Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Something Special for Chanukah

Tonight marks the beginning of Chanukah, the eight-day Jewish festival that marks the triumph of light over darkness. Chanukah tends to be overshadowed by Christmas, and it is in fact a minor holiday on the Jewish calendar. However, it is a joyous holiday, one that is particularly enjoyed by children because they receive presents (in some families, one every night) and eat such treats as potato latkes, doughnuts, and chocolate Chanukah gelt.

This morning, one of my colleagues, Professor Ralph Stein, shared with the faculty this account of the first night of Chanukah at the Nuremberg trials in 1945. It was written by Professor John Barrett of St. John's University School of Law, who is a leading scholar on the life of Justice Robert H. Jackson, Supreme Court Justice and chief prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials.

Justice Jackson delivered his opening statement on November 21, 1945, and "described what the evidence would show." In the early days of the trial, the United States presented a great deal of evidence, Nazi documents that had been seized, translated, and organized by the Allies. As Professor Barrett states, "the evidence was summarized in trial briefs that Jackson's senior assistants read before the [International Military Tribunal], the defendants and...the world press corps." On the eighth day of the trial, November 29, 1945, the prosecution announced that it would present motion picture evidence, a documentary film on the concentration camps. General Dwight D. Eisenhower had ordered the film to be made so that the judges would understand what the words "concentration camp" meant and also so that they would understand the full extent of the horrors that the Nazi regime had perpetrated. The filming was directed by Lt. Col. George C. Stevens, one of the great Hollywood directors. One hour of the film was shown at the trial. It showed conditions in the camps, including graphic shots of the survivors surrounded by corpses. Observers watched the defendants to see what effect the film would have on them, and even Hermann Goering "looked subdued, his face sagging."

Professor Barrett points out the coincidence that "in 1945, November 29th on the Gregorian calendar was also, on the Jewish calendar, the 25th day of Kislev, the third month. It thus marked the first night of Chanukah, a holiday celebrating Jewish survival. In the Nuremberg trial process, most participants were non-Jews. Many probably did not reflect on the coincidence, and frankly on the stark juxtaposition, of the showing of the concentration camp film evidence concluding as the sun set and Chanukah thus began."

I am grateful to Professor Stein for sharing this article with me, and hope you will enjoy reading it as much as I did.

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