History •

Scanning Nuremberg: The Blood-judge, false false rumors, and documentary dilemmas

Post by Matt Seccombe, originally written April 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

During March I finished the Cuhorst files and covered 2 more defendants, Joel and Klemm, so 6 of the 14 have been completed. The work covered 33 files, 286 documents and ca. 1160 pages. For those calculating the numbers, in the defense files the number of documents has gone up while the number of pages has not, as many of them are very short, often 1 or 2 pages.

The bureaucratic defense: After Cuhorst’s colorful (and successful) defense of himself as a blood-judge who convicted often and enthusiastically but without discrimination or persecution, Joel and Klemm reverted to the familiar argument that they simply tended to their own offices and avoided the darker activities they didn’t want to learn about.

Night, fog, and shadows: The judges and prosecutors present a lot of evidence about looming forces beyond their control that kept them isolated. The Gestapo and the Interior Ministry under Himmler dominated the coercive forces, including the power to simply take anyone who couldn’t legally be charged or who was charged and acquitted. Joel and Klemm also show that the Justice Ministry under Minister Thierack (a Nazi true believer who committed suicide before he could be tried) answered to the Party Chancellery under Martin Bormann, who acted as Hitler’s agent on policy and appointments. In contrast to Roland Freisler, a People’s Court judge known in the ministry as “Raving Roland” (who was killed by a well-aimed Allied bomb), the defendants apparently kept a very low profile (according to them, of course) and avoided asking questions.

Going to the right source: One affidavit explains that in 1942-43 Klemm and a colleague handled the case of a man charged with spreading defamatory false rumors, namely that Jews were being sent to the east and gassed to death. As part of standard procedure they tried to establish that the rumor was indeed false, so they asked the Gestapo, which assured them it was completely false. If they still wondered, they probably knew it not safe to ask more questions.

The prosecution helps the defense: The evidence provided at the IMT and NMT trials was undeniable proof of crimes committed, but it could be ambiguous or confusing about who was responsible. Joel presented an IMT prosecution document (presented by the US) showing that his own office had written a letter criticizing the SA and SS for the abuse of concentration camp prisoners. Klemm presented other IMT prosecution documents showing that the Gestapo had kept government ministries in the dark, and that Himmler was the one who authorized the lynching of captured Allied airmen.

Documentary difficulties: One cardinal rule in a trial is that an attorney can submit documents but only the judges can enter them as exhibits (or reject them). Klemm’s attorney was unclear on the concept, and he labelled every single evidence document as an exhibit, posing a problem for the judges (who sorted it out) and for me, since 80 or so documents are incorrectly identified. The “Notes” field got a good workout to explain the situation. And a cardinal rule for our project is that physical documents and analyzed documents match 1-to-1, but one of Joel’s documents was added at the end of the preceding one, not separately (1 physical for 2 analytical). We could resolve this by making a duplicate image for the page with the second document.

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.

852 RARE: A Controversial Execution in 1818 Edinburgh

In December 1818, Robert Johnston, age 24, was executed for robbing Mr. John Charles of some £600 in pounds and notes, plus a watch key and chain. This single crime, trial, and execution ignited a swarm of controversy – evidence of which can be found in our collections. We recently acquired a pamphlet, Letter to the Magistrates of Edinburgh … with Regard to the Execution of Robert Johnston, which joins several others in our collection that describe the trial and gruesome execution that followed.

Letter to magistrates

Letter to the magistrates of Edinburgh, 1819, HOLLIS 14401279

Opinion diverged about Johnston and the severity of his punishment. Some noted that Johnston, a 24-year-old carter, had repeatedly been in custody on various charges; in fact, he had only been out a few days before robbing Mr. Charles. Others noted that his parents were “honest and industrious,” and pointed out that Johnston had been thrown out of work due to economic distress in Scotland. These writers thought his only choice was to steal or starve.

All agreed that the punishment – execution by hanging – was severe. Other carters had recently committed crimes in Edinburgh; perhaps local magistrates wanted to make an example of Johnston. Citizens interceded on his behalf, to no avail.

