Portrait of former SS General Ernst Rode, a witness for the SS at the IMT Nuremberg commission hearings investigating indicted Nazi organizations.
- Gerald (Gerd) Schwab
- Variant Locale
- Photo Designation
PURSUIT OF JUSTICE -- Nuremberg Trial (IMT Nazi Organization Hearings)
- Photo Credit
- United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Gerald (Gerd) Schwab
Portrait of former SS General Ernst Rode, a witness for the SS at the IMT Nuremberg commission hearings investigating indicted Nazi organizations.
Ernst Rode was an SS Brigadefuehrer and Generalmajor of the police who served as the chief of the command staff of Reichsfuehrer-SS Heinrich Himmler from 1943 to 1945.
- Event History
- The International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg indicted several Nazi groups and organizations which it declared to be criminal, in addition to the 21 individual leaders of the Third Reich that appeared in the defendants dock. These organizations included the Reich Cabinet, the Leadership Corps of the Nazi Party, the Elite Guard (SS), the Security Service (SD,) the Secret State Police (Gestapo), the Stormtroopers (SA), and the General Staff and High Command of the German Armed Forces.
The idea behind this novel and controversial proposal was the desire to deal with two problems: (a) finding a legal basis for punishing German crimes committed before the war, and (b) developing a procedure for dealing with the hundreds of thousands of members of the SS and other Nazi organizations implicated in German atrocities. The prosecutors felt that in these organizations there were so many war criminals that individual trials were impossible and that the perpetrators could only be punished on the basis of their proven membership in a criminal organization.
The tribunal, in accordance with its charter, ordered that notices of the impending trials be disseminated throughout Germany. Announcements were published in the German press, broadcast over the radio and posted in internment and POW camps where many of those affected were being held. The response to the trial notices was overwhelming. The deluge of letters, affidavits and applications to be heard in support of the Nazi organizations presented the tribunal with staggering logistical problems. In response, the judges on March 12, 1946 announced their decision to appoint a commissioner charged with the responsibility of reviewing the submissions and hearing witnesses. He was to report to the tribunal the results of his examinations. The judges also gave permission to defense counsel to visit the camps to select witnesses to testify about the accused organizations.
Lt. Col. Airey Neave, a highly decorated British officer, was named commissioner. On May 20, 1946 he began to hear witnesses, but quickly found that there were too many for him to cope with alone. As a result, several assistant commissioners, one each from the US, the USSR and France, were appointed. Over the life of the commission (May 20-August 12, 1946), 101 witnesses were heard in person and hundreds of thousands of affidavits, submitted on behalf of the various Nazi organizations, were reviewed.
The hearings were held in a large room at the Nuremberg courthouse that was dominated by an elevated platform, where the commissioner or his assistant sat. Next to him was the court reporter. In front and to the left of the court reporter were the representatives of the prosecution and defense, and on the right, at the front was the witness. Commission sessions usually lasted about three hours and were held in the morning and again in the afternoon. The single interpreter, who sat to the right and in front of the commissioner, was responsible for the consecutive interpretation from English to German and from German to English, the only two languages used in the proceedings. (The Russian prosecutor was usually accompanied by his personal interpreter.) A second interpreter (who was expected to relieve the one on duty at the break), usually sat behind the interpreter on duty. (There were a total of three interpreters, working two days on and one day off.) In the rear of the room were seats for perhaps twenty visitors.
Examination of the witnesses was handled by lawyers designated to defend the organizations or, on occasion, by the lawyers of the individual defendants before the tribunal. Cross examination was generally handled by Robert Kempner, one of the American assistant prosecutors and Mervyn Griffith-Jones of the UK, and less frequently by Col. Yuri Pokrovsky of the USSR and Henri Monneray of France. The witnesses heard by the commission ranged from the top to the bottom of the hierarchical ladder, from Gauleiter, deputy minister and field marshal to local officials. Among the more prominent witnesses were: Dr. Helmut Knochen, head of the SD in France; Dieter Wilisceny, deputy to Adolf Eichmann, SS; Dr. Franz Schlegelberger, State Secretary/Deputy Minister of Justice; Walter Schellenberg, Chief, SS Foreign Intelligence; and General Field Marshalls Gerd von Rundstedt and Wilhelm Ritter von Leeb.
