Series: Scanning Nuremberg • Et. Seq: The Harvard Law School Library Blog

Scanning Nuremberg: transcript mapping, a brother’s tale, and more

Post by Matt Seccombe, February 10, 2016

Scanning Nuremberg shares the observations and insights of Matt Seccombe, Nuremberg Trials Project Metadata Manager/Document Analyst, as he analyzes documents for digitization as part of the HLS Library’s Nuremberg Trials Project website

The plan for December was to complete the Hostage Case prosecution documents, but I finished those in November, so we had a project’s dream come true: free time. I split the time, spending 10 days working through the defense portion of the trial transcript and the final proceedings, and then started the defendants’ papers. By the end of January I had finished the documents of two defendants (Dehner and Felmy) and half of the next (Foertsch). This amounted to 264 documents and 1077 pages of material.

Transcript mapping: Knowing where defense cases, and particularly their documents, appear in the transcript, compared to not having this information in advance, is like having a complete map instead of a blank sheet to fill in each day. The defendants’ cases and final proceedings fill about 7000 pages, so flipping through them is little fun, but it’s a great advantage to know where a defendant’s documents books and pleas were entered. In previous trials there was no open period for this work, so it had to be done in the course of analyzing the documents, with a success of rate of about 95 percent; the remaining 5 percent untraced documents are like peas under a mattress. Besides connecting documents to their place in the proceedings, the transcript provides key information: whether a document became an exhibit or not, whether a name or date or evidence number was mistyped and needs to be corrected, and in one case, what “Ro.” in a letter refers to (General Rommel).

The defense argument in brief: The transcript also makes the general argument apparent. For the generals three points were key. 1. The general Nuremberg issue of “following orders” was literal, as the basic actions were directly ordered by Hitler. 2. Guerrilla warfare was conducted outside the customs and laws of warfare, so Germans were not legally bound to follow rules that the partisans ignored. 3. In occupied territories, the occupier has a right to punish sabotage by “reprisal measures” against the population. (This was a surprise to me.) Reportedly, Allied commanders, including Eisenhower, authorized the execution of civilian hostages when they occupied Germany.

Records and actions: The German military documented many reprisal measures in Yugoslavia and Greece, including the execution of thousands of civilians, just as Hitler ordered. However, General Dehner reported that commanders often ignored the orders and filed “doctored reports” documenting executions that never occurred, in order to satisfy headquarters. For documentary historians, this is a reminder that not everything that happened was documented, and not everything that was documented happened.

Entertainment in the field: According to Gerhard Merren, mess-nights at his army offices “often culminated in impersonations of Hitler, Goebbels and others which would have induced a National socialist to take the severest measures.” Fortunately, Berlin was far away.

A brother’s tale: On July 21, 1944, the day after Claus von Stauffenberg tried to kill Hitler, Lt. Alexander von Stauffenberg was in an awkward situation in Greece. He knew nothing about his brother’s plans but was obviously under suspicion and offered to leave headquarters. General Felmy, he said, responded that he had “committed no dishonorable deed” and should remain. When an arrest warrant arrived, Felmy placed Stauffenberg under military protection and delivered him safely to Berlin, and he survived.

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: Finishing the Hostage Case, what’s missing, and the war in Norway and Greece

Post by Matt Seccombe, December 15, 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 November was to finish the second box of trial documents, amounting to 150 documents and 973 pages. This completed work on the Hostage Case prosecution documents, a month sooner than planned.

The question of what’s not there: The collection of prosecution documents includes virtually all of the primary case that was prepared at the beginning of the trial, except, unfortunately, the movies that were shown, and some evidence provided by outside authorities in Greece and Yugoslavia. What the collection doesn’t have is the evidence the prosecution submitted while cross-examining defendants and in the rebuttal phase at the end. Also missing, save for one single page, are the lists the prosecution made of all its exhibits and the names of the defendants that each document implicated. Since the last point is frequently hard to determine from a document’s text, those lists would be analytical gold—if they were present.

