History • Et. Seq: The Harvard Law School Library Blog

New website for Library Bicentennial Exhibit – Collections | Connections

The Harvard Law School Library is pleased to announce the launch of the companion website for its Bicentennial exhibit:

Exhibit logo

 

 

 

 

The website is arranged around the six themes of the exhibit: Keepers of MemoryPreserving Legal Heritage, Global Citizens, Promoting Justice, Supreme Court Clerks and Their Justices, and Library as Lab. It features items from the physical exhibit, as well as additional content from the Library’s collection of more than 2 million items.

Learn how the Library preserves the continuing story of the Harvard Law School community: faculty, students, alumni, and staff who are moved to question, prepared to reason, and called to act.

http://bit.ly/hls200exhibit

Explore (and watch!) the history of the Ames Moot Court Competition!

The Ames Moot Court competition has been around for over 100 years, and thanks to a lot of hard work from both HLS Library and HLS Communications staff you can now explore that 100+ year history online!

The Ames Moot Court Competition website contains a history of the competition, the judges who have participated over the decades, best oralist and best brief winners, and recordings of many of the competitions dating back to 1974. One of the most exciting outcomes of this project is exposing footage of U.S. Supreme Court justices speaking from the bench—something that we don’t normally have the privilege to experience unless we’re at the Supreme Court in person!

The video below features Deval Patrick (HLS ’82), the former Massachusetts governor who won best oralist that year (skip ahead to 1:23:40 in the video to see him speak!), and a young Howell Jackson (HLS ’82) when he was also a student here. Professor Jackson was on the opposing team, which won best overall brief. The judges that year were Hon. Henry J. Friendly (HLS ’27), U.S. Court of Appeals for The Second Circuit, whose papers are held by Historical & Special Collections; Hon. Patricia Wald, U.S. Court of Appeals for The District of Columbia Circuit; and Hon. Nathaniel Jones, U.S. Court of Appeals for The Sixth Circuit.

Scanning Nuremberg: Wrapping up NMT9 and a preview of the IMT

Post by  Matt Seccombe, March 2, 2018

After I finished the analysis of the trial documents in the Einsatzgruppen case, NMT 9, in early January, I split my time between two tasks. The first was to scan the last 1500 pages of the trial transcript for any document-related information I had not previously found. My earlier work proved to be sufficient, as no new documents turned up. The transcript did offer some interesting dialogue, however, including an exchange between a judge and a defense attorney giving his final argument. The judge, who had a mimeo copy of the argument, interrupted to advise the attorney that if he used a certain sentence in the final paragraph, it would do him no good and the judge would have to comment on the sentence—which would not be pleasant for either party. The attorney stated that if there was anything wrong in the text it must be due to a translation error since he did not intend to say anything that would give offense. He omitted the specified sentence. Neither one, of course, stated what was in that unuttered sentence.

The second task was to look ahead at the IMT, the International Military Tribunal of 1945-46, the trial of the “major war criminals” (Goering et al.). The first question was “what do we have?” The answer was thirty-two boxes of trial documents, not counting two copies of the trial transcript and several boxes of Soviet documents in Russian. These broke down into 19 boxes of US and British trial documents, 6 boxes from the IMT commission on criminal organizations, and 7 boxes with a smaller set of trial documents (mostly duplicating the first set). I looked at each folder in each box to create a folder-level map of the collection. The trial documents sort out in three stages: 1. pre-trial material and the prosecution documents on the general charges (conspiracy, aggressive warfare, war crimes, crimes against humanity); 2. prosecution and defense documents concerning each defendant; 3. documents on the organizations.

We decided to begin work on the first stage, beginning with the pre-trial documents and other heterogeneous IMT-related documents that were stored (in no particular order) in two boxes, before moving on to the core trial documents (arguments, briefs, and evidence in document books). During February I analyzed 77 documents and 1471 pages of material in the two boxes.