On the day of the execution, a noose was slipped around Johnston’s neck, and he mounted a table, which was supposed to drop suddenly at Johnston’s signal. Unfortunately, the table did not drop completely, leaving him half standing and half suspended, struggling. As the crowd realized he was still alive, they urged the attending magistrate to halt the execution. Soon the crowd threw stones at the magistrate, overpowered the police, cut Johnston down, partially revived him and carried him off. The police eventually recaptured him, dragged him to the station, and continued their attempts to revive him before returning him to the gallows. During all this time Johnston appeared conscious but did not speak.

When the execution resumed and the table dropped once again, Johnston continued to struggle for about 20 minutes before finally expiring. The whole gruesome business lasted almost two hours.

Witnesses agreed on the sequence of events, and all were shocked at the inhumane and error-ridden execution. However, they vehemently disagreed about whether the magistrates exercised their duty to ensure a working scaffold and secure a competent executioner. Some blamed the magistrates; others blamed the crowd (which they called a mob) for cutting Johnston down and thereby prolonging his suffering.

Robert Johnston trial account

Authentic account of the trial … of Robert Johnston, 1819, HOLLIS 4390803

Letter to the citizens of Edinburgh

Letter to the citizens of Edinburgh; in which the cruel and malicious aspersions of an “eye-witness” are answered, 1819, HOLLIS 4388450

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For historians of crime and punishment, it is useful to consult materials like the pamphlets here, which offer multiple perspectives, reminding us that there is often more than one “truth.” These pamphlets also shine a light on issues that concerned the populace and the police nearly two hundred years ago. They show that controversy over the death penalty was, and remains, a recurrent theme in other legal systems as well as our own.

Scanning Nuremberg: Blue grapes solved, Himmler’s shadow, and ordinary life

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.

Scanning Nuremberg: Nightmare elements and mysterious blue grapes

Post by Matt Seccombe, originally written February 12, 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

Like the mail, project news is subject to storm delays. My task for January was to finish analysis of the Case 3 prosecution material, and I did that, working through 11 files, 144 documents, and 1112 pages. The material covered a wide range of subjects.

The Night and Fog program had the most material. In this operation, western European Resistance members were “disappeared” into Germany, prosecuted there, and imprisoned, with no word given to the person’s family. Ironically, in the rare case of an acquittal, the person was seized by the SS and shot or sent to a camp, so it was better to be convicted. The point was to leave potential Resistance members and their communities paralyzed with uncertainty, and one German general described it as “his most effective punishment, exceeding the death sentences in deterrent effect.”

The euthanasia program made a third appearance in our trials (so far). Euthanasia of sick and disabled Germans provoked fierce public opposition, and in a rare instance Hitler decided to drop it. In the aftermath one judicial official emphasized to a chancellery colleague that it hadn’t really been a judicial program, which was as close to gloating as was safe to venture.

Every case has a nightmare element in it somewhere, and in Case 3 it is forced sterilization. The prosecution made a request for evidence from survivors, and one document combines the letters and documents sent in by some 25 victims. While 25 deaths would be over and done with, 25 sterilizations left the victims living with wounded bodies, broken dreams, and broken hearts expressed in painful detail. The one benefit was that they were able to express their anger and push their demand for justice (or simple revenge).

Names: one example illustrates a recurring problem. One document includes a message from an officer who was to award medals for military service. It was signed “Rommel,” without further identification. (At least it wasn’t “Schmidt.”) I entered the author as Erwin Rommel, field marshal, but in the document analysis I noted that we only have the surname and the full identification is not guaranteed.

The judges and prosecutors often found themselves working with and then under the Interior Ministry (the police) and the SS, both run by Himmler, with varying degrees of enthusiasm or dread. High officials were routinely “invited” to join the SS, either actively or nominally, and this connection was a major issue in the case. One recurring peculiarity is that the SS records for the defendants kept track of whether, inter alia, the official had a set of SS candles and candlesticks for Christmas. This is ironic in that the SS was anti-Christian as a matter of ideology, but it illustrates how good they were at coopting traditional culture.

Puzzle: One judge’s daughter described her father’s circle of political/security officer cronies as the “Blaue Traube,” meaning literally the blue bunch of grapes, or figuratively the blue group. I haven’t found evidence of whether this was an offhand description or a real group in the secretive world of the Nazis.

