Judgment at Nuremberg was far messier than the public suspected at the time, according to this American prosecutor’s pungent view of the controversial trial.
In his last two decades, Thomas J. Dodd (1907–1971) represented Connecticut in Congress and the Senate. Yet for all his success, he correctly guessed, toward the end of a year trying Nazi war criminals, that he would “never do anything as worthwhile again.” Indeed, he was defeated in his Senate re-election bid in 1970, after censure by colleagues for misusing campaign funds—a loss that, his family believes, contributed to a fatal heart attack a year later. Son Christopher—now himself a senator and currently a Democratic candidate for president—hopes with this book to restore luster to this tarnished reputation. And well he might: In more than 300 letters written almost daily to wife Grace—rediscovered years after their deaths in the basement of daughter Martha—Thomas Dodd produced not only one of the first contemporaneous accounts by a major figure at the tribunal, but one that usually shows him at his best. The most vivid letters recount Dodd’s debriefing sessions with former Nazi ringleaders (Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop “looked like a Bowery character to me.”) Frustrated by the “maelstrom of incompetence” created by military lawyers, the civilian Dodd was ready to quit when the chief American prosecutor, Associate Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson, asked him to become second in command. Though Dodd learned to balance Jackson’s lackluster management and cross-examination skills against the justice’s integrity and eloquence, he railed against trial judge Francis Biddle for “doing the Nazi handiwork now.” This correspondence gives a man in full, brimming with intelligence, peevishness over slights from his state’s Democratic power brokers, exhaustion, bulldog tenacity and, above all, love for the wife he called “my inspiration and my consolation.”
Best read with Telford Taylor’s memoir The Anatomy of the Nuremberg Trials (1993)—or, better yet, Joseph E. Persico’s Nuremberg: Infamy on Trial (1994)—but a timely reminder that the rule of law, not vengeance, must apply, no matter how heinous the crime. See also Norbert Ehrenfreund’s impassioned work, The Nuremberg Legacy: How the Nazi War Crime Trials Changed the Course of History (2007).