Tag Archives: Holocaust

Jackson List: Nuremberg & Eichmann

By the time Nazi Germany surrendered unconditionally in May 1945, the victorious Allied nations had been committed officially, for more than two years, to hold defeated Nazi leaders accountable for their war-making aggression and related international crimes.  President Truman had, a few weeks earlier, recruited U.S. Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson to head the U.S. effort and he had begun to organize his staff and plans.  The United Kingdom, the U.S.S.R., and France were commencing parallel efforts.  The Allies soon would begin to negotiate and plan together.  Their occupation armies captured Nazis and voluminous documentary evidence.  The Allies soon began to name Nazi perpetrators who were potential defendants in what would become, starting in November at Nuremberg, the world’s first international criminal trial.

Adolf Eichmann was not one of those names.  We know now through detailed evidence, especially from Israel’s 1961 prosecution and conviction of Eichmann, that he was a Nazi Schutzstaffel (SS) officer who played a pivotal role in the deportations and murders of Europe’s Jews.  Eichmann, as director from 1941 forward of the Reich Main Security Office’s Jewish Affairs section (IVb4), accomplished the deportation of over 1.5 million Jews from all over Europe to extermination camps and killing sites in Nazi-occupied lands to the east.

In Spring 1945, Eichmann was not well known, much less a target of high interest, to would-be Allied prosecutors.  In early June, for example, the War Crimes Office in the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General Corps circulated to Jackson’s staff an intelligence report, “Biographies of Certain Potential War Criminals.”  This document, more than thirty pages in length, described dozens of prominent, legally culpable Nazis—and it did not mention Eichmann.  The Office of Strategic Services, the U.S. intelligence agency that by then was working very closely with Jackson, also was highlighting potential defendants, but most were familiar names from wartime press reporting, and none was Eichmann.

Eichmann’s name, and early comprehension of his criminally culpable conduct, did begin to surface that summer.  In July, Jacob Robinson, director of the World Jewish Congress’s Institute of Jewish Affairs, a lawyer and an important adviser to Justice Jackson, wrote to him, concerned about lists, which Robinson had seen in newspapers, of prospective defendants.  Robinson expressed his “great disappointment not to find in these lists the name of a man who is probably more directly responsible for the destruction of the Jews than any single Nazi”:  Eichmann.  (Click here to see Robinson’s carbon copy of this letter.)

In early August 1945, the War Department in Washington sent to Jackson’s staff in London a message identifying Eichmann as the Nazi section leader with “primary responsibility for the extermination and transportation of Jews,” and then a dossier with detailed information.

But Eichmann was not known then to be an Allied prisoner or even suspected to be living.  In late August, the Allies thus named dozens of their prisoners who would be prosecuted.  In October, they were charged.  In November, their trial commenced at Nuremberg before the International Military Tribunal.  Eichmann was not one of the Nuremberg defendants.

At Nuremberg, in both the 1945-1946 international trial and in the twelve subsequent U.S. trials, the prosecutors presented considerable evidence of Nazi planning and implementation of what we today know as the Holocaust.  Much of that evidence, both documents and witnesses, named Adolf Eichmann and explained his role.  But witnesses—his former Nazi colleagues—also testified that he had committed suicide at the end of the War.

The world did not learn otherwise until May 23, 1960, when Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion made this brief announcement to the Knesset:

A short time ago, one of the greatest of Nazi war criminals, Adolf Eichmann, who was responsible, together with the Nazi leaders, for what they called the “Final solution of the Jewish question”—that is, the extermination of 6,000,000 Jews of Europe—was found by the Israel security services. Adolf Eichmann is already under arrest in Israel, and will shortly be placed on trial in Israel under terms of the law for the trial of Nazis and their collaborators.

(It soon became known, of course, that Israeli agents had “found” Eichmann in Argentina and transported him forcibly to Israel.)

Eichmann’s 1961 trial in Jerusalem, televised to the world, included significant evidence from the Nuremberg trial record.

Veterans of Nuremberg trials were involved at the Eichmann trial as witnesses and advisors, and others were present as observers and commentators.

Jacob Robinson, formerly Jackson’s Nuremberg advisor, was involved as an assistant prosecutor of Eichmann.

Adolph Eichmann was found guilty of crimes against the Jewish people, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and membership in a hostile organization.  He was sentenced to death.  In 1962, he was hanged.