After receiving the six reports submitted by the commission, the tribunal issued its judgement on September 30 and October 1, 1946. While the leadership corps of the Nazi Party, the Gestapo, SD and the SS were all found guilty, the SA, Reich Cabinet and General Staff and the High Command were found not guilty.
[Source, Schwab, Gerald, "The Trial of Nazi Organizations as Part of the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal," (unpublished article, June 14, 2002)].
The International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg opened in the fall of 1945, but by the winter of 1942, the governments of the Allied powers had already announced their determination to punish Nazi war criminals. On December 17, 1942, the leaders of the United States, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union issued the first joint declaration officially noting the mass murder of European Jewry and resolving to prosecute those responsible for violence against civilian populations. Though some political leaders advocated for summary executions instead of trials, eventually the Allies decided to hold an International Military Tribunal so that, in the words of Cordell Hall, "a condemnation after such a proceeding will meet the judgment of history, so that the Germans will not be able to claim that an admission of war guilt was extracted from them under duress." The October 1943 Moscow Declaration, signed by U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and Soviet leader Josef Stalin, stated that at the time of an armistice persons deemed responsible for war crimes would be sent back to those countries in which the crimes had been committed and adjudged according to the laws of the nation concerned. Major war criminals, whose crimes could be assigned no particular geographic location, would be punished by joint decisions of the Allied governments.
The trials of leading German officials before the International Military Tribunal (IMT), the best known of the postwar war crimes trials, formally opened in Nuremberg on November 20, 1945, only six and a half months after Germany surrendered. Each of the four Allied nations -- the United States, Britain, the Soviet Union, and France -- supplied a judge and a prosecution team. Lord Justice Geoffrey Lawrence of Great Britain served as the court's presiding judge. The trial's rules were the result of delicate reconciliations of the Continental and Anglo-American judicial systems. A team of translators provided simultaneous translations of all proceedings in four languages: English, French, German, and Russian. After much debate, 24 defendants were selected to represent a cross-section of Nazi diplomatic, economic, political, and military leadership. Adolf Hitler, Heinrich Himmler, and Joseph Goebbels never stood trial,having committed suicide before the end of the war. The IMT decided not to try them posthumously so as not to create an impression that they might still be alive. In fact, only 21 defendants appeared in court. German industrialist Gustav Krupp was included in the original indictment, but he was elderly and in failing health, and it was decided in preliminary hearings to exclude him from the proceedings. Nazi Party secretary Martin Bormann was tried and convicted in absentia, and Robert Ley committed suicide on the eve of the trial.
The IMT indicted the defendants on charges of crimes against peace, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. The IMT defined crimes against humanity as "murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation...or persecutions on political, racial, or religious grounds." A fourth charge of conspiracy was added both to cover crimes committed under domestic Nazi law before the start of World War II and so that subsequent tribunals would have jurisdiction to prosecute any individual belonging to a proven criminal organization. Therefore the IMT also indicted several Nazi organizations deemed to be criminal, namely the Reich Cabinet, the Leadership Corps of the Nazi Party, the Elite Guard (SS), the Security Service (SD), the Secret State Police (Gestapo), the Stormtroopers (SA), and the General Staff and High Command of the German Armed Forces.
The defendants were entitled to a legal counsel of their choosing. Over 400 visitors attended the proceedings each day, as well as 325 correspondents representing 23 different countries. American chief prosecutor Robert Jackson decided to argue his case primarily on the basis of mounds of documents written by the Nazis themselves rather than eyewitness testimony so that the trial could not be accused of relying on biased or tainted testimony. Testimony presented at Nuremberg revealed much of what we know about the Holocaust including the details of the Auschwitz death machinery, the destruction of the Warsaw ghetto, and the estimate of six million Jewish victims.
The judges delivered their verdict on October 1, 1946. Agreement among three out of four judges was needed for conviction. Twelve defendants were sentenced to death, among them Joachim von Ribbentrop, Hans Frank, Alfred Rosenberg, and Julius Streicher. They were hanged, cremated in Dachau, and their ashes were dropped in the Isar River. Hermann Goering escaped the hangman's noose by committing suicide the night before. The IMT sentenced three defendants to life imprisonment and four to prison terms ranging from 10 to 20 years. It acquitted three of the defendants.
