Sunday, December 7, 2008

Nuremberg

Swastiki destroyed I had the opportunity last month to visit Nuremberg, Germany and a particularly moving exhibit entitled Fascination and Terror, at the Documentation Centre on the old Nazi Party Rally Grounds.

I arrived almost exactly on the 53rd anniversary of opening statements for the International Military Tribunal (IMT), in November 1945. As the son of a refugee from Nazi Germany, as a prosecutor and as a thinking human being, the significance of Nuremberg has always held particular importance to me. It was the site of the incredibly huge National Socialist (Nazi) Party rallies of the 1930s; and the racist laws that stripped German Jews of virtually all their rights were known as the Nuremberg Laws.

Although it should have been poetic justice that brought the International War Tribunal to Nuremberg's Palace of Justice, like so many things the choice was made for more banal reasons. Between the British and the American bombings, much of Germany had been reduced to rubble. The Palace in Nuremberg, built from 1910 to 1916, was largely undamaged and contained one of the few working courtrooms large enough to accommodate the trials.

I strongly recommend Stanley Kramer's 1961 film Judgment at Nuremberg, with its amazing cast including Spencer Tracy, Marlene Deitrich, Judy Garland, Burt Lancaster, Richard Widmark, Maximillian Schell, Montgomery Clift, Werner Klemperer and William Shatner. Shot in black-and-white the film is a fictionalized account not of one of the more famous trials of 1945 but of a 1947 trial near the end of the International Military Tribunal's commission. The film explores the issues of law, responsibility, duty, and good and evil in all its intercises.

I was particularly interested in visiting the exhibits at the Nazy Party Ground War Crimes Documentation Museum. I felt I was bearing witness for my father and my family, much as he and I had done when we were the first in our family in 60 years to visit his grandparents' graves in the Weissensee Jewish Cemetery, in Berlin, in 1993. (Hitler left the cemetery unmolested, afraid of the unknown occult repercussions.)

Robert Jackson at NurembergI also wanted to walk the path of Robert H. Jackson, a personal legal hero, sometimes referred to as the most famous or important American no one has ever heard of. Jackson was chief American prosecutor at the IMT, a position for which he had stepped down as a Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, likely sacrificing his shot at Chief Justice. Jackson notably wrote that "the Constitution is not a suicide pact" and many other profound and eloquent statements, particularly those he delivered in Nuremberg. (photo by Ray D'Addario)

Those who believe in Jung's concept of synchronicity -- a oneness of the universe -- will appreciate the phone call I received a few days before I left for Nuremberg. Charles Lane is an editorial writer for the Washington Post who writes mostly about the Supreme Court and the judicial system (and whose most recent book, The Day Freedom Died, about the 1873 murder by a white militia of 80 freed men in Colfax, Louisiana, and the resulting Supreme Court case, is one of the most compelling true-crime tales ever written). Chuck, as he is known, writes on crime and punishment in America, Japan, Germany and other places , and had called to ask me a question or two. When I mentioned I was en route to Nuremberg, Chuck told me about John Q. Barrett, a St. John's University School of Law professor who is finishing a book on Robert Jackson -- and who might be in Nuremberg at the same time.

Barrett maintains a listserve that contains the following remembrance, recorded on Thanksgiving 1945 by Major Frank Wallis, Assistant Trial Counsel.

Thursday, Thanksgiving day—I was reached. It is difficult to attempt to record any emotions as I stood up in the courtroom—before the prisoners dock—and the 8 judges—before some 350 newspaper men and women, the cameras and more cameras—and started to present the 1st phase of the American case—the common plan and conspiracy—the seizure of control by the Nazis, the consolidation of that control—in short what happened in Germany during the pre war era—the terror, the ruthless purge of the opposition—the destruction of organized labor, the persecution of the churches, the persecution of the Jews, the militarization of the youth and of the country—all in preparation for a gigantic war of aggression aimed at the domination of Europe. As I looked at them [the defendants]—it was with a feeling of scorn and contempt—mixed with a bit of awe—when I remembered how close they came to success in their mad undertaking. Next I was conscious that I was speaking to the world—not only the world of today—but the world of future generations—as this was history that was being made and recorded, history that would be in the school books, history that would be a source of study for years to come by International lawyers and students. However, I did not have much time or opportunity for reflection—I had a job to do—to drive a few nails into the coffins of the bastards with words—and for the next four hours I proceeded to do it to the best of my ability. I don't think that I will ever forget Thanksgiving 1945—and I doubt if I'll ever spend another Thanksgiving—in a strange country, in an International Court Room prosecuting such low level scoundrels—I certainly hope not.

Barrett's epilogue to Wallis's presentation reads:
As Thanksgiving approaches, I wish for each of you --American and not, religious and not--a Nuremberg perspective that includes gratitude, peace, justice and human alliance.
I think of my father. Lucian Marquis escaped the Nazis at age 12, fought them as an American infantryman and interrogator in Patton's Army, and went on to teach for almost 50 years, leaving legions of devoted students.

I reflect on the nature of my job, the necessity of accountability and responsibility, and my father's warning, drawn from another Nazi survivor, Italian writer Ignazio Silone, who worked for the OSS during World War II: "Never make fun of a man in jail."

If one agrees with Jung that coincidence is trumped by synchronicity, then I was particularly fortunate to visit Courtroom 600, where the most famous of the IMT trials took place. The courtroom was enlarged to accommodate the Nazi trials and then returned to its original size, after which it remained in use for court sessions. Even though I was unable to stay in Nuremberg a couple extra days to attend a ceremony in the courtroom with Whitney Harris, the last living of the Nuremberg "podium prosecutors," now 96, I did visit on the very last day the courtroom would be open to the public until sometime in 2010, when it will reopen as a memorial site for the trials.

In the words of one of my favorite lines from a movie, "Is it possible that there are no coincidences"?