*          *          *

For those in New York City or inclined to visit, I strongly recommend seeing the powerful exhibition on Eichmann’s conduct, capture, and case, “Operation Finale,” that now is on display at the Museum of Jewish Heritage:

Operation Finale: The Capture & Trial of Adolf Eichmann

I also had the great privilege recently, in connection with the International March of the Living, to interview retired Israeli Supreme Court justice Gabriel Bach.  In 1961, Gabriel Bach was deputy prosecutor of Eichmann.  Today, Justice Bach is the last surviving Eichmann prosecutor—and a powerful speaker, and a great hero.  To watch the interview:

Prosecuting Eichmann: An Interview with Israeli Supreme Court Justice Gabriel Bach

Finally, on October 19th I will be lecturing at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Manhattan on “From Nuremberg to Eichmann,” expanding on some of the information contained in this Jackson List post.  Please attend if you are interested.  For information and to order tickets:

From Nuremberg to Eichmann

—————–

This post was emailed to the Jackson List, a private but entirely non-selective email list that reaches many thousands of subscribers around the world. I write to it periodically about Justice Robert H. Jackson, the Supreme Court, Nuremberg and related topics. The Jackson List archive site is http://thejacksonlist.com/.  To subscribe, email me at barrettj@stjohns.edu. Thank you for your interest, and for spreading the word.

Jackson List: Ernest W. Michel (1923-2016), Survivor, Reporter, Teacher & Builder

For the Jackson List:

Of the hundreds of press corps reporters who covered the Nuremberg trial of the principal Nazi war criminals seventy years ago, only one, I believe, had been tattooed by the Nazis.

Ernst Wolfgang Michel, then only twenty-two years old, was an Auschwitz survivor.  On his arrival in that Nazi death camp in 1943, a guard had tattooed a number on Michel’s left forearm.

Three horrifying and miraculous years later, Michel covered the Nuremberg trial as a reporter for the Allied occupation-approved German news agency.  At his insistence, each story he wrote bore this byline:  “By Ernst Michel, DANA Staff Correspondent (Formerly prisoner No. 104995 at Auschwitz concentration camp).”

*          *          *

Ernst Michel was a German and Jew.

Born in Mannheim in 1923, he lived a happy, comfortable life there until Hitler came to power in 1933.  Michel’s father’s business soon was taken from him—“Aryanized”—for a token payment.  In 1937, Ernst, then in 7th grade, and all Jewish children were barred from public school by government edict.  That ended his schooling.  He went to work in nearby Bruchsal, as an apprentice in a cardboard factory.

On the night of November 9, 1938 (Kristallnacht), Ernst Michel, age fifteen, awakened to see the Bruchsal synagogue, torched by Nazi brownshirts, in flames.  Gestapo agents arrested his employer, a Jew, and seized his factory.  Returning to Mannheim, he found its synagogue destroyed, Nazis swarming the streets, his family’s apartment destroyed, his mother beaten, his father arrested…

In March 1939, Michel’s parents managed to send his younger sister to France.  She later was sheltered in Switzerland and then made it to Palestine—she lived.

In September 1939, the Gestapo arrested Ernst Michel.  He never saw his parents again.  He learned later that the Nazis deported them in spring 1940 to a concentration camp in southern France.  In August 1942, they were transported in cattle cars to Nazi-occupied Poland.  They were murdered on their arrivals at Auschwitz.

Between 1939 and 1945, Ernst Michel survived in Nazi forced labor and concentration camps, including near Berlin, Paderborn, Auschwitz, Birkenau, Buna, Buchenwald and Berga.  Some particulars:

  • In February 1943, Michel and hundreds of other prisoners were shipped by rail, in cattle cars, to Auschwitz-Birkenau.
  • On arrival, a Nazi officer asked Michel his age (which he inflated from nineteen to twenty).  The Nazi pointed Michel into a line to the right.  Trucks then took him and others to squalid barracks and forced labor.  He soon understood that prisoners who had been sorted to the left went directly to the gas chambers.
  • Michel was one of the slave laborers who worked to building the Buna synthetic rubber factory at Auschwitz-Monowitz.
  • In winter cold, with minimal food and beaten severely, he approached death.
  • In desperation, he went to a camp infirmary.  He got some treatment and volunteered to fill out (false) cause-of-death records that the Nazis insistently kept.  Because Michel improbably had some calligraphy skills, he was useful in that task and thus was spared harsher forms of labor.
  • During the next two years, Michel worked as an Auschwitz infirmary orderly.  He survived typhus and other disease.  He witnessed gruesome “experiments” that Dr. Josef Mengele and others performed on prisoners.  Michel carried thousands of bodies to storage, and to trucks which moved them to crematoria.
  • On January 18, 1945, as Soviet troops approached, Michel left Auschwitz after 674 days.  The Nazis marched him and thousands west, to Buchenwald.

In April 1945, as Allied forces closed in on the Third Reich, Ernst Michel and two friends, again on a forced march, escaped into the woods.  After more than five and one-half years as a Nazi prisoner, he was free.

Soon the Nazis surrendered and Michel was a displaced person.  He was restored to some health, mentored, and given the chance to become a journalist.

