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.

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