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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.

Although the digitization of the remaining trials will also be complete by the end of this year, they will require analysis and tagging work before they can be released to the public.  We hope to complete this work as soon as possible based upon available funding. For more information about this project, please contact Kim Dulin.

Your Summer Reading

What are you reading?

What’s on your summer reading list?

Earlier this summer–yes, despite all the back-to-school prep happening on campus, it IS still summer–we used our bulletin board to ask you what was on your summer reading list. And you told us. It was a lot of fun for everyone here to see the huge variety of titles that everyone posted and to watch as the post-its piled up.

Here’s just a small sample of the summer reads that the HLS community and those passing through posted in our board.



The classics:

  • The Divine Comedy (the poster noted this year is Dante’s 750th birthday; happy birthday, Dante!)
  • The Scarlet Pimpernel
  • War and Peace
  • The Grapes of Wrath
  • The Iliad
  • On the Road

And some more recent fiction:

  • The Martian
  • Doctor Sleep
  • Sophie’s World
  • 50 Shades of Grey
  • Outlander
  • The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage
  • La Célibataire

Great non-fiction:

  • 100 Irish Lives
  • Michelle Obama: A Life
  • Silent Spring
  • Between the World and Me
  • I am Malala
  • Hooked
  • What to Expect When You’re Expecting

Books for the young and young at heart:

  • The Cat in the Hat
  • One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows

And of course, we had a few jokesters:

  • Everything
  • Barbri books
  • TV subtitles
  • This board

We also got a few responses via social media:

  • Romola
  • Adam Bede
  • One L
  • Approaching Zion
  • Go Set a Watchman
  • Conan and the Shaman’s Curse

Thanks to all who participated both at the Library and online!

As you return to campus and arrive here for the first time over the next couple weeks, stop by the Library lobby to tell us where you spent the summer and/or your life prior to HLS!

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.

Although the digitization of the remaining trials will also be complete by the end of this year, they will require analysis and tagging work before they can be released to the public.  We hope to complete this work as soon as possible based upon available funding. For more information about this project, please contact Kim Dulin.

New York Times renewals and signups for HLS community

the-new-york-times2Members of the Harvard Law School community, it is time to renew your Group Pass access for our subscription!

As you may know, the Harvard Law School Library has a Group Pass for the  All HLS faculty, students, and staff may use this Group Pass to create an individual user account similar to the fee-based digital subscription for the plus SmartPhone App. Every August, all users must re-register to continue access regardless of when they initially registeredRenewal only takes a moment. New users and incoming students (once their Harvard credentials are set up) are welcome to sign up anytime.  

Here’s how to do it:

If you are renewing your Group Pass access:

  • Go to our Group Pass link.
  • Enter your HLS Me credentials.
  • Choose the “Log in to Continue” button.
  • Enter your current username and password.
  • You’re all set!

 If you have never registered with

  • Go to our Group Pass link. 
  • Enter your HLS Me credentials.
  • Follow the instructions to create an account and register for your new pass.

If you have never registered for a Group Pass, but have registered an account with 

  • Go to our Group Pass link.
  • Enter your HLS Me credentials.
  • If you are already a non-paying subscriber (i.e. you are registered to received free 10 monthly articles), be sure to choose the “Log in to Continue” button. The group pass will be added to your existing account.
  • If you already have an existing paid subscription for digital access to the you must first cancel your subscription before joining the HLS group pass. You may cancel your existing digital subscription by calling Customer Care at (800) 591-9233.
  • Paid subscribers will not be reimbursed for cancellation. You may want to time your registration accordingly.

Other points to note: 

  • Our group pass covers computers, laptops and SmartPhone devices only.  It will not work on your tablet apps, but it will work using your tablet’s browser.
  • Our site license is for the Law School only and it is not available to alumni.  

We hope you enjoy this resource. For assistance or questions, please contact the Library.

