Scanning Nuremberg: Finishing the Hostage Case, what’s missing, and the war in Norway and Greece

Post by Matt Seccombe, December 15, 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 for November was to finish the second box of trial documents, amounting to 150 documents and 973 pages. This completed work on the Hostage Case prosecution documents, a month sooner than planned.

The question of what’s not there: The collection of prosecution documents includes virtually all of the primary case that was prepared at the beginning of the trial, except, unfortunately, the movies that were shown, and some evidence provided by outside authorities in Greece and Yugoslavia. What the collection doesn’t have is the evidence the prosecution submitted while cross-examining defendants and in the rebuttal phase at the end. Also missing, save for one single page, are the lists the prosecution made of all its exhibits and the names of the defendants that each document implicated. Since the last point is frequently hard to determine from a document’s text, those lists would be analytical gold—if they were present.

These files included some late-arriving documents regarding the Balkans, which filled in details but opened no new points of real interest. The others covered the German occupation of Greece after the collapse of the Italian forces there (when Italy changed sides in the war), and the scorched-earth withdrawal of the German army from northern Norway (conducted by a general who had gained his scorched-earth expertise in Croatia).

Norway: The German withdrawal in the winter of 1944-45 (Operation Nordlicht) involved the removal of roughly 2/3 of the northern population and the destruction of 2/3 of all economic assets, in order to deprive the advancing Soviet army of resources. “This area is to be devastated,” the general ordered. As in Yugoslavia, the destruction was massive, but there was a notable difference: The operation was conducted without savagery toward the civilians, and none of the scorn expressed about Serbs and gypsies and the hatred of the Jews.

Greece: With references to fighting in Athens, Sparta, and Ithaca, echoes of Homer and the wine-dark sea come to mind. This was a different sort of war, though. The German army could never meet the partisans in open battle, so they relied almost entirely on reprisal measures to terrify the population into obedience. One report noted that the army had failed to encircle the partisans in one area, but “24 villages and 3 monasteries were destroyed, 696 Greeks shot to death.” One officer felt sorry for himself, since the partisans’ “meanest and most vicious” tactics forced the Germans to “employ measures going beyond the usual framework of soldierly combat between two chivalrous adversaries.”

Executioners’ last voyage: In mid-1944 two SS officers went to the island of Rhodes and suggested a final operation to the military. (The generals always claimed that the SS ran its own operations separately, but it was the military that carried this one out.) Twelve hundred Jews were rounded up, taken to a port, and loaded onto a barge. The Germans took the barge out to sea, opened the valves below the water line, and returned to port, leaving all of the “passengers” on the barge as it sank in the Mediterranean.

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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