Scanning Nuremberg: IMT prosecution documents and the “common plan” of Nazi leaders

Post by Matt Seccombe, June 5, 2018

During May I analyzed the contents of seven IMT prosecution document books, covering 205 documents and 758 pages of material. The documents completed the evidence for count 1 of the indictment, the Nazi leaders’ “common plan” or conspiracy to seize power, consolidate control, militarize the society, and prepare for a war of aggression, with the latter subject overlapping with count 2 (crimes against peace). This material was presented in the first ten days of the trial, and the prosecution was not well organized in submitting evidence. Many of the documents were presented twice, raising the puzzle of which copy was entered as evidence and which was available and perhaps cited but not made an exhibit; the transcript was not always clear but usually enabled me to sort this out.

Control: After five years in power, Hitler made the point with characteristic bluntness in a speech in February 1938: “There is no institution in this state which is not National Socialist.”

The Jewish question, 1938: After Kristallnacht Hitler asked Goering to determine how “the Jewish question” would be “coordinated and solved one way or another,” after dozens of discriminatory laws and actions since 1933. At the meeting in November 1938, Goering announced policies that included punitive fines, the exclusion of Jews from the economy, social segregation, and emigration. (He also favored the concentration of Jews in ghettoes, but Heydrich opposed this.) At the end, Goering summed it up: “I would not like to be a Jew in Germany.”

Polish workers: As the war forced a reliance on foreign laborers, in 1941 the government issued instructions to German farmers on how to handle their Polish workers. A prohibition on attending church was the relevant point in the trial, but there were a dozen other points, including prohibitions against Poles travelling or attending public events. The Poles were not to be housed in the farmhouse with the German family, but instead should be “quartered in stables.” “No remorse whatever should restrict such action,” the farmers were instructed, and any German farmer who failed to maintain “the necessary distance” from Poles would be punished.

An announcement and a reaction: On August 22, 1939, Hitler told his military commanders about the imminent attack on Poland and his broader strategy for the war (first Poland, then the Soviet Union). According to one record, after hearing the decision, “Goering jumped on the table. Bloodthirsty thanks and bloody promises. He danced around like a savage. The few doubtful ones remained silent.” (The prosecution presented that document but relied on another, more subdued report of the event as evidence; that report stated simply that Goering expressed his approval.)

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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