Thursday, August 02, 2007

The Dodds, Nuremburg

At Nuremburg, a totalitarian state reviled: " ... [Prosecutor] Thomas Dodd accused the Nazis of 'the apprehension of victims and their confinement without trial, often without charges, generally with no indication of the length of their detention.' ... " Imagine a country sinking this low. Hard to believe such a thing could happen.

Chris Dodd

No justice at Nuremburg was the true story. Thomas Dodd was instrumental in freeing the blood-bats, but it is fascinating how Chris Dodd's motive in publishing his father's letters is alarm over the Bush administration's Hitleresque policies. - AC
A regime on trial - Sen. Chris Dodd's father helped prosecute war crimes

Monitor staff
July 15. 2007

Prosecutor Thomas Dodd holds the shrunken head of a prisoner of war who died in the concentration camp at Belsen.

A white sheet covered an object at the front of the courtroom in Nuremberg. On cue from the prosecutor, Thomas J. Dodd, a guard lifted the sheet and revealed a shrunken human head. The Nazis, Dodd told the shocked courtroom, had created this ornament. They had hanged a Polish man for fraternizing with a German woman, removed his skull and shrunk, stuffed and preserved his head.

It was December 1945. Adolf Hitler's regime had killed millions of innocents. The Nuremberg trials convened in the rubble of Hitler's defeat. Their purpose was to impose the order of civilized society on the chaos of war, to show that the Nazis had not just waged war but also committed crimes. Using a single stolen life, Dodd's dramatic gesture crystallized the issues before the court.

Dodd's son, Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut, is running for the Democratic presidential nomination. Often on the campaign trail he brings up his late father's service as the No. 2 American prosecutor at Nuremberg.

At Nuremberg, the younger Dodd says, the United States and its allies in World War II insisted on the rule of law. They wanted to show the world in a court of law what the Nazis had done and how they had done it. They wanted to make surviving Nazi leaders pay. In a still-raw world, they sought to elevate justice over revenge.

On the campaign trail, Chris Dodd cites Nuremberg as a shining example but also as an example the Bush administration has ignored in the struggle against terrorism.

Now Dodd is compiling his father's letters home from Nuremberg for publication. Thomas Dodd wrote more than 300 of them, and they give a detailed account of his encounters with Hermann Goering, Wilhelm Keitel and other high-ranking Nazis.

Dodd's letters also provide a window into the future - his and the country's. He disliked and distrusted the Russians, America's allies in World War II. "They are no different from the Nazis," he wrote in March 1946. His highest hope was that the coming conflict with the Soviet Union would not be an actual war. In later life, as a two-term U.S. senator, Dodd became a leading cold warrior.

Two other important themes emerge in the letters. One is in Dodd's insightful observations from his work as a prosecutor. The other is the longing of a husband and father to return to his wife Grace and their children in Connecticut. It is to Grace that he addressed these letters, which he wrote with energy and style, often just after the events he had witnessed and participated in.

Chris Dodd was an infant when his father left the States to take the job at Nuremberg. Later, as he writes in the prologue to Letters from Nuremberg: My Father's Narrative of a Quest for Justice, which will be published in September, he and his five siblings were forbidden to go up to the attic to look at the papers and relics his father had collected during his 14 months as a prosecutor of Nazis. Being children, they were too curious to obey such a command.

In the attic they found pictures of emaciated bodies piled high, comic books demonizing Jews and even a news photograph of their father holding up the shrunken head. As Chris Dodd puts it now, long before knowledge of the Holocaust permeated the public consciousness, he and his siblings knew a great deal about it.

Dodd encountered his father's letters much later, after his siblings found them in his sister's basement. He first read them in 1990, beginning on July 28, by coincidence the 45th anniversary of the first letter.

Dodd and his siblings only recently decided to make the letters public. Current events compelled them to do so, Dodd wrote in the prologue. Thomas Dodd accused the Nazis of "the apprehension of victims and their confinement without trial, often without charges, generally with no indication of the length of their detention." Chris Dodd saw parallels at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and the secret prisons authorized by the Bush administration.

