Post by Matt Seccombe
During May I analyzed the defense documents of Julius Streicher, the antisemitic propagandist, and Hjalmar Schacht, the regime’s banker in the 1930s. Streicher was the most repulsive of the defendants and Schacht the most sympathetic. I expected Streicher’s material would be difficult to deal with and Schacht’s to be dull (considering his role as a banker), but Streicher’s documents were dull and Schacht’s were surprisingly interesting.
Defense of a terrible client: Streicher hoped to argue that his antisemitism was well justified and reasonable, but the tribunal foreclosed that strategy on the grounds that he was not on trial for his opinions but for his role in inciting war and genocide. Streicher’s attorney presented an alternative case: That his client was a terrible man with terrible views, but had not played any role in starting the war or committing genocide. He pointed out that Streicher’s journal, Der Stuermer, was not a government or party publication and that Streicher did not hold any position in the national regime. The argument did not succeed.
A coincidence: In his final argument, Schacht’s attorney noted the fact that Schacht and Kaltenbrunner, the SS police chief, sat together in the defendants’ box, while two years earlier Schacht had been imprisoned in Kaltenbrunner’s system following his arrest, on Hitler’s orders, after the July 1944 assassination attempt. Schacht’s defense was that he had done his job helping to rebuild the German economy and finance rearmament for defensive purposes, but no further, before he left the bank in early 1939 and became increasingly critical of the regime.
The astounding statement: Frick introduced an extract from a prosecution interrogation of Schacht in August 1945. When Schacht stated that he had not known what Hitler’s long-term plans were in the mid-1930s, the interrogator remarked, “That would be an astounding statement.” Schacht replied, “Yes. I want to make the astounding statement that Hitler hid his political intentions from his collaborators, including the Ministers and other high officials.”
The mouse: Hans Gisevius, a member of the resistance who consulted with Schacht, described Schacht’s position in the regime as a moderate among extremists, Himmler in particular: “Schacht and Himmler were like cat and mouse.” A technical expert found that the Gestapo had planted a microphone in Schacht’s telephone and recruited one of his servants as an informer. Later on, Schacht was warned that the SS had decided to eliminate him. The designated assassin, SS officer Erich Bach-Zelewski, in another coincidence, was one of the witnesses at Nuremberg.
Crossing the line: After leaving the bank Schacht remained a minister without an active role, and in November 1942 he sent Goering a letter opposing the plan to conscript 15-year-old boys for auxiliary war service. This would be demoralizing, he said, following up with an eight-point list of ways the war was going badly, all of them raising “doubts concerning the termination of this war.” Three months later, in January 1943, Hitler dismissed him as minister. By the end of 1944 he was in a concentration camp, charged with high treason. He was acquitted by the tribunal.
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].