Scanning Nuremberg: Notes from November 2019

Post by Matt Seccombe

In November I analyzed the prosecution documents against Admiral Raeder, the commander of the navy in the 1930s and the first half of the war; this amounted to 129 documents and 645 pages of material. The initial case against Raeder was compact, as he was primarily charged with violations of the laws of naval warfare, but in his defense he made the tactical mistake of claiming he was only a naval officer and had no role in the major decisions of the regime, including the decisions to wage aggressive wars. In response the prosecution prepared and presented a second, much larger document book to emphasize that Raeder had had cabinet rank in the government and thus bore responsibility for its actions, including all the wars.

The war and the law: In the October report I recorded the sequence of orders that Admiral Doenitz had applied in the U-boat campaign (as U-boat commander), all violations of the current laws of naval warfare. At the higher level as navy commander, Raeder made this explicit from the beginning of the war. In October 1939 he reported to Hitler on the naval war against Britain, especially the plan for a full blockade, noting that this would require tactics “not covered by existing international law.” Raeder himself advocated this approach in February 1940 in his plan for the occupation of Denmark and Norway: the operation “breaks all the laws of naval warfare as taught,” but it would succeed. Hitler approved it.

The scorpions in the cabinet: In the summer of 1945 Raeder wrote a commentary on the leading figures in the regime, including many of his co-defendants. (The other defendants managed to prevent the reading of the full document into the record in court.) Raeder claimed that many of them, including himself, had simply done their jobs in their limited spheres and had not engaged in the crimes of the regime. Goering, however, had been notoriously vain, ambitious, greedy, and underhanded. Doenitz, who had been Raeder’s junior and then his successor, had been a highly political officer, a Nazi enthusiast who was widely ridiculed in the navy as “Hitlerboy Doenitz.” Keitel’s failing was his “unimaginable weakness,” so that no one was able to restrain Hitler’s reckless decisions. The result was that “The party overpowered the Wehrmacht.”

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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