On Holocaust Remembrance Day, gratitude for archives preserving histories of post-WWII war crimes trials


LOS ANGELES – On this International Holocaust Remembrance Day, I am honored to be spending this month at the USC Shoah Foundation, reviewing testimonies of persons who did their part to set right one of history’s terrible wrongs.

Seventy-three years ago today, Soviet troops liberated Auschwitz-Birkenau, the infamous Nazi concentration camp located about 45 miles west of Kraków, Poland. Liberations of other camps by other Allied forces soon followed; among them, the U.S. liberation of Buchenwald on April 11, 1945, and the British liberation of Bergen-Belsen 4 days later.

Sixty years later, a 2005 U.N. General Assembly resolution set this date aside for commemoration of World War II atrocities; to quote the resolution, of

“… the Holocaust, which resulted in the murder of one third of the Jewish people, along with countless members of other minorities …”

The resolution further:

  • honored “the courage and dedication shown by the soldiers who liberated the concentration camps”;
  • rejected “any denial of the Holocaust as an historical event”;
  • envisaged the Holocaust as “a warning to all people of the dangers of hatred, bigotry, racism and prejudice”;
  • denounced “all manifestations of religious intolerance, incitement, harassment or violence against persons or communities based on ethnic origin or religious belief, wherever they occur”; and
  • encouraged initiatives designed to “inculcate future generations with the lessons of the Holocaust in order to help to prevent future acts of genocide.”

Among the many such initiatives are memorial centers and foundations throughout the world – 2 of which have helped me in my own research into the roles that women played during postwar international criminal trials at Nuremberg.

In December, the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center of Nassau County, located in Glen Cove, New York, opened its archives to me. Special thanks to Helen  Turner, archivist and Director of Youth Education, for her assistance.

This month, as the inaugural Breslauer, Rutman and Anderson Research Fellow, I am in residence at the University of Southern California, examining documents in USC Shoah Foundation’s Visual History Archive. It has been a fruitful and moving scholarly experience, and I look forward to sharing my research at a public lecture on campus at 4 p.m. this Tuesday, Jan. 30 (as I was honored to do last week at UCLA Law’s Promise Institute for Human Rights; video here). Special thanks to all at the foundation’s Center for Advanced Research – Wolf Gruner, Martha Stroud, Badema Pitic, Isabella Evalynn Lloyd-Damnjanovic, and Marika Stanford-Moore – and to the donors who endowed the research fellowship. (Fellowship info here.)

As reflected in the 2005 General Assembly resolution, the work of such institutions helps to entrench – and to prevent backsliding from – states’ promises to ensure and respect human rights and dignity norms, set out in instruments like the 1945 Charter of the United Nations, the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide, the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. To this list I would add the many documents establishing international criminal fora to prosecute persons charge with violating such norms – from  the Nuremberg-era tribunals through to today’s International Criminal Court.

(Cross-posted from Diane Marie Amann; image credit)

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Lecture on a Nuremberg woman, November 29 in New Orleans

Longtime readers will know of IntLawGrrls’ abiding interest in “Women at Nuremberg”; that is, women lawyers, women journalists, and other women who played seldom-remarked roles at the post-World War II war crimes trials at Nuremberg. Louisiana-area readers are advised to take advantage of an opportunity to learn about one such woman: “Bessie Margolin and the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials” will be presented from 12 noon-1 p.m. Wednesday, November 29, as a Lagniappe Lecture at the National WWII Museum, 945 Magazine Street, New Orleans.

The speaker will be Marlene Trestman, lawyer and author of Fair Labor Lawyer: The Remarkable Life of New Deal Attorney and Supreme Court Advocate Bessie Margolin (2016), a superb biography of an extraordinary lawyer who helped shape the . The book succeeds Trestman’s 2012 journal article about Margolin, about which I wrote here.

If you’re in the area, this lecture, to be followed by a book signing, is well worth attending. Details here.

USC Shoah Foundation awards inaugural research fellowship to IntLawGrrl Diane Marie Amann

The first-ever Breslauer, Rutman and Anderson Research Fellowship has been awarded to Diane Marie Amann, IntLawGrrls’ founding editor emerita. Amann joined the University of Georgia School of Law in 2011, taking up the Emily & Ernest Woodruff Chair in International Law. She also has served, since 2015, as Georgia Law’s Associate Dean for International Programs & Strategic Initiatives.

Amann speaking at the 2016 launch of the International Criminal Court Office of the Prosecutor Policy on Children that she helped prepare in her role as the Prosecutor’s Special Adviser on Children in & affected by Armed Conflict.

The Breslauer, Rutman and Anderson Research Fellowship arises out of a recent gift to the Center for Advanced Genocide Research at the University of Southern California Shoah Foundation in Los Angeles.

