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The Nuremberg Interviews (2005)

The Nuremberg Interviews (2005)
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3.98 of 5 Votes: 5
ISBN
1400030439 (ISBN13: 9781400030439)
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English
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vintage
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The Nuremberg Interviews (2005)
The Nuremberg Interviews (2005)

About book: On May 7, 1945, Germany officially surrendered, as authorized by the then current Flensburg president Karl Donitz. Between the months of May to October the Allied Forces apprehended and interned various major war criminals of the Third Reich, from the likes of the hedonistic Goering to the abysmal Ernst Kaltenbrunner. Initially all the defendants spare Gustav Krupp and Martin Bormann were detained at a health spa in Bad Mondorf to avoid international scrutiny. On October 1945, Airey Neave, a British officer served upon the 22 remaining defendants a copy of the indictment. Robert Ley, head of the German Labour Front, committed suicide, as he expressed his indignation at being considered a war criminal. Leon Goldensohn, an American military psychiatrist, was acquisitioned with the task of interviewing these men of the 21 present only 19 granted him access to personal discussions, Erich Raeder, former admiral of the German Navy declined on the basis that he was already tended to by another health professional and Arthur Seyss-Inquart denied him for reasons unknown, presumably because Goldensohn was Jewish.What’s most irritating about the developments and machinations of these men’s psychology is that their catharsis is hampered by cheap, philosophical detachment and endless rationalizations, spare perhaps Albert Speer and Rudolf Hess, as the former had come to terms with his wartime activities and the latter to delusional behaviour which is worthy of its own story, however I digress. The interviews are categorized alphabetically, Karl Donitz’ interviews are the first in a series that the reader is subjected to. Donitz who then stood as the highest ranked Nazi (in conjunction with Hitler’s will) offers an evasive, but partially honest perspective on WWII and the Third Reich. Donitz was not a part of the final solution or civil persecution as he was Admiral of the Kriegsmarine (navy) and thus wasn’t privy to the exploits of the SS. Donitz (as espoused by almost every other defendant) shifts the blame constantly, one moment Hitler’s culpable, the next moment Himmler and Bormann. He does however offer an eerie prediction about Russia’s insatiable lust for total power, opining that America’s security will be at stake and its liberty jeopardized. Donitz received ten years imprisonment.Another defendant who demands intrigue is the truly reprehensible Ernst Kaltenbrunner. Kaltenbrunner is described as a gaunt lumbering giant of a man whose, thin, razor smile conveys an inescapable evil, often quelled by Kaltenbrunner’s incessant need to place his lower lip over his top. Kaltenbrunner was chief of the RSHA, Intelligence and Interpol, in his capacity crimes of mass murder, kidnapping, thievery and torture was ascribed to him. Kaltenbrunner proves the most banal and fruitless, expounding upon America’s OSS and international security, negating the dreadful acts he committed as Himmler’s number two man. Kaltenbrunner was sentenced to death by hanging, thus bringing the reader to a vital moral and ethical question: capital punishment. Interestingly, several men on the prosecution opposed the death penalty, notably chief prosecutor Robert Jackson. However, the reader has to come to the realization that the death penalty as constituted in the IMT’s legal charter, is less concerned with matters of redundant justice than it is with the fact that so many of these men were beyond redemption. It is true that Julius Streicher, publisher of an anti-Semitic newspaper, received a disproportionate sentence to his crimes and was condemned to death, whereas Hjalmar Schacht, former president of the economy, funded Hitler’s government by international loans and reduced the German economy to near financial disaster by poor fiscal mismanagement is acquitted of all charges.What I have covered thus far is brief, but that only serves as a testament to how densely rich and academically satisfying this book is. The book akin to the defendants and witnesses is horrifying, tedious, intriguing, surreal and shameful.

