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New book on Nuremberg trials grew
from year-long celebration of human rights
October 13, 1998

Prosecutors, prison guards, translators, journalists - even the architect who designed the courtroom - recount at first hand their experiences in Witnesses to Nuremberg: An Oral History of American Participants at the War Crimes Trials by Bruce M. Stave and Michele Palmer, with Leslie Frank. The book will be published in mid-November in the Twayne/Simon & Schuster Oral History Series.

Witnesses to Nuremberg was an outgrowth of the University's year-long observance of human rights that began with the dedication of the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center by President Clinton on October 15, 1995, the 50th anniversary of the Nuremberg war crimes trials.

During that year, Center for Oral History historians Stave and Palmer interviewed Nuremberg "alumni" living in the Northeast. Of the 30 people interviewed, 11 appear in the book. They offer personal accounts of the Nuremberg experience, tales of the liberated concentration camps, private portraits of the Nazi defendants, and stories of living in the bombed-out city. The book includes photographs from the Thomas J. Dodd collection and from interviewees.

"We wanted to capture what life was like for the people who attended the trials and to see what kind of community developed among the Americans who went to Germany or were in Germany at the end of World War II," says Stave. "For many of them, the experience was a formative one and the book attempts to reconstruct what it meant to be there, what living conditions were endured, the relationships that evolved among the Americans and between the Americans and German citizens," he says.

The architect who redesigned the famous courtroom "talked with great verve and ebullience about setting the place for justice," Stave says. The architect revealed that he had planned to have the defendants seated at backless benches to increase their discomfort, but had to relent.

Palmer says that people were at the trials for different reasons. "Some Jews who had escaped the Holocaust were seeking personal retribution. Some had heard chief American prosecutor Robert Jackson's opening statement at the International Military Tribunal and were inspired to go to the trials," she says. Some of the people interviewed were couples who had met each other at Nuremberg and later got married. Others became lifelong friends.

"These people were witnesses to a momentous event in world history," Stave says. "For most of them it was a defining experience. It affected their way of thinking about life."

Palmer says that some of the lawyers, now in their 70s and 80s, are still very idealistic. "They're still fighting for a world court," she says.

Robert King, one of the people interviewed in the book died September 25, the day the book went to the printer. King, from Tolland, was a prosecutor at the trials. "The interview captured his memories," Stave says, "which otherwise would have been lost to history."

A book-signing will take place at the UConn Co-op on December 3.

Sherry Fisher