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

852 Rare: Feud in Wiltshire

This is the third in a series of five blogs about Historical & Special Collections’ English Manor Rolls (1305-1770). HSC was honored to have Eleanor GoerssPforzheimer Fellow ’17, with us last summer to perform research on and enhance description of this internationally-important collection, including authoring these posts. Stay tuned for more of what you’ll find, often unexpectedly, in this collection.

 

Here’s what a fourteenth-century English feud looks like, pieced together from court manor records. Warning: it involves blood.

Great Wishford, Wiltshire, Folder 162, Membrane HH (June, 1374)

Great Wishford, Wiltshire, Folder 162, Membrane HH (June, 1374)

The first entry in the section of the roll pictured above says that Gonne Brighamton, “unjustly and against the peace, drew blood from Margaret Conperes” [Gonne Brighamton iniuste et contra pacem traxit sanguinem de Margareta] and was fined four pence for it. In the next entry Walter Conperes and his wife Margaret bring a complaint against Gonne Brighamton for trespassing, saying that “she assaulted the said Margaret, who was beaten and badly handled against the peace, to damages of 50 s.” Gonne was fined three pence.

But we quickly learn that Margaret was not exactly a passive victim. The next two entries say: first, Margaret drew blood from the Gonne, and second that Margaret was fined for trespassing against Gonne, beating her and handling her badly, also for damages of 50 shillings.

In other words, Margaret and Gonne settled their bloody fight in court, loudly letting everyone know about it while also paying out a total of fourteen pence to the lord. An out-of-court settlement would have been much cheaper; in fourteenth-century Wiltshire the going rate for a “license of concord,” or permission to let charges drop, was only two pence!

Voting With Your Feet? Better Check Protocol First…

Today we’re sharing an addendum to our Scanning Nuremberg series written by document analyst Judith Haran.

Post by Judith Haran, May 3, 2018

I’ve been analyzing documents for the HLS Nuremberg Project for a year now, and I’ve seen a lot of odd and often disturbing tales: stories of slave labor on a scale difficult to imagine, starvation, beatings, even kidnapping of children from lands to the east of the Third Reich. My task for the past three months has been to read through and index transcripts of the “Industrialist Trials”—the trials of the directors of Krupp (armament makers), I.G. Farben (a huge chemical conglomerate, whose product line included Zyklon B) and the Flick concern (a coal/steel industrial empire). The transcripts are long, up to 13,000 pages in the case of the Krupp trial, and can get repetitive at times. But the stories they tell are endlessly fascinating.

April was devoted to the Krupp trial. Over two hundred witnesses testified between November 1947 and the following June. In addition to ‘hearing’ what the witnesses had to say (which included accounts of people being locked inside steel cabinets, beaten with shovels, and dying in air raids after being excluded from shelters), I find that some of the juiciest tidbits come from ‘eavesdropping’ on conversations between the judges and the attorneys . . .endless arguments over admissibility of evidence, techniques of cross-examination (apparently not part of the European tradition), and other points of legal strategy. But the atmosphere, as far as this reader can tell, remained cordial and professional . . . most of the time.

Members of the defense counsel watch and listen as evidence is presented against their clients in the Justice Case. Left to right: Dr. Alfred Schilf of Ansbach defending Herbert Klemm; Dr. Erich Wandschneider of Hamburg-Othmarschen defending Curt Rothenberger and Dr. Heinrich Grub of Nurnberg defending Ernst Lautz.

Members of the defense counsel watch and listen as evidence is presented against their clients in the Justice Case, one of the current war crimes trials at Nurnberg directed against the former Nazi judges and public prosecutors. Left to right: Dr. Alfred Schilf of Ansbach defending Herbert Klemm; Dr. Erich Wandschneider of Hamburg-Othmarschen defending Curt Rothenberger and Dr. Heinrich Grub of Nurnberg defending Ernst Lautz. olvwork376096

Three American jurists ran the Krupp trial: Judge Anderson of Tennessee, Judge Daly of Connecticut, and Judge Wilkins of Seattle, Washington. Anderson, the official presiding judge, ran a tight ship. However, a major upheaval in his otherwise peaceful courtroom occurred on trial day 21, a cold, damp day in January, 1948. Perhaps it was the ongoing lack of decent food in the city, or the sub-par accommodations. Perhaps the heat, which wasn’t that great to begin with, wasn’t working that day. In any event, the tensions that had been simmering beneath the surface since the start of the trials in 1945 finally came to a boil. Alfred Schilf, counsel for defendant Friedrich Janssen, lost his composure.

