Scanning Nuremberg: A unique meaning for “judicial reform”

Post by Matt Seccombe, originally written November 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More about the Nuremberg Trials Project:

The Harvard Law School Library holds approximately one million pages of documents relating to the trial of military and political leaders of Nazi Germany before the International Military Tribunal (IMT) and to the twelve trials of other accused war criminals before the United States Nuremberg Military Tribunals (NMT). We have already digitized NMT 1 (U.S.A. v. Karl Brandt et al.), NMT 2 (U.S.A. v. Erhard Milch), and NMT 4 (U.S.A. v. Pohl et al.), and we’re in the process of digitizing our remaining holdings. We expect to have NMT 3 (The Judges’ Trial) completed and available to the public by the summer of 2015.

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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