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The Two Nuernbergs | The Nation

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The Two Nuernbergs

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Twenty very little men are defendants in a very big trial.

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Nürnberg, November 21 (by cable)

There are two Nürnbergs in this town, enshrouded in wintry mists and drizzling rain: one, all but forgotten by the world, is a stark, fearful reality to the citizens, who gaze on it with uncomprehending eyes; the other, now in the world's limelight, means little or nothing to the people. There is more than outward significance in the fact that two miles separate the medieval walled city, reduced to a heap of rubble by Allied air attacks, from the vast, rambling courthouse on the outskirts of the town, where under the majestic flags of four victorious powers the Allied Military Tribunal now hears an overwhelming array of evidence against twenty Nazi criminals. To one who visits both, their distance apart seems not only a matter of miles but of centuries; the difference is that of two of the world's ages. Indeed, looking down from the press gallery on Julius Streicher, square-jawed, short, bald-headed, and insignificant, resembling a suburban grocer, one finds it hard to believe that this is the man who only a short while ago ruled this town with a riding whip in his hand and a revolver in his belt and who reduced ancient and populous Jewish communities to a few pitiful souls now cared for, oddly enough, by the friendly Dr. Nurnberger. Here side by side are the beginning and the end of the story. The overcrowded tram cars which take one from the old town to the courthouse seem to rumble purposelessly through a strange, oppressive historical vacuum.

The old town lies quiet, as if it had died a hundred years ago, seemingly forgetful of its former splendor, no longer caring what flattened it to ash and rubble. I have seen most of the destroyed cities of Germany, and Nürnberg is different from all the others. I shall never forget my first view of it as I wandered through its abandoned ruins on a cold, only occasionally sunlit Sunday morning. This town breathed history while it lived, and it still manages fleetingly to suggest--in an occasional wondrous flash--the fact of its antiquity. It is perhaps a callous thing to say, but there is charm and even beauty in its ravaged face. Destroyed Nürnberg somehow isn't hideous, like other bombed cities; one doesn't associate its death with the war. It looks like a medieval walled town razed by a gigantic catastrophe, a great fire or an earthquake.

Against the immeasurable agony they caused, the twenty shabby men who sit on hard wooden benches in the courthouse facing the eight just men of the tribunal seem almost out of proportion. (They face also in the press gallery old "friends" like Shirer, Howard Smith, Louis Lochner, and Fred Oechsner, whom Göring and Ribbentrop recognized with an uncomfortable look.) Clearly, they do not measure up to the tremendous significance of the trial. One can't help feeling one would have liked to see bigger men--bigger in every sense--answer for the calamity which will be unfolded by the evidence laid before the tribunal. These are very little men, and that is perhaps what makes their conspiracy the outrageous thing it was.

Hitler, of course, isn't there. Those who are there are a ragged, spiritless, motley crew of second-rate characters. The light, if ever it shone in them, has certainly gone out. What was that light? Was it Hitler? Something undoubtedly held the group together. What the trial would have been like if Hitler had been taken alive it is difficult to imagine. In trying twenty of his closest friends and associates is the tribunal also trying him? It doesn't seem so. He seems far removed from it all. One can't help feeling that in a way the tribunal is trying the bulb and not the light, an empty cartridge and not the explosive that fired it. But the course of the trial may change that impression. It may or may not place Hitler finally in history, reveal him as he really was.

Looking at them now in the harsh glare of big searchlight lamps suspended from the ceiling, one perceives not even the dull reflection of his dynamism in the faces of these gray, tired, uninspired men. On the first day, when the long indictment was read, they apparently took things rather easily. They chatted, smiled, exchanged supercilious and facetious looks. On the second day, which began with the tribunal's rejection of an absurd and impertinent motion offered by defense counsel and ended with Jackson's hard-hitting, closely argued, and masterfully delivered address, their faces grew long and serious. But even in their littleness they are not a homogeneous group. Frick sits in the dock like a dismissed school teacher. Funk suggests a traveling salesman fallen on hard times. Schacht is clearly in a class by himself. He keeps a demonstrative distance from the others, sitting stiffly in a corner as if to indicate he is there by mistake and if the court doesn't realize that, so much the worse for the court. Papen and Neurath, white-haired and bronzed, evidently conceive of themselves as the gentlemen of the party; Seyss-Inquart, looking the second-rate suburban lawyer that he was, obviously isn't admitted to their select circle. Doenitz and Raeder, the two admirals, look like a couple of discharged street-car conductors on the dole--one can't believe that these two miserable tramps knew the first thing about naval strategy. Ribbentrop, Hess, and Göring sit together, both Ribbentrop and Göring apparently take a friendly interest in the haggard, hollow-eyed erstwhile Deputy Fuhrer, who most of the time has his arms crossed squarely over his chest, as one remembers him sitting in the front row of the big party rallies. Hess makes the utterly lonely and God-forsaken impression of a complete cipher, but the prison psychiatrist says he is intelligent, alert, and logical in conversation. One wouldn't be surprised suddenly to find he was dead and nobody had noticed it. The once flashing Ribbentrop has aged considerably, he looks frail, his hair is thin and gray; he has a loose stooping gait which accentuates his rundown appearance.

It is Göring, in a strange light-gray uniform with shining brass buttons that looks like a cinema usher's coat, who is the star of the performance. He has the star's seat at the beginning of the front row, where he is clearly visible from all sides--except when an American guard plants himself in front of him and stares him intently in the face; this does not bother Göring at all--he stares back interestedly at the soldier's uniform. He is composed, sure of himself, behaves as if he were at home. Yet he is never supercilious or facetious like, for instance, Frank, who is far and away the unpleasantest of the lot. Göring follows the proceedings intently. To him the trial obviously isn't a good proposition, but he seems determined to see what he can make of it through civility, manners, and adult behavior. Judge Lawrence's sharp rebuff on the second day, when he tried to read the statement instead of answering guilty or not guilty, did not upset him. If given a chance, he will try again.

Wandering back to the dark, dead town at the close of the session, one still finds it hard to convince oneself of the reality of the whole affair. But it is true. Twenty little wretches who mean nothing and terrify nobody are sifting in the dock. This is the last installment of a serial that has run twelve years too long.

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