Read The Nuremberg Interviews Online

Authors: Leon Goldensohn

The Nuremberg Interviews



An American Psychiatrist’s Conversations
with the Defendants and Witnesses

Dr. Leon Goldensohn was an American physician and psychiatrist who joined the U.S. Army in 1943 and was posted to France and Germany. He died in 1961.

Robert Gellately is the Earl Ray Beck Professor of History at Florida State University and the author of
The Gestapo and German Society: Enforcing Racial Policy, 1933–1945
Backing Hitler: Consent and Coercion in Nazi Germany
. He lives in Tallahassee, Florida.


Interviews copyright © 2004 by The Estate of Leon N. Goldensohn
Introduction copyright © 2004 by Robert Gellately

All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Vintage Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto. Originally published in hardcover in the United States by Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, in 2004.

Vintage and colophon are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.

The Library of Congress has cataloged the Knopf edition as follows:
Goldensohn, Leon.
The Nuremberg interviews / conducted by Leon Goldensohn; edited and introduced by Robert Gellately.
p. cm.
1. Nuremberg Trial of Major German War Criminals, Nuremberg, Germany, 1945–1946. 2. War criminals — Germany — Nuremberg — Interviews. 3. Witnesses — Germany — Nuremberg — Interviews. I. Gellately, Robert, 1943–. II. Title.
KZ1176.G65 2004

Vintage ISBN-10: 1-4000-3043-9

Vintage ISBN-13: 978-1-4000-3043-9

eBook ISBN: 978-0-307-42910-0


Nuremberg—Voices from the Past

Leon Goldensohn was an American physician and psychiatrist at the time the United States entered the Second World War. In 1943 he joined the U.S. Army and was soon posted to France and Germany, where he served in battles in the European theater. Not long after the war ended, he became prison psychiatrist at Nuremberg, the location of the first postwar trials of the major Nazi war criminals. Goldensohn arrived in Nuremberg in early January 1946, about six weeks into the trials, and remained there until late July of that year. As a trained psychiatrist he had responsibility for the mental health of the nearly two dozen German leaders who had survived the war and who were now fighting for their lives before the International Military Tribunal. As a medical doctor who saw the prisoners nearly every day, he also kept careful track of their physical problems. Over a period of seven months in Nuremberg prison he spoke on a regular basis with many of the twenty-one prisoners who were there when he arrived, and he carried out formal and extended interviews with most of them. In addition, he interviewed a large number of defense and prosecution witnesses, some of whom had also been significant Nazi officials.

This book publishes for the first time a broad selection of the interviews Goldensohn conducted during his time in Nuremberg. They represent an important addition to the record of the trials and of the Third Reich. They are unique in that they are systematic interviews conducted by a trained psychiatrist, and they offer new testimony about the mentality and motives of the major Nazi perpetrators.

Background to the Nuremberg Trials

The Nuremberg trials came into existence out of a multitude of political and judicial concerns, but are seen by many today as a landmark in international law. They were by no means inevitable, however, and might
never have taken place. During the war, as Allied leaders learned about the vast scale of the Nazi atrocities, President Franklin D. Roosevelt of the United States, Prime Minister Winston S. Churchill of Great Britain, and General Secretary Joseph Stalin of the Soviet Union at one time or another all considered summary execution as the more appropriate response to Nazi crimes.

The concept of the trials was apparently first suggested by Soviet foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov as far back as October 14, 1942. On that date Molotov wrote to several East European governments in exile in London about Moscow’s inclination to try the most prominent leaders of “the criminal Hitlerite government” before a “special international tribunal.”
Moscow was evidently upset that Britain was not willing to try Rudolf Hess, Hitler’s deputy, who had flown to Scotland in May 1941, and the Soviets harbored fears that their allies might even conclude some kind of deal with Germany. For their part, the western Allies gave little thought to postwar trials, but continued to lean toward some kind of summary execution. Their immediate priority was winning the war.

Nevertheless, on November 1, 1943, all three Allies finally issued a joint statement about what should happen to the war criminals, in the so-called Moscow Declaration. It stated several general principles. For example, the declaration laid down that those who had committed crimes would be returned to the localities where these had taken place and be “judged on the spot.” Trial and punishment would follow the laws of the land in each locality. There would be different treatment for the major war criminals, however, whose crimes were seen as not restricted to any particular geographic area. The Moscow Declaration left up in the air precisely what ought to happen to these men and did not say whether there would be a trial or summary execution.