Heterogeneous does not mean trivial; in fact, these boxes hold the most important IMT documents: the London Agreement and charter that established the IMT in August 1945; the indictment in several drafts, from the first in August to marked-up page proofs in October; and a copy of the Tribunal judgment, spelling out the findings, verdicts, and sentences. Among the lesser documents was an analysis of Goering’s bank accounts (he was not poor), Robert Ley’s last will to his family (before he hanged himself), and a report by the US “Monuments Men” unit on Hitler’s project to assemble Europe’s cultural treasures for a museum and library in Austria.

Much of this material was collected by Ralph Albrecht, one of the US prosecutors (and HLS graduate). One was a memo outlining prosecution strategy for cross-examining defendants and their witnesses, emphasizing the need to avoid prolonging the trial. The memo was signed simply “A.,” but the folder was signed with the full name with an identical capital, “Albrecht.” Among his reasons for the strategy were a need to keep the attention of the press, support in public opinion, the complications of the peace negotiations, and the need to protect “the solid reputation of the Justice [Robert Jackson] for statesmanship and advocacy.”

More about the Nuremberg Trials Project:

Matt Seccombe’s work on the NMT 9 of the Nuremberg Trials Project has been made possible in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor.

National Endowment for the Humanities logo

 

 

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.

Tenth Annual Morris L. Cohen Student Essay Competition

Interested in rare books, legal history or legal archives?

The Legal History and Rare Books (LH&RB) Section of the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL), in cooperation with Cengage Learning, announces the Tenth Annual Morris L. Cohen Student Essay Competition. The competition is named in honor of Morris L. Cohen, late Professor Emeritus of Law at Yale Law School.

The competition is designed to encourage scholarship and to acquaint students with the AALL and law librarianship, and is open to students currently enrolled in accredited graduate programs in library science, law, history, and related fields. Essays may be on any topic related to legal history, rare law books, or legal archives. The winner will receive a $500.00 prize from Cengage Learning and up to $1,000 for expenses to attend the AALL Annual Meeting.

Winning and runner-up entries will be invited to submit their entries to Unbound, the official journal of LH&RB. Past winning essays have gone on to be accepted by journals such as N.Y.U. Law Review, American Journal of Legal History, University of South Florida Law Review, William & Mary Journal of Women and the Law, Yale Journal of Law & the Humanities, and French Historical Review.

The entry form and instructions are available at the LH&RB website. Entries must be submitted by 11:59 p.m., April 16, 2018 (EDT).

Scanning Nuremberg: some humble details and curiosity on the bench

Post by Matt Seccombe, January 16, 2018

In December and early January, I worked through the papers of six Case 9 defendants, covering 169 documents and 895 pages of material. The sixth, Strauch, was the last defendant to present his case, so, subject to some double-checking, all the Case 9 trial documents have now been identified and analyzed—1129 documents and ca. 6700 pages. The remaining task is to finish the review of the transcript, 1800 pages to go, to find additional information that needs to be added to the analysis of the documents, such as whether an exhibit offered by one side and objected to by the other was finally accepted or not by the tribunal. We now have six of the Nuremberg trials done, NMT 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, and 9, and a total of 11,400 documents analyzed.

Humble details: The final defendants in the trial, coincidentally or not, included two who were ill and whose capability to stand trial was in doubt (one case was severed, the other remained) and several men who were minor figures in the einsatz program. The most minor of them all was Matthias Graf, who did not fit the indictment’s target of German officers who had command roles in the einsatzgruppen. Graf was not an officer at all; he started the war as a corporal and rose no higher than sergeant during the operation, and his duties were primarily clerical. This was well established by one exhibit: copies of postcards his wife had sent to him during war, with the address spelling out his lowly rank. (Graf was found not guilty of the major charges, and was released due to time served on the lesser charge of membership in a criminal organization.)