These files included some late-arriving documents regarding the Balkans, which filled in details but opened no new points of real interest. The others covered the German occupation of Greece after the collapse of the Italian forces there (when Italy changed sides in the war), and the scorched-earth withdrawal of the German army from northern Norway (conducted by a general who had gained his scorched-earth expertise in Croatia).

Norway: The German withdrawal in the winter of 1944-45 (Operation Nordlicht) involved the removal of roughly 2/3 of the northern population and the destruction of 2/3 of all economic assets, in order to deprive the advancing Soviet army of resources. “This area is to be devastated,” the general ordered. As in Yugoslavia, the destruction was massive, but there was a notable difference: The operation was conducted without savagery toward the civilians, and none of the scorn expressed about Serbs and gypsies and the hatred of the Jews.

Greece: With references to fighting in Athens, Sparta, and Ithaca, echoes of Homer and the wine-dark sea come to mind. This was a different sort of war, though. The German army could never meet the partisans in open battle, so they relied almost entirely on reprisal measures to terrify the population into obedience. One report noted that the army had failed to encircle the partisans in one area, but “24 villages and 3 monasteries were destroyed, 696 Greeks shot to death.” One officer felt sorry for himself, since the partisans’ “meanest and most vicious” tactics forced the Germans to “employ measures going beyond the usual framework of soldierly combat between two chivalrous adversaries.”

Executioners’ last voyage: In mid-1944 two SS officers went to the island of Rhodes and suggested a final operation to the military. (The generals always claimed that the SS ran its own operations separately, but it was the military that carried this one out.) Twelve hundred Jews were rounded up, taken to a port, and loaded onto a barge. The Germans took the barge out to sea, opened the valves below the water line, and returned to port, leaving all of the “passengers” on the barge as it sank in the Mediterranean.

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.

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: the war in southeastern Europe

Post by Matt Seccombe, November 17, 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

In October I worked through the second half of the records of the German war in Yugoslavia, covering the years 1943-44. This amounted to 214 documents analyzed, with 1256 pages of material. The basic story remained the same as for the early war—the capture and killing of hostages as a deterrent and punishment for guerrilla attacks, hence the name The Hostage Case—but some interesting strategic and tactical shifts occurred.

In mid-1943 the focus of the war in southeastern Europe shifted from Serbia to the west coast of Yugoslavia, especially following the collapse of the fascist regime in Italy. The German military expected an Anglo-American invasion of Croatia and an effort to drive from there northward into Austria and Germany. The English had been active enough in the area, sending agents and supplies to help the partisans, to make the scenario plausible. The German response was as severe as it had been in Serbia, aggravated by a growing sense of desperation.

Basic orders: As an SS Division operated in Croatia, its orders included “the immediate arrest of hostages. The slightest resistance is to be broken with ruthless terror.” In February 1944 General Kuebler, citing the Germans’ numerical disadvantage against the partisans, was even more emphatic: “Terror against terror. An eye for an eye, A tooth for a tooth!”

Revised orders: Early in the war partisan fighters were considered criminals rather than soldiers, so captured partisans were shot rather than treated as POWs. In July 1943 Hitler revised the policy and captured partisans were kept alive and shipped to Germany for labor, particularly in the coal mines. Germany was running desperately short of labor at that point, which probably had more to do with the changed policy than respect for the laws of war. By the end of the war in the region, in 1944, the German army did show some respect for their adversaries, ironically because of the assistance the partisans were then receiving from the Allies (Anglo-American and Soviet), which included uniforms as well as weapons. Since the partisans now acted like an army and looked like an army, the German military recognized them as such—including the application of international laws regarding the treatment of POWs.

The ethnic problem(s): With the German army drained to the Russian front, the army in the southeast relied partly on other forces, including groups of anti-Soviet Russians (referred to as Cossacks in some records) and Bulgarians. The Russian units were sometimes investigated by the German commanders for being overly literal about the “ruthless terror” strategy against civilians. The use of Bulgarian troops in Serbia, a German officer noted, raised the problem that most Serbs scorned Bulgarians as inferior, while the Bulgarians had “an unbridgeable hate against everything of Serbian blood.”

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.

