In January 2013 I applied for the Thomas J. Dodd International Justice Research Fellowship. This fellowship supports research at the Archives and Special Collections at the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, furthering the Center’s aim to promote human rights. The Center is also dedicated to promoting the work and career of Thomas J. Dodd, executive trial counsel for the United States at the International Military Tribunal (IMT Trial). A higher degree by research student from the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at Deakin University, Melbourne (Australia), I was both honoured and excited to be given this opportunity. The fellowship involved a two-week stay at the University of Connecticut (UCONN) campus to conduct Ph.D. research during summer 2013. Over a period of two weeks I worked closely with the Center’s staff searching through the Thomas J. Dodd collection and analysing documents relating to war crimes trials of Nazi criminals held in the aftermath of World War II, specifically the IMT Trial.
The Dodd Center’s collection is exceptional because it brings together a comprehensive range of trial documentation at one location. The Dodd Papers are a valuable set of historical documents that hold relevance in a range of academic fields, not least human rights and history. Moreover, the documents are predominantly printed in English, and include various translated German documents, which normally I and many other scholars would be unable to access. I was excited to be given the opportunity to conduct research in an international setting but also to engage with the valuable archives housed at the Dodd Center.
My Ph.D. dissertation explores themes of post-war justice and punishment of Nazi criminals by Britain and the United States. The Dodd Center holds a range of valuable archival sources relating to war crimes trials administered by the United States in the aftermath of World War II, which are particularly relevant to my research. Documents from the Center such as transcripts, trial briefs, along with range of post-trial materials from the IMT Trial, much of which is unavailable in Australia complement my work. My dissertation looks at how various settings, in this case liberated camps versus courtrooms, affected newspaper reportage of Nazi concentration camps in the two years following liberation. This research contributes to wider understanding of how Britain and America sought to explain concentration camps; and to portray their own respective roles as liberating nations. By comparing Britain and the United States it examines the different ways reportage of concentration camps was framed, taking into consideration how reports reflected national frameworks. It examines how different cultural paradigms were at play, thus revealing if different national, political, cultural or social developments affected how concentration camps were portrayed. My research considers, then, how depictions of concentration camps may have taken distinctive forms in Britain and the United States and how embedded these became.
The Dodd Center Collections made a positive contribution to my archival research. The collection of Thomas J. Dodd Papers, particularly documents from the Nuremberg Trial Series, were highly relevant in examining the role that war crimes trials played in forming the media’s understanding and perception of Nazi concentration camps. Because my research focuses on textual analysis of press reporting, analysing how information about camps was relayed back to the American public, it is important to first gain an understanding of how concentration camps were presented and depicted during trials of Nazi criminals. Trial documentation and transcripts from the IMT Trial, of which the Dodd Center houses an impressive collection, provide insight into how Nazi camps were contextualised in a legal framework. These documents not only complement my analysis of the trial and how concentration camps were understood but also add depth and breadth to my research. Trial briefs regarding concentration camps, and summaries of the prosecution’s case relating to concentration camps are especially relevant. The records of the United States prosecution’s introduction to a documentary film shown at the trial also proved to be valuable. By examining these documents I was able to determine what was included, excluded, emphasised and downplayed in relation to Nazi concentration camps at the IMT Trial and gain an insight into the relationship between the prosecution and press coverage of the trial. In the Nuremberg Trial Series, the Human Rights Subseries of documents is especially helpful as it includes exact recordings of the prosecution’s addresses from the IMT Trial. Within this series the documentation of Nazi atrocities and the summary of the concentration camp system have a particularly strong connection to my research. These sources suggest how evidence was collected and consolidated in regards to the concentration camp system in order to prove a case in a court of law.
During the fellowship, as mentioned, I examined a range of valuable documents that revealed some highly relevant information relating to the relationship between the press and the United States prosecution team during the IMT Trial. One document in particular, the minutes from a meeting of United States prosecutors held in August 1946 regarding the impending judgement and sentencing was very helpful. This document alludes to the importance the prosecution placed on the press and its coverage of the trial. There are multiple references to the integrity of the press and how it is crucial to ensure that coverage of the verdict and sentences are maximised. Thomas J. Dodd himself explicitly states that the press must be accommodated. This not only reveals that the prosecution were fully aware of the decline in press coverage as the trial continued but suggests that there was a strong desire to draw attention back to the trial. The verdict and sentencing were viewed as important opportunities to once again create public interest in the trial, with the prosecution aware that it was likely to be one of more dramatic moments. The way in which public interest in the trial was valued was not surprising but reinforces the idea that the press were the central catalyst for relaying information about the trial back to the general public and that the aim of the trial was didactic, serving both justice and educational purposes.
Another theme that became evident during my analysis of the Dodd Papers especially when looking at the presentation of concentration camps during the IMT Trial was the emphasis the prosecution placed on the authenticity of the documents, images and reports. This is perhaps most obvious during the introduction to the showing of the documentary film “Nazi Concentration Camps”. Before the film was shown, a range of affidavits were presented to the tribunal, the purpose of which was to attest to the authenticity of the film and prove the originality of the images which were to be shown. This theme of authenticity has appeared in much of my initial research relating to images and reports of liberated concentration camps. The affidavits of Robert H. Jackson, chief United States prosecutor, and George Stevens, director of the film, which were presented at the trial demonstrate how important authenticity was in relation to concentration camps even in a trial setting. It also hints at the widespread concern there was about the believability of concentration camp images. The affidavits explain that official military photographers recorded the images and also that the images had not been altered or distorted. The actual introduction to the film “Nazi Concentration Camps” again explicitly states that the film in authentic and reports the source of the film. These documents reinforce some findings of my preliminary research regarding the theme of authenticity and the issues of believability. Not only were these prominent issues in newspaper reportage but also they were highly valued during the trial process.
More generally, the fellowship provided me with an opportunity to discuss my research and engage in conversation about some of the issues it presents. The fellowship has positively contributed to my research, whilst also advancing my professional abilities. The opportunity to conduct research and collaborate at the Dodd Center was extremely beneficial. Engaging with the Dodd Papers and in particular documents relating to the IMT Trial was highly rewarding. My time spent scanning through and analysing material in the Reading Room was both engaging and constructive. I also gained a much stronger understanding of how archives function and how historic documents are stored and accessed. My experience carrying out research at the Dodd Center has helped build and shape the next stage of my Ph.D. research.
In particular I would like to thank Lisa Laplante, interim director of the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, for overseeing my stay at UCONN and Graham Stinnett, Curator of Human Rights Collections, for assistance in accessing the Dodd Papers. Lisa and Graham were both accommodating and helpful. I want to acknowledge the assistance of other Dodd Center staff who answered questions and were more than welcoming during my stay. I would also like to extend my gratitude to my Ph.D. supervisors from Deakin University and the Alfred Deakin Research Institute (ADRI), Prof. David Lowe, Dr. Tony Joel, and Pam Maclean, who encouraged me to seek out this international academic opportunity. I thank them for their continued support and guidance.
The Dodd Center houses a range of historically rich sources, not least the Dodd Papers, which are a vitally important resource documenting the work of Thomas J. Dodd, executive trial counsel at the IMT Trial. My own Ph.D. research has benefited from these collections and I encourage other students and academics to consider applying for this fellowship in 2014.
Higher Degree by Research Student
School of Humanities and Social Sciences
Faculty of Arts
Deakin University (Australia)