"The rule of law that my father addressed at Nuremberg and the standards so eloquently expressed at the trial can seem lost in an array of abuses, some of them committed by our own country," Dodd wrote.

Interrogating Nazis

In 1945, Thomas Dodd was a 38-year-old lawyer who, as a federal prosecutor in Minnesota, had been involved in the hunt for John Dillinger, the notorious bank robber. He went to Nuremberg to help a large U.S. legal contingent prepare the case against 21 Nazi leaders. Among them were Goering, Adolf Hitler's heir apparent; Keitel, the Third Reich's top military commander; Franz von Papen, Hitler's first vice chancellor; and Joachim von Ribbentrop, Hitler's foreign minister.

Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson headed the American legal team. Dodd initially served as an interrogator, interviewing Keitel, von Papen and others before the trial began in November 1945. Unhappy with the "military caste system," staff infighting and other aspects of the work, he intended to head home once the case was prepared. But he was appointed to the prosecution team for the trial and served as Jackson's executive trial counsel.

Even from his own letters, it is easy to see why Dodd rose amid the jealousies and squabbling of the lawyers. A hard worker, he was sharp and seasoned at cross-examination. Though Telford Taylor, the leading historian of Nuremberg, has questioned Dodd's pretrial interrogation work, he excelled at sizing up the defendants he interviewed.

During a Sept. 3, 1945, interview, Dodd caught von Papen, a former chancellor, lying about his role in Hitler's rise to power. "His face colored ever so slightly, but years of diplomatic deceit have given him excellent self control," Dodd wrote to Grace.

Rudolf Hess, Hitler's private secretary, had fled Germany for England during the war. When he showed up for trial, Dodd pronounced him "completely balmy," writing to Grace that Hess's loss of memory was genuine: "He has suffered a complete mental collapse."

Dodd's relationship with Keitel, whom he interviewed many times, was complex.

He described Keitel as "a stupid opportunist with enough cunning to hold a job." Keitel doomed himself in one interview, acknowledging that he had ordered German troops to carry out "the most brutal measures" against Russian women and children.

But Dodd developed a warm relationship with Keitel, once agreeing to a request to send a message to his wife. "Keitel gets under my skin," he wrote. "I know he is terribly guilty. I know better than most men. Yet now I know him. He is so weak. . . . He is a human being."

Gruesome discoveries

Once the trial began, one of Dodd's jobs was to establish that the Nazi regime had committed atrocities. He had plenty of evidence, but he chose not to rely solely on the Germans' detailed documentation of their own crimes.

The day he unveiled the shrunken head in court, he read from a document from Buchenwald in which all prisoners with tattoos were ordered to report to the dispensary. The Nazis gave lethal injections to the men with the best tattoos. Dodd illustrated what happened next by showing the court lampshades made from the tattooed skin.

Dodd's travels in Europe included trips on which he saw more evidence of Nazi cruelty. In Prague, he examined the guillotine and meat hooks used to kill enemies of the Third Reich and move their bodies about. "Thousands were beheaded in that terrible place which still smells of blood and death," he wrote. "Some for the offense of 'giving bread to a Russian prisoner of war.' "

Nearby, he went to what was left of Lidice, a Czechoslovakian village that Hitler had ordered destroyed as retribution for the assassination of a Nazi official.

"The Nazis killed every male in town, sent every woman to a concentration camp, and scattered the children all over central Europe," Dodd wrote Grace. "Then they actually obliterated the place - they built a special railroad into it to carry off every bit of rubble after they had burned and blasted everything and then they graded the whole area and planted grass and crops so there is no sign of any kind to show that there was any such place as Lidice. . . .

"The children are mostly all missing. . . .The women of Lidice are searching Europe for their little ones."

When Dodd visited Czechoslovakia, it was not yet under the Soviet thumb, but its time would soon come.