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: Initial Impressions from the Hostage Case

Post by Matt Seccombe, October 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 task for September was to begin the analysis of documents for Case 7, the Hostage Case, which concerns (primarily) the extraordinarily dirty war between the Germans and the partisans in Yugoslavia, with the execution of captured fighters, the arrest and killing of hostages in reprisal measures, and the use of concentration camps and forced labor. Since I began the work in late August after finishing the Justice Case, and the early prosecution files are the best-organized portion of the set, I was able to analyze 251 documents, amounting to 1594 pages.

Superior orders: In this case the issue of “following orders” was literally true. In 1941 Hitler ordered that the war in the East (Russia and the Balkans) was to be conducted by “the spreading of such terror by the occupying forces . . . [so as] to eradicate every inclination to resist amongst the population.” This was put into execution by an order from General Keitel, applying to Serbia and elsewhere: for every soldier killed, 100 civilians were to be killed. Partisans captured in the field were to be shot immediately, not treated as POWs. The laws of war were to be ignored.

Word of the month: Francs-tireurs. This started as a puzzle, being the term Germans frequently used in their reports to describe their opponents, and proved quite illuminating. It isn’t a Balkan term, obviously, but a French term dating back to the Franco-Prussian war (and earlier), meaning “free shooters,” describing irregular soldiers who fought alone or in small groups, engaging in sabotage and sniping. The Germans in that war considered these fighters to be criminals rather than soldiers, acting outside the rules of warfare and not entitled to the protection of the laws of war. In addition, the Germans held local villages responsible for supporting the attacks, killing civilians in reprisal. This is exactly what the German army did in 1941-45 in southeastern Europe to “partisan” fighters and local communities, as a matter of military doctrine, and not directly as a matter of Nazi ideology. While the killing of civilian hostages was clearly a war crime, the status (and rights) of partisans was still an unsettled issue in the law of war at the time, and this was a key issue in Case 7.

Military doctrine adjusted for genocide: While the attitude toward partisans was traditional for the German military, the application in World War II quickly took on Nazi overtones. Applied to Serbs, the rationale was that the “Balkan mentality” held little value for life, hence the need to kill 100 Serbs to match one German casualty. The systematic selection of Jews and gypsies for reprisal killings made clear that they were killed because of who they were, not what they did. The military doctrine of reprisals provided a cover for the genocide.

An executioner reflects: In October 1941, Lt. Walther submitted his “Report concerning the shooting to death of Jews and Gypsies.” His squad carried out the killings quickly; he noted that the Jews died calmly while the gypsies panicked. His soldiers were not disturbed the first time. “The second day, however, it had become noticeable that one or the other did not have the nerve to carry out shooting to death for a longer period of time. My personal impression is that one does not develop any psychological inhibitions during the shooting to death. However, these appear if one contemplates it quietly after a few days in the evening.”

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.

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: Franz Schlegelberger

Post by Matt Seccombe, September 4, 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 in August was to complete the documents for Franz Schlegelberger, the most important defendant in the trial and the last one in the set. The Justice Case was thus completed, with some clean-up work to follow later, with 2379 documents and 12,190 pages of material analyzed.

While the movie version of the trial, Judgment of Nuremberg, has its dramatic climax when the leading defendant (Schlegelberger by another name, played by Burt Lancaster) rises in the court and tries to regain some honor by admitting his crimes and trying to explain how and why it happened, Schlegelberger actually did nothing of the kind. His defense alternated between the argument that the acts committed had not been crimes (Germany had governed Europe by right of conquest, just as Britain had governed its empire) and the argument that he had done the best he could in a terrible situation and had prevented worse crimes by staying in office.

Serial compromiser: The running theme in the affidavits for Schlegelberger is that he was a good judicial and administrative politician who knew how to adapt to a changed system after he had become a highly regarded judge and scholar in the pre-Nazi era.  One colleague said that he “operated with the ideas of his opponents . . . and then, if necessary resort[ed] to political considerations of expediency.” Other colleagues wondered just how often he resorted to such expediency, and what the final result was. But another put it more dramatically, that together they had worked “for Justice and truth. Even though we had to make concessions and retreat step by step, we fought a good battle.”

