Scanning Nuremberg: Notes from October 2022

Post by Matt Seccombe

During October I worked through Ribbentrop’s evidence document books three and four and began the fifth book, placing me roughly at the half-way point in Ribbentrop’s defense case. Most of the documents offered were rejected as evidence by the tribunal as being irrelevant to the issues in the trial, but they still provide a sense of how Ribbentrop viewed his case.

The exhibit errant: During Hess’s defense presentation his attorney wanted to submit evidence from Friedrich Gaus on German-Soviet negotiations in 1939, but was unable to do it at the time and there was no Gaus evidence in the Hess document books. As Ribbentrop’s defense case was beginning Hess’s attorney announced he had secured an affidavit from Gaus and submitted it as an exhibit. Although it was not in the Hess files I wondered if a copy appeared somewhere else, and I searched the database by Gaus’s name. And there it was in a British prosecution document book that I had analyzed in 2020. This is the only instance (so far) of a defense document appearing only in a prosecution file, but we take what we can get. One downside is that the Hess exhibit number can’t be entered in the exhibit field since the database doesn’t allow overlaps between defense and prosecution documents, but I provided that information, Hess exhibit 16, in the Notes field.

Neville Chamberlain, warmonger: Facing the charge of planning and waging aggressive wars, Ribbentrop argued at great length, first, that he and the Foreign Office had worked to keep the peace in Europe, and second, that when war broke out it was the result of familiar conflicts and not of a Nazi conspiracy: not wars of unilateral aggression but of bilateral conflict. The major case was Poland, with two files of evidence offered, but Ribbentrop also pointed to Britain as an antagonistic power. Churchill was an easy reference point, with his declaration in October 1938, “We must arm.” Chamberlain was a harder case, given his appeasement at Munich and his insistence that both Britain and Germany were working for peace with “sincerity and good will.” But the tone changed in 1939. After German troops entered Czechoslovakia, Chamberlain stated that Germany’s recent actions “must cause us all to be asking ourselves . . . Is this, in fact, a step in the direction of an attempt to dominate the world by force?” Shortly before, he had described the scale of Britain’s armaments build-up as “staggering,” and he posed a challenge to any enemy, borrowing from Shakespeare:

            Come the three corners of the world in arms

            And we shall shock them.

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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