Scanning Nuremberg: Notes from February 2023

Post by Matt Seccombe

During February I spent the first third of the month catching up on the transcript work for Keitel’s and Kaltenbrunner’s defense presentations, noting when new documents were entered and documents presented earlier were discussed. Even though these defendants presented few documents themselves compared to Ribbentrop (1/10th as many for Keitel and 1/20th for Kaltenbrunner), they testified at length and many documents came up for review. Among them were the prosecution exhibits on the killing of captured Allied airmen in 1944 that I had found in Kaltenbrunner’s defense document book; they were entered by the prosecution against Keitel. (That explains their relevance, if not why they ended up in Kaltenbrunner’s document book.) Then I moved on to the defense documents (and transcript) for Alfred Rosenberg, who served as a propagandist before the war, the minister for the “occupied eastern territories” during the war, and as the head of the “Rosenberg Einsatzstab” to collect artworks and cultural treasures across Europe for Germany’s museums (and Hitler’s personal collection).

The insubordinate subordinate: The administration of the eastern territories, notably Ukraine, and the plundering, forced labor, and mass killings there received the most attention in Rosenberg’s case. For someone charged with brutality and exploitation, it was useful to have someone to point to as the “real” culprit, and for Rosenberg this was Erich Koch. The tension began at the start of the occupation. At a notorious conference in July 1941, Hitler, Keitel, Rosenberg, Goering, and Lammers discussed a plan for what they called “cutting up the giant cake”—eastern Europe. Hitler’s agenda was simple: to dominate, administer, and exploit the east. Rosenberg was to supervise the whole region from Berlin, while each territory was to be run by a commissioner. For Ukraine, Rosenberg proposed Fritz Sauckel and Goering proposed Koch, a long-time Nazi official. Rosenberg said he was “afraid that Koch might soon refuse to obey his (Rosenberg’s) instructions.” Hitler appointed Koch.

Koch proved Rosenberg was right about obedience, as seen in the back-and-forth exchanges that Rosenberg presented in evidence. Rosenberg hoped the occupation in Ukraine would become cooperative, resisting a common enemy (Stalin) and developing toward an autonomous “homeland” under German military and economic supervision. German rule was to operate as “Lawful order,” not despotism. By mid-1942 Koch was complaining that Rosenberg’s instructions were undermining Koch’s executive authority. Rosenberg’s decrees against physical punishment of workers were an issue. Some Ukrainians had been whipped for acts of sabotage, and Koch explained that sometimes “immediate drastic punishment” was needed due to the Ukrainians’ “naturally low zeal for work.” In 1943, when some farmers resisted labor conscription, Koch ordered that their farms be set on fire. Rosenberg protested, but Koch pointed out that he had direct connections to Hitler and could appeal to Hitler to confirm his authority. Given Hitler’s agenda to dominate, administer, and exploit the east, and his tendency to set his officials against each other, this was not an argument Rosenberg could win.

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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