By Shmuel Rosner– Chief U.S. Correspondent, www.Haaretz.com
(written in 2007 when Letters From Nuremberg was first published)
There are too many Jews around here, thought the prosecutor, Thomas Dodd. “Col. Kaplan is now here, as a mate I assume for Commander Kaplan. Dr. Newman has arrived… it is all a silly business.” In the prosecution team of the Nuremberg trials, in which Nazi high officials are indicted, there is no need for such number of Jews, that’s what Dodd was thinking. “One would expect that some of these people would have sense enough to put an end to this kind of parade.”
“Grace, my dearest one,” thus Dodd opens many of his letters from those stormy days to his wife. They are very personal, and let the reader peep into the nature of relationships between Thomas and Grace. But these letters also constitute a fascinating historical documentation of the many back stage events of the Nuremberg trials. Dodd was the right hand man of Judge Robert Jackson, the leading prosecutor. He later became a Congressman and a Senator. The letters he sent are now published in a new book, Letters from Nuremberg, authored by his son, Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd, with the help of a friend, Lary Bloom. One should assume that timing it is no mere coincidence: Dodd is now running for President.
Focusing of the too-much-Jews letter doesn’t do justice to Dodd. There’s no reason to believe that he didn’t want them around him because of personal dislike or racist prejudice. “You know how I have despised anti-Semitism,” he writes to his wife, who stayed at home, in the US, while he was spending more than a year abroad. The trials failed to make the case against the Nazi persecution of the Jews. They were blamed for war crimes, but left unspoken the truth about the nature of the war they have declared against one particular nation.
“Jews should stay away from this trial – for their own sake,” Dodd explains. He doesn’t want them to supply anti-Semites and isolationists with ammunition – afraid of a possible growing sentiment to describe the war as “war for the Jews.” His son, the Senator, added a foot note reminding readers of comment made by Charles Lindbergh, leading the anti-war movement, back in 1941. Three forces are pushing America to get involved in the war, he said: The Brits, the President, the Jews.
Senator Dodd told me that he doesn’t necessarily agree with the sentiment articulated by his father in the letter sited above. He is convinced, though, that this was an honest assessment. Thomas Dodd really thought the number of Jewish members in the team was bad for the Jews themselves. There was no doubt in the son’s mind that the letters should be published in full, not censored. While speaking to three Jewish reporters about the book, he focused more on its political implications, in the broader sense, that on the events of those long-gone times.
Much more than the content of any letter, this is the really controversial side of this book. The son is using the father’s writings to promote his beliefs regarding foreign policy, the international law, human rights. Quoting them, he is trying building a case against the Bush administration, blaming it for a “fundamental shift” in America’s policy, as far as international norms of justice and the rule of law are concerned. Dodd argues that there’s a stark difference between the way America chose to react to the crimes of the Nazis, hence, his fathers’ letters, and the path it has taken after the events of September 11. In conversation, Dodd agrees that the differences between now and then are more than cosmetic. However, the first part of the book is mostly dedicated to drawing the political lessons he sees fit.
“Civilized nations respond differently,” Dodd says, armed with the proof: these newly released letters. Civilized nations do not execute, hold people in secret prisons indefinitely, circumvent the courts – but rather prosecute. The letters show that this is what the father believed. But most of them don’t deal with politics, or philosophy, but rather describe the daily struggles of a man in a unique position. In the morning, he was questioning Hitler’s deputy, Rudolph Hess; in the evening writing about it to his wife, “He is gone mentally and I doubt that he can answer for his offenses.” In the next letter he describes an encounter between Hess and Herman Goering, the Air-Force chief and second in command to the Fuhrer. “Don’t you recall me?” he asks Hess. “I am really very sorry,” Hess replies. “It is genuine,” writes Dodd. He really couldn’t recognize him.
In one of the most dramatic moments of this trial, Dodd was the one presenting to the world the shrunken head of a Polish prisoner. The photo depicting him holding this dreadful piece of evidence is still memorable. The head was used as a paper holder at the office of a Nazi officer. But from the letters, one learns about the personal relations that developed between Dodd and some defendants. Franz Von Papen, short-time deputy to Hitler and one of the few to be found not guilty at the end of the trial, is called “my friend Papen.”
Dodd the father died relatively young, at the age of 64. His political career ended in turmoil and he was censured by the Senate for personal usage of public funds. His son, as one expects, wants this book to serve as a tribute to the better days of the father (he had many good days and some achievements as a legislator too). He said that publishing the letters now, a decade after they were discovered, is the culmination of a long and slow process. There are many family members involved, and making decisions takes time. If he doesn’t mention the campaign as a reason, one should assume that it is only because this will be just stating the obvious.
No dramatic revelations can be found in this book. But it is a fascinating history lesson, and a great way to learn more about the people taking part in the trial of the century. And as it is always with people, much space is dedicated to rivalries, maneuvers, egos. “The worst of [Colonel Robert] Gill, however, is his disloyalty to Jackson,” writes Dodd about one member of the team. But he also remembers that this is not the everyday trial, that he is playing a part in one great drama. “I like the assignment,” he writes. “It is an important and worthwhile one.”