While compromise has a bad reputation and little glory, it had its uses and benefits. Schlegelberger protected some of his colleagues who had Jewish associations (by ancestry, marriage, or business) against increasing persecution. Finally the family of one such colleague was sent to a concentration camp. Schlegelberger was unable to prevent it, but he did manage to see that they were assigned to relatively good quarters—and the family survived.

Documentary puzzle: While some documents are difficult to analyze because the text is complicated, obscure, or vague, some of Schlegelberger’s documents (as presented in his document books) give us a very different problem: some of them have no contents at all, just a heading followed by a blank page or two. There is no indication of how this happened. These are still documents, however, so I “analyzed” them for what they were, identifying them (when possible) by what the document book’s table of contents indicated they were supposed to be.

Name puzzle: Did Kaiser Wilhelm have a last name? The Kaiser signed imperial laws himself, so we have “Wilhelm” as an author. Wilhelm what? He belonged to the House of Hohenzollern, but that’s not a family name, so he is now in the database author list as Wilhelm, kaiser. We will have to make first names searchable in the database and website in order to make him findable as an author.

Next up: Case 7, the Hostage Case, which concerns (mostly) the brutal guerrilla war in the Balkans. This is already under way; a report to follow next month.

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.

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: Names and persons, patience, and the role of judges

Post by Matt Seccombe, originally written August 5, 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

My agenda for July was to complete the analysis of the defense documents for Rothaug and Rothenberger, and begin the documents for Schlegelberger, the final defendant in Case 3. This material covered 20 files, 234 documents, and 1105 pages of text.

Blue Grapes, again: Given the suspicion that Judge Rothaug plotted judicial crimes at the Blaue Traube restaurant, one of his colleagues admitted in an affidavit that the place was owned by a Nazi leader and that Rothaug and other jurists settled promotions there. The tribunal didn’t care about this, but since Rothaug had a reputation as a sinister figure, this was a bit of character evidence.

Names and persons: The most frequent puzzle in the work is identifying an author with incomplete or varying information. The Nazi courts at Nuremberg had a multitude of men named Hoffmann (various spellings), often signing a document with the surname and no other identifying information. Sometimes, however, another document provides more information, and that will clarify the authorship of other documents; thus, two apparently different Hoffmanns became one, Heinz Hoffmann. On the other hand, one person can become two, given enough information in different documents; thus Hans Meyer became two, with a 20-year age difference. Being able to compare documents side-by-side is the key to this sorting-out process.

Patience (and page-flipping) rewarded: While most defendants submitted most of their evidence during or after their testimony, making the document-transcript linkage easy in those cases, that did not always happen. Mettgenberg’s documents were not ready on time in the trial, so I had to analyze most of his documents without knowing when they appeared in the trial. But two months later, looking for other material, I serendipitously discovered the errant Mettgenberg document books in the transcript and was able to add the information into the document analysis, notably the exhibit numbers and any clarifications or corrections that were made in the court when they were entered. Looking ahead, I found where 8 of Schlegelberger’s document books appeared (with lots of complications explained in the transcript), but he had 9 document books. Schlegelberger document book supplement 1 is lurking somewhere in that 10,900-page transcript.

Rothenberger:  Judge Rothenberger seems to have been a naïve figure with a liberal background (by German standards) who managed to view Hitler as a patriotic figure and discount the extremist ideology. His mission was to reform the judicial system on the English model, and he tried to do this in the ministry in Berlin, re-labelling the project as a Nazi effort. He explained this to a colleague: “We must cater to the people’s taste, essential is only that we remain strong as far as the subject is concerned.”

Phrase of the month: As part of his campaign to raise the status of judges above that of bureaucrats, Rothenberger distributed a memo declaring that a judge should no longer call himself a civil servant but instead “the Fuehrer’s vassal.” The puzzle is why Rothenberger would consider this evidence as helping his case.

Question: The defendants were all Ministry of Justice officials and prosecutors and judges of the People’s Court and Special Court. However, much of the evidence indicates that it was the Reich Supreme Court that legitimized Nazi laws and interpreted them severely. Why were no Supreme Court judges on trial?

