The defendants in the dock at the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg. (Photo/United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy Gerald Schwab)
The defendants in the dock at the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg. (Photo/United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy Gerald Schwab)

Stanford releases full digital archive of Nuremberg trials

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The images are haunting, yet familiar. Forced labor gangs building barracks, photographed by Germans. Emaciated victims in concentration camps, filmed by American troops. Nazi officials, stiff and formal in their headshots.

As macabre as they are, these Holocaust images were priceless for providing evidence in the Nuremberg war crimes trials that brought Nazi atrocities to the world stage after World War II.

Now the complete body of evidence from the historic tribunal, including reams of court documents, has been digitized and made available to scholars, educators and the public through the Stanford Libraries’ Virtual Tribunals project.

The material in the Taube Archive of the International Military Tribunal (IMT) at Nuremberg, 1945-46 includes filmed footage, still images, full audio recordings, transcripts in multiple languages and about 250,000 pages of digitized documents, including the defendants’ pleadings.

“We really wanted this to be a broadly accessible educational tool that can be used in classrooms, whether high school or universities, around the world and by the general public,” said Stanford professor David Cohen.

The collection, made public in mid-March through Stanford’s partnership with the Library of the International Court of Justice and funding from Taube Philanthropies, is also a project of the university’s Center for Human Rights and International Justice, where Cohen is co-director. The release of the collection has been years in the making.

The Nuremberg trials, conducted by the U.S., U.K., Soviet Union and France, took place in 1945 and 1946. Twenty-two high-ranking Nazi party defendants, including Hermann Goering, Rudolf Hess and Joachim von Ribbentrop, came before the international court in the German city where they stood trial for crimes against peace, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Three defendants were acquitted. Seven went to prison. Twelve were sentenced to death.

It was really the beginning of international criminal justice.

The trials were notable not only for punishing notorious Nazis, but also for establishing important precedents for war crimes prosecution, Cohen said.

“It was really the beginning of international criminal justice,” he said. “It’s relevant for what’s going on today in the world because it established the principle that heads of state or officials, generals, whoever, could be held personally criminally accountable for international crimes.”

The International Court of Justice in the Hague is the official holder of the complete Nuremberg trials documents, but other libraries and archives — including the U.S. National Archives — also hold copies of some documents.

While scholars always had access to this material, Cohen said, it meant digging in archives and using microfilm, something that non-academics might not find easy to do. The Stanford archives are designed to make the records easier to navigate.

The project was funded in part by a gift from Taube Philanthropies, the umbrella giving organization of Tad Taube, a Stanford graduate who fled Poland with his immediate family in 1939 before the start of the war. Taube has made other donations to the university, including funds to establish the Taube Center for Jewish Studies.

The Virtual Tribunals project is not limited to the Nuremberg archive. Currently, there are sections for other World War II tribunals and for the long-running systematic violence against civilians before East Timor declared independence from Indonesia in 1999.

Cohen said there is much more from World War II to still document, calling the Nuremberg collection the “tip of the iceberg.”

“This collection is the opening that we hope will follow to build a more complete archival record and make it accessible to the public,” he said.

Maya Mirsky
Maya Mirsky

Maya Mirsky is a J. Staff Writer based in Oakland.