Curiosity on the bench: In the late stages of the trial the defendants’ cases became highly repetitive variations on a few themes (“I wasn’t there at the time,” “I was working on other assignments,” “I was a staff member, not a commanding officer,” etc.), which could make the proceedings tedious—though for each defendant it was important to make his argument at full length, given the prospect of a death sentence if found guilty of conducting mass executions.  One response to the repetition was an occasional loss of patience in the court, though the judges, prosecutors, defendants, and defense attorneys were almost always courteous and often considerate of one another, with a few awkward exceptions. Another response was to explore some small point that a judge found interesting. One was curious about the Yuletide candlesticks that the SS gave to officers (part of the SS effort to develop non-Christian rituals), so a defense attorney provided a picture of one as a show-and-tell. In the Graf case, the court tried to find out just how much or little a junior staff member might have learned about the orders to liquidate Jews and other groups on the eastern front. The following (paraphrased) exchange occurred:

Judge: Did you ever attend a conference or meeting where the order was explained?
Graf: No. Only senior officers would have attended such a meeting.
Judge: Did you ever meet Himmler or Heydrich?
Graf: I did see Himmler once.
Judge: How did that happen, and did you speak with him?
Graf: He came to where we were stationed, and had supper with the officers. As the junior person on the staff I was assigned to wait on him at the table.
Judge: Was it a good meal?
Graf: Well, I would rather have that supper than what we are served here in prison.
Judge: If you could do that again today, would you want to serve Himmler his supper?
Graf: No, I would not want to do that again.

More about the Nuremberg Trials Project:

Matt Seccombe’s work on the NMT 9 of the Nuremberg Trials Project has been made possible in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor.

National Endowment for the Humanities logo

 

 

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.

Scanning Nuremberg: jokes and consequences, illness and honor, and more

Post by Matt Seccombe, November 30, 2017

The Scanning Nuremberg series 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 November, I worked through the papers of five defendants, amounting to 157 documents and 724 pages. For those tracking the numbers, the document and page numbers are lower than in previous months, for two reasons: several work days “lost” to holidays, and diseconomies of scale. Some of the defendants offered few documents but spent several days testifying on the stand, so that I had to spend a lot of time skimming through the transcript for information, particularly to find where documents were entered and where previously-entered documents (notably prosecution exhibits) were discussed by the defendants in direct examination and cross-examination by the prosecutors. Those second and third appearances of documents are noted in the database entries for those documents, sometimes with more information for the analysis. As the defendants follow one another, their arguments became highly repetitive, but additional light sometimes appears, as well as curious moments.

Joke and consequences: Hans Steinwede’s affidavit recounted that in 1943 he had travelled to get spare parts but left his ration card behind, so he was unable to get food. Hungry and frustrated, he exclaimed, “There goes the house-painter from Austria, starts a war and we have got no chow; while Goering is getting fatter and fatter.” Making fun of Hitler was not a smart move, and he was reported. He was sentenced to 21 days in jail on bread and water, and considered himself lucky since one of the defendants had protected him from a harsher penalty.

Illness or honor?: Defendant Biberstein described a military officer he had dealt with, commenting, “He wanted to earn his sore throat.” The tribunal obviously did not understand the phrase, so the attorney explained that for the officer, a sore throat meant the Iron Cross medal, which was worn around the neck.

Metaphors: The defense attorneys used various images to emphasize the role of the defendants and the situation they faced. Braune’s attorney characterized him, accurately if not imaginatively, as “no more than a small cog in a large machine.” In contrast, Ott’s attorney painted the big picture of the German-Soviet war in a remarkable sentence: “All conceptions of the occident concerning man and state, space and time, technology and war and might and right were exploded in this unfathomable land of released demons.” (This argument was backed up by more prosaic evidence: the Hitler/Keitel “terror order” of July 1941 stating that the security forces, e.g., the einsatzgruppen, in the occupied territories were not to operate by “legal sentences”; security could be achieved only if “the occupying power spreads a terror which alone is capable of depriving the population of every wish to resist.”)

The relevance rule: After the prosecution objected to much of Nosske’s defense case on the grounds that it was not relevant to the charges, his attorney appealed to the tribunal, and the presiding judge assured him that “We will allow you to discuss anything and everything with the exception of the social life of the penguins in the Antarctic zone.” The judges were tired of excessive detail and long explanations, however, so the attorney was asked to “rein in” his client so “that he does not gallop off into fields of unnecessary detail.” (The defense attorneys were not alone in their weakness for metaphors.)

