More than 50 years have passed since the Nazi leaders of Germany were brought to Nuremberg for trial. It was all a long time ago. Now a book has come to hand that brings the famous trial vividly back to life. We hear again the closing argument by Robert H. Jackson for the United States.
"Ladies and Gentlemen of the Jury" is a collection of closing arguments in 10 memorable cases, compiled by three legal historians and just published in paperback by Touchstone Books. I found it fascinating. The role of the trial lawyer, whether for prosecution or defense, is the most demanding role that any lawyer is likely ever to play. The lines of attack and rebuttal constantly shift as the trial goes along.
The Allies' war against Germany ended in May 1945. In August an international military tribunal indicted 24 Germans for an array of war crimes. Their trial before a panel of four judges began in November 1945 and ended 216 trial days later with 19 convictions. As chief prosecutor for the United States, Jackson had the last word:
"It is impossible in summation to do more than outline with bold strokes the vitals of this trial's mad and melancholy record, which will live as the historical text of the 20th century's shame and depravity. . . . These two-score years will be recorded in the book of years as one of the most bloody in all annals. Two world wars have left a legacy of dead which number more than all the armies engaged in any war that made ancient or medieval history. No half-century ever witnessed slaughter on such a scale, such cruelties and inhumanities, such wholesale deportations of peoples into slavery, such annihilations of minorities. The terror of Torquemada pales before the Nazi inquisition."
Jackson brilliantly summarized the rise of the Nazi party. Then he turned to the individual defendants.
"The large and varied role of Goering was half militarist and half gangster. He stuck a pudgy finger in every pie. He was equally adept at massacring opponents and at framing scandals to get rid of stubborn generals. He built up the Luftwaffe and hurled it at his defenseless neighbors."
Jackson painted sketches of the zealot Hess, the duplicitous von Ribbentrop, the fanatical Frank. He scorned Kaltenbrunner, the grand inquisitor; Rosenberg, the intellectual high priest of the "master race"; Frick, the ruthless organizer; Streicher, the venomous vulgarian; Schact, the facade of starched respectability; Von Schirach, poisoner of a generation; and Sauchel, "the greatest and cruelest slaver since the pharaohs of Egypt."
Jackson's skill was matched in the domestic realm by Clarence Darrow. He appears twice in this collection. Darrow tailored his style to the occasion. In arguing to a jury he could be folksy:
"No man, gentlemen, honestly believes that I had anything to do with bribing or attempting to bribe Lockwood. . . . I am not talking about my goodness, gentlemen. I have not too much goodness, but I always had all that I could carry around — sometimes more than I ought to have carried around. . . . I am as fit for jury bribing as a Methodist preacher for tending bar."
Darrow was dramatically eloquent in defending Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb. They were sons of privilege and wealth who were charged in 1924 with the cold-blooded murder of 14-year-old Bobby Franks. The defendants were undeniably guilty. They kidnapped the boy and strangled him for the fun of it. Darrow's job as defense counsel was to persuade the trial judge not to impose a death sentence. His eloquence moved the judge to tears. The two young monsters escaped the gallows.
By tradition, closing arguments always begin, "May it please the court." These 10 arguments did indeed please the courts, and they will please all those who love the fine art of disputation.
Universal Press Syndicate