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.

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: comparing judicial systems, Grimm lexicography, and more

Post by Matt Seccombe, originally written July 6, 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 June agenda was the defense case of Petersen and the majority of the case for Rothaug (one of the bulky sets); this covered 13 files, 309 documents, and 997 pages analyzed. These defendants were opposites in their roles, as Petersen was a minor figure as a lay-judge while Oswald Rothaug was notorious as a “blood judge” presiding at the Special Court at Nuremberg, with a reputation as a politically-connected Nazi. Even other defendants claimed that “I stayed away from Rothaug, and never joined him at the Blaue Traube,” the hotel restaurant where he was rumored to manage court politics. The Blue Grapes thus became a notable subject in the trial.

Defense by analogy: Petersen made the shared “general defense” that his work was part of a legitimate judicial system that differed from the Anglo-American model (regarded as “softer”) but was traditional in Europe, a more authoritarian and severe tradition in criminal justice. Petersen’s variation was to note that the Nazi courts were a close match to the Soviet judicial system. The point was presumably that if the Soviets could do it and be treated as allies by the US, it couldn’t be criminal for the Nazis to do the same. That’s logical, but it’s odd that the attorney would have thought the Soviets made a favorable example for American judges. Among the historical documents on this, one is factually quite interesting: when Himmler was getting his SS empire going in the mid-1930s, he wanted some senior officers to get advanced training in dealing with political suspects and detention camps, so he sent them to the experts, in the USSR.

Phrase of the month: As part of the general argument that the judges knew nothing of what went on inside the concentration camps, Petersen introduced vivid testimony from the IMT about how rumors of extermination operations were forcefully denied while the camps ran in “an iron ring of silence.”

Evidence of the month: Responding to evidence that Petersen had known about some form of extermination, Petersen presented counter-evidence about the meaning of the words used, including definitions provided by the Brothers Grimm, who had been lexicographers among other pursuits.

The prosecution over-makes its case: After presenting evidence that Rothaug’s court had dispensed death sentences indiscriminately, adding a list all the death sentences carried out, Rothaug responded with detailed evidence about several of the listed cases, showing that they had been handled scrupulously. Our copy of that document book has a prosecutor’s handwritten note: “Object to entire book” on grounds of irrelevance since those cases hadn’t been cited by the prosecution as improper. The tribunal overruled, since the prosecution had at least implied that Rothaug had operated indiscriminately; the defense material was accepted.

Name of the month: One of Rothaug’s documents is signed by “Dr. Orgg.” We have some surprising names in our authors’ list, including Tom Paine and Plato, and some very strange spellings, but I have a hard time with “Orgg.” I expect it’s a typo, but all we have to go on is the name as stated on the typescript, so Dr. Orgg goes in as an author.

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.

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: Blue grapes again and smoking gun #2

Post by Matt Seccombe, originally written June 1, 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 agenda for May was analyzing the defense material for Mettgenberg, Nebelung, and Oeschey; this covered 23 files, 259 documents, and approximately 1200 pages. Compared to recent months, the document count went down but the page count went up, as a number of long documents from Oeschey’s court cases gave us economies of scale. Mettgenberg and Nebelung made the now-familiar bureaucratic argument that they simply did office work; Oeschey was a Special Court judge, with more to answer for, and he made a voluminous and more interesting case.

The prosecutor’s use of a defendant’s evidence: By a lucky coincidence, one of Oeschey’s document books had been the in-trial copy read and used by one of the prosecutors (named Wooleyhan), and it has Wooleyhan’s marks and notes about points on which he cross-examined Oeschey and information concerning other defendants. This is the closest we’ve come to being able to see the documents at work in the trial.

The Blue Grapes on the table again: As noted previously, some evidence touches on Judge Rothaug’s reserved table at the Blaue Traube restaurant, where he gathered his circle of friends (or co-conspirators, depending on one’s viewpoint). Oeschey takes pains to say that he kept his distance from that table. (I expect Rothaug will go to great lengths to show that these meals were purely social and nutritional, not political and criminal.)