Established by Steven Spielberg in the early 1990s, just after he completed his film Schindler’s List, the foundation contains extensive visual history archives. These include oral histories by numerous participants in the post-World War II trials in Europe. Those trials lie at the core of Amann’s scholarship on “Women at Nuremberg,” which explores the many roles women played in those proceedings, including prosecutors, defense counsel, journalists, witnesses, staffers, and defendants – everything except judges. (Prior IntLawGrrls posts on this subject available here.)

Among those whose oral histories may be found at these archives are two members of the U.S. prosecution team: Cecelia Goetz, who as part of the Krupp case became the only woman to deliver part of an opening statement at Nuremberg, and Belle Mayer Zeck, who helped to try the Farben case. As quoted at the USC Shoah Foundation website, Amann commented:

“I’m very interested in finding out what they remember and what they thought was important and what their feelings were about the Nuremberg project. It seems to me there’s a lost story about that era that would be worth uncovering to give a richer picture of what that period was about.”

Amann’s visit to USC will occur next January, during a research-intensive Spring 2018 semester during which she will continue to pursue a Ph.D. in Law at Leiden University in the Netherlands.

(Cross-posted from Exchange of Notes blog)

70 years ago, landmark international criminal law judgment at Nuremberg

This weekend marks the 70th anniversary of the Judgment of the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg, a moment recorded in this New York Times front page:

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The judgment established that humans, and not only states, may be held responsible for violations of international law – a principle that the General Assembly endorsed in 1950. Recognition that individual acts mattered in the international law soon opened the way for recognition that acts committed against individuals also mattered. The Nuremberg Judgment thus stands as a foundational moment in the international human rights movement, as was recognized inter alia in a 1982 article by Georgia Law Professor Louis B. Sohn, when he was Emily & Ernest Woodruff Chair in International Law, a position I am now honored to hold.

Another Georgia Law professor who’s written about Nuremberg is my colleague Harlan Grant Cohen; these works include: ‘Undead’ Wartime Cases: Stare Decisis and the Lessons of History (2010); Historical American Perspectives on International Law (2009); The American Challenge to International Law: A Tentative Framework for Debate (2003).

My own writings, available here, include studies of the meaning of genocide and essays on women who worked as prosecutors, defense lawyers, and staff (no judges) at postwar trials in Nuremberg and Tokyo. “Women at Nuremberg” is a subject that many IntLawGrrls have addressed, not to mention many more posts (often inspiring more traditional scholarship) on all aspects of international criminal law and international human rights law.

(Cross-posted from Exchange of Notes blog)

Incendiary Media Use and The Failure of the Rwandan Case

Use of the media is a powerful tool in crimes against humanity for the following reasons: it allows the wielder to shape contemporary discourse, it helps desensitise and marginalise those who are not being targeted, and it can successfully contribute to the generation, entrenchment and wholesale acceptance of dangerous demographic stereotypes, which often serve as the premise for ensuing violence.

The Rwandan Genocide is a prime example of how influential persons in control of sources of information, such as radio broadcasts and newsletters, can distort and filter the material that the public can access. The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), which was tasked with prosecuting various violations of international humanitarian law during the genocide, handed down a landmark judgment on this use of the media. This judgment, along with two significant cases of incendiary media use during the Third Reich in Germany, constitute a large part of the law on attribution of responsibility to the perpetrators.

I will analyse each case in order to arrive at an appropriate standard for responsibility, and to demonstrate why I think the Appeals Chamber of the ICTR did not do a good job.

I. The Case of Julius Streicher 

The Nazi regime in Germany is well-known for its careful, manipulative use of the media. Julius Streicher was the founder and editor of an anti-Semitic newsletter called Der Stürmer, translatable to ‘The Attacker’. He made various far-fetched and malicious claims about Jews in the cartoons and articles he published in this newsletter scapegoating them for Germany’s economic problems and criminal happenings. In an article published in a 1939 edition of Der Stürmer, the author decried the idea of a ‘decent Jew’, stating his intention to make the public of the Third Reich understand why it was a “shameless lie”.

Streicher was tried by a military chamber at Nuremberg. The Tribunal found no direct causality between his acts and specific acts of killing Jews.  He had issued no direct orders to anybody to exterminate the Jews and had not actually participated in the Holocaust. However, his circulation of vitriolic messages was noted as a “poison” which infiltrated the citizenry’s minds and made them subscribe to the general atmosphere of anti-Semitism. It quoted the following statement from Der Sturmer to illustrate Streicher’s ill-intentions: “A punitive expedition must come against the Jews in Russia. A punitive expedition which will provide the same fate for them that every murderer and criminal must expect. Death sentence and execution. The Jews in Russia must be killed. They must be exterminated root and branch.”  The Tribunal considered that his efforts, in line with this sentiment, constituted incitement to murder and extermination of Jews.

In other words, Streicher had successfully contributed to desensitizing the non-Jewish population and was held responsible for crimes against humanity.

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