Post by Matt Seccombe, originally written March 3, 2015
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 the month was to begin the analysis of the defendants’ trial documents, beginning with Altstoetter. I worked through 3.5 defense cases, including 3 small ones and half of one of the biggest (Cuhorst), covering 20 files, 242 documents, and 1076 pages.
Transcript work: Finding where each defendant presented his case is difficult, as they did not go in any apparent order. Flipping through the volumes is time-consuming, but most of the defendants have now been accounted for. Two surprises: I found one batch of pages bound far out of place (by 1500 pages), which is not good news. Also, I found a trial-within-the-trial, of a defense lawyer accused of misconduct (trying to get access to secret information).
Puzzle somewhat answered: Last month the puzzle was the meaning of the Blaue Traube, Judge Rothaug’s regular get-togethers with his cronies (who tended to be political and police leaders). The transcript covers this as part of Rothaug’s case. It was the name of the restaurant where they met. It’s still a question whether these meetings were purely social or more sinister.
General defense: One attorney presented the general defense theory, which was that German judges and prosecutors had no constitutional authority to overrule or ignore laws enacted by the government; there was no judicial review in German law, so they all essentially had to follow orders. Beyond that, the defendants generally argued in terms of compartmentalization and secrecy, that they went about their own (harmless) jobs and knew nothing about crimes in other ministries and departments. Hitler himself bolstered this argument, with an early sweeping order requiring secrecy in all government operations, and a major speech in 1942 attacking the judicial establishment for being bound to European traditions and not getting with the Nazi program (the defendants were nearly all part of that old guard).
Himmler’s shadow: A running theme is the growing power of the Interior Ministry (the police) and the SS under Himmler; no one could say no. Altstoetter was particularly vulnerable since he grew up where Himmler attended school, and Himmler, always the empire builder, was eager to recruit him as part of the SS elite. Altstoetter’s solution was to accept only an honorary membership, thus evading active participation.
Ordinary life in extraordinary times: The defendants (notably Cuhorst, with his reputation as a blutrichter (blood judge)) had a vested interest in showing they engaged in ordinary judicial tasks, but the argument also reflects an historical truth: Even in tyrannical regimes at war, most people did spend most of their time going about their ordinary business, and case records are a trove of evidence of that social life. Cuhorst’s cases have some curious examples. 1. The extremely unhappy marriage that ended with a bitter argument and a fatal stabbing. The husband was convicted of manslaughter (not murder, for a crime of passion), and in addition to a prison term, the verdict required him to turn over the knife he used. 2. One woman compiled a long record of seductions and scams across Germany, but pushed her luck too long, since fraud during wartime was a capital offense against the war economy. 3. More darkly, a rural Catholic parish evolved into a cult involving secret rituals, mysticism, religious visions, and incest.
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.