After resisting it for the last six months or so, I have started reading Nuremberg Diary, by G.M. Gilbert. Ed Cooney has been pushing me to read it, saying – over and over again – that it is fascinating and revelatory. Gilbert was the prison psychologist during the Nuremberg Trials and the book covers the trials – mostly – in the words of the indicted. Ed is right, the book is revelatory and strangely fascinating.
All the German World War II
characters villains we have been reading about and seeing in movies, ever since 1945, are here . General Jodl, Field Marshal Kettel, and Reichsmarschall Hermann Goering are here, of course. There are the thugs like Ernst Kaltenbrunner, Chief of Himmler’s Security Forces – including the Gestapo – and intellectuals like Alfred Rosenberg, Chief Nazi philosopher and Reichsminister of Eastern Occupied Territories. I have been reading about these guys for years, but it has always been in the context of what they did.
With Hitler and Himmler dead, Reichsmarschall Hermann Goering is the embattled leader, trying to save the Nazi’s and his own reputation. He both denies the horrors of Nazism and justifies them as the geopolitical necessity of Germany defending the west from the scourge of Communism. A couple of the prisoners, Albert Speer and Hans Frank in particular, are horrified art what they have done, but most of the prisoners either try to deny what happened and what they did or excuse it.
Except for Hitler, I really did not having a sense of who they were. This book was written in 1947 and it has that easy story-telling style of the period even though most of it is in the words of the people on trial. We have been taught that these are evil people – the Nazis, the World War II German military leaders, the prison camp guards – that they are the definition of Evil. Goering fits the picture perfectly, but most of the characters in this book just seem to have been sucked into something much more powerful than they are.
My default position is not to believe in Evil and I usually think of people doing evil things, not being Evil but reading the prisoners own words, as banal as they are, tries that belief at times. When Rudolf Hoess, the Commandant of Auschwitz, says You can be certain that it was not always a pleasure to see those mountains of corpses and smell the continual burning. – But Himmler had ordered it and had even explained the necessity and I really never gave much thought to whether it was wrong., it is not easy to believe he was only led astray.
Although it may be time to let go of World War II and the Nazis, reading this book bring it to life again.