More about the Nuremberg Trials Project:

Matt Seccombe’s work on the NMT 9 of the Nuremberg Trials Project has been made possible in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor.

National Endowment for the Humanities logo

 

 

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.

Scanning Nuremberg: tactics and five of the NMT 9 defendants

Post by Matt Seccombe, November 3, 2017

The Scanning Nuremberg series 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 October I analyzed 197 documents (1045 pages) spanning five of the NMT Case 9 defendants (it helped that one defendant offered only one document before his case was severed due to illness).

Documentary infallibility? When the prosecutor cross-examined Sandberger about a promotion recorded in his SS personnel file, Sandberger claimed that the record was inaccurate in several respects. The prosecutor responded: “The memory of man might fail. Records, if they are not destroyed, stand.” Grand rhetoric, but those of us who do documentary history know that those records are often riddled with errors ranging from flawed information to omissions to simple typos, so they stand on shaky foundations.

The equivalency tactic: The defendants were charged with exterminating Communists and Jews, and in response two of them submitted wartime reports on Soviet “extermination units” and the capture of an “extermination battalion” composed of fanatic Communists and “very many Jews” whose task was to commit sabotage and kill German troops behind the lines. The implied argument was that the German-Soviet war was one of extermination and the einsatz operation was a sort of self-defense.

A vocabulary tactic: In an elaboration of the basic “superior orders” defense, Blume’s attorney attempted to dress up with argument with the doctrine of “unexpectability” (an echo of Cardozo’s term “foreseeability” to establish when liability applies in negligence cases). The claim was that the court could not hold someone responsible for committing a crime when it was “unexpectable” that he had a free choice of whether to do the deed or not, and it was “unexpectable” that a German could freely choose to disobey an order issued by Hitler. The point did not change the issue, and the polysyllables may have been counterproductive as a rhetorical flourish before notably skeptical judges.

The price of disobedience: One fact that worked against the defendants who used the superior orders argument, including the threat of execution for disobeying an order during the war (a threat that Himmler made explicit to his officers), was that none of them had been executed or even prosecuted for their attempts to avoid conducting mass executions. Defendant Rasch explained that the threat operated by a back channel. He had learned from the experience of other SS officers that if he had openly defied Hitler’s order, he would have been sent to a concentration camp “and then to one of the so-called ‘lost battalions’ (Verlorener Haufen) whose members were assigned to especially dangerous tasks and thus systematically annihilated.” There was good logic in the point, as no organization, certainly not the SS, wants to publicize the disloyalty of a senior official (as a trial and execution would have done); it is much better to quietly dispose of the problem. One of the defendants deemed “too soft” by the SS had indeed been stripped of his rank and was slated for reassignment on the Russian front.

More about the Nuremberg Trials Project:

Matt Seccombe’s work on the NMT 9 of the Nuremberg Trials Project has been made possible in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor.

National Endowment for the Humanities logo

 

 

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.

Scanning Nuremberg: halfway through NMT 9

Post by Matt Seccombe, October 9, 2017

The Scanning Nuremberg series 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 September I analyzed 171 defense documents in the Einsatzgruppen Case (NMT 9), amounting to 1299 pages of material, finishing the papers of one defendant I had started in August, completing three other defendants, and starting the documents of another. The numbers are adding up: with more than 600 documents done, I am now half-way through the NMT 9 trial documents. On a larger scale, given our estimated total of 40,000 trial documents in the collection, more than 25 percent of them have now been analyzed, for six trials (out of thirteen).

The unhelpful witness: One major claim by many defendants was that they were not present when einsatzgruppen units conducted mass executions. Franz Six, whose Vorkommando Moscow unit had been assigned to secure Soviet records when the German army occupied Moscow, claimed that he returned to Germany once the advance stalled—before the commando received orders to conduct executions in occupied territory. Six’s attorney called Veronika Vetter, an ethnic German who had been in Russia at the time, to verify the date of his departure. On the stand, however, she stated that he was still in Russia on the key date. Six’s attorney forced Vetter through prolonged questioning and submitted multiple documents in a highly unpersuasive attempt to prove that his own witness was wrong.

