Scanning Nuremberg: the role of staff officers

Scanning Nuremberg: the role of staff officers

Post by Matt Seccombe, March 2, 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

During February, I completed the documents for one defendant in the Hostages Case, Foertsch, and most of the documents for another, von Geitner. These amounted to 193 documents and 895 pages of material. Both defendants were staff officers rather than commanding officers, which was a major point for them and a key distinction for the tribunal, but staff officers still had an overview of events and also a major responsibility that was relevant in the trial: preparing reports to be sent to the military high command.

How to wage a dirty war: The defendants uniformly claimed that they wished to establish an orderly occupation of Yugoslavia by honorable and legal means, but the papers have more candid moments. The general perception was that the religious and ethnic history of the region made it, as one affidavit noted, “this witches’ kettel and chaos.” Hence the Hitler/Keitel order for massive reprisal killings in cases of resistance. General Loehr, when briefed about food supplies, commented, “a starving population loses its appetite for rebellion.”

Who’s who: The single hardest part of Nuremberg document analysis is identifying authors with incomplete, ambiguous, and contradictory information, of which there is an abundance. We have the case of Christoph von Auer, clearly identified in an affidavit, and “W. Auer (?),” a queried name in a wartime document. They held the same position, at the same place, at the same time, and I am 90% sure they were the same person. Ninety percent is not 100%, however, so in the relevant documents I kept the two names distinct as separate authors, and added a Note indicating the likely connection between the two. In contrast is the good German name Wolfgang Cartellieri—spelled three different ways. There was enough information to establish that there was only one person (and multiple typos), so only one name is listed. Speaking of names, one key source of evidence had a name so long that it broke the database, exceeding the space allotted for names: Friedrich-Ferdinand, Prinz du Schleswig-Holstein-Gluecksberg.

Creative writing: Chief staff officers were required to prepare the frequent reports that their commanding generals sent to army and military headquarters. Headquarters expected to receive reports on reprisal actions following guerrilla attacks and sabotage, according to the Hitler/Keitel order, and of course the Nuremberg prosecutors submitted these reports as evidence. Some of the defendants argue (fairly persuasively) that some of those reports were crafted to satisfy headquarters that reprisal killings had been conducted when in fact they hadn’t, or had been much less than the 100 to 1 ratio ordered for attacks on Germans. In one document these were mentioned as “Fictitious shootings.” The officers in the field did not object to reprisals morally, since the tactic was standard doctrine for an occupying army in hostile territory, but they often noted that killing civilians outraged the local population rather than pacified it, and sometimes there were not enough civilian hostages on hand to meet the quota. One tactic was to count partisans killed in battle as reprisal killings in order to meet the target without killing civilians; another was to report a German killed in a guerrilla attack (which would call for 100 reprisal killings) as a battle casualty instead; a third was simply not to report many sabotage episodes, forestalling the issue. We might call these “fictitious reports.”

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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