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.

852 RARE: Art’s History

When we talk about the art and visual materials collection at the Harvard Law School considerable credit goes to Dean Roscoe Pound (dean 1916-1936) and librarians John Himes Arnold (librarian 1872-1913) and Eldon Revare James (librarian 1923-1943) for their work building the collection. However, the story of the collection dates back long before their time. In addition to the objects themselves, we are lucky enough to have supporting documents that provide important historical details about their acquisitions and early use.

A recent discovery that provides wonderful insight into early collecting efforts is a letter from Simon Greenleaf and Joseph Story to Chief Justice Lemuel Shaw (1781-1861) dated June 2, 1840. They write:

We are desirous of embellishing the Law Department of this Institution with likenesses of the distinguished Jurists of our country, of which we have commenced a collection: & having seen a striking likeness of yourself by Clevinger, we respectfully request you to place a copy of it at our disposal for that purpose.

For some context, the Law School, founded in 1817, had been housed in Dane Hall since the building was erected in 1832. In 1840 Greenleaf and Story, the Royall and Dane professors of law, were the school’s only instructors.

A similarly worded letter dated May 29, 1840, to an unknown recipient, can be found in the Greenleaf Papers. On the back of the page is written “Circular for busts”–perhaps this was a draft in preparation for letters like the one sent to Shaw.

Dane Hall Classroom_HLSL_olvwork364037

Classroom in Dane Hall, Harvard Law School, c.1880 Record ID olvwork364037

Not all documentation comes in manuscript form. For example, we can verify where portraits were hung thanks to the above photograph of a classroom in Dane Hall, c.1880, showing one of the Law School’s  John Marshall portraits, as well as portraits of Daniel Webster and Nathan Dane.

The full-length portrait of John Marshall (1755-1835) visible in the above mentioned picture (to the right of the desk) was painted by Chester Harding (1792-1866). Given to the school in 1847 by a group of faculty and students, the portrait is a replica of Harding’s full-length portrait commissioned by the Trustees of the Boston Athenaeum in 1830. Along with the portrait we also have a subscription list dated September 2, 1846, that includes the donors’ names and their pledged amounts. Our records indicate this subscription list was drawn up and circulated by Professor Greenleaf.

Detail of Subscription list of contributors to the purchase of
Chester Harding’s full length portrait of John Marshall, September 2, 1846
HOLLIS 9680277

This is just a small sampling of some of the supporting documents we are aware of. We look forward to future discoveries that will help tell the story of this wonderful collection.

852 RARE: Medieval Manuscripts Online – Magna Carta & More

The HLS Library’s Historical & Special Collections is pleased to announce the release of two early manuscript digital collections of interest to students and scholars of medieval Anglo-American legal history. We are grateful to the Ames Foundation for contributing some of the funding for these projects.

To celebrate Magna Carta’s 800th birthday, we have digitized our entire manuscript collection of English statutory compilations, which include Magna Carta, dating from about 1300 to 1500. Many of the volumes have beautiful illustrations, like the one shown here.

HLS MS 12

Magna Carta cum Statutis, ca. 1325. HLS MS 12, fol. 27r.

One of our favorites is a Sheriff’s Magna Carta – a single-sheet copy of the statute which was read aloud in a town square four times a year.

HLS MS 172

Magna Carta, ca. 1327. HLS MS 172.

We have also digitized our entire manuscript collection of registers of English legal writs, which were used to initiate legal actions in a court. Our collection of registers dates from about 1275 to 1476. Most of our manuscript registers are fairly humble, but this one has a magnificent illuminated initial:

HLS MS 155

Registrum Brevium, 1384. HLS MS 155, fol. 34r (detail).

 Cataloging information for each manuscript may be found by searching HOLLIS and browsing by “other call number”: HLS MS XXX; XXX refers to the manuscript number.

The Ames Foundation has begun a project to fully describe the contents of these statutes and registers to make them even more useful to scholars. Read more about the project, see an example of a fully-described manuscript (HLS MS 184), and find out how you can help.

