Judgement at Nuremberg

Review of Airey Neave’s Nuremberg – A personal record of the trial of the major Nazi war criminals 

Biteback , £9.99

Airey Neave MP is unfortunately remembered more for the manner of his death in a car bomb, planted by Irish Republicans at the House of Commons in 1979 than for his courageous deeds during the Second World War. He was the first officer to escape from Colditz. Back in this country, he trained many to forge escape routes in occupied Europe. As a lawyer, he became a member of the international war crimes team at Nuremberg at the age of 29. 

In this book, written a year before his murder and now released by Biteback, Neave recalled his role at Nuremberg “as a witness of the closing scenes in the tragedy of a whole generation”. An officer of the court, he attempted to be civil in serving leading Nazis with their indictments. Below the surface, however, he was seething at what they had done — and especially at the mass murder of Jews.  

Neave’s understated disdain extended to those who escaped justice. Alfried Krupp ran the family business during the war — utilising the slave labour of Jews at Humboldtstrasse. Sentenced to 12 years, he served only five when the Allies “restored him to his inheritance”. During his first year of freedom, he presided over an £83 million turnover.

Neave devotes a chapter to each of these war criminals and fellow travellers — and records his observations. His first impression of Goering was that of “meeting a dissolute Roman emperor”. After capture, the Reichsmarshall brought with him 16 monogrammed suitcases, a red hat-box and a valet. His fingernails were varnished red. Julius Streicher, a sexual predator and editor of Der Stürmer, hissed at his Jewish interpreter. As he mounted the scaffold, he exclaimed that his execution was “Purimfest 1946”. 

The foppish former Chancellor, Von Papen, who paved the way for Hitler in 1932, answered Neave in “a honeyed voice in English of the best Etonian blend”. Seyss-Inquart, the Reichskommissar in Holland, with his thick glasses, appeared no more than “a dim Viennese attorney”. He was the man who sent Anne Frank to Bergen Belsen three months before her sixteenth birthday. Like several other defendants at Nuremberg, he spoke of his belief in God and Christian principles.  

Some of the defendants were sentenced to death, others to prison and three were acquitted. Prime Minister Clement Attlee rejected all pleas for clemency. Master-Sergeant John C. Woods from Texas carried out the death sentences — all died slowly. The writer, Rebecca West, noted that former German Foreign Minister, Von Ribbentrop, struggled in the air for 20 minutes.  
Neave records that many British officers felt a degree of genteel sympathy for their opposite numbers. He also recalls that Hitler had ordered that British commandos should be immediately executed on capture. 

Rommel burned the order; Jodl, Keitel and other senior commanders distributed it. Doenitz, who had spoken about “the spreading poison of international Jewry”, was responsible for the sinking of a British passenger ship in September 1942 and gave an order not to rescue any survivors. Almost 3,000 people were on board.  

This is no dispassionate historical tome, but an uncomplicated personal testimony of someone with an abiding hatred of the Nazis. Airey Neave’s voice deserves to be heard across the years by all who still allow themselves to become political ostriches in a world where there are so many injustices. 

Jewish Chronicle 12 March 2021

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