OLR Research Report

The Connecticut General Assembly


February 10, 1997 97-R-0198


FROM: Dana A. Doran, Legislative Fellow

RE: Thomas Dodd and the Nuremberg Trials

You asked for a historical perspective on the Nuremberg Trials and Thomas Joseph Dodd's involvement in those trials.


In the years leading up to the Second World War, several attempts were made at setting an international standard for judging war crimes. With the onset of the war, especially after Germany's attack on the Soviet Union, the idea of holding responsible those who committed atrocities began to take precedent.

On August 8, 1945, the "Charter of the International Military Tribunal" was established by the allies in London. It allowed for the prosecution and punishment of the major war criminals of the European Axis.

Beginning on November 20, 1945, 21 men stood trial before an unprecedented International Military Tribunal, which the four Allied powers created with a dual mission in mind: to bring "justice" and to compile an incontrovertible record of Nazi outrages. When the Allied Powers convened this tribunal, Thomas J. Dodd was appointed to the U.S. judicial team by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson. Dodd served as Vice-Chairman of the Review Board and Executive Trial Counsel, shaping many of the strategies and policies for this trial. As the second ranking U.S. lawyer on the team, Dodd concentrated his efforts upon proving that the Nazis had waged aggressive war and should be held accountable for that charge.

All of the information used for the Nuremberg Trials section of this report was taken from articles in The Hartford Courant and George Ginsburgs' book, The Nuremberg Trial and International Law. Information used for the Dodd section is from materials in the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center at the University of Connecticut.


Attempts at legally prohibiting the use of force for resolving inter-state conflicts began long ago, but have been most notable in the 20th century. Foremost among these were the Model Treaty on Mutual Aid (1923) drafted by the League of Nations, the Geneva Protocol on the peaceful settlement of disputes (1924), and the Declaration on Aggressive Wars (1927). In each of these documents, aggressive war was pronounced an international crime. In the 1927 Declaration, which was adopted unanimously by members of the League of Nations including Germany, it was emphasized that, "all wars of aggression are, and shall always be, prohibited . . . members of the League, are under an obligation to conform to these principles"(Ginsburgs). In 1928, these propositions were embodied in a multilateral treaty- the Paris pact for the renunciation of war as an instrument of national policy.

In 1943, the leaders of the Allied Powers signed a "Declaration" to hold the Nazis responsible for the atrocities they committed. This declaration said that the guilty would be tried by the peoples who had suffered at their hands. The treaty expressed a consensus that existed among the leaders to ban all aggressive wars and cooperate in their prevention.

On August 8, 1945, an “Agreement between the Governments” of the designated states was signed, for the prosecution and punishment of the major Axis war criminals. This instituted the International Military Tribunal.

The charter of the tribunal was the legal basis for indictment of the war criminals. Article 6 provides for responsibility for the violation of the “laws and customs of war in the guise of killing, torture or abduction of the civilian population of the occupied territories into slavery or for other purposes, killing or torture of prisoners of war or persons at sea, killing of hostages, plunder of public and private property, senseless destruction of towns and villages, devastation unjustified by military necessity, and other crimes” (Ginsburgs).

The proceedings that took place before the International Military were the first trial in history where the leaders of a major power were put on trial and found guilty of aggression and the commission of monstrous crimes against peace and humanity. The Nuremberg trial laid the foundation for the creation of a new branch of law—international criminal law and procedure.

The United Nations General Assembly, on February 13, 1946, adopted a resolution recommending that members of the United Nations, "forthwith take all the necessary measures to cause the arrest of those war criminals who have been responsible for or have taken a consenting part in the above crimes and to cause them to be sent back to the countries in which their abominable deeds were done, in order that they may be judged and punished according to the laws of those countries."

Subsequently, on December 11, 1946 the UN General Assembly confirmed the principles of international law recognized by the Charter of the Nuremberg Tribunal.

Dodd's Involvement

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson, head of the American legal team, appointed Thomas J. Dodd to that team when the Allied Powers convened the International Military Tribunal. Dodd served as Vice-Chairman of the Review Board and Executive Trial Counsel during the proceedings. He concentrated the bulk of his efforts on the charge of conspiracy to wage aggressive war and, consequently, cross-examined leading German industrialists as well as military and political leaders.

The enterprise in Nuremberg was described by some as a work in progress. The legal basis for a trial by such a tribunal was untested, and the staff was trying to map out quickly both the justification and strategy for putting the Nazis on trial.

Dodd was made the second ranking U.S. lawyer and supervisor of the day-to-day management of the U.S. prosecution team. He shaped many of the strategies and policies through which the trial took place and frequently dealt with other Allied legal notables such as Sir David Maxwell-Fyfe of Great Britain and Lieutenant General Roman Rudenko of the Soviet Union. He reconstructed the will of the last president of the Weimar Republic, Paul von Hindenburg, to reveal that the Nazis had falsified this document to help justify Chancellor Adolph Hitler's consolidation of power.

During the trials, Dodd was given responsibility for three officials: Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, chief of staff of the High Command; Franz von Papen, who was Hitler's first vice chancellor; and Arthur Seyss-Inquart, the Austrian Nazi who facilitated the Anschluss, the 1938 German takeover of Austria.

Dodd came to know Papen and Keitel well, spending long hours debriefing them. Dodd frequently confronted Keitel with orders that the field marshal had transmitted from Hitler to field commanders as Germany's troops marched across Europe. Keitel finally admitted ordering hostages killed in Poland, Russia and Italy but claimed he did so only after civilians attacked German soldiers. Keitel acknowledged that his orders called for the most brutal measures.

Dodd presented portions of virtually every aspect of the prosecution's case. He gained notoriety for displaying the shrunken head of a concentration camp inmate during the trial. Some attorneys deemed such behavior grandstanding and they did not appreciate Dodd's flair for the dramatic. As one of the few civilian lawyers among the U.S. prosecutors, Dodd privately expressed an acute self-consciousness of his unique status.

Dodd's Nuremberg work enhanced his stature and visibility back in the United States. He received a Presidential Citation, the U.S. Medal of Freedom, and the Czechoslovakian Order of the White Lion for his outstanding efforts. In 1949 the Polish government, then dominated by Moscow, offered him a prestigious award for service at Nuremberg. Dodd responded with a scathing, public denunciation of Communism in which he refused to accept honors from a regime that he perceived as barely distinct from National Socialism.

Recently, Dodd's papers were donated to the new Thomas J. Dodd Research Center on the Storrs campus of the University of Connecticut. The papers provide significant information on the Nuremberg Trials. The papers consist of extensive mimeograph and printed materials covering such subjects as presentations against individual Nazi war criminals, interrogation notes, reports on concentration camps, files on the "final solution," documents on forced labor policies, and information on the concentration camp system. Also included are files on the major German defendants containing biographical information, charges and supporting evidence, and interrogations. The series holds 12 volumes of evidence on Nazi conspiracy and aggression, 41 volumes of trial proceedings against lesser war criminals, and reports of trial results.