Nuremberg Diary

By in Foreign & International Law on August 14, 2013

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In August 1945 Great Britain, France, the USSR, and the United States established a tribunal at Nuremberg to try military and civilian leaders of the Nazi regime. G. M. Gilbert, the prison psychologist, had an unrivaled firsthand opportunity to watch and question the Nazi war criminals. With scientific dispassion he encouraged Göering, Speer, Hess, Ribbentrop, Frank, Jodl, Keitel, Streicher, and the others to reveal their innermost thoughts. In the process Gilbert exposed what motivated them to create the distorted Aryan utopia and the nightmarish worlds of Auschwitz, Dachau, and Buchenwald. Here are their day-to-day reactions to the trial proceedings; their off-the-record opinions of Hitler, the Third Reich, and each other; their views on slave labor, death camps, and the Jews; their testimony, feuds, and desperate maneuverings to dissociate themselves from the Third Reich’s defeat and Nazi guilt. Dr. Gilbert’s thorough knowledge of German, deliberately informal approach, and complete freedom of access at all times to the defendants give his spellbinding, chilling study an intimacy and insight that remains unequaled.

2 thoughts on “Nuremberg Diary

  1. Jonathan Marin
    108 of 111 people found the following review helpful
    5.0 out of 5 stars
    Ordinary Men, Extraordinary Crimes, July 5, 2001
    Jonathan Marin (Brooklyn, NY USA) –

    This review is from: Nuremberg Diary (Paperback)

    The author, Gilbert, was an American intelligence officer who in his capacity as prison psychologist at the Nuremberg Jail had unlimited free access to the top Nazi leaders throughout their trial. He produced an invaluable book. With few exceptions, the top Nazis reveal themselves as ordinary men promoted to higher positions than their abilities merited, and willing to do or at least tolerate pretty much anything in order to hold onto them. What they say privately about each other gives a unique perspective on the interplay of personalities and motivations that produced the Nazi regime and its horrors.

    Foremost among those exceptions is Hermann Goering. Goering’s character is rich and multifaceted. The facets can hardly be reconciled as belonging to the same person. So much about him is appealing – his intelligence, his sense of humor, his expansive good-natured bonhomie, his childlike responses to praise or reprimand. But a man can smile and smile and still be a villain. Goering uses the weaker defendants to pressure the more independent ones to toe his “party line” of maintaining loyalty to Hitler. He offers to trade or withhold testimony, inveigles his lawyer into intimidating a witness, and even threatens retaliation by the Feme kangaroo courts. In part because the author’s duties required him to prevent that sort of behavior, he spent more time with Goering than with any of the other defendants. In part, though, I think he just found him fascinating.

    The author’s duties as psychologist required that he spend considerable time with Streicher, whose leering, lascivious, bigotry probably indicated mental illness. Streicher’s anti-semitism was obsessive – it was the only subject he talked about – and he incessantly lobbied anyone who would listen. Gilbert also had to monitor Hess (Bormann’s predecessor) and Ribbentrop (Foreign Minister) because of Hess’s recurrent amnesia and Ribbentrop’s descent into depression. Hess was empty-minded even when his memory was intact. Ribbentrop was an endless stream of rationalizations, denials, evasions, and lies – truly a washrag of a man. These entries become tedious, but are instructive as an antidote to the Hollywood image of the hard, focused, strong-willed Nazi. So too with Keitel, the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces High Command whom the author fairly describes as having no more backbone than a jellyfish, and with Hans Frank, Governor General of Occupied Poland. When with the author, Frank was all introspection and contrition, but in the dock with his fellow war criminals, he joined freely in their stock rationalizations.

    The author is sympathetic toward those defendants – Speer, von Schirach, Jodl, Fritsche – who passionately wanted the world to learn as much of the truth as possible about the Third Reich and its crimes. He usually but not always manages to restrain his animosity toward those who persisted in rationalizing or denying their guilt, particularly the vicious anti-semite Rosenberg (Nazi philosopher and Reich Commissioner for Eastern Occupied Territories) cold callous Frick (Minister of Interior) and the unspeakable Kaltenbrunner (Chief of RSHA – SD and Gestapo).

    A story related by Funk (President of the Reichsbank) is especially revealing. After Kristalnacht, his wife wanted him to resign from the government. She said that the whole antisemitic business was just disgraceful, and they should have no part in it. He felt she was right. But to give up the status and luxury that went with his position and go live in a three-room flat? He just couldn’t do it. Funk was no monster. Of his own volition, he wouldn’t have hurt anybody. But step by step he went along, until he was accepting deposits of dental gold from the camps.

    Active malice is rare. This book makes clear that although great evil may originate from active malice, its success in this world depends upon weakness – human, understandable, and frighteningly common weakness.

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  2. 2
    53 of 56 people found the following review helpful
    5.0 out of 5 stars
    A Chilling Look at Evil and Justice, September 5, 2001
    Cody Carlson (Salt Lake City, UT United States) –

    This review is from: Nuremberg Diary (Paperback)

    ‘Nuremberg Diary’ is Gustav Gilbert’s narrative of the time he spent with the defendants of the Nuremberg War Crimes Trial after WWII. As the prison psychiatrist, Gilbert was given access to all the prisoners and the resulting conversations form the basis of this book. From the unrepentant, pompus bravado of Hermann Goering to the disgusting anti-semitism of Julius Streicher to the absent minded Joachim von Ribbentrop to the humbled Albert Speer, this work proves a keen insight into the men who at one time controlled an empire, but who now faced the world’s final justice. Thought-provoking, chilling, and at times even moving, Gilbert’s ‘Nuremberg Diary’ will stand forever as an important witness against Nazi barbarism.

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