Today we’re sharing an addendum to our Scanning Nuremberg series written by document analyst Judith Haran.
Post by Judith Haran, May 3, 2018
I’ve been analyzing documents for the HLS Nuremberg Project for a year now, and I’ve seen a lot of odd and often disturbing tales: stories of slave labor on a scale difficult to imagine, starvation, beatings, even kidnapping of children from lands to the east of the Third Reich. My task for the past three months has been to read through and index transcripts of the “Industrialist Trials”—the trials of the directors of Krupp (armament makers), I.G. Farben (a huge chemical conglomerate, whose product line included Zyklon B) and the Flick concern (a coal/steel industrial empire). The transcripts are long, up to 13,000 pages in the case of the Krupp trial, and can get repetitive at times. But the stories they tell are endlessly fascinating.
April was devoted to the Krupp trial. Over two hundred witnesses testified between November 1947 and the following June. In addition to ‘hearing’ what the witnesses had to say (which included accounts of people being locked inside steel cabinets, beaten with shovels, and dying in air raids after being excluded from shelters), I find that some of the juiciest tidbits come from ‘eavesdropping’ on conversations between the judges and the attorneys . . .endless arguments over admissibility of evidence, techniques of cross-examination (apparently not part of the European tradition), and other points of legal strategy. But the atmosphere, as far as this reader can tell, remained cordial and professional . . . most of the time.
Three American jurists ran the Krupp trial: Judge Anderson of Tennessee, Judge Daly of Connecticut, and Judge Wilkins of Seattle, Washington. Anderson, the official presiding judge, ran a tight ship. However, a major upheaval in his otherwise peaceful courtroom occurred on trial day 21, a cold, damp day in January, 1948. Perhaps it was the ongoing lack of decent food in the city, or the sub-par accommodations. Perhaps the heat, which wasn’t that great to begin with, wasn’t working that day. In any event, the tensions that had been simmering beneath the surface since the start of the trials in 1945 finally came to a boil. Alfred Schilf, counsel for defendant Friedrich Janssen, lost his composure.
After listening to the prosecution present written evidence for all of a Friday morning, Herr Schilf tried to raise a point about an issue from the day before. Judge Daly, who was presiding that day, interrupted him. Things quickly began to get heated. Schilf got angry and attempted yet again to speak. Daly shot him down harshly: “There will be no further discussion on that.”
Schilf, however, wouldn’t give up.
“Your honor, I protest that I am not permitted to go on. . .”
“Did you hear me say, counselor, that there will be no further discussion on this question?”
“Yes, and I protest against this ruling and request that a decision of another court. . .”
“You will please take your seat or I will order you removed from the courtroom.”
“Ich bitte darum,” (I ask you to) replied Schilf, with an acid tone of voice (as it later emerged in testimony).
“All right, you can remove yourself, then,” the judge replied.1
Schilf left the courtroom in a huff, and the prosecution continued presenting written evidence for the next few hours. After 47 additional pieces of evidence had been presented, Judge Daly finally noticed that none of the twenty-odd members of the defense team were present in the courtroom, remarking “They perhaps folded their tents.” He sent the marshal out to round them up. It took thirty minutes to find them.
What happened next came as a shock to the defense team. Daly found that twelve of them had left deliberately and announced that these twelve were to be held in contempt of court. Asked why they had left, a spokesman for the group told the judges, “An injustice had been done to our honor.” Daly ordered the marshal to arrest the leaders of the group and to keep them in prison for the weekend.
One of the accused tried to speak, through the interpreter. Daly was having none of it.
“No, you are not going to say anything. You are in contempt of this Tribunal, and you’re not going to say anything until you’ve purged yourself.” It was late Friday afternoon; Daly adjourned the court until Monday. Over the weekend, newspapers around the world ran the story about the arrest of the German lawyers.
The offenders all trooped back into court on Monday morning. The presiding judge read them the riot act, accusing them of openly challenging not only the Tribunal’s authority, but also the authority of all of the nations currently occupying Germany. After he said his piece, the “trial within a trial” began.
Otto Kranzbuehler, the brilliant (and bilingual) leading defense attorney, who’d been absent on the fateful day, was appointed to represent the accused. His first motion, to have the case heard by a different tribunal, was quickly overruled. He called Schilf to testify. Together they examined Friday’s events in minute, excruciating detail. Schilf had taken umbrage over Daly repeatedly interrupting him, and insisted that in his 25 years of legal practice, neither he nor anyone else he knew had ever been removed from a courtroom.
Translation difficulties, as it turned out, accounted for some of the misunderstanding. Differences between German and American court protocol and expectations accounted for much of the rest. Grievances were aired; explanations were made on both sides. Apologies were asked for and given, first by Schilf, and then, as Monday dragged on into Tuesday, by most of the others involved. Only one, Guenther Geisseler, held out, refusing to apologize or even admit to any wrongdoing.
At the end of the two days of testimony, Kranzbuehler summarized the events, as well as German legal custom, for the Tribunal. The American judges must have been surprised to hear that it was perfectly legal in Germany for counsel to walk out of the courtroom in protest, and that lawyers of that country were never found “in contempt” for any reason. Unfortunately for the lawyers in question, that country, the Germany they had grown up in, lay in ruins around them. Another sixteen months would have to pass before its successor state, the Federal Republic of Germany, was officially founded in May 1949.
It was Wednesday before the bench announced that it would accept the apologies of the five lawyers (graciously, one hopes), but would disqualify Geisseler, the intransigent one, from continuing in the case. The larger trial got underway again, and the transcript continues on (and on, and on) for another eleven thousand pages. I’m happy to report that after January 16th, with the exception of a few snide remarks (on both sides), everyone behaved themselves just fine.
Judith Haran is a graduate student in Library and Information Sciences who works part time as a document analyst for the Nuremberg Project at HLS. She also writes fiction about WW2, and maintains a blog at judithharan.com. She posts on Twitter as @judithharan.
1 William Manchester, The Arms of Krupp, New York, Little Brown, 1968, 651-652.
In addition to Manchester’s book, the following are useful sources on the trials:
- Taylor, T. (1992). The anatomy of the Nuremberg trials: A personal memoir. New York, NY: Knopf.
An insider account written years later by the Chief Counsel of the US prosecution team.
- von Knieriem, A. (1959). The Nuremberg Trials. Chicago: Henry Regnery Co.
A legal analysis of the trials, from point of view of a German lawyer. Translated from the German. The author, who was general counsel to IG Farben, was himself tried and acquitted after the war.
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.