Cornell home to hundreds of unique Nuremberg trial documents

ITHACA, N.Y. – Nov. 20 will mark the 70th anniversary of the start of the Nuremberg trials of Nazi war criminals – and Cornell University Law Library’s Donovan Nuremberg Trials Collection remains a trove of information and insight, widely used for legal, scholarly or personal research. The collection, containing hundreds of unique documents, is digitized and freely available. Among some recent uses:

  • The collection has provided precedents for a national lawyers’ association seeking to convince the U.S. government that Guantanamo detainees have a right to counsel.
  • It provided solace to a man who feared his German grandfather had been a Nazi, but found in the archives that his grandfather had in fact lost a political post because he was not a Nazi party member.
  • It’s given historians insight into the personalities and tensions behind the trials.

Documents from the collection – including the personal papers of “Wild” Bill Donovan, who headed the precursor to the CIA and a rare copy of a psychological profile of Adolf Hitler – are downloaded thousands of times every week.

Thomas Mills, associate director for collections, rare books curator and lecturer at the Cornell Law Library, which is part of Cornell University Library, said this collection is not only historically important, but highly relevant.

“It’s not just for historians. Nuremberg was the first war crimes tribunal, and sadly since then there have been many others in many different forms. This sets the precedent,” Mills said. “These papers were on a loading dock ready to be thrown away when a Cornell alum saved them and drove them up here and donated them. The collection sheds light on different parts of the historical Nuremberg trials that would remain murky without it.”

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