Transcript-document loop: Erwin Schulz presented his testimony in mid-October 1947 without having his documentary evidence ready. While his fourth document book was found in the transcript at the point where the final evidence was being submitted, three books remained unaccounted for. After flipping through 1500 pages, I found that in mid-November, in a short interval between other (unrelated) proceedings, his attorney quickly introduced his first two document books (63 items). I had already analyzed these documents, but now could go back in the database and add the exhibit numbers, clarify some anomalies, and note a few errors in how the documents were identified in the transcript. The two sources—the documents and the transcript—enrich each other and also correct each other. (The third document book is still lurking somewhere in the transcript for discovery later.)

Dropping the wrong name: One of the rationales for the executions in Russia was that they were reprisal executions in punishment for attacks and sabotage by partisans—which was the primary charge in the Hostage Case (NMT 7)—with the defendants arguing that this was permitted under international law. In NMT 7 the defense pointed out that Allied officials in occupied Germany had authorized reprisal executions of German civilians in case of attacks by Nazi partisans. Picking up on NMT 7 testimony, Paul Blobel asserted on the stand that reprisal executions had been authorized by a French commander, by Soviet officials in Berlin, and—at a ratio of 200 German deaths for one American—by General Eisenhower. The judge would have none of it. He asked if Blobel had proof of Eisenhower’s order; Blobel said he had heard the story; the judge asked if any defendant or attorney had evidence; no one did. Under the judge’s glare, Blobel first withdrew the claim and then apologized for it. Had he limited himself to the French and Soviet reprisal orders he would have had strong evidence for his argument, but in the US courtroom at Nuremberg, Eisenhower was beyond reproach.

More about the Nuremberg Trials Project:

Matt Seccombe’s work on the NMT 9 of the Nuremberg Trials Project has been made possible in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor.

National Endowment for the Humanities logo

 

 

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.

Scanning Nuremberg: beginning analysis of the defendants’ documents

Post by Matt Seccombe, September 7, 2017

The Scanning Nuremberg series 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 August I completed the analysis of the tribunal judgment and began work on the defendants’ documents, amounting to 165 documents and 1063 pages of material. I have now completed the documents of three of the defendants, in the order they presented their cases in the trial. One challenge in the process is that, so far, none of the defendants had their evidence ready to offer as exhibits when they testified (as was usual in other NMT cases), so I often don’t know whether a given document was actually offered and accepted (or rejected). Finding this information depends on scanning the whole transcript beginning to end, which makes it prudent to work on the defendants’ cases in the order they testified (rather than alphabetical order), so that I can pick up that document-entry information as it appears and add it to the database either while I do the primary document analysis or afterward, going back and completing the record.

Ohlendorf and the Order: Otto Ohlendorf, the lead defendant, resembled Minister Schlegelberger in the Justice Case in that he was often regarded as a “tragic figure,” a highly civilized man who found himself in a senior position in a terrible regime, forced to do its bidding. His elaborate defense emphasized this, presenting Ohlendorf as an honorable police official with humanist convictions, including an interest in anthroposophy. He believed in “volkdom” as a matter of ethnic or racial identity, in which each nationality deserved autonomy, not as a doctrine of supremacy of one race over others. He opposed Hitler’s wartime order to execute enemy populations, he said, but he enforced it because it was his superior’s command. The prosecution tested this claim in an unsettling cross-examination: If Hitler had ordered him to execute his own family, would he have done it? After evading the issue for some time, he answered: yes.

