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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
Speer tried in his testimony to destroy the Nazi legend forever. He prophesied that after the trial the people of Germany would despise and condemn Hitler as the proven author of her misery. The world will learn, he said to us, not only to hate dictatorship, but to fear it. For the totalitarian system in the period of modern technical development can dispense with all subordinate leaders, and mechanize them into mindless, uncritical recipients of orders. The nightmare of many a man that one day technical developments might domineer entire peoples had merely been realized in Hitler’s totalitarian system … The more technical the world becomes, the more the counter-balancing influence of the advancement of individual freedom and the individual’s awareness of himself is essential. … This war ended on the note of radiocontrolled rockets, aircraft developing the speed of sound, new types of submarines, torpedoes which find their own target, of atom bombs, and with the prospect of a horrible kind of chemical warfare. … In five to ten years this technique of warfare … will be able to destroy one million people in the center of New York in a matter of seconds with a rocket operated, perhaps, by ten men. Invisible, without previous warning, faster than sound, by day and by night [science] can spread pestilence among human beings and animals and destroy crops by insect warfare. … It is not the battles of war alone which shape the history of humanity, but also, in a higher sense, the cultural achievements which one day will become the common property of all humanity. A nation which believes in its future will never perish.
Speer had finished. He looked at us, and beyond us. Then very quietly he said, as if to prevent himself from sobbing: “May God protect Germany and the culture of the West.” There was a long silence in the courtroom.
What about the other defendants? They were an assorted lot, perhaps hardly typical of the German people; most of them were small men who had once strutted in great places, men whose weaknesses may have attracted them to Hitler. There were ruffians like Ernst Kaltenbrunner—”a bony and vicious horse” Rebecca West called him—who had succeeded the assassinated Reinhard Heydrich as chief of the Security Police, and who knew, as he said, that the hatred of the world was directed against him now that Himmler was no longer alive. A descendant of farmers and scythemakers, Kaltenbrunner stood six feet four, with the deep purple welt of a dueling scar across his face from ear to chin that seemed to swell and glow as he lied under cross-examination, denying his own signature when he was confronted with it, lying so palpably that his associates in the dock turned away from him the next day when they filed in. Even the pariah Streicher kept his face averted.
At one end sat Schacht in his tall collar and impeccable glow of self-righteous conceit; at the other, Julius Streicher, round-shouldered and moth-eaten, chewing gum, mumbling to himself, mean and sullen, mouthing his neurotic obsession about the Jews. None of the other defendants would talk with the lewd, sadistic Streicher. “A dirty old man,” Rebecca West said of him, “of the sort that gives trouble in parks.” In his paper, Der Stürmer, which was devoted to anti-Semitism, he had advocated “castration for race polluters.” For Streicher, his trial was a “triumph of world Jewry.” He believed himself a man whom destiny had placed in a position to enlighten the world on the Jewish question. He was certain that three of the judges were Jews, and practically the whole of the prosecution. They got uncomfortable when he looked at them, he claimed, for he could always recognize the blood.
There was Hess, who once had been the number three man, his eyes sunk deep into the sallow cavern of his face, his reading ranging from Edgar Wallace to Goethe to Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat , a bony scarecrow, wearing the same black field boots that he had worn on his famous “mission for humanity” when he proposed to the startled Duke of Hamilton what seemed to him such a reasonable solution of the war—Great Britain should hand back the German colonies and evacuate Iran, or else the Nazis would set up concentration camps and starve the population to death if the British attempted to carry on war from the Empire’s outposts after the German invasion of England. There was little doubt that Hess’ mind was rapidly deteriorating, a condition manifested by his indifference, his appearance of glazed abstraction, and his jerky, goose-step manner of walking. Although he suffered from amnesia, his capacity to follow the trial and to defend himself was not at first affected.