By Yale F. Edeiken
As part of its on-going process of making the documentary history of the crimes of the Third Reich available on the internet, The Holocaust History Project presents the decisions of Dr. Michael A. Musmanno, Justice of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, who sat as one of the judges on the Nuremberg Military Tribunal. We consider them important documents which not only set forth the evidence available at the end of World War II but also demonstrates what contemporaries thought of those crimes and their perpetrators.
When the United States entered World War II, Justice Musmanno was a Judge of the Court of Common Pleas in Allegheny County (Pittsburgh), Pennsylvania and, as such, exempt from military service. He went anyway.
Justice Musmanno served in the U.S. Navy where he saw action both at sea and land following a code of honor unknown the defendants in his courtroom. He received the Distinguished Service Cross for leading to safety enemy civilians accidently caught in an artillery barrage. When the ear ended, he was appointed to serve on the Nuremberg Military Tribunals which were trying the Nazis accused of war crimes. Justice Musmanno served as a judge at two trials (Case No. 2 and Case No. 4) and was the presiding judge at a third trial concerning the murders of the einsatzgruppen (Case No. 9). All of these cases dealt with the perpetrators of the worst of the crimes against humanity perpetrated in the name of the Third Reich.
Historians have been able to gather much more evidence than was available to Justice Musmanno at the trials. What they cannot do, however, is view those crimes and those perpetrators with the eyes of a contemporary. The filters of time and knowledge provide a far different perspective than the spectacle paraded before his bench. He had witnessed the unrelenting brutality of modern war. His court was located amid the piles of rubble of a destroyed city in the center of a devastated continent. Justice Musmanno saw the tortured bodies of the victims before they had an opportunity to heal; he inspected the twisted souls of the perpetrators before they had a chance to erect protective barriers. He peered into the darkness and saw the eyes of evil unrepentant staring back at him. He did not flinch.
Justice Musmmano was shocked and disgusted and angered by the horrors of the crimes of the Third Reich. He was learned; he was eloquent; he was passionate; he was just. And in the decisions he wrote after each trial, Justice Musmanno wielded those qualities to describe that evil just as an infantryman uses his rifle and his bayonet. Throughout his service Justice Musmanno retained his moral compass and his commitment to justice. He wrote these decisions not for vengeance but from a devotion to the rule of law and the certain knowledge that the history of freedom is written in blood:
After the war Justice Musmanno was elected to the Pennsylvania on which he served unitl his death. Justce Musmanno was known as a spokesman for the common man and a defender of his rights. In 1961 he appeared as witness in the trial of Adolf Eichmann.
1. Case No.2: US v. Milch (Slave labor)
2. Case No.4: US v. Pohl et al. (concentration camps)
3. Case No. 9: US v. Ohlendorf et al. (einsatzgruppen) available on The Einsatgruppen Page