Smoking gun number 2, or, the other shoe drops: Smoking gun #1 was the document from 1939 in which Hitler announced that he had the authority to reverse any judicial decision that he didn’t like. Gun #2 comes in the summer of 1942 as Minister of Justice Thierack started to implement Hitler’s demand for a systematically Nazi judicial system. In August Oeschey wrote to his brother: “it is an absurdity to tell the judge in an individual case which is subject to his decision how he has to decide. Such a system would make the judge superfluous; such things have now come to pass. Naturally it was not done in an open manner; but even the most camouflaged form could not hide the fact that a directive was to be given. Thereby the office of judge is naturally abolished and the proceedings in a trial become a farce.”

Unfortunately for us, Oeschey continues, “I will not discuss who bears the guilt of such a development.” One suspect was Thierack’s use of “Judges’ Letters” to instruct all senior judges about the “reform” of the system that he was pursuing. Another was the practice of prosecutors conferring with the judge before a major case to discuss the issues and the predicted punishment. Not surprisingly, Oeschey’s letter got a lot of attention from prosecutor Wooleyhan.

Peculiar word of the month: “represculation.” That invites some imaginative speculation, but the rest of the document suggests it was the result of some verbal confusion compounded by a typo.

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.

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: A smoking gun and the electrical wolf solved

Post by Matt Seccombe, originally written May 4, 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 April was to analyze the defense documents of Ernst Lautz, who had a lot to answer for as the chief prosecutor of the notorious People’s Court. He answered at great length. In April I worked through 17 files, 287 documents, and approximately 900 pages. The document count set a monthly record but the page count was below average as Lautz’s attorney submitted many 1 or 2 page exhibits and the economies of scale went into reverse.

Routine under the shadows: Lautz’s primary argument was that he did ordinary business in a legitimate court. The People’s Court was not a Nazi invention; it was established in the 1920s to deal with a wave of political violence, and it followed ordinary though speeded-up procedures. High-profile political cases were managed by the Minister of Justice (the also-notorious and deceased Thierack) and decided by the judges, leaving Lautz (he argues) as the mere functionary in the middle. Much of his evidence seems calculated to show how boring his work was.

Even the boring documents carry a message when patterns emerge, and one was in the routine lead-in language for minor changes in law and procedure: All the changes were noted as the product of negotiations between Justice, the Reich Chancellery, and the Party Chancellery—which meant that everything went through Martin Bormann, Hitler’s deputy, who also had a veto over every appointment and promotion. The whole ministry operated under Party supervision.

A smoking gun: Amidst all the bland routine in Lautz’s material, one striking legal change sticks out, years before Hitler’s 1942 announcement of a future complete Nazification of German law. In 1939 Hitler announced that he had the legal authority to make an “extraordinary objection” to any judicial decision he disagreed with, thus overturning it. In case anyone missed the point, Judge Freisler published a memo explaining that German law no longer depended on traditional sources; it now depended on Nazi policy and Hitler’s wishes. In short, the rule of law was over.

Searching for what isn’t there: Given the necessity of finding where trial documents appeared in the trial, I continued to try to “map” the 11,000 page transcript, first for the cases of all the defendants (when they took the witness stand and made their case) and then for all their document books. Only the transcript can tell us whether a document was offered as an exhibit, whether it was accepted or not, what the exhibit number is (if accepted), and what errors might have been corrected when the document was introduced and discussed. Two defendants (Nebelung and Petersen) proved to be quite elusive. Finally I stumbled on a single sentence where the judges said they understood that the two were not going to testify at all—so I could stop looking. Fortunately I’ve found where their attorneys submitted their documents as evidence. However, most of defendant Mettgenberg’s document books haven’t been located in the transcript yet. After searching through the expected locations, it’s a matter of flipping through several subsequent transcript volumes, looking for the unaccounted-for evidence.

The wolf tracked down? Having noticed the puzzling phrase “electrical wolf” previously, I mentioned it recently to a German colleague, who said “That’s what we call a paper shredder.” It’s a plausible explanation for the phrase, which appears at the end of a secret legal draft.

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.

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: 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.

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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