Scanning Nuremberg: “When Barbarossa commences, the world will hold its breath and make no comment.”

Scanning Nuremberg: “When Barbarossa commences, the world will hold its breath and make no comment.”

Post by Matt Seccombe, September 7, 2018

During August I continued with the IMT prosecution documents for Crimes against Peace (Count 2), following the expansion of the war after the attack on Poland and the beginning of the war with Britain and France. This covered, in succession, the Nazi attacks on Norway and Denmark; Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg; Yugoslavia and Greece; and the Soviet Union. (The files on the war with the United States will complete the set.) This covered 116 documents and 472 pages of material. (A water leak in the building required the removal of the documents for safekeeping for two days, reducing production somewhat.) Count 2 covers the outbreak of the war; the crimes committed during the war will be covered by Counts 3 and 4, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Inconvenient timing: In January 1940, while Germany was proclaiming its respect for neutral countries, a German plane had to make a forced landing in Belgium, and one document found in the plane was a set of orders stating details of the planned occupation of the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, and northern France. Hitler had been more candid in a conference in August 1939: “Generally speaking, the best thing to happen would be for the neutrals to be liquidated one after the other.”

Guarding the flanks: One common element in the German attacks in the north, west, and south was a need to block British attacks from the North Sea, the Channel, and the Mediterranean. In the planning conferences, Britain was the opponent that Hitler took most seriously. (He considered the USSR to be vast but weak and the US too distant to be a serious threat.) By similar logic, Hitler wanted to threaten his enemies on their flanks, including calls for Japan to attack the USSR and the British Empire in Asia. One consequence of these multiple occupations was that the German military ended up being spread thin over several fronts.

Barbarossa: Hitler explained the rationale for the invasion of the USSR concisely in June 1941, citing Germany’s need for oil and other resources: “What one does not have, but needs, one must conquer.” His prediction for the world’s reaction, made in February 1941: “When Barbarossa commences, the world will hold its breath and make no comment.” His planners made another prediction for the results of the German occupation: “many millions of people [in Russia] will be starved to death.”

The tale of page 62: One of the most important prosecution documents was a speech General Jodl made in 1943 on the background and progress of the war. The full text was entered, and various extracts were also presented to note particular issues. In the primary text, however, page 62 is missing; 307 documents further along, a one-page extract carried a hanger-on: page 62. This raised the question of what to do with the page. From an historian’s point of view I was inclined to move the page to where it should have been, thus providing a complete text of the speech. From an archival point of view, however, the page had been placed with the extract in a separate file in 1945 and had arrived at HLS in that file. The accidental misplacement had become a “fact.” Outcome: page 62 remains where it was, in the second document with the extract, with cross-references between the two documents in the database.

The HLS 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 posted five trials so far (NMT 1 through NMT 4 and NMT 7) and have completed digitization of all the documents and transcripts. 

We are now engaged in the process of analyzing, describing and making machine readable the remaining trials’ materials in preparation for posting them to the Web. We hope to complete this work as soon as possible based upon available funding.  For more information about this project, please contact Jocelyn Kennedy.

About: Meg Kribble

Research Librarian & Outreach Coordinator at the HLS Library.

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