 

After listening to the prosecution present written evidence for all of a Friday morning, Herr Schilf tried to raise a point about an issue from the day before. Judge Daly, who was presiding that day, interrupted him. Things quickly began to get heated. Schilf got angry and attempted yet again to speak. Daly shot him down harshly: “There will be no further discussion on that.”

Schilf, however, wouldn’t give up.

“Your honor, I protest that I am not permitted to go on. . .”
“Did you hear me say, counselor, that there will be no further discussion on this question?”
“Yes, and I protest against this ruling and request that a decision of another court. . .”
“You will please take your seat or I will order you removed from the courtroom.”
“Ich bitte darum,” (I ask you to) replied Schilf, with an acid tone of voice (as it later emerged in testimony).
“All right, you can remove yourself, then,” the judge replied.1

Schilf left the courtroom in a huff, and the prosecution continued presenting written evidence for the next few hours. After 47 additional pieces of evidence had been presented, Judge Daly finally noticed that none of the twenty-odd members of the defense team were present in the courtroom, remarking “They perhaps folded their tents.” He sent the marshal out to round them up. It took thirty minutes to find them.

What happened next came as a shock to the defense team. Daly found that twelve of them had left deliberately and announced that these twelve were to be held in contempt of court. Asked why they had left, a spokesman for the group told the judges, “An injustice had been done to our honor.” Daly ordered the marshal to arrest the leaders of the group and to keep them in prison for the weekend.

One of the accused tried to speak, through the interpreter. Daly was having none of it.

“No, you are not going to say anything. You are in contempt of this Tribunal, and you’re not going to say anything until you’ve purged yourself.” It was late Friday afternoon; Daly adjourned the court until Monday. Over the weekend, newspapers around the world ran the story about the arrest of the German lawyers.

The offenders all trooped back into court on Monday morning. The presiding judge read them the riot act, accusing them of openly challenging not only the Tribunal’s authority, but also the authority of all of the nations currently occupying Germany. After he said his piece, the “trial within a trial” began.

Otto Kranzbuehler, the brilliant (and bilingual) leading defense attorney, who’d been absent on the fateful day, was appointed to represent the accused. His first motion, to have the case heard by a different tribunal, was quickly overruled. He called Schilf to testify. Together they examined Friday’s events in minute, excruciating detail. Schilf had taken umbrage over Daly repeatedly interrupting him, and insisted that in his 25 years of legal practice, neither he nor anyone else he knew had ever been removed from a courtroom.

6 Krupp Lawyers Jailed by Court: New York Times article about the incident, January 17, 1946.

6 Krupp Lawyers Jailed by Court: New York Times article about the incident, January 17, 1946.

Translation difficulties, as it turned out, accounted for some of the misunderstanding. Differences between German and American court protocol and expectations accounted for much of the rest. Grievances were aired; explanations were made on both sides. Apologies were asked for and given, first by Schilf, and then, as Monday dragged on into Tuesday, by most of the others involved. Only one, Guenther Geisseler, held out, refusing to apologize or even admit to any wrongdoing.

At the end of the two days of testimony, Kranzbuehler summarized the events, as well as German legal custom, for the Tribunal.  The American judges must have been surprised to hear that it was perfectly legal in Germany for counsel to walk out of the courtroom in protest, and that lawyers of that country were never found “in contempt” for any reason. Unfortunately for the lawyers in question, that country, the Germany they had grown up in, lay in ruins around them. Another sixteen months would have to pass before its successor state, the Federal Republic of Germany, was officially founded in May 1949.

It was Wednesday before the bench announced that it would accept the apologies of the five lawyers (graciously, one hopes), but would disqualify Geisseler, the intransigent one, from continuing in the case. The larger trial got underway again, and the transcript continues on (and on, and on) for another eleven thousand pages. I’m happy to report that after January 16th, with the exception of a few snide remarks (on both sides), everyone behaved themselves just fine.

Judith Haran is a graduate student in Library and Information Sciences who works part time as a document analyst for the Nuremberg Project at HLS. She also writes fiction about WW2, and maintains a blog at judithharan.com. She posts on Twitter as @judithharan.

1 William Manchester, The Arms of Krupp, New York, Little Brown, 1968, 651-652.

In addition to Manchester’s book, the following are useful sources on the trials:

  • Taylor, T. (1992). The anatomy of the Nuremberg trials: A personal memoir­­­­­­­­­­­­. New York, NY: Knopf.
    An insider account written years later by the Chief Counsel of the US prosecution team.
  • von Knieriem, A. (1959). The Nuremberg Trials. Chicago: Henry Regnery Co.
    A legal analysis of the trials, from point of view of a German lawyer. Translated from the German. The author, who was general counsel to IG Farben, was himself tried and acquitted after the war.

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.

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.

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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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