In late 1945 and into spring 1946, Ernst Michel was in Nuremberg, covering the trial.  He watched the U.S. chief prosecutor, Justice Robert H. Jackson, in action.  Michel met the Soviet chief prosecutor, General Roman Rudenko.  Indeed, Rudenko, learning that Michel had observed Dr. Mengele’s atrocities in Auschwitz, contemplated calling Michel as a trial witness but then explained, apologetically, that he could not—with only one exception, it was Soviet policy to call no trial witness who was a German, regardless of the person’s religion.

*          *          *

“Ernie” Michel, as he became to all who knew him, went on to live a long, energetic, constructive and generous “second life,” including—

  • During 1945 and 1946, Michel worked in Allied-occupied Germany with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (the JDC, or “the Joint”) to assist displaced persons (“DPs”).  Through Joint leaders, Michel learned of its broader history and work, and of the United Jewish Appeal (the UJA, which would become his career), and of a special quota for DPs to emigrate to the U.S.
  • In June 1946, Michel was among the first Jewish DPs to sail for the U.S.  He reached New York, then Chicago, and then (of all places) Port Huron, Michigan, where he got a newspaper job and began to give speeches about his experiences in Germany and during the war.
  • The UJA national office, raising funds for Jewish refugees and to establish a Jewish homeland in Palestine, soon recruited Michel to speak at appeal events around the country.
  • In 1948, Michel went to work for UJA in California.  He traveled throughout the west, speaking and fundraising.  (He also married and became, in time, a father of three children.)
  • In 1955, he visited Israel for the first time—and, for the first time since she had been smuggled out of Mannheim in 1939, he saw his sister, a fellow survivor and by then an Israeli, a kibbutznik and a mother.
  • In 1958, he moved to New York, joining UJA’s national staff.
  • In 1960, Michel was part of a small group that met in Washington, in the White House oval office, with President Eisenhower—once the supreme Allied commander who had liberated Europe and, Michel felt, himself.  This was the first time that Holocaust survivors were received at the White House.
  • In 1962, Michel returned to UJA work on the West Coast.
  • In 1967, he left UJA, working for the next three years in Paris and throughout Europe on behalf of the Joint.
  • Beginning in 1970, Michel returned to UJA for the rest of his career.  He was chief executive of New York UJA, and then in the leadership of the merged UJA-Federation of New York.  He was a tireless fundraiser for Jews and for Israel, working with government leaders and private individuals.
  • In 1981, he was instrumental in organizing the World Gathering of Holocaust Survivors, which brought 6,000 people and many of their descendants together in Jerusalem.
  • In 1983, forty years after his first arrival in Auschwitz, Michel led a UJA mission to that place (and then to Israel).
  • In 1988, he led UJA-Federation’s trip to West Germany to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Kristallnacht.  On that occasion, this delegation met in a private setting in Bonn with Richard von Weizsäcker, president of the Federal Republic of Germany (and son of Nazi criminal who had been convicted at Nuremberg).  Michel spoke of his German life and wartime suffering.  Von Weizsäcker listened carefully and then (as Michel later wrote about it) “spoke of his own feelings as a German, about the Nazi period and the fact that Germany would for all time, carry the stigma of those years.  [He r]ecogniz[ed] the suffering of the Jewish people at the hands of the Germans, the injustice and persecution, [and] assured [the] group that there would be no forgetting.”

*          *          *

And a small, personal note:  On May 5th in Poland, I was one of thousands who participated in the March of the Living from Auschwitz (Auschwitz I, the original camp) to Birkenau (Auschwitz II), where trains had delivered Ernst Michel and hundreds of thousands of other prisoners who then were sorted for immediate extermination or sent toward grim, overcrowded, filthy barracks for abuse, slave labor and for most, after not very long, death by starvation, work, disease, torture, hanging, shooting or gas.

In those sites of unimaginable horror, I thought of all victims and very specifically of Ernie Michel, the survivor whom I was lucky to have as a teacher and friend.

I knew then that Ernie, back in New York, was in failing health but at peace, no longer remembering the horrors of war and the suffering he had experienced and seen.  He died two days later.

Ernie Michel’s life, and what he did with all of it, was and is a great, lucky, stirring, inspiring victory.

*          *          *

Some links—

  • Ernest W. Michel’s 1993 autobiography is Promises to Keep:  One Man’s Journey Against Incredible Odds! Click here — this is a book to get, to read, and to keep.
  • Video of a 2002 interview, in which Ernest Michel described some of his experiences in Auschwitz, his April 1945 escape from Nazi custody during a death march, and as a reporter at the  Nuremberg trial – click here;
  • An Ernest Michel essay, on meeting Hermann Goering at Nuremberg in 1946, excerpted from a speech that Michel gave in Berlin on November 21, 2005 – click here;
  • Video of a 2007 Ernest Michel oral history – click here;
  • A 2010 New York Times profile of Ernest Michel – click here;
  • Video of Michael Stoler’s 2011 “BuildingNY” interview with Ernest Michel – click here; and
  • A May 2016 Jewish Telegraph Agency obituary – click here.

