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Nuremberg: The Fall Of The Supermen
Even as the horrors unfolded, it seemed difficult to connect them with the shabby figures in the prisoners’ dock. And yet, these contemptible shadows had once been among the most powerful and corrupt men on earth. In a rare view from the bench, the U.S. judge at the war crimes trial of the twenty-one top Nazis records the last chapter of their evil careers. It is adapted from Mr. Riddle’s forthcoming autobiography. In Brief Authority , to be published by Doubleday this fall.
August 1962 | Volume 13, Issue 5
In the eight years that followed Nuremberg, Jackson came nearer than he ever had to finding a serenity of mind that filled most of his conscious being he loved his work on the Court, and his work was of a very high order thoughtful, lawycrlikc, and wise. He was deeply admired by the bar. His pungent style, personal and fresh, would frame his opinions for later generations. And if that was not enough it was a good deal. Only when his face was in repose did the inner light disappear, and the commonplace settle in, as if the emptiness had been waiting at the edges of his vitality.
Dr. Horace Greeley Hjalmar Schacht, Hitler’s onetime minister of economics, was a witness of a different kidney. Wrapped in a Teutonic self-esteem which fitted him like a pair of suede gloves, he remained cool, never surprised, disdainfully self-reliant. He listened to each question, very straight and stiff in his five-inch collar, looking over and beyond the others, occasionally breaking into English. He sounded more like a professor reproving an overeager pupil than a prisoner fighting for his life. Had Mr. Justice Jackson taken a course in economics in school? Perhaps if he, Schacht, explained in simple language. …
He hated Goering with a scornful, jealous bitterness, for it was Goering who had forced him out of power. Goering, Schacht said, in an interrogatory, endowed by nature with a certain geniality … was the most egocentric being imaginable. The assumption of political power was for him only a means to personal enrichment and good living. The success of others filled him with envy. His greed knew no bounds. His predilection for jewels, gold, and finery was unimaginable. He knew no comradeships. … In his personal appearance … one could only compare him to Nero, [appearing at tea oncej in a sort of Roman toga and sandals studded with jewels, his fingers bedecked with innumerable jeweled rings … his lace painted and his lips rouged.
And, Schacht added, his competence in the economic field was nil.
Frau Schacht, writing to her husband like any wife to any husband, told him that she was very well, only the toilet was out of order. She continued: “The prosecution speeches are terribly boring. All the Congo bestiality is being rehashed. Instead of the Gestapo and the SS being convicted here, the government, general staff, and even our brave G.I.’s [ sic , in the translation] are being thrown into the same pot. Only Hitler and his cronies are deserving of death. A German court would have been better. … Take care of yourself, darling.”
Cross-examination of course varied from nation to nation, and it was natural that the French should be less good at it than the British and Americans, for it is not a French technique. The Russian idea of cross-examination was to read a long incriminating question and then expect the defendant to admit everything. Thus the Soviet prosecutor, General Rudcnko, cross-examined Alfred Rosenberg, the chief philosopher of the Nazi party and the Reichsminister for Hitler’s vast empire in eastern Europe.
Rudenko: Do you admit that Nazi Germany, having prepared and pursued war against the Soviet Union, aimed at plundering the economic riches of the Soviet Union, the extermination and enslavement of her people, and the disarmament of the country? Answer briefly.
Rudenko (with sarcasm) : You deny it? All right. Let us turn to a new document.
The Russians were used to co-operation from a defendant in their own country, and were rather put out by what, among themselves, they probably referred to as the careless preparation of the Americans. It was not to be expected that they would understand our judicial practice when the purposes of their trials were so different. The Russian trial must conform to the policy of the state, not oppose it. When, for instance, Rosenberg’s lawyer applied for leave to call a witness to prove that the Soviets had employed slave labor practices in Latvia, Volchkov, the Russian alternate, was genuinely shocked that we should even listen to such a suggestion. To him it was libelous, and he said so: obviously libelous because it was an attack on his nation’s sovereignty.
The Katyn Woods incident was typical of the Russian attitude. The inclusion in the indictment of the allegation that the Germans had massacred eleven thousand Polish officers in the Katyn Forest, on the banks of the Dnieper near Smolensk, was dictated solely by political considerations. Since there was no evidence that any defendant was remotely connected with the killings, the charge was irrelevant. Although he had not seen the reports indicating that the Russians themselves might be guilty, Jackson sensed trouble, and did his best to persuade them to omit the charge. But Rudenko insisted on including it, leveling the charge against Goering as the highest-ranking officer among the defendants. In addition to reciting in detail the report made in 1944 by a Soviet commission, he produced three witnesses to establish German guilt. This took a week. When Rudenko had concluded, Goering’s counsel petitioned the Tribunal to allow testimony showing that the Russians had killed the Polish prisoners. Rudenko indignantly opposed the motion.