The decent chap: Like Ohlendorf, most defendants argued that they had followed superior orders, which they disapproved of but could not evade. In fact, they themselves were good men, they claimed, completing the argument that they were not personally responsible for the einsatz operation. Apart from the legal argument, the plea of superior orders, this subject leads to the recurring question, in all of the trials, of what sort of men these were, and how they could do what they did. Erwin Schulz’s case consisted almost entirely of this “good character” defense, including an affidavit reporting that “people always said he was a decent chap.” Most of this evidence was tedious, but some offered statements by Schulz that do suggest his character and his reaction to his situation. After his einsatz service, he headed a security police training program, where he once described what had been done in Russia. The killing of Jews had been done “in accordance with orders,” but still it was “a frightful business.” If any of the officers who had participated in it “boasted of these deeds,” he said, he would expel them “as unsuited from the point of character.” He once described the role of a security police officer more generally: “We want to remain decent and upright people. Let us look into the mirror every day and find out whether we can still look in our eyes.”

More about the Nuremberg Trials Project:

Matt Seccombe’s work on the NMT 9 of the Nuremberg Trials Project has been made possible in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor.

National Endowment for the Humanities logo

 

 

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.

Scanning Nuremberg: analyzing the prosecution documents in the Einsatzgruppen trial (NMT 9)

Post by Matt Seccombe, August 14, 2017

The Scanning Nuremberg series 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 July I completed the analysis of the prosecution documents in the Einsatzgruppen trial (NMT 9), amounting to 155 documents and 1070 pages of material, including document books, briefs against individual defendants, and the closing argument. Some time was spent enriching the analysis of the previous documents (analyzed in June) with information about two trial issues that were not identified in the indictment but that emerged from the evidence: the execution of the mentally ill, and the taking and killing of hostages.

The Ghost Order: Both prosecution and defense refer incessantly to the “Fuehrer Order,” which was Hitler’s order in mid-1941 to exterminate the Jews of eastern Europe as part of the war against the USSR. The prosecution emphasized this because it established what the Einsatzgruppen did: mass murder. The defendants emphasized it because it supported their argument that they had acted on a direct order from their commander in a war (the “superior orders” defense). However, no one entered a copy of this order in evidence, and it seems that no official record of it exists. Hitler apparently gave it in person to his senior military and SS commanders, who passed it along to the generals and the einsatz commanders. Meanwhile in July 1941 Goering ordered Heydrich to prepare “a complete solution of the Jewish question.”

The Order and disorder: As the campaign proceeded, the application of the order was chaotic, as the einsatz commanders executed an order that German administrators in the area did not comprehend. One administrator reported: SS security police arrived and announced “the liquidation of all Jews here in the town of Sluzk, within two days.” Jews and some non-Jews were seized, beaten, and shot. The population was frightened, and the security police looted the place. “In the future, keep this police battalion away from me by all means.”

Dissent and obedience: One einsatz commander, Strauch, faced criticism from a German officer that the extermination program “was unworthy of a German man and of the Germany of Kant and Goethe.” Strauch replied that “I did nothing but fulfill my duty” and complained about “having to perform this nasty job.” (The executioners often expressed this sort of self-pity.)

Hostages: This operation was not highlighted in the indictment but was familiar from the Hostage Case (NMT 7), set mainly in the Balkans, where the orders were a slightly modified version of those in the Soviet campaign, so the same pattern emerged. Einsatzgruppe D reported: “Hostages are taken in each new place, and they are executed on the slightest pretext.”

A Soviet interpretation: Since nearly all of the einsatz crimes were committed in places the USSR had occupied, the Soviets had evidence to offer from their own investigations, and two reports appeared in Case 9. They were extensive and detailed but had some particular qualities. The phrasing was lurid: “German fascist monsters [or “usurpers”],” and “Hitlerite hordes.” All the victims were identified as simply “peaceful Soviet citizens,” rather than Jews or Gypsies. And there was a particular charge about the Germans’ “butchery of Polish officers in the Katyn forest” and their “heinous fabrications of experienced falsifiers” trying to pin the blame on the Soviets.  (Of course, the massacre and the fabrication were both committed by the Soviets.)

More about the Nuremberg Trials Project:

Matt Seccombe’s work on the NMT 9 of the Nuremberg Trials Project has been made possible in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor.

National Endowment for the Humanities logo

 

 

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.

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