Post by Matt Seccombe, February 10, 2016
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 plan for December was to complete the Hostage Case prosecution documents, but I finished those in November, so we had a project’s dream come true: free time. I split the time, spending 10 days working through the defense portion of the trial transcript and the final proceedings, and then started the defendants’ papers. By the end of January I had finished the documents of two defendants (Dehner and Felmy) and half of the next (Foertsch). This amounted to 264 documents and 1077 pages of material.
Transcript mapping: Knowing where defense cases, and particularly their documents, appear in the transcript, compared to not having this information in advance, is like having a complete map instead of a blank sheet to fill in each day. The defendants’ cases and final proceedings fill about 7000 pages, so flipping through them is little fun, but it’s a great advantage to know where a defendant’s documents books and pleas were entered. In previous trials there was no open period for this work, so it had to be done in the course of analyzing the documents, with a success of rate of about 95 percent; the remaining 5 percent untraced documents are like peas under a mattress. Besides connecting documents to their place in the proceedings, the transcript provides key information: whether a document became an exhibit or not, whether a name or date or evidence number was mistyped and needs to be corrected, and in one case, what “Ro.” in a letter refers to (General Rommel).
The defense argument in brief: The transcript also makes the general argument apparent. For the generals three points were key. 1. The general Nuremberg issue of “following orders” was literal, as the basic actions were directly ordered by Hitler. 2. Guerrilla warfare was conducted outside the customs and laws of warfare, so Germans were not legally bound to follow rules that the partisans ignored. 3. In occupied territories, the occupier has a right to punish sabotage by “reprisal measures” against the population. (This was a surprise to me.) Reportedly, Allied commanders, including Eisenhower, authorized the execution of civilian hostages when they occupied Germany.
Records and actions: The German military documented many reprisal measures in Yugoslavia and Greece, including the execution of thousands of civilians, just as Hitler ordered. However, General Dehner reported that commanders often ignored the orders and filed “doctored reports” documenting executions that never occurred, in order to satisfy headquarters. For documentary historians, this is a reminder that not everything that happened was documented, and not everything that was documented happened.
Entertainment in the field: According to Gerhard Merren, mess-nights at his army offices “often culminated in impersonations of Hitler, Goebbels and others which would have induced a National socialist to take the severest measures.” Fortunately, Berlin was far away.
A brother’s tale: On July 21, 1944, the day after Claus von Stauffenberg tried to kill Hitler, Lt. Alexander von Stauffenberg was in an awkward situation in Greece. He knew nothing about his brother’s plans but was obviously under suspicion and offered to leave headquarters. General Felmy, he said, responded that he had “committed no dishonorable deed” and should remain. When an arrest warrant arrived, Felmy placed Stauffenberg under military protection and delivered him safely to Berlin, and he survived.
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.