- Gerd (now Gerald) Abraham Schwab is the son of David and Paula (Kleefeld) Schwab. He was born February 19, 1925 in Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany, where his father owned an international plumbing supply company with a branch in Basel, Switzerland. Gerd had one sibling, Margot (b. 1920). The Schwabs were somewhat observant Jews who attended synagogue on holidays and held a Bar Mitzvah for their son in 1938. Until 1933, Gerd attended the local Volksschule [primary school] in Freiburg. In April or May of that year, following Hitler’s rise to power and the economic boycott of Jewish businesses, the Schwabs left Germany for Switzerland. They hoped to settle in Basel near their business, but the Swiss authorities would not permit them to remain for more than a brief period. The family therefore moved to St. Louis, a town just over the French border from Basel. For the next two years Gerd’s father commuted to his company in Basel on a daily basis. In 1935, however, the French implemented a new measure stipulating that refugees could no longer reside within 100 km. of the border with Germany. Realizing that if they were to move inland they would have to abandon the company in Basel, Gerd’s parents decided to move back to Germany. They settled in the town of Loerrach, which was just over the German border from Basel, and continued to run the business. Sometime in 1937 or 1938, however, the Nazi government revoked David Schwab’s permit to travel to Switzerland. At this time the Schwabs began the process of liquidating the business and applying for American visas. With the help of a relative in the U.S., the Schwabs received an affadavit and were put on a waiting list of would-be immigrants. After the Kristallnacht pogrom of November 9-10, 1938 and Gerd’s subsequent dismissal from school, the Schwabs focused all their energy on emigration. Gerd’s mother heard about a Swiss organization willing to sponsor refugee children to live in Switzerland. She submitted an application, and Gerd became one of only 300 Jewish children to be selected for the program. Gerd’s sister was not living with the family by this time. Shortly before the Schwabs moved back to Germany, she went to live at a French boarding school in Remiermont. A few years later she was able to immigrate to the U.S. Gerd left for Switzerland in March or April of 1939. He stayed first on a small family farm in Moenchaltdorf and later moved to Huetten ob Waedenswil, where he lived in the home of a florist, who was probably an adherent of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. In the spring of 1940, Gerd received word from his parents that their visas had come through and were ready to be picked up in Stuttgart. Gerd rejoined his parents in Germany, and the three secured their visas on May 10, 1940, the day Germany invaded Belgium and Holland. Barred from leaving Germany through the Low Countries, Gerd’s father applied for a transit visa at the Italian consulate. A well placed gift secured the visas, and they proceeded to Genoa. There they boarded the SS Washington bound for New York. After a period of transition, the Schwabs purchased a poultry farm in Cranberry, N.J. In May 1944 at the age of 19, Gerd was drafted into the U.S. Army. He joined the 10th Mountain Division and was sent to Italy in October of that year. At the end of the war he was transferred to an intelligence unit and assigned to the U.S. Detailed Interrogation Center (USDIC). At this facility, where high level German captives were being interrogated prior to being sent to trial, Gerd worked as a translator and interpreter. He remained at the USDIC until May 1946 when he was discharged from the army. Immediately thereafter, Gerd went to work for the International Military Tribunal (IMT) in Nuremberg. There he served as a translator and interpreter for the commission hearing evidence on the seven Nazi organizations that were under indictment by the IMT. In particular, he was involved in hearings about the German High Command and General Staff of the Wehrmacht. Gerd remained in Nuremberg until the day the IMT defendants were executed. He then moved to Berlin where he worked for the U.S. Chief of Consul responsible for trying the Subsequent Nuremberg Proceedings. Assigned the position of junior research analyst, Gerd sifted through the collection of Nazi files stored at Tempelhof airport and made abstracts of relevant documents for specific cases. His research focused on material for the Justice Trial. In May 1947 Gerd decided to return to the U.S. to pursue his higher education. He studied political science at the University of Chicago and Stanford before launching a career in the American foreign service. He was married on December 25, 1949 to Ingeborg (now Joan) Nussbaum, a German Jew from Berlin who had escaped from Germany on a Kindertransport to Great Britain shortly before the war. Both of her parents perished in the Holocaust.
- Photo Source
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
Copyright: United States Holocaust Memorial MuseumProvenance: Gerald (Gerd) Schwab
Record last modified: 2002-10-31 00:00:00
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