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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
The doctors called by the Germans were vigorously (though without damage to their position) cross-examined by the Soviets. But from that day on we heard nothing more about Katyn Woods. The Soviet prosecutor failed to mention these atrocities when he summed up the case against Goering. The evidence before us was inconclusive, and, as I have said, was unrelated to any defendant. Any mention of Katyn Woods was omitted when the judgment was under consideration.
But the careful investigation conducted by a committee of the United States House of Representatives in 1952 left little doubt that the Soviet NKVD had been guilty of the killings, as a step in the “extermination of Poland’s intellectual leadership . … to eliminate all Polish leaders who subsequently would have opposed the Soviet’s plan for communizing Poland.” The officers, many of them former professional men, government officials, and intellectuals, were captured when Russia invaded Poland. Fifteen thousand in all, they had been separated from the other prisoners and placed in three special camps, where they remained from the fall of 1939 until the following spring. During this period they were exhaustively examined to determine whether they could be converted to Communism. A few hundred were. The rest were presumably killed. It was testified that Stalin’s son, when asked about the disappearance of the Polish officers, said: “Why those were the intelligentsia, the most dangerous element to us, and they had to be eliminated.”
Perhaps no incident better illustrated the Russian attitude toward the trial than one that occurred early in 1946. It seemed that important visitors were constantly arriving in Nuremberg, among them the Soviet delegate to the United Nations (and onetime prosecutor in Stalin’s infamous purge trials), Andrei Vishinsky.
Jackson gave him a large dinner at the Grand Hotel. After the usual flow of speeches and liquor, Vishinsky rose to his feet, genial, faintly bibulous, expansive. Vodka, he said, was the enemy of man, and should therefore be consumed. He wanted to propose a toast. He raised his glass, and we got up; and now he spoke very fast, so that it was hard to follow the interpreter: “To the German prisoners, may they all be hanged!” The judges, not quite taking in what he said, touched their lips to the champagne. But it did not take long for them to realize what they had done.
Parker came to my room that night to talk about it. It was awful , he thought. He hadn’t understood. He wrmlrl not he able to sleeo. thinking about it.
I tried to brush it off, saying that no one had noticed what we did, it was a triviality that would be forgotten tomorrow—the essential was our approach to the prisoners. So far, that had been fair.
“Supposing Drew Pearson gets hold of it? Can’t you see the heading: American judges drink to the death sentence of the men whom they arc trying. …”
“Anyway, we’re both in the same boat, John,” I ventured.
“But you don’t seem to care,” he ended, shaking his head, looking at me mournfully. …
The Germans relish hierarchical distinctions, as conveyed by the long handles to their names. They like to record their doings and catalogue their possessions. At the notorious Mauthausen camp in Austria, they carefully registered the killings—and even recorded the fictitious causes to which they were attributed. Rosenbcrg’s title and the meticulous manner in which he recorded his activities were typical of these two Teutonic impulses. He was known officially as “Delegate to the Fuehrer for the Total Supervision of Intellectual and Ideological Training and Education of the Party.” Under his careful direction the Einsatzstab Rosenberg, organized to collect, arrange, and distribute plundered art objects, drew up a catalogue of sixty-eight volumes, beautifully illustrated, handsomely bound. On April 16, 1943, writing to his Fuehrer on the occasion of the great man’s birthday, he reported in a brief “preliminary” manner the art-seizure action. He enclosed three volumes of “the provisional picture catalogues,” and hoped “that this short occupation with the beautiful things of art, which are so near to your heart, will send a ray of beautv and iov into vour careladen and revered life.”
Adolf Hitler’s ghost haunted the courtroom; we could all see its outline, standing contemptuously at Goering’s elbow; frowning at Schacht as he spoke of the Fuehrer’s enormous reading, of his juggling with his knowledge, of his diabolical genius as a mass psychologist. Julius Streicher, the Jew-baiting journalist who had been thoroughly under his spell, described Hitler emerging from a threehour speech in the Munich beer cellar in 1921 “drenched in perspiration, radiant.”