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Nuremberg 70 years on

The defendants at the Nuremberg Nazi trials. Pictured in the front row are: Hermann Goering, Rudolf Hess, Joachim Von Ribbentrop, Wilhelm Keitel and Ernst Kaltenbrunner. In the back row are: Karl Doenitz, Erich Raeder, Baldur von Schirach, and Fritz Sauckel. January 1, 1946 Nuremberg, Germany

70 years ago the Nuremberg trial took place. To constitue a tribunal from the diverse legal systems of the 4 Allies – France, Russia, UK and USA – so quickly was a considerable achievement and it was sad it did not endure as an international court of justice . Winston Churchill in particular did not believe such a tribunal was necessary to try those Nazi grandees still alive at the end of the war but the American secretary of war Henry Stimson thought otherwise. Churchill considered it as victim’s justice but Stimson felt to execute without trial might immortalise these dreadful men who should be subject to judicial process. The English judge Lawrence presided but it was the 700 American lawyers led by Robert Jackson who were dominant. Some were very young and one Benjamin Ferrencz is still alive and was recently interviewed by the BBC

On the Rust we are encouraged to provide our own anecdotes as Sandra did with a chance meeting of Jonah Lomu. 22 years ago I was in Chicago for the American Bar Association convention. After a party slightly out of town, I waited with a colleague for a taxi. We were joined at the rank by two elderly American lawyers. As taxis were scarce we agreed to share one together. My colleague and I were soon rapt by the conversation of the lawyers as both had been part of the American legal team at Nuremberg . One Henry King became a friend and we corresponded and were to meet at future conventions. I prevailed on the organisers to hold a symposium for these two jurists and when they eventually did so it proved fascinating.

Many myths have gathered over Nuremberg. It became a badge of legal honour to have appeared at Nuremberg. Lord Shawcross is always associated with the proceedings but a greater input was made by David Maxwell Fife who became conservative Home Secretary in the fifties. Jackson was an appellate lawyer and inexperienced with cross examination. Herman Goering insisted on a translator and delivered long rants from the the witness box. Jackson made the cardinal error of losing his temper so it was left to Fife to take over and humiliate the Luftwaffe head. Goering took a cyanide a pill but at least he not die as some sort of martyr. The cleverest and most slippery was Albert Speer who admitted collective responsibility but wiggled out of the death penalty getting 20 years. Most were hung and cremated so there was no grave for future Nazi sympathisers as the ashes were cast in the Oder river. The proceedings did not always go smoothly, so much so that at one stage convictions were doubtful. When Hess the governor of Auschwitz referred to the number exterminated on a daily basis as if he was confirming and satisfying production targets the court was so shocked by his total lack of remorse as victims gave evidence too convictions were more likely.

Henry King said that the Nazis kept punctilious records which provided evidence. Further article 63 of the German military manual prohibited the waging of an aggressive war. I remember being amazed to learn that Hitler’s young secretary Trudi Junge, present it in the final days and a witness to his will, was then still alive and in contact with Henry. Henry passed away a few years back. I hope his memories exist somewhere in written form.

About Henry Elkins

A keen researcher of family ancestors, Henry will be reporting on the centenary of World War One. More Posts