Friday, 20 March 2009

‘Old brigand’ and ‘fat boy’ Goering: Letters from Nuremberg Trials Rediscovered

by Kathryn Hadley

Sixty-three years ago today, Maxwell Fyfe (1900-1967) began his interrogation of the leading Nazi defendant and the man remembered as one of history’s greatest monsters, Reichsmarschall Hermann Goering. In a letter to his wife Sylvia the following day, he described his performance compared to that of the US Chief Prosecutor Robert H. Jackson, who had previously interrogated the commander of the Luftwaffe:

‘Friday morning, I think that my cross examination of Goering went off all
right. Everyone here was very pleased. Jackson had not only made no impression
but actually built up the fat boy further. I think I knocked him reasonably off
his perch.’

In another later, dated June 26th, 1946, he wrote:

‘Goering let out a rather good crack to the psychiatrist, I’m told by the press.
He said “Of course I know Sir David’s technique now, I can see the way he works
up to his point. It was very bad luck on me coming first and being
cross-examined before I had chance to observe”. I must take off my hat to the
old brigand. He keeps his interest up.’

Tom Blackmore, David Maxwell Fyfe’s grandson, has recently donated this previously unseen correspondence between his grandparents to the Churchill Archives Centre at Cambridge University. The 205 letters, written between October 1945 and August 1946, provide a unique insight into both the daily life and experiences of the British Deputy Chief Prosecutor during one of the most momentous periods in legal history and his views of the highest-profile Nazi to go on trial at Nuremberg, one of Hitler’s closest allies during the war and one of the most hated men in history.

Blackmore discovered the letters in the vaults of the London solicitors Allen and Overy, in 1999, which he thereafter transcribed and date-ordered. He has also donated over 20 photographs, memorabilia, as well as a file of articles and speeches from the trials, to the Churchill Archives Centre. Researchers and historians visiting the Churchill Archives Centre will now have free access to the letters and accompanying documents. Blackmore is also planning to create a film adaptation of the letters to coincide with the 60th anniversary of the European Convention of Human Rights in November 2010.

He described his grandfather’s achievements at the Nuremberg:

‘In March 1946 Maxwell Fyfe’s cross-examination of Goering at the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials began to pour light on the guilt of the leaders of the Third
Reich. It set the tone for the practical presentation of evidence to prove the
guilt of those in the dock. And Maxwell Fyfe followed it up with the forensic
destruction of von Ribbentrop, Doenitz and von Papen. Maxwell Fyfe’s performance
at Nuremberg was the springboard to a considerable political career. More
surprisingly, in the light of his conservatism, is that Nuremberg led him to
Strasbourg where he drafted the European Convention on Human Rights and chaired the committee that made the treaty law, commenting “Our lunatic century is
looking for a way of guaranteeing ordinary people a quiet life”.’

David Maxwell Fyfe, 1st Earl of Kilmuir, was a British Conservative Party politician as well as a lawyer and judge. He held the positions of Solicitor General, Attorney General and Lord Chancellor and was also Home Secretary in Churchill’s government between 1951 and 1954.

Further information and a temporary list of the papers are available on the website of the Churchill Archives Centre

For more information on how the Allies dealt with the unprecedented prosecution of genocide of the Nazi leadership, read our article Victors' Justice? The Nuremberg Tribunal

Images: One of the letters, David and Sylvia Fyfe and the Nuremberg courtroom (The Kilmuir Papers, Churchill Archives Centre, Cambridge University)

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