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A Comment on Kevin Heller’s Nuremberg Military Tribunals and the Origins of International Criminal Law

Published on November 1, 2011        Author: 

Michael R. Marrus is Chancellor Rose and Ray Wolfe Professor Emeritus of Holocaust Studies and Adjunct Professor of Law at the University of Toronto, and the author of The Nuremberg War Crimes Trial l945-46: A Documentary History (Bedford Books).  His most recent book is Some Measure of Justice: The Holocaust Era Restitution Campaign of the 1990s (Wisconsin).

Hats off to Kevin Jon Heller, not only for a splendid and comprehensively learned survey of these important trials, but also, and at long last, for putting the Nuremberg Subsequent Proceedings (as I still prefer to call them) properly on the legal and historical map.   As Heller acknowledges, the sad truth is that these twelve trials of 177 accused German war criminals – held under American auspices and in the American zone of occupation of Germany between 1946 and 1949 – have been relatively little studied; particularly when compared to the much more famous trial before the International Military Tribunal (IMT), familiarly known as the Nuremberg Trial.   Just a week ago I read an judicious book by a learned jurist who erroneously (as indeed with many of my students, not to mention distinguished historians, lawyers, judges, journalists and statesmen) referred to the Nuremberg Trials, in the plural, while intending to denote the proceedings before the IMT.  Egregiously, this error was once committed by none other than Brigadier General Telford Taylor himself, the man in charge of the Nuremberg Subsequent Proceedings, who entitled his book on the IMT The Anatomy of the Nuremberg Trials (sic), a work that has scarcely a word about the Nuremberg Military Trials.  Over and over again, colleagues will acknowledge, this mistake reappears – reminding us that the “Nuernberg Military Tribunals, Trials, War Criminals before the Nuremberg before the Nuremberg Military Tribunals under Control Council Law No. 10” (to cite the official reference to the so-called ‘Green Series,’ those trials’ proceedings, bound in green) or the “Subsequent Nuremberg Proceedings” or the “Nuremberg Subsequent Proceedings” have persistently failed to find a commensurate place in the scholarly discourse – or the discourse on justice-seeking following the end of the Second World War, or even, for that matter, the general discourse on international criminal law.  I cannot say that no one will commit this error after this important book appears; but Heller’s work will surely lend conspicuous authority to the requirement that the IMT be distinguished from the Nuremberg Trials!

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