Together with our recently released English Manor Rolls digitization project, these materials open up a new realm of research possibilities to scholars around the world. We hope you enjoy them!

Scanning Nuremberg: Correlating transcripts, the Nazi judicial system and the SS, and more

Post by Matt Seccombe, originally written January 7, 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 December operation was to work through 12 prosecution document books, containing 140 documents and approximately 990 pages of material.

The transcript required more attention (and much more time) as the prosecution case began to wind down, with documents being entered almost randomly. I needed to work far ahead in the transcript to find where the evidence came in—and whether it was accepted as exhibits. Beyond that key fact, the transcript-document correlation provides other important benefits. Often the transcript supplies information not in a document, such as filling in a missing date, or correcting an error in authorship. In the other direction, in one case a document was entered in the transcript without the key identifying information (the evidence code number), but having the document books at hand allowed me to figure out which document it was (PS 2309) and make the match. There’s a fairly high error rate in the way the transcript identifies documents, so the match needs to be made carefully, and errors can be sorted out in the “Notes” field of the database.

While the material covers a wide range of topics, one recurring theme is the tension between the judicial system and Himmler’s SS. The Ministry of Justice gradually control, with the issue raised indirectly rather than explicitly (complaining about the SS was not a smart thing to do). In a domestic analogue to the Night-and-Fog operation used against foreign Resistance members, Germans who were arrested but not convicted, or who completed a prison sentence, often found themselves “disappeared” into the custody of the SS (either to be executed or put into a labor camp). Judicial officers ventured to suggest that this made the public wonder who was really in charge, a question that they already knew the answer to but couldn’t say out loud.

In one memo on discussions about the legal status of Jews, a Justice official noted that “There should be no scruples against the suggestions of the Minister of the Interior,” the minister being Himmler. These discussions tended to be one-way conversations, as Himmler kept his secrets. In the revision of the regulations against Jews, Poles, and Gypsies, Himmler noted in 1944 that the “evacuation and isolation” of the Jews and Gypsies meant that only the Poles were still an issue.

Nazi political economy: One unusual case was an elaborate prosecution of the leaders of a Catholic convent for failing to follow rationing regulations. The judge was apologetic to the Mother Superior, since the violations were inconsequential. One sentence buried in the file clarified the concept: the convent property was worth $2.5 million, and the investigation allowed the government to confiscate the entire estate.

The Dirty Dozen venture: At one point the prison authorities were asked to look through their inmates for good hunters who would be asked to serve in army and SS units behind enemy lines.

Phrase of the month: A defense attorney who knew many elite non-Nazi Germans believed that they would have been more active except that they were paralyzed by “the really masterly mysteriousness” of the Gestapo.

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.

Scanning Nuremberg: Ferocious courts and the electrical wolf

Post by Matt Seccombe, originally written December 2, 2014

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 November was 12 files of prosecution evidence (document books 2 – 3L), holding 164 items and approximately 1410 pages.

The theme of the material is the increasing ferocity of the courts as the war progressed, with expanding jurisdiction of the People’s Courts and Special Courts and growing demands for death sentences to terrorize opponents of the regime. At the end of the war even this was considered inadequate, as political cases were turned over to courts martial for trial and execution, and at the very end it was just execution and no trial.

After the material on the general system in the earlier files, these files get into the details, where some permutations emerge from particular cases, which were well documented. Every system of power offers some points of leverage that can be manipulated. While expressions of doubt about the war were prosecuted as “defeatism” and an attack on military morale, one woman who was charged and convicted had friends who intervened in the appeals process. She was from an elite family, with powerful connections. While most appeals were from prosecutors seeking to change a prison sentence to a death sentence, hers was one of the very few successful defense appeals. Another “morale” crime was listening to Allied radio broadcasts, a capital offense. In one case, according to the official version, a patriotic housewife subordinated her family loyalties to her duty and told the police that her husband had been listening to London Radio. Trial and execution followed, as this was a charge he could not disprove. The rest of the file offers more details and a different scenario. This was an extremely unhappy couple, and a divorce would be difficult and slow; an accusation of a capital offense made for a simple and quick fix.