Churchill’s own views were far from benign. He thought, as he said behind closed doors of a cabinet meeting on November 10, 1943 — just prior to the Tehran Conference — that there was some point to drawing up a short list of specific war criminals. He was inclined to believe that dealing with this group summarily might shorten the war insofar as the named individuals would become isolated figures in their own country. This strategy required that the Allies avoid the entanglements of legal procedures, and Churchill himself favored a list of perhaps fifty to one hundred or so Nazi leaders. Once the list was reviewed by some sort of
international committee of jurists, these men would be declared “outlaws” and thus fair game for anyone who wished to kill them. For Churchill, if there was to be anything like a trial for the major war criminals, its job would be to verify the identity of these “outlaws.”

One of the most remarkable exchanges on the topic of summary executions took place at a Roosevelt-Churchill-Stalin meeting during the Tehran Conference (November 28–December 1, 1943). Over dinner on November 29, Stalin suggested in passing that if at the end of the war about fifty thousand leaders of the German armed forces were rounded up and liquidated, then Germany’s military might would be ended once and for all.
Churchill was taken aback by the scale of the liquidations envisioned by Stalin. He said simply that the British Parliament and public would never accept such mass executions. But Roosevelt responded to Stalin more warmly, and when Churchill became upset (or so Churchill recalled), FDR said that the Allies should execute not fifty thousand, but “only 49,000.” Elliott Roosevelt, the president’s son, who happened to be present, chimed in to say he was sure the United States Army “would support it.”

The drift of this conversation bothered Churchill so much that he left the room, but he was chased down by a jovial Stalin, who said that he was, of course, only joking. If we look at the evidence of later discussions, however, and consider that Stalin had already instigated the liquidation of thousands of his own people and even many in the Soviet officer corps, there is reason to believe that had Churchill been in agreement that evening, an important decision might have been taken. Whether this step would have culminated in a large number of executions remains open to speculation and debate. Certainly, Churchill had his doubts that Stalin and Roosevelt were just pulling his leg on the evening in Tehran. Although he let himself be persuaded by Stalin to return to dinner, he was not “fully convinced that all was chaff and there was no serious intent lurking behind.”

Inside the government of the United States there was deep division about what should be done about Nazi war crimes. One of the most powerful voices in favor of executions over a trial of any kind was articulated on September 5, 1944, when Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau Jr. proposed a plan that would have permanently crippled Germany. In the context of that plan he wanted Nazi leaders summarily executed, and on a scale that looked closer to what Stalin had mentioned
at Tehran, and not the more “modest” one that Churchill had in mind. U.S. secretary of war Henry L. Stimson, fortunately, offered a voice of reason on the American side.

The seventy-six-year-old Stimson would not accept the notion that Germany’s economy should be deindustrialized or destroyed, supposedly in order to save the world from another war, and he was also completely opposed to Morgenthau’s approach to war criminals. Stimson insisted, to the contrary, on the need for due process, which had to embody “the rudimentary aspects of the Bill of Rights.” In a memorandum of September 9, 1944, he sagely noted that it was not a matter of being hard or soft on Germany, but of adopting an appropriate method for dealing with the Nazi criminals. The approach had to be a product of “careful thought and well-defined procedure.” He believed the United States should participate in some kind of international tribunal, one that would charge the main Nazi officials with offenses against “the laws of the Rules of War in that they committed wanton and unnecessary cruelties in connection with the prosecution of the war.” He noted that these rules had been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court and ought to be “the basis of judicial action against the Nazis.”

Roosevelt, however, much to Stimson’s consternation, continued to side with Morgenthau — who was also a personal friend — and the position of summary execution, without trial, by the military. Indeed, in the wake of the Quebec Conference (August 11–24, 1944), Roosevelt and Churchill issued a statement that said a judicial process was inappropriate for “arch-criminals such as Hitler, Himmler, Goering, and Goebbels.” As they put it, “Apart from the formidable difficulties of constituting the Court, formulating the charge, and assembling the evidence, the question of [the Nazi leaders’] fate is a political and not a judicial one. It could not rest with judges however eminent or learned to decide finally a matter like this, which is of the widest and most vital public policy. This decision must be ‘the joint decision of the Governments of the Allies.’ This in fact was expressed in the Moscow declaration.”

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