Post by Matt Seccombe
After a somewhat prolonged pause, document analysis for the International Military Tribunal (IMT, 1945-46) resumed in July. Once the computer system was set up and the trial transcript delivered from storage, I picked up from where I had left off in the transcript and found it had been the perfect place to pause—the completion of the Soviet prosecution case in late February 1946, for which I had analyzed the English language documents in the collection. After that, the prosecutors, defense attorneys, and judges spent a week sorting out details for the next stage of the trial, and then the first defense case began, that for the lead defendant, Hermann Goering.
A multiplicity of documents: When I reviewed the list of boxes and folders in the IMT I found ten folders, from three boxes, with Goering defense documents, including pleas and evidence document books. But six of those folders were duplicates. (Similarly for the next defendant, Rudulf Hess: seven folders and three duplicates.) The collection received material from multiple sources, including many files that had been used by one of the IMT judges, Francis Biddle, and others used by one of the prosecutors, Ralph Albrecht. With these choices, I first look for the most complete files and then those with useful “extras,” like Biddle’s notes about dates or Albrecht’s about exhibit numbers, and analyze the documents in the best copy.
Defensive documentary disarray: While the trial was organized in a way that was familiar to the prosecutors (especially the Americans and British), who relied primarily on documentary evidence rather than witnesses, and presented the documents quickly and methodically, the defense attorneys were not so well prepared—and it shows in the files. Goering’s attorney, Otto Stahmer, was unclear on the distinction between documents (which are prepared for possible use) and exhibits (which are actually used and accepted as evidence by the tribunal), and labeled all of his documents as exhibits, whether they were offered and accepted or not. Hess’s attorney did not clearly identify the documents in his second and third document books. The entry of the defense documents in the trial was also sporadic and often unclear, so gathering the information about them in the transcript (notably exhibit numbers and date of entry) is much more time-consuming than for the prosecution case.
A moment of candor: One of Goering’s defense documents was an extract from a 1934 speech in which he declared that Europe should welcome Germany’s return to power since it meant that Germany would take its place as one of “the great white nations” of the earth. That certainly conveyed the regime’s racial ideology but I wonder why he thought it would help his case.
Secrets of the forest: Goering and some other defendants did contribute to the historical record by answering the Soviet accusation that German forces had committed the mass murder of thousands of Polish officers, whose graves were found in the Katyn forest in 1943. The tribunal held hearings on this charge in July 1946 and did not find the Germans responsible. The guilt of the Soviets for the crime was left unstated.
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].