Scanning Nuremberg: some humble details and curiosity on the bench

Post by Matt Seccombe, January 16, 2018

In December and early January, I worked through the papers of six Case 9 defendants, covering 169 documents and 895 pages of material. The sixth, Strauch, was the last defendant to present his case, so, subject to some double-checking, all the Case 9 trial documents have now been identified and analyzed—1129 documents and ca. 6700 pages. The remaining task is to finish the review of the transcript, 1800 pages to go, to find additional information that needs to be added to the analysis of the documents, such as whether an exhibit offered by one side and objected to by the other was finally accepted or not by the tribunal. We now have six of the Nuremberg trials done, NMT 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, and 9, and a total of 11,400 documents analyzed.

Humble details: The final defendants in the trial, coincidentally or not, included two who were ill and whose capability to stand trial was in doubt (one case was severed, the other remained) and several men who were minor figures in the einsatz program. The most minor of them all was Matthias Graf, who did not fit the indictment’s target of German officers who had command roles in the einsatzgruppen. Graf was not an officer at all; he started the war as a corporal and rose no higher than sergeant during the operation, and his duties were primarily clerical. This was well established by one exhibit: copies of postcards his wife had sent to him during war, with the address spelling out his lowly rank. (Graf was found not guilty of the major charges, and was released due to time served on the lesser charge of membership in a criminal organization.)

Curiosity on the bench: In the late stages of the trial the defendants’ cases became highly repetitive variations on a few themes (“I wasn’t there at the time,” “I was working on other assignments,” “I was a staff member, not a commanding officer,” etc.), which could make the proceedings tedious—though for each defendant it was important to make his argument at full length, given the prospect of a death sentence if found guilty of conducting mass executions.  One response to the repetition was an occasional loss of patience in the court, though the judges, prosecutors, defendants, and defense attorneys were almost always courteous and often considerate of one another, with a few awkward exceptions. Another response was to explore some small point that a judge found interesting. One was curious about the Yuletide candlesticks that the SS gave to officers (part of the SS effort to develop non-Christian rituals), so a defense attorney provided a picture of one as a show-and-tell. In the Graf case, the court tried to find out just how much or little a junior staff member might have learned about the orders to liquidate Jews and other groups on the eastern front. The following (paraphrased) exchange occurred:

Judge: Did you ever attend a conference or meeting where the order was explained?
Graf: No. Only senior officers would have attended such a meeting.
Judge: Did you ever meet Himmler or Heydrich?
Graf: I did see Himmler once.
Judge: How did that happen, and did you speak with him?
Graf: He came to where we were stationed, and had supper with the officers. As the junior person on the staff I was assigned to wait on him at the table.
Judge: Was it a good meal?
Graf: Well, I would rather have that supper than what we are served here in prison.
Judge: If you could do that again today, would you want to serve Himmler his supper?
Graf: No, I would not want to do that again.

More about the Nuremberg Trials Project:

Matt Seccombe’s work on the NMT 9 of the Nuremberg Trials Project has been made possible in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor.

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The HLS 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 posted five trials so far (NMT 1 through NMT 4 and NMT 7) and have completed digitization of all the documents and transcripts. 

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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