The issue of I and J: At one point in the trial transcript the prosecutor said (more or less), “I will now present evidence from document book 3-I.” Judge: “Don’t you mean 3-J?” The judge must have been looking at a copy of the document book, which definitely seems to say 3-J, with the letter written in by hand. Prosecutor: “No, this is 3-I; there is no 3-J.” I had followed the 3-J theory like the judge, but once the court accepted it as 3-I, that was it for the database too. This matters because we record the document book number/letter as part of the identification. Whatever the letter looks like (J), it means I. I added a note on this to the relevant entry. This set a record for the most time spent analyzing a single letter of the alphabet.

The case of the missing pages (and movie). One brief court session is missing from the transcript, with blank pages inserted. Fortunately there was some before-and-after discussion to identify what’s missing: the showing of a movie on the trial of the officers who tried to kill Hitler in 1944. An affidavit was introduced to identify the movie, which was coded as evidence NG 1019. The movie isn’t in the Case 3 document book, and it will be interesting to see what the NG set has for it, possibly a transcript of the movie’s text (NG1019a).

Mysterious phrase of the month: “annihilated by the electrical wolf on 5 November 1943” (NG 174). I haven’t found any explanation of what an electrical wolf was.

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.

Scanning Nuremberg: A unique meaning for “judicial reform”

Post by Matt Seccombe, originally written November 2014

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

NMT 3, The Justice Case [a.k.a. the Judges’ Trial]

When I began the trial analysis work at the beginning of October, all of the key materials were already in place—the Case 3 trial documents boxes, the trial transcript, and the “Green Set” of NMT trial reports—so I was able to start quickly, re-ordering some of the material, assembling basic information about Case 3 (the defendants, prosecutors, judges, main issues, etc.). I was able to begin document analysis after only one week of preparation—about one week faster than I had expected.

At the end of the month I had completed analysis of all the documents in the first box (15), including the indictment, prosecution briefs, opening and closing arguments, the tribunal’s decision and sentences (the most important document in the trial), and seven prosecution document books. These added up to 164 individual documents, so we now have more than 6000 documents in the database. The page count for the box is roughly 1700, giving an educated guess of about 12,750 pages for Case 3 as a whole.

Some patterns in the case are apparent. The evidence documents show that the defendants had not been shy about talking candidly about what they were up to during the war, such as various ways of killing captured Allied airmen (lynching by the local population, shooting by the army, or handing them over to the SS for execution), rather than sending them to POW camps as required by international law.

What is hard to absorb is that the judges and prosecutors consistently considered these actions to be a superior form of law and justice, so some of the most incriminating documents bear the title “judicial reform.” There is much discussion about Hitler’s policy (emphasized in a speech in 1942 as part of the war effort) of replacing traditional law and judicial decision-making with “authentically German” and Nazi principles and practices, and purging officials who were reluctant to go along or who had conflicting commitments. (This mind-set resembles that of the scientists and doctors in Case 1 who believed that by killing hostile or unwanted groups they were “healing” the body of the nation.)

The strangest item: One document says only “Missing 15-25,” and handling it was quite a challenge. This is a replacement page for an evidence document that had been included in a document book and then went missing, either by accident or by a decision to remove it (there’s no indication which was the case). The table of contents for the document book indicates what document had been there, so I have included the “Missing” page in the database, with a Note stating what evidence document had gone missing. Perhaps it will turn up elsewhere, or there may be some explanation of what had been done about it. This is the first document that has no substantive content, but it still has some form as a “ghost” of the missing text.

Next up: the second of three boxes of prosecution evidence.

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.

New series: Scanning Nuremberg

We’re pleased to announce a new series to our blog: Scanning Nuremberg.

Scanning Nuremberg will share 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. Matt shares not only the statistical progress of the project and behind-the-scenes of digitization, but insights into patterns of the cases, topics of testimony, ghosts of missing text, and mysterious phrases. We hope you’ll find his monthly observations as fascinating as we do.

Look for the first official post early next week; we’ll update every two weeks until we get caught up with Matt!

More about the Nuremberg Trials Project:

Court in session at the Nuremberg Trials, olvgroup12379

Court in session at the Nuremberg Trials, Record Identifier: olvgroup12379

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.