Review of The Nuremberg Legacy by Norbert Ehrenfreund
Why the Nuremberg trials matter today and how much they affect our lives in the twenty-first century.
After serving as a bronze star decorated artillery officer during WWII, author Norbert Ehrenfreund attended the war crimes trials in Nuremberg as a reporter for the military newspaper Stars and Stripes. In doing so, he witnessed the first attempt in history of nations attempting to hold tyrants accountable for their inhumanity and barbarous actions. World history has been scarred with countless oppressive and power seeking regimes but not until Nuremberg has there been a concerted, international effort to examine their actions, bring them to justice and truly learn from the experience so that future generations will not suffer the same fate.
The experience so moved Ehrenfreund that when he returned to the U.S., he decided to study law and became a deputy district attorney, then founded a law practice known as Defenders, Inc., and eventually spent more than 30 years as a California Superior Court Justice. Clearly Nuremburg was a lasting and vivid memory… after retiring from his full-time position on the bench, Ehrenfreund sat down 60 years after the trials ended to write of his experiences and the enduring impacts of The Nuremburg Legacy.
I don’t usually choose history books for casual reading, but there are many layers that unfold to make this both a compelling and important read: a first person account of being on the front lines as Hitler’s Germany was in its final throes and in the process of surrender; the rumors of unspeakable horrors that soon revealed themselves as all too real in the form of starving concentration camp survivors and less “fortunate” victims; the debate led by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson, head of the U.S. delegation, to not only hold the historic trials in the first place but to insist on legitimate and fair proceedings instead of pre-ordained “show” trials as many of our allies preferred; a discussion of what went on inside and outside the courtroom in Nuremberg that came close to derailing the whole process; the trials themselves which documented for posterity the details of what would come to be forever known as The Holocaust; the international legal precedents that were established at Nuremberg that we now take for granted (e.g., the concept of crimes against humanity); and finally, fast forwarding to the Bush administration’s tactics of torture and suspension of human rights in the name of counter terrorism… the inevitable question of whether we have the moral obligation to hold the actions of our own leaders to the same standards that we judged others.
Ehrenfreund effectively combines his personal account with a scholarly review of the historical events and a frank critique of the implications of The Nuremberg Legacy for future generations. As time continues to put distance between us and the Holocaust, it is all the more important that this critical lesson in world history be passed to future generations. Who better to tell the story than a first-hand witness to the proceedings and first-rate scholar, Norbert Ehrenfreund?