852 RARE: A Controversial Execution in 1818 Edinburgh

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

Letter to magistrates

Letter to the magistrates of Edinburgh, 1819, HOLLIS 14401279

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

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

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

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

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

Robert Johnston trial account

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

Letter to the citizens of Edinburgh

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












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

Summer research help and roof project

As previously mentioned, the Library is getting a new roof this year. This is very exciting news and will be wonderful when it is finished. Preparation for construction is in full swing at the north and south ends of Langdell Hall and Areeda Hall.

research librariansBecause we expect there to be some noise, the research librarians will be summering at the Circulation Desk, around the corner nearest the Lemann Lounge. Bring us your research questions, challenging or mundane, and we will get them answered in this new location. We’ll be available our usual summer hours of Monday through Friday, 9am to 5pm. After hours, check our Ask a Librarian site for frequently asked library and research questions with answers as well as additional ways to contact us.

A few more things to know about the roof project and noise mitigation efforts:

  • Construction hours will generally be Monday through Saturday, 7am to 3pm, but may vary due to weather and other circumstances
  • Over the summer most noise will occur over the Langdell North and South classrooms and Areeda Hall. We do not expect the Reading Room to be impacted during the summer.
  • As there will be large cranes and equipment moving around, paths may periodically be blocked requiring the use of alternate routes.
  • A limited number of noise-canceling headphones are available for check out at the Circulation Desk.
  • Earplugs are available at both the circulation and reference desks.

Go On A Blind Date With A Book!

BlindDateWithABookThis summer, the Harvard Law School Library Historical & Special Collections Department’s latest exhibit, “It Was a Dark and Stormy Semester … Portrayals of Harvard Law School in Literature,” is on display in the Caspersen Room on the fourth floor of Langdell Hall. This exhibit highlights prominent examples of literature that reflects or is inspired by Harvard Law School. In conjunction with this exhibit, the library is also offering two ways for visitors to get involved. The first is our “Blind Date with a Book” program that encourages visitors to take a deeper dive into this literature and the second is our online display, which offers everyone a chance to contribute to our list of titles that include depictions of HLS students, faculty, alumni, or the campus itself.

In this post, Carli Spina explains a bit about these interactive components of the exhibit:

1. So what exactly is “Blind Date with a Book”?

In “Blind Date with a Book” programs, books are wrapped in plain paper to hide their titles and authors and a brief description of the book is written on the front. The descriptions focus on who might like the book and the genre and visitors are encouraged to pick a book that sounds appealing without seeing the cover or reading the synopsis. You won’t know exactly what you have until you stop by the Circulation Desk to check the book out. The goal is to encourage people to branch out into new authors and genres that go beyond their normal reading patterns. Hopefully you’ll find a book that you never would have picked up before!

2. What about this exhibit made you want to bring the program to HLSL?

Ever since I read about other libraries hosting “Blind Date with a Book” programs, I’ve wanted to bring it to HLSL. I think most of our visitors focus on Harvard’s academic collections, but HLSL and the other library’s at Harvard University also have an impressive collection of other books including ranging from mysteries, to thrillers, to graphic novels, and memoirs. With its focus on depictions of Harvard Law School across literary genres, this exhibit was the perfect opportunity to highlight this diversity. Hopefully this exhibit will introduce visitors to some of these other materials that they might not have considered in the past.

3. What types of books will I find on the “Blind Date with a Book” cart?

We’ve tried to include something for everyone on the cart. You might pick up a graphic novel, a memoir, a romance, or a historical novel. Part of the fun is not knowing exactly what you will find, but rest assured that the cart offers a wide variety of options to appeal to all tastes. The only certainty is that the book you select will have a connection to Harvard Law School.

4. Can you talk a little bit about the exhibit’s virtual components? 

In addition to the “Blind Date with a Book” cart, the exhibit also has two virtual components. First, there is a the exhibit website, which will tell you more about portrayals of Harvard Law School in literature even if you aren’t able to visit the exhibit in person. In addition, we have also created a virtual display that shows books featuring Harvard Law School that weren’t included in the exhibit. Best of all, anyone can submit other books to be added to this display, so that we can learn about books we may have overlooked!

