Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Nuremberg Trials: On Display

[Guest blogger Marguerite Most, Reference Librarian and Senior Lecturing Fellow, highlights some of the items which can be found in the library’s most recent display of special collections.]

On November 20th, 1945, the Nuremberg Trials opened in the Palace of Justice in Nuremberg, Germany. The trials were restricted to the "punishment of the major war criminals of the European Axis countries." In June, prior to the opening of the Trials, delegates of the major wartime powers met in London to discuss what to do with Nazi leaders. The American delegate and chief United States prosecutor at the trials, Associate Justice Robert Jackson, told negotiators from the other nations, "What we propose is to punish acts which have been regarded as criminal since the time of Cain and have been so written in every civilized code."

The Goodson Law Library's J. Marshall Doswell, Jr. Nuremberg Trials Collection is a collection of books and memorabilia relating to the Trial and its legacy. Currently on display in the Riddick Rare Book and Special Collections Room are recent additions to the collection. Most books on display have a legal theme and many were written by attorneys involved in the trials; several focus on the psychological aspects of defendants' lives and the nature and causes of evil. Still others examine the legacy of the Trial and how it led to a heightening of social consciousness and increased moral and political recognition of the idea that a court of law is capable of sanctioning the commission of international crimes.

The two most contentious aspects of the Nuremberg Trials – the provision of a crime of aggressive war or crime against peace; and the recognition of crimes against humanity as a category of international law – are addressed in Perspectives on the Nuremberg Trials, published in 2008. The essays in this book, edited by Guénaël Mettraux, discuss the legal, political and philosophical questions raised at the time and today.

What was shocking to many observers about Nuremberg was the ordinariness of the defendants. Men who were seen as good fathers, kind to animals, even unassuming, committed unspeakable crimes. Among the books in the display is Less than Human: Why We Demean, Enslave, and Exterminate Others, by David Livingstone Smith. Smith examines events such as the Holocaust, the genocide in Rwanda, and the slave trade, and asks why xenophobia, homophobia, military propaganda, racism still exist in the world – what makes these atrocities possible. The essays in Betrayal: German Churches and the Holocaust, examine Christian responses in the Nazi era. What religious convictions sparked resistance in some and compliance in others, and why did so many people fail to act?

Perhaps the most moving of the books displayed are those which present the Nazi regime through the eyes of victims. Seeing Through "Paradise": Artists and the Terezin Concentration Camp is the catalog of a 1991 exhibit at the Massachusetts College of Art. Images in the exhibit were drawn by witnesses in the camp in Terezin, in what is today the Czech Republic. I Never Saw Another Butterfly – Children's Drawings and Poems from Terezin Concentration Camp, 1942-1944 reproduces art by children who lived at the camp.

The display also includes disturbing examples of propaganda published in Nazi Germany. The Jewish Question in the Classroom, by a municipal school inspector in the Third Reich, instructed teachers on how to explain the "Jewish question" to students. Three anti-Semitic picture books intended for young children compare Jews to poisonous snakes, locusts and other unpleasant animal life.

Memorabilia in the collection include photographs, commemorative medals, letterhead stationery, envelopes and postage stamps, and original news articles. The most unusual item on display is a cigar wrapper from a commemorative cigar distributed by allied forces. On the wrapper is an artist’s depiction of U. S. military soldiers escorting a Nazi prisoner.

Today, many online sources are available for researching the primary documents of the Nuremberg Trials, secondary sources about the Trials, and more general materials about international criminal law. Yale Law School's Avalon Project provides access to documents relating to the trials and to documents cited in the official records of the Tribunal, as well as to documents relating to the proceedings and the post-war military government. The Library of Congress has digitized "The Blue Series", the 42-volume official record of the trials, in its web portal of Nuremberg materials. The Harvard Law School Nuremberg Trials collection includes trial transcripts, briefs, evidence files and other papers relating to the trials in the International Military Tribunal and the United States Nuremberg Military Tribunals. More general materials about international criminal law can be found in the Goodson Law Library's own research guide.

Stop by the Riddick Room on level 3 of the library to see some of the most recent additions to the Library’s J. Marshall Doswell, Jr. Nuremberg Trials Collection.

--Marguerite Most, Reference Librarian and Senior Lecturing Fellow