Scanning Nuremberg: Notes from March 2019

Post by Matt Seccombe

During March I analyzed the remaining prosecution document books about Kaltenbrunner, which supplemented the case against the Gestapo, and then the case against the military high command (OKW) and general staff; this amounted to 157 documents and 800 pages of material. This completed my work on the prosecution documents on the six accused “criminal organizations.”

Transactional loyalty: General Blomberg reviewed the military commanders’ allegiance to Hitler as largely a quid-pro-quo. Rearmament and the reunification of German territory, notably the occupation of the Rhineland and the reconnection of East Prussia, were widely-shared goals for the officers since the end of the first world war, and “he produced the results which they desired.” The fact that the latter action required the invasion of Poland was characterized as “a sacred duty though a sad necessity.” On a side note, when Blomberg retired he suggested Goering as his successor, but Hitler disagreed because of Goering’s “lack of patience and diligence” and appointed Keitel instead, who acted as Hitler’s “willing tool” during the war.

Willing executioners: While the senior generals relied on the argument that they had simply waged war and followed orders, their records showed complicity in war crimes from the very top. In July 1941 Keitel issued the notorious “terror” order that the conquest and occupation in the east would rely on all measures needed to “crush every will to resist.” Von Reichenau found that his soldiers were too considerate of the civilian population, so he issued orders that the campaign required not just military success but a “just revenge on subhuman Jewry.” These orders were approved in Berlin and reissued to the other armies in the field.

An einsatzgruppen report recorded the mass execution of Jews in 1941 and noted that “the Army authorities who had been informed showed understanding for this procedure.” Beyond that cooperation with the SS, the army itself liquidated the inmates of insane asylums in order to take over the facilities as army clinics.

Ernst Rode, a Waffen SS commander, testified that many SS and army officers opposed the mass killings, but that the senior commanders had raised no opposition. He characterized the rationale that a commander who objected would simply be replaced by a fanatical Nazi as “a foolish and even cowardly dodge.”

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 [email protected].

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