Scanning Nuremberg: comparing judicial systems, Grimm lexicography, and more

Scanning Nuremberg: comparing judicial systems, Grimm lexicography, and more

Post by Matt Seccombe, originally written July 6, 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 June agenda was the defense case of Petersen and the majority of the case for Rothaug (one of the bulky sets); this covered 13 files, 309 documents, and 997 pages analyzed. These defendants were opposites in their roles, as Petersen was a minor figure as a lay-judge while Oswald Rothaug was notorious as a “blood judge” presiding at the Special Court at Nuremberg, with a reputation as a politically-connected Nazi. Even other defendants claimed that “I stayed away from Rothaug, and never joined him at the Blaue Traube,” the hotel restaurant where he was rumored to manage court politics. The Blue Grapes thus became a notable subject in the trial.

Defense by analogy: Petersen made the shared “general defense” that his work was part of a legitimate judicial system that differed from the Anglo-American model (regarded as “softer”) but was traditional in Europe, a more authoritarian and severe tradition in criminal justice. Petersen’s variation was to note that the Nazi courts were a close match to the Soviet judicial system. The point was presumably that if the Soviets could do it and be treated as allies by the US, it couldn’t be criminal for the Nazis to do the same. That’s logical, but it’s odd that the attorney would have thought the Soviets made a favorable example for American judges. Among the historical documents on this, one is factually quite interesting: when Himmler was getting his SS empire going in the mid-1930s, he wanted some senior officers to get advanced training in dealing with political suspects and detention camps, so he sent them to the experts, in the USSR.

Phrase of the month: As part of the general argument that the judges knew nothing of what went on inside the concentration camps, Petersen introduced vivid testimony from the IMT about how rumors of extermination operations were forcefully denied while the camps ran in “an iron ring of silence.”

Evidence of the month: Responding to evidence that Petersen had known about some form of extermination, Petersen presented counter-evidence about the meaning of the words used, including definitions provided by the Brothers Grimm, who had been lexicographers among other pursuits.

The prosecution over-makes its case: After presenting evidence that Rothaug’s court had dispensed death sentences indiscriminately, adding a list all the death sentences carried out, Rothaug responded with detailed evidence about several of the listed cases, showing that they had been handled scrupulously. Our copy of that document book has a prosecutor’s handwritten note: “Object to entire book” on grounds of irrelevance since those cases hadn’t been cited by the prosecution as improper. The tribunal overruled, since the prosecution had at least implied that Rothaug had operated indiscriminately; the defense material was accepted.

Name of the month: One of Rothaug’s documents is signed by “Dr. Orgg.” We have some surprising names in our authors’ list, including Tom Paine and Plato, and some very strange spellings, but I have a hard time with “Orgg.” I expect it’s a typo, but all we have to go on is the name as stated on the typescript, so Dr. Orgg goes in as an author.

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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