The Holocaust Historiography Project

Book Reviews

Not Guilty at Nuremberg: The German Defense Case

  • by Carlos Porter. Brighton, England: Historical Review Press, n.d., pb., 22 pp., photographs, $5.00. ISBN:

Reviewed by Karl Brecht

The Nuremberg Trials are arguably the gravest miscarriage of justice since the witch trials of pre-Enlightenment Europe and colonial America. At the close of the Second World War, the Allies arrested the entire hierarchy of the Third Reich and put its members on trial for “war crimes” and “crimes against humanity,” the latter an entirely new concept in international law. Actions taken by various governmental officials were declared, ex post facto, to be “crimes.” Perfectly legitimate organizations were declared to be “criminal” and all members of these organizations were subject to arrest and incarceration without writ of habeas corpus.

Normal rules of evidence were suspended and affidavits of “witnesses” were not allowed to be cross examined. The prosecution presented as evidence numerous documents which were such absurdly bad forgeries that they were disallowed by their own judges out of sheer embarrassment. Both the American judge, Biddle, and the Russian judge, Nikitchenko, made statements prior to the trial to the effect that the defendants had already been convicted. The press was invited to watch the proceedings and the trial was broadcast over the radio. It lasted nearly a year and for entertainment value it outdid the Circus Maximus and the games of the Roman Colosseum combined. It was the political show trial of the century, making the 1930’s purge trials of Stalin seem like the epitome of just law.

Not Guilty at Nuremberg is the second of Porter’s studies of the main Nuremberg trial. The first, Made in Russia: The Holocaust, reproduced pages from the 42-volume published record of the International Military Tribunal, Trial of the Major War Criminals, to demonstrate that the evidence and testimony introduced at the trial was not merely questionable but often ludicrous.

Porter’s ambition in Not Guilty belies the booklet’s (22 pages, large format) short length: he has sought to present, in outline form, a case for the defense of Germany and its National Socialist leadership. Formulating such a case from the arguments of the defendants, both individuals and organizations, presented at Nuremberg, is not an easy task. The condemnation of Germany and its regime by the victors was implicit from the outset, in the very institution of the “International Military Tribunal"; the legal tactics of both prosecution and defense thus revolved around the innocence or guilt of the defendants as individuals. Furthermore, the charter which set up the IMT gave the Tribunal wide latitude in dismissing defense arguments and evidence as “irrelevant,” offensive, and the like.

Not Guilty at Nuremberg is a valuable booklet. It has been Porter’s great service to comb the trial transcript and evidence, as presented in the IMT volumes, in order to select the strongest arguments against the prosecution’s charges, including, unlike many substantive Revisionist challenges to Nuremberg justice to date, the extravagant claims for extermination of Jews by gas which became the central prop of the case against Germany and National Socialism. Porter cites chapter and verse, not merely on the best exculpatory evidence and arguments, but also on the numerous lapses of due process by prosecutors and judges. The author compares British, American, and German editions of the trial transcript to reveal key discrepancies between them. Testimony and evidence not accepted at the main Nuremberg trial are introduced as they bear on the German defense; there is also an interesting comparative section (m the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, the Japanese Nuremberg.

Valuable as it is, Not Guilty at Nuremberg is occasionally frustrating. Its content is organized rather confusingly. Rather than grouping the material thematically, the author has gathered it in short sections titled with the names of the more than twenty individual defendants; other sections feature important “witnesses,” (e.g. Gerstein), documents, American trial psychologist G.M. Gilbert, and so forth. The title of a given section merely give notice that the defense arguments presented therein were made by the defendant or his lawyer. For instance, the section on Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring, a defendant who was the highest ranking government official after Hitler, deals with the concentration camps, conscript labor, POW's, the start of the war, etc.; the author does not relate the subjects covered to Göring in particular. It might have been helpful to indicate that Göring, as head of the police forces (including the Gestapo), was the one who established the concentration camp system; that Göring, as Plenipotentiary for the Four Year Plan, authorized labor conscription; and that Göring had a considerable role in trying to negotiate a peaceful solution to the Polish question prior to the outbreak of hostilities between Germany and Poland. Otherwise, a different rubric would be called for.

The booklet lacks a scorecard; it is therefore difficult for the uninitiated to fathom who the players are. For example, the first mention of Robert Jackson states that he understood no German. This statement has no significance unless the reader already knows that Robert Jackson was a United States Supreme Court Justice and the chief prosecutor for the U.S. at the Trials. In the same vein, the mention of Martin Bormann as one of the accused is also irrelevant unless one knows that he was the personal secretary to Adolf Hitler, and chief functionary of the National Socialist party.

Missing background aside, Mr. Porter has an unerring sense of irony which allows him to sniff out and root up the most macabre incidents of the Trials and then wryly comment on them. Rudolf Hess, the Deputy Führer, who in May of 1941 flew to Britain to make peace overtures to the English personally, was rewarded for his efforts by being interned in England for the duration of the war and then sent to Nuremberg to stand trial. At the trial Hess started to evidence previously unknown erratic behavior. At first, he declared that he had amnesia, he then later declared that he remembered everything! Hess’s attorney pleaded that he was insane but the tribunal ruled that he had to stand trial. Mr. Porter comments, “Hess appears to have been a man who could be totally insane one moment, and brilliantly lucid, sane, and logical a moment later. It is possible that this condition was acquired in Britain.”

Of Julius Streicher, the publisher of Der Stürmer (a magazine which frequently ran anti-Jewish articles), Porter writes:

Streicher was hanged for “incitement to race hatred,” a crime which is becoming more popular. The Streicher case is remarkable in that nations which preach separation of church and state, and freedom of speech and press should conspire with Jews and Communists to hang a man for expressing opinions which were not alleged to have been untrue.

On Baldur von Schirach, the head of the Hitler Youth movement, Porter presents us with this tidbit:

Von Schirach was accused of conspiring with millions of children to conquer the world in imitation Boy Scout uniforms. It was pointed out in his defense that a conspiracy involving millions of members is a logical absurdity.

In Not Guilty at Nuremberg, Porter has compiled an unsparing critique of the prosecution case at Nuremberg, to date the most influential source for the one-sided brief against Germany that passes for today’s “history” of the Second World War. More than most critiques of the victors' justice at Nuremberg, which tend to give greater weight to jurisprudential issues, Not Guilty reminds the reader of the often grotesque disparity between what actually happened during the war and the convenient fables so often accepted by the defense as well as the prosecution at Nuremberg. Especially notable is Porter’s caveats as to the reliability of various documents placed in evidence at the trial: in many cases the German originals have disappeared — if they ever existed.

Like its predecessor, Made in Russia: The Holocaust, Porter’s Not Guilty at Nuremberg offers Revisionist scholars interested in the IMT and subsequent war crimes trials powerful ammunition, backed up by precise and easily available references, on the miscarriages of justice and historical accuracy at Nuremberg.

Source: Reprinted from The Journal of Historical Review, vol. 10, no. 3, pp. 353-356.