Scanning Nuremberg: Nightmare elements and mysterious blue grapes

Post by Matt Seccombe, originally written February 12, 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

Like the mail, project news is subject to storm delays. My task for January was to finish analysis of the Case 3 prosecution material, and I did that, working through 11 files, 144 documents, and 1112 pages. The material covered a wide range of subjects.

The Night and Fog program had the most material. In this operation, western European Resistance members were “disappeared” into Germany, prosecuted there, and imprisoned, with no word given to the person’s family. Ironically, in the rare case of an acquittal, the person was seized by the SS and shot or sent to a camp, so it was better to be convicted. The point was to leave potential Resistance members and their communities paralyzed with uncertainty, and one German general described it as “his most effective punishment, exceeding the death sentences in deterrent effect.”

The euthanasia program made a third appearance in our trials (so far). Euthanasia of sick and disabled Germans provoked fierce public opposition, and in a rare instance Hitler decided to drop it. In the aftermath one judicial official emphasized to a chancellery colleague that it hadn’t really been a judicial program, which was as close to gloating as was safe to venture.

Every case has a nightmare element in it somewhere, and in Case 3 it is forced sterilization. The prosecution made a request for evidence from survivors, and one document combines the letters and documents sent in by some 25 victims. While 25 deaths would be over and done with, 25 sterilizations left the victims living with wounded bodies, broken dreams, and broken hearts expressed in painful detail. The one benefit was that they were able to express their anger and push their demand for justice (or simple revenge).

Names: one example illustrates a recurring problem. One document includes a message from an officer who was to award medals for military service. It was signed “Rommel,” without further identification. (At least it wasn’t “Schmidt.”) I entered the author as Erwin Rommel, field marshal, but in the document analysis I noted that we only have the surname and the full identification is not guaranteed.

The judges and prosecutors often found themselves working with and then under the Interior Ministry (the police) and the SS, both run by Himmler, with varying degrees of enthusiasm or dread. High officials were routinely “invited” to join the SS, either actively or nominally, and this connection was a major issue in the case. One recurring peculiarity is that the SS records for the defendants kept track of whether, inter alia, the official had a set of SS candles and candlesticks for Christmas. This is ironic in that the SS was anti-Christian as a matter of ideology, but it illustrates how good they were at coopting traditional culture.

Puzzle: One judge’s daughter described her father’s circle of political/security officer cronies as the “Blaue Traube,” meaning literally the blue bunch of grapes, or figuratively the blue group. I haven’t found evidence of whether this was an offhand description or a real group in the secretive world of the Nazis.

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.

Scroll to Top