Hermann Göring sat day after day. That place really made history come alive for me.