Scanning Nuremberg: Franz Schlegelberger

Post by Matt Seccombe, September 4, 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 task in August was to complete the documents for Franz Schlegelberger, the most important defendant in the trial and the last one in the set. The Justice Case was thus completed, with some clean-up work to follow later, with 2379 documents and 12,190 pages of material analyzed.

While the movie version of the trial, Judgment of Nuremberg, has its dramatic climax when the leading defendant (Schlegelberger by another name, played by Burt Lancaster) rises in the court and tries to regain some honor by admitting his crimes and trying to explain how and why it happened, Schlegelberger actually did nothing of the kind. His defense alternated between the argument that the acts committed had not been crimes (Germany had governed Europe by right of conquest, just as Britain had governed its empire) and the argument that he had done the best he could in a terrible situation and had prevented worse crimes by staying in office.

Serial compromiser: The running theme in the affidavits for Schlegelberger is that he was a good judicial and administrative politician who knew how to adapt to a changed system after he had become a highly regarded judge and scholar in the pre-Nazi era.  One colleague said that he “operated with the ideas of his opponents . . . and then, if necessary resort[ed] to political considerations of expediency.” Other colleagues wondered just how often he resorted to such expediency, and what the final result was. But another put it more dramatically, that together they had worked “for Justice and truth. Even though we had to make concessions and retreat step by step, we fought a good battle.”

While compromise has a bad reputation and little glory, it had its uses and benefits. Schlegelberger protected some of his colleagues who had Jewish associations (by ancestry, marriage, or business) against increasing persecution. Finally the family of one such colleague was sent to a concentration camp. Schlegelberger was unable to prevent it, but he did manage to see that they were assigned to relatively good quarters—and the family survived.

Documentary puzzle: While some documents are difficult to analyze because the text is complicated, obscure, or vague, some of Schlegelberger’s documents (as presented in his document books) give us a very different problem: some of them have no contents at all, just a heading followed by a blank page or two. There is no indication of how this happened. These are still documents, however, so I “analyzed” them for what they were, identifying them (when possible) by what the document book’s table of contents indicated they were supposed to be.

Name puzzle: Did Kaiser Wilhelm have a last name? The Kaiser signed imperial laws himself, so we have “Wilhelm” as an author. Wilhelm what? He belonged to the House of Hohenzollern, but that’s not a family name, so he is now in the database author list as Wilhelm, kaiser. We will have to make first names searchable in the database and website in order to make him findable as an author.

Next up: Case 7, the Hostage Case, which concerns (mostly) the brutal guerrilla war in the Balkans. This is already under way; a report to follow next month.

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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