Scanning Nuremberg: Correlating transcripts, the Nazi judicial system and the SS, and more

Post by Matt Seccombe, originally written January 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 December operation was to work through 12 prosecution document books, containing 140 documents and approximately 990 pages of material.

The transcript required more attention (and much more time) as the prosecution case began to wind down, with documents being entered almost randomly. I needed to work far ahead in the transcript to find where the evidence came in—and whether it was accepted as exhibits. Beyond that key fact, the transcript-document correlation provides other important benefits. Often the transcript supplies information not in a document, such as filling in a missing date, or correcting an error in authorship. In the other direction, in one case a document was entered in the transcript without the key identifying information (the evidence code number), but having the document books at hand allowed me to figure out which document it was (PS 2309) and make the match. There’s a fairly high error rate in the way the transcript identifies documents, so the match needs to be made carefully, and errors can be sorted out in the “Notes” field of the database.

While the material covers a wide range of topics, one recurring theme is the tension between the judicial system and Himmler’s SS. The Ministry of Justice gradually control, with the issue raised indirectly rather than explicitly (complaining about the SS was not a smart thing to do). In a domestic analogue to the Night-and-Fog operation used against foreign Resistance members, Germans who were arrested but not convicted, or who completed a prison sentence, often found themselves “disappeared” into the custody of the SS (either to be executed or put into a labor camp). Judicial officers ventured to suggest that this made the public wonder who was really in charge, a question that they already knew the answer to but couldn’t say out loud.

In one memo on discussions about the legal status of Jews, a Justice official noted that “There should be no scruples against the suggestions of the Minister of the Interior,” the minister being Himmler. These discussions tended to be one-way conversations, as Himmler kept his secrets. In the revision of the regulations against Jews, Poles, and Gypsies, Himmler noted in 1944 that the “evacuation and isolation” of the Jews and Gypsies meant that only the Poles were still an issue.

Nazi political economy: One unusual case was an elaborate prosecution of the leaders of a Catholic convent for failing to follow rationing regulations. The judge was apologetic to the Mother Superior, since the violations were inconsequential. One sentence buried in the file clarified the concept: the convent property was worth $2.5 million, and the investigation allowed the government to confiscate the entire estate.

The Dirty Dozen venture: At one point the prison authorities were asked to look through their inmates for good hunters who would be asked to serve in army and SS units behind enemy lines.

Phrase of the month: A defense attorney who knew many elite non-Nazi Germans believed that they would have been more active except that they were paralyzed by “the really masterly mysteriousness” of the Gestapo.

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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