Robert Ley

12.05.2010 ( Last modified: 25.05.2016 )
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Robert Ley was born into a farming family on 15 February 1890 in Niederbreidenbach. He took part in the First World War as an air force pilot. After his plane was shot down over France in 1917, Ley spent more than two years there as a prisoner of war.

After the war, Ley worked as a chemist, but was dismissed because of his problem with alcohol abuse. He joined the Nazi Party (NSDAP) in 1923 and two years later was appointed to the position of Gauleiter for South Rheinland.

By 1932 Robert Ley had become a member of parliament in the Reich and had taken over from Gregor Strasser as leader of the Reich’s organisational body for the NSDAP, a very important position in the party’s hierarchy.

After Hitler’s order to arrest the heads of the German workers unions in 1933, Ley was given the job of setting up and overseeing the German Labour Front to replace the hitherto banned workers unions.

Robert Ley was accused of having taken advantage of his various functions, his personal influence and his close contacts with Hitler to promote the accession to power of the Nazi conspirators and the control over Germany as set forth in count 1 of the indictment, and for contributing to the preparations for war. In addition, Ley authorized, directed and participated in the War Crimes set forth in count 3 of the indictment, and in the Crimes against Humanity set forth in count 4 of the indictment, particularly in relation to the abuse of human beings as labour in the conduct of the wars of aggression. During the war it was indeed Ley who supervised the mobilisation of both foreign and German workers to help with the war effort.

Upon his capture on 16 May 1945, Robert Ley was transferred to the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal.


legal procedure

Upon his capture on 16 May 1945, Robert Ley was transferred to the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal.

Ley was charged on counts I (common plan or conspiracy), 3 (war crimes) and 4 (crimes against humanity). He committed suicide in his prison cell on 25 October 1945 before the start of his trial.



After the Second World War numerous trials against war criminals and those responsible for Nazi crimes took place in Germany and other countries. It is not possible here to give an overview of all the trials. Below are the main facts concerning the major trials of war criminals at Nuremberg.


The German armed forces surrendered unconditionally on 7-8 May 1945. The Allies (USA, Soviet Union, Great Britain and France) took over all governmental functions in Germany, instituted the Allied Control Council and divided Germany into four zones of occupation.

After the adoption of the London Charter of 8 August 1945, the Allies set up the International Military Tribunal (IMT) in order to judge the major German war criminals. Annex III of the Agreement contains the Statute of the International Military Tribunal (IMT Statute [2]).


According to Articles 1-3 of the London Charter, war criminals with offenses having no particular geographical location were to be judged by the IMT. However in accordance with Articles 4 and 6 of the Convention, the principle of territoriality was to apply to the other German war criminals, with the courts of those states where crimes had been committed having the competence to try these criminals on the basis on their national laws.

Crimes within the jurisdiction of IMT:

– Crimes against peace;

– War crimes and

– Crimes against humanity (Article 6 of IMT Statute).

The IMT was composed of four judges and four substitutes who were appointed by the four Allied powers (Article 2 IMT Statute). In application of Article 13 of the IMT Statute, the Tribunal drew up its own Rules of Procedure

The IMT indicted 24 people in total. The trials took place from 14 November 1945 until 1 October 1946. Twelve defendants were sentenced to death, three were acquitted and seven others were sentenced to prison terms ranging from 10 years to life imprisonment. In one case, the procedure was suspended for health reasons and in another the defendant committed suicide before his trial.


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