Screen Shot 2015-06-05 at 10.40.07 AM

The cart is available in the Caspersen Room on the fourth floor of Langdell Hall during normal exhibit hours. Stop by to find a new summer read!

852 RARE: Of Butchers, Bakers, and Cordwainers

Among the appeals of older books and manuscripts are the fascinating glimpses they may provide into earlier times and their inhabitants. Recently a slim volume in a plain, nondescript binding crossed my desk. The title was in typically long eighteenth century style but straight-forward: A copy of the poll, taken the eighth day of September … 1780 at the Guildhall, in the Borough of New Windsor … at an election of two representatives to serve in the ensuing Parliament … . The poll in the title refers to a fifteen page alphabetical list of voters (only men, of course) and their occupations. This seemingly straightforward list provided an unexpected glimpse of life in a late eighteenth century English town, as well as a wealth of information about its residents.

TpThe town of New Windsor (now known simply as Windsor), 23 miles west of London, was a “free borough” and during the Middle Ages one of the fifty wealthiest English towns. After a period of decline it experienced a revival when George III began renovations to the castle there in the late 1770s. The town’s growth seems to be reflected in the 1780 poll, which shows a significant number of citizens in the construction trades: carpenters, bricklayers, glaziers, painters, and stone masons, among others. The list reveals that the town was sophisticated enough to support a perfumer (Robert Calley), a jeweler (John Snow) and a watchmaker (James Turlis) and had enough overnight visitors to keep at least four “innholders” in business. The poll also reveals broad class and economic divisions, listing several labourers, along with several gentlemen. Adcock

The occupation of the very first citizen—Thomas Adcock, staymaker— sounds delightfully archaic to a modern reader. Yet there were at least three of them in New Windsor in 1780. How many staymakers are there anywhere now? Or, how many coopers, horsebreakers, rabbit sellers, cordwainers, soap boilers, collar makers, peruke makers, or tripemen? How many of today’s occupations will sound delightfully quaint (or mystifying) 235 years from now?




On the other hand, most of the occupations in the list are recognizable, even if the vocabulary has changed, and show how the necessities of life were filled for New Windsor’s residents. HsThere were several victuallers, shopkeepers, shoemakers, higlers, “taylors”, and bakers, and at least two butchers, a cheese-monger, fishmonger, brewer,  a physician, an apothecary, tea dealer, and a milkman. Among the town’s inhabitants were at least five attorneys and a gaoler (jailer), as well as a number of family businesses: Joseph and William Cantrell (bakers) and Henry and William Coombs (ironmongers). Of course, death and taxes are always with us, as they were for the people of New Windsor, verified by the occupations of Edward Edwards (collector of excise) and Charles Jarman (taylor and undertaker).

This seemingly unremarkable 1780 poll list reminds us that such routine documents are anything but dull and may, in fact, be rich resources for historical and genealogical research.

852 RARE: Art’s History

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

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

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

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

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

Dane Hall Classroom_HLSL_olvwork364037

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

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

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

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

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

Help Us With Our Web Re-Design!

Have a say on our web re-design. Take our usability test: April 21 & 28, 3:30 PM. Earn Swag. Email to RSVPOn April 21st and April 28th, we will be conducting usability tests on the online research guides created by Harvard librarians. These tests offer a great opportunity to give us your feedback about our guides and have a real impact on how we re-design them this summer. Best of all, you can earn swag in the form of a phone charger, umbrella, or water bottle for your trouble.

If you are available between 3pm and 5pm on Tuesday, April 21st or Tuesday, April 28th, please email to RSVP. Spaces are limited, so hurry to reserve your spot!

Please note: This usability test is limited to current Harvard students, but we always welcome feedback on our web presence via