Scanning Nuremberg: Ferocious courts and the electrical wolf

Scanning Nuremberg: Ferocious courts and the electrical wolf

Post by Matt Seccombe, originally written December 2, 2014

Scanning Nuremberg shares the observations and insights of Matt Seccombe, Nuremberg Trials Project Metadata Manager/Document Analyst, as he analyzes documents for digitization as part of the HLS Library’s Nuremberg Trials Project website

The task for November was 12 files of prosecution evidence (document books 2 – 3L), holding 164 items and approximately 1410 pages.

The theme of the material is the increasing ferocity of the courts as the war progressed, with expanding jurisdiction of the People’s Courts and Special Courts and growing demands for death sentences to terrorize opponents of the regime. At the end of the war even this was considered inadequate, as political cases were turned over to courts martial for trial and execution, and at the very end it was just execution and no trial.

After the material on the general system in the earlier files, these files get into the details, where some permutations emerge from particular cases, which were well documented. Every system of power offers some points of leverage that can be manipulated. While expressions of doubt about the war were prosecuted as “defeatism” and an attack on military morale, one woman who was charged and convicted had friends who intervened in the appeals process. She was from an elite family, with powerful connections. While most appeals were from prosecutors seeking to change a prison sentence to a death sentence, hers was one of the very few successful defense appeals. Another “morale” crime was listening to Allied radio broadcasts, a capital offense. In one case, according to the official version, a patriotic housewife subordinated her family loyalties to her duty and told the police that her husband had been listening to London Radio. Trial and execution followed, as this was a charge he could not disprove. The rest of the file offers more details and a different scenario. This was an extremely unhappy couple, and a divorce would be difficult and slow; an accusation of a capital offense made for a simple and quick fix.

The issue of I and J: At one point in the trial transcript the prosecutor said (more or less), “I will now present evidence from document book 3-I.” Judge: “Don’t you mean 3-J?” The judge must have been looking at a copy of the document book, which definitely seems to say 3-J, with the letter written in by hand. Prosecutor: “No, this is 3-I; there is no 3-J.” I had followed the 3-J theory like the judge, but once the court accepted it as 3-I, that was it for the database too. This matters because we record the document book number/letter as part of the identification. Whatever the letter looks like (J), it means I. I added a note on this to the relevant entry. This set a record for the most time spent analyzing a single letter of the alphabet.

The case of the missing pages (and movie). One brief court session is missing from the transcript, with blank pages inserted. Fortunately there was some before-and-after discussion to identify what’s missing: the showing of a movie on the trial of the officers who tried to kill Hitler in 1944. An affidavit was introduced to identify the movie, which was coded as evidence NG 1019. The movie isn’t in the Case 3 document book, and it will be interesting to see what the NG set has for it, possibly a transcript of the movie’s text (NG1019a).

Mysterious phrase of the month: “annihilated by the electrical wolf on 5 November 1943” (NG 174). I haven’t found any explanation of what an electrical wolf was.

More about the Nuremberg Trials Project:

The Harvard Law School Library holds approximately one million pages of documents relating to the trial of military and political leaders of Nazi Germany before the International Military Tribunal (IMT) and to the twelve trials of other accused war criminals before the United States Nuremberg Military Tribunals (NMT). We have already digitized NMT 1 (U.S.A. v. Karl Brandt et al.), NMT 2 (U.S.A. v. Erhard Milch), and NMT 4 (U.S.A. v. Pohl et al.), and we’re in the process of digitizing our remaining holdings. We expect to have NMT 3 (The Judges’ Trial) completed and available to the public by the summer of 2015.

Although the digitization of the remaining trials will also be complete by the end of this year, they will require analysis and tagging work before they can be released to the public.  We hope to complete this work as soon as possible based upon available funding. For more information about this project, please contact Kim Dulin.

About: Meg Kribble

Research Librarian & Outreach Coordinator at the HLS Library.
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