In his letters, he was relentless in warning of the perfidy of the Russians. "The sight of them raises my blood pressure," he wrote to Grace the day the Russian advance party arrived in Nuremberg. "You have no idea what goes on. They are beasts and worse. . . . They are looting Germany of everything."

As the Soviets occupied German territory, he wrote, they first took all machinery and tools and then all furniture. "The third week all men between 16 and 40 are shipped to Russia - and all the time rape and violence are the order of the day."

By March 1946, Dodd wrote home about "a certain tenseness" in the air over the prospect of another war. "Some think the Russians will attack us here and elsewhere in Europe suddenly and with great strength," he wrote.

His own view was a wary optimism: "I think we need not be at war. None of us can stand another one. The world will be a total wreck after another - every city will be a Nuremberg."

'Desolate ruin'

Dodd's time in Europe was not all business. He met heads of state and had an audience with the pope, who approved of his and Grace's large family. He spent time with actor Mickey Rooney and journalism luminaries Walter Lippmann and Henry Luce and broke bread with a young reporter named Walter Cronkite. He went to the film festival at Cannes.

He collected souvenirs - a Nazi flag, bayonets, SS helmets for his boys. He visited Hitler's Munich apartment, remarking to Grace that the Fuehrer had been there just the previous Christmas. "All of Hitler's furniture and furnishings are there intact," he wrote.

Dodd was also a witness to the devastation of wartime bombing, Axis and Allied.

He arrived in England between VE day and VJ day. He wrote Grace that he had seen miles of "desolate ruin" in the East End, where the poor lived. "Many are still there in partly demolished areas. . . . They stared at the cab from eyes I could not meet."

Nuremberg - "the dead city of Nuremberg," he called it - was even harder on the eyes. Other than the court complex where the trial was held, nearly everything was destroyed or broken.

Dodd checked into the best hotel in town.

"The main part of the hotel is not habitable," he wrote. "My room is quite comfortable. The walls are all ripped out - bullet holes in them - no glass in the windows. The ceiling is half gone. . . . It is awesome to walk along the corridors and walk on a plank over an opening three stories up, or to walk down a bit further and pass a whole section of the building that is one gaping hole - no walls, just space. There is no hot water, no heat, no nothing."

Once the trial ended more than a year later, Dodd traveled from Nuremberg in style. He was chauffeured across western Europe in the 16-cylinder Mercedes Benz convertible that had once belonged to Joachim Von Ribbentrop, the foreign minister. "It has everything but a bath," Dodd wrote Grace.

By then, the verdicts and sentences had been rendered: death for 12 defendants, life in prison for three, lesser sentences for three and acquittal for three. Dodd had left Nuremberg by the time the sentences were carried out.

Goering cheated the hangman, taking poison in his cell the night the executions were scheduled. Martin Bormann, one of the condemned, had been tried in absentia.

Early on the morning of Oct. 16, 1946, Von Ribbentrop was the first man hanged. The others soon followed. They were photographed in plain wooden coffins with ropes around their necks. Goering's body was also photographed.

Two trucks carried the 11 coffins to the crematories at Dachau. The ashes were dumped in the Isar River.

'A great landmark'

Doubt about the Nuremberg trials occasionally crept into Thomas Dodd's mind. Near the end of the proceedings, tired and homesick, he poured out his frustration to Grace.

"Sometimes I get so discouraged I wonder if any of this is worthwhile," he wrote. "Was I a fool to take on this long and difficult ask while others remain at home and criticize us because we try to make the waging of war not worth the risk? Is the world so cynical, so deeply cynical as it sometimes seems to be?"

In other letters - and even in this one - he answered his own questions. He stood up for the principles that had taken him away from his family and expressed a positive view of the future.

"I'm doing the right thing and I feel sure we will not regret it," he wrote Grace. "Some day it will be a great landmark in the struggle of mankind for peace. I will never do anything as worthwhile."