Michel_Ernest

—————–

This post was emailed to the Jackson List, a private but entirely non-selective email list that reaches many thousands of subscribers around the world.  I write to it periodically about Justice Robert H. Jackson, the Supreme Court, Nuremberg and related topics.  The Jackson List archive site is http://thejacksonlist.com/.  To subscribe, email me at barrettj@stjohns.edu.  Thank you for your interest, and for spreading the word.

Jackson List: March of the Living’s Nuremberg symposium, and the March

March of the Living, an annual international educational program, will host two notable events in Poland this week.

On Wednesday, May 4th, Jagiellonian University in Krakow will be the site of an international symposium, “The Double Entendre of Nuremberg:  The Nuremberg of Hate & the Nuremberg of Justice.”

  • This symposium will consider two “Nuremberg” events of historical, contemporary, and permanent significance:  Nazi Germany’s imposition, eighty years ago, of inhumane, vicious, anti-Semitic Nuremberg  Laws, and the international Nuremberg trial, during 1945-1946, seventy years ago, of the principal Nazi war criminals.
  • The symposium, presented by March of the Living International, the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights, and Jagiellonian University and co-chaired by Professors Irwin Cotler (Canada) and Alan Dershowitz (United States), will be a full-day program of expert speakers from around the world.
  • For full symposium program information, click here.

On Thursday, May 5th, which will be Holocaust Memorial Day (Yom HaShoah), thousands will march silently from Auschwitz to Birkenau, the largest Nazi concentration, slave labor, and extermination camp complex of World War II.  For more information on the March, click here.

I will be participating in and learning from each of these important events.  And I thank you for your interest.

—————–

This post was emailed to the Jackson List, a private but entirely non-selective email list that reaches many thousands of subscribers around the world.  I write to it periodically about Justice Robert H. Jackson, the Supreme Court, Nuremberg and related topics.  The Jackson List archive site is http://thejacksonlist.com/.  To subscribe, email me at barrettj@stjohns.edu.  Thank you for your interest, and for spreading the word.

Jackson List: Holidays & Memories

Thank you all, the past year’s many newcomers and all of the past years’ veterans.  I truly appreciate your interest in the Jackson List, your “forwards,” your recruitments of new subscribers, and your comments.

For your reading in this season, here are some previous Jackson List posts that relate to the holidays:

  • “Heartfelt Words, Good Will & Wishes True (1913) (click here)
  • “Christmas Cards from Nuremberg (November 1945)” (click here)
  • “Lighting the First Candle:  Holocaust Film and Chanukah at Nuremberg, 1945” (click here)
  • “Holiday Note, Chief to Staff (December 1945)” (click here)
  • “Jackson in the Holiday Season” (click here)
  • “Christmas Celebration, Nuremberg, 1945” (click here)
  • “Jackson on Holiday in Athens, December 22, 1945” (click here)
  • “Supreme Court at Christmastime (1951)” (click here)

These and many more posts are on the Jackson List archive site, which is word- and phrase-searchable:  http://thejacksonlist.com/.   (Thank you, Michael Zhang.)

Lindenstrasse Christmas party

*          *          *

On this date in 1945, Justice Jackson, as United States chief of counsel in Nuremberg, was one month into trial work before the International Military Tribunal (IMT), prosecuting the principal Nazi war criminals.

Last month, on the 70th anniversary of the trial’s commencement, I had the honor of participating in the City of Nuremberg’s commemoration event, held in Palace of Justice Courtroom 600, the trial site.  After delivering an introductory lecture, I moderated a conversation with three men who worked in the IMT trial process:

  • Yves Beigbeder, then an assistant to the French judge;
  • Father Moritz Fuchs, then the bodyguard of Justice Jackson; and
  • George Sakheim, then a U.S. interpreter and translator.

For streaming video of the event, click here.  After welcoming remarks (in German) from Nuremberg’s Lord Mayor and then the Vice President of the Nuremberg Higher Regional Court, my lecture (in English) begins at 16:45, followed by the group conversation (in English) beginning at 30:40.

The conversation was and is, thanks to these great men and their memories, quite wonderful and very powerful.  I encourage you, in a quiet time during your (I hope) holiday break, to view it.  It shines new light on the enduring importance of the international decision to conduct a Nuremberg trial as the decision makers and participants of 1945 and 1946 did; on the principles that they followed and advanced; on the evidentiary proof that they gathered and presented, for the case and for history; and on how all of that is a young, growing, hopeful part of our time and the years ahead.