January 23, 2002

Rare WWII Documents Now Online

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The Cornell Law Library has now made an extensive and important set of documents which chronicle the Nuremburg trials available online.

The University-owned documents, collected by General William J. Donovan, special assistant to the U.S. Chief of Counsel for the trials, Supreme Court justice Robert H. Jackson, provide evidence of crimes against humanity committed by the Nazi regime.

This is the first time such materials have been published on the Internet, and the effort was made possible in coordination with Rutgers University.

Prof. Claire M. Germain, law and the Edward Cornell Law Librarian believes that, “seeing new historical and legal insights develop from students and established scholars via the Internet is very exciting.”

Cornell’s acquisition of materials concerning the Nuremburg trials was facilitated by Henry H. Korn ’68, who purchased the collection of Donovan’s collected notes after the closure of his Manhattan law firm, Donovan, Leisure, Newton & Irvine.

Donovan started his law firm after providing numerous services to the government. He was also the founding director of the Office of Strategic Services, the precursor to the C.I.A.

Although Donovan has been deceased for over thirty years, his documents were held at his firm until Korn learned of them and, realizing their historical significance, purchased them for what he described as a, “modest sum.”

The documents, a gift to the Dawson Rare Book section of the Cornell Law Library from Korn in 1998, include transcripts from the testimony of German officers, memos from various prosecuting delegates, several documents labeled “Top Secret” and numerous other materials.

While interning for Korn in 1999, Julie Mandel, a law student from Rutgers University whose grandmother had been imprisoned at Auschwitz, learned of the documents and began the effort to get them published online.

Last week the Journal of Law and Religion at Rutgers published its first installment of the Nuremburg Project in collaboration with Cornell. These were edited by Mandel.

The first installment to be featured includes an extensive outline, entitled “The Persecution of the Christian Churches,” which documents the Nazi’s plan to destroy German Christianity.

The Nuremburg trials were established after World War II. Several Nazi operatives were brought in front of an International Military Tribunal to address four counts: a common plan or conspiracy, crimes against peace, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The trials also addressed injustices committed on the religious establishments of Germany before and during the war, and the evidence of Nazi criminal wrongdoing is what the first installment is centered around.

During the Nazi uprising in Germany, two-thirds of the German Christians were Protestants, while a large majority of the rest were Roman Catholic.

According to the outline, the churches, “could not be reconciled with the principle of racism, with a foreign policy of unlimited aggressive warfare or with a domestic policy involving the complete subservience of Church to State.”

Soon, “the destruction of Christianity was explicitly recognized as a purpose of the National Socialist movement.”

Statements made by church officials that were “injurious to the State would be ruthlessly punished by ‘protective custody,’ that is, the concentration camp,” according to the outline.

“At a time when war crimes tribunals are actively being discussed, it is very exciting to make available new primary evidence on the first such tribunal to enhance both the historical and current perspectives,” Germain said.

New installments of documents selected by the Cornell Law Library will be published every six months.

Currently, the Cornell Law Library is working to make acid-free prints and digital copies of these materials in order to preserve their condition.

They are also planning on publishing commentary and articles from scholars to accompany the documents.

“Our mission in the library is to preserve and disseminate information for the benefit of future generations of scholars,” Germain said.

Cornell’s own Law Library website outlines the history of the documents and its collaboration with Rutgers.

Archived article by Mackenzie Damon