On November 19, 1945 The International Military Tribunal opened at the Palace of Justice in Nuremberg, Germany to hear the cases of twenty-two Nazis within seven organizations indicted on four charges – conspiracy to commit crimes, crimes against peace, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. Of the twenty-two individuals standing trial three were acquitted, twelve were sentenced to death, three were given life sentences, and four were given sentences ranging from 10-20 years. During the trial Dr. Eli Golensohn, a psychiatrist for the U.S. Army, interviewed both defendants and witnesses. The Nuremberg Interviews is a compilation of Dr. Golensohn’s copious notes from interviews with nineteen defendants and fourteen witnesses. While the prospect of a peek into the mind of high profile Nazi war criminals like Hermann Goering and Albert Speer is tantalizing, the most interesting aspect of the book in my opinion is the debate between Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin on how to go about seeking justice. All three at one time favored summary execution. The concept of a trial was actually first suggested by Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov as far back as October 14, 1942 and was vociferously advocated by U.S. Secretary of War Henry Stimson, who insisted on the need to avoid the impression that the Allies were seeking vengeance. Ironically, it was Stalin who was the first of the leaders to embrace the trial concept and had FDR not died paving the way for Harry Truman to ascend to the presidency execution very well may have ruled the day. It was during this read that it dawned on me just how difficult it was for these three countries to forge a path forward deciding on the procedures that would ultimately govern the trial. After all, the three countries have vastly different judicial systems and compromise ruled the day. For instance, defendants were not granted anything resembling 5th Amendment protection and were required to answer all questions posed, a concept which is anathema to the US justice system. The other item I learned was that it was the organizations (the Reich cabinet, SS, SA, SD, and Gestapo) that were charged under the indictments rather than specific individuals. Unfortunately, the interviews themselves were not that enlightening. The reading became redundant, as each defendant used similar defense strategies – the government was disorganized and I didn’t know anything; I don’t hate Jews, I have friends that are Jews; and it was someone else’s fault. The most delusional was Herman Goering who had the audacity to state, “But always my intention was to contribute these art treasures, paintings, pieces of sculpture, altarpieces, jewels, et cetera, to a state museum after I had died, for the greater glory of German culture. Looking at it from that standpoint I can’t see that is was ethically wrong. IT was not as if I accumulated art treasures in order to sell them or to become a rich man. I love art for art’s sake and as I said, my personality demanded that I be surrounded with the best specimens of the world’s art.” (pg. 163) I suppose the most interesting part of the interviews was how clearly evident the ramifications of the Versailles Treaty were on the psyche of individual Germans. Historians have correctly pointed to this has a precursor to the rise of Nazism and Hitler but hearing it these defendants words makes the case even stronger. I would only recommend this book to those who have a prior understanding of the individual subjects of the book. The author doesn’t provide enough background to give good context for the conversation or the verdict and it could be confusing for those without a good basis of knowledge of the characters.
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Reviews
David Crowley
This is a great companion to "Mission at Nuremberg" by Tim Townsend. Goldensohn gives an illuminating view of the mindset of the major war criminals tried in Nuremberg as well as the thinking of many of the principal witnesses. It's clear from the manner and tone of the author's questions to the defendants and witness that he is very skilled in asking non-judgmental questions about the most terrifying and damning acts perpetrated by many of these Nazis. He assures all defendants that their answers will not be given to the prosecution team, but most of continue to prevaricate on their exact roles in the managing and running of the extermination camps. Their answers have become the Nuremberg cliches: "I was only following orders," and "It was someone else's department." The only people to show any hint of perspective on the evils of the Nazi regime were the defendants Schacht and von Papin along with the interpreter Paul-Otto Schmidt. All three had served in several pre-Nazi governments and had numerous high-level international contacts prior to outbreak of war. These Nazis possessed the compartmentalized minds that allowed them to function in the divided and isolated departments that comprised the Nazi Regime. Only Hitler knew how it all fit together, as they all claimed.
John
This book is based on interviews by an American psychiatrist who interviewed defendants and witnesses at the Nuremberg trails. There were two main themes to many of the interviews. One, the restrictions of the Treaty of Versailles were what made it possible for Hitler to take power. And secondly, the blame for the atrocities and exterminations fell on Goebbels, Himmler, Bormann and Heydrich. This was very convenient seeing as all of them were dead at this point. Of course the defendants trotted out the old lines that they knew nothing or were just following orders.The interviews also showed just how average most of these people were. They did go into a bit of family history in most cases. Interestingly some of the defendants said they should be hung to take the blame off the general German population. And some proposed a union of European countries, much like the current EU, to hold off the advances of Russia.
Erin
I read this book mainly to see what motivated the people responsible for the atrocities of WW2. What I found consistantly is that several top people in the thrid reich wished they had never got into politics and confessed that they had a weak character and easily influenced. When Hitler came along and dazzeled them with his charisma, they did not question his final solution. Most people said they had no idea, some I believed but most just wanted to save themsevles. I don't know how legitamate these trials were. I think this book has enormous historical value which is why I wanted to read it.
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