This post now is on the Jackson List archive site in “book look” PDF file form. It includes direct links to other “First Monday” Jackson List posts.
This post, including images of Justice Felix Frankfurter’s September 19, 1945, three-page handwritten letter to new Justice Harold H. Burton, now is on the Jackson List archive site in “book look” PDF file form.
This post, with an August 8, 1945, photograph of Lord Chancellor Jowitt, Justice Jackson and Judge Falco signing the London Agreement, now is on the Jackson List archive site in “book look” PDF file form.
This post, with a July 21, 1945, photograph of Justice Jackson and his travel party arriving at an airfield near Nuremberg, now is on the Jackson List archive site in “book look” PDF file form.
In late May 1945, Justice Robert H. Jackson and his fellow justices were nearing the conclusion of their Supreme Court term. They had finished hearing oral arguments in new cases and were writing, editing and handing down opinions. On Monday, May 21st, for example, Jackson announced three opinions for the Court—“the last of [his] crop,” as he described it, of Court opinions for the term.
Justice Jackson at that time also was four weeks into his assignment, from President Truman, to serve as United States chief of counsel in the international trial of now-surrendered Nazis whom the Allies regarded as war criminals. He continued to do Supreme Court work as he needed to, but since late April his “Nazi prosecutor” job was his priority and filled most of his time.
On Thursday, May 22nd, Jackson left Washington to make a preliminary survey of the situation in Europe. He took off from Washington that afternoon and, after airplane refueling stops in Newfoundland and the Azores, he arrived in Paris just after 1:00 a.m. local time on May 24th.
General Edward C. Betts, United States Army Judge Advocate of the European theatre, met Justice Jackson at the Paris airfield. He decided, after conferring quickly in the officers’ lounge there with Gen. Betts and other senior U.S. officials, to stay for a day or two in Paris, working on the Paris-based needs of the case before travelling to consultations in London. The Army then drove Jackson to the Ritz, where he stayed in “a suite big enough and grand enough for a royal family” and got five or six hours of sleep.
Jackson’s May 24th day was filled with high level consultations. He first met with Gen. Betts at his office. His secretary, a British “Wren” (a Women’s Royal Naval Service officer), became Jackson’s, helping him make appointments. A senior aide to General Lucius Clay, the Director of the Military Government of Germany, came from its Versailles headquarters to meet Jackson. They went to the airport and met Jackson’s deputy, General William J. Donovan of the Office of Strategic Services. (At the airport, Jackson also ran into and spoke briefly with his Washington friends and colleagues Harry Hopkins, Averell Harriman and Robert Lovett.) Jackson then had a lunch meeting with Donovan and OSS staff back at the Ritz. During the afternoon, Jackson had more meetings with Betts and others at his office. At 4:00 p.m., Jackson met with Jefferson Caffrey, the U.S. Ambassador to France. At 5:00, Jackson drove out to Versailles and had a long meeting with Gen. Clay. At 7:30, Jackson returned to Paris and was introduced to U.S. Army Major Lawrence A. Coleman, a young lawyer who had been assigned to serve as Jackson’s military aide; they reviewed local messages and Washington cables for Jackson.
Following dinner at the Ritz, Jackson took a long walk with Col. John Harlan Amen of his staff. Paris was moonlit but otherwise poorly lighted. They saw few people out. Burned tanks and vehicles lined roadsides. Barbed wire and former Nazi pillboxes were everywhere. Luxury shops appeared well-stocked. Stores for ordinary customers seemed to have no stock.
On Friday morning, May 25th—seventy years ago yesterday—Jackson returned to Gen. Betts’s office. He reported that the Supreme Allied Commander, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, was in Paris. Jackson telephoned and Eisenhower invited him and Betts to meet with Eisenhower at his room at the Hotel Raphael.
Although Jackson and Eisenhower had each lived at various times in Washington, D.C.’s Wardman Park apartment building, they had never met. At the Raphael, Eisenhower greeted Jackson cordially. Eisenhower explained that he was there to get a day’s rest.
They discussed Jackson’s presidential assignment to prosecute war criminals. Eisenhower said he did not support shooting anybody without a trial and hoped that trials would not take long. Jackson explained his preliminary plan to prosecute the Gestapo as a criminal organization, and then to prosecute Gestapo members for the crime of belonging to that organization. Eisenhower stated his support—he said he had seen so much that in his eyes “any bastard who belonged to that outfit is guilty”.
Jackson asked Eisenhower where the principal Nazi prisoners—the prospective defendants—were being held. Betts injected that he was asking the War Department for authority to keep them in jail rather than in prisoner of war camps. Eisenhower said not to bother Washington—simply put the suspected criminals in jail on his responsibility.
Eisenhower stated his full authorization for any war criminal trials, pledging the Army’s full cooperation. He told Betts to get more men if they were needed.
Jackson, in a later diary note, wrote his initial impression of Eisenhower: “He is practical, decently profane, and a most impressive leader.”
This post, with photos of President Truman, Judge Rosenman and Justice Jackson, now is on the Jackson List archive site in “book look” PDF file form.
When Francis Biddle became a senior U.S. Department of Justice official (first Solicitor General, then Attorney General) in the 1940s, he “ordered” top lawyers to start keeping diaries. He explained that diary-keeping would improve performance—having personal records would help everyone “later” when they needed to revisit topics and remember accurately, in detail, what things had happened, how and why. (Biddle also had an artistic, literary temperament and a strong sense of history; I suspect that he advocated writing not just for its value to management, but also because engaging in the writing craft can bring pleasure to the writer, and because writing lasts.)
Warner W. Gardner, a leading, great federal government lawyer in the 1930s and 1940s, including in Biddle’s DOJ, told me of Biddle’s edict. In his old age, Gardner—himself a great writer of briefs, articles, and a superb memoir—lamented that he never complied very well with the order to keep a diary. He wished he had, but he said that he just never had time and never developed the habit of making the time. He made some notes now and then, but in hindsight he found them much too spare.
As Gardner realized, Biddle was right. Days, moments, people, events and words fly by, and often a “later” comes, in places ranging from the workplace to private reflection, when memory is less than a person wants to have. And of course history loses everyone in the end. It needs—in the arresting title of Gardner’s memoir—“pebbles from the paths behind.” (One chapter of Gardner’s memoir is here, and here is an oral history he gave to the Truman presidential library.)
This all comes to mind as I work with 1945-1946 Nuremberg trial documents and personal records. I’m grateful for every word that “Nurembergers,” including Francis Biddle (who, after his stint as Attorney General, served as U.S. judge there) and of course Robert Jackson, made time to jot amidst their hard post-war work and living conditions. Such words have solidity and power that memory can’t match. They permit historians (me and many others) to do their work, and to do it better than they could otherwise. Contemporaneous words—and specifically the ones that, on assessment, seem reliable—help me to figure out things about Nuremberg such as who really did, saw and said what, how people thought day by day about what they were doing there, and whose later memory is trustworthy and whose is faulty.
This also comes to mind as I read about newsman Brian Williams’s misstatements about what he saw and experienced as a reporter visiting Iraq and the war in 2003.
If some experience or thought might matter, and also for the pleasure, and also for history, try to make time to make some notes.