The Wit­ness House: Nazis and Holo­caust Sur­vivors Shar­ing A Vil­la Dur­ing the Nurem­berg Trials

Chris­tiane Kohl; Anthea Bell, trans.
  • Review
By – September 1, 2011
Many of us are aware of the Nurem­berg Tri­als of the 22 major Nazi war crim­i­nals which took place between Octo­ber 1945 and Octo­ber 1946. Less famil­iar is the sub­se­quent twelve addi­tion­al sec­ondary tri­als that took place under the juris­dic­tion of the Allies. The Wit­ness House offers the read­er a glimpse of the tri­als from the per­spec­tive of the per­pe­tra­tors, wit­ness­es, sur­viv­ing mem­bers of the Nazi Resis­tance, as well as vic­tims of the Nazi con­cen­tra­tion camps, all of whom were housed by the Amer­i­can army in the Novalis­strasse vil­la, not far from where the tri­als took place.

Chris­tiane Kohl, a Ger­man cor­re­spon­dent and a for­mer edi­tor of Der Spiegel, among her many oth­er pro­fes­sion­al accom­plish­ments, has writ­ten a fas­ci­nat­ing record of the con­ver­sa­tions and insights about Nazi Ger­many and the Holo­caust that emerged from the dis­course that took place between per­pe­tra­tors and vic­tims shar­ing meals and con­ver­sa­tion togeth­er in the vil­la as they await­ed calls from the defense or pros­e­cu­tion for their tes­ti­mo­ny.

Draw­ing on inter­views, pri­ma­ry source mate­ri­als, and recent­ly dis­closed doc­u­ments, Kohl intro­duces a cast of char­ac­ters who, if not actu­al­ly real par­tic­i­pants in the events described, would seem to be the prod­uct of a work of fic­tion. Pre­sid­ing over the vil­la was the beau­ti­ful Count­ess Inge­borg Kali­nosky, who is described as a Jean Har­low look-alike. Giv­en the poten­tial for inci­vil­i­ty among the guests,” she main­tained deco­rum as well as order among the cohab­i­tants, who eas­i­ly could have con­tin­ued their acri­mo­ny toward one anoth­er, thus turn­ing the vil­la into a bat­tle­ground.

Among the per­son­al­i­ties who were interned or made their appear­ance in the vil­la were Hein­rich Hoff­mann, Hitler’s pho­tog­ra­ph­er, whose remorse­less anec­dotes about the Fùhrer illus­trate just how unre­pen­tant many of those who served the Third Reich were soon after their cap­ture. The flam­boy­ant Rudolph Diels, who orga­nized the Gestapo for Her­mann Goer­ing, Karl Haushofer, the geo-politi­cian who inspired Hitler’s pol­i­cy of Leben­sraum, Robert Have­mann, a chemist and mem­ber of the Resis­tance to Hitler, Robert Kemp­n­er, the Ger­man Jew­ish pros­e­cu­tor, Eugene Kogon, who would lat­er write about the atroc­i­ties in Buchen­wald, and Ernst von Weizsäck­er, the Ger­man ambas­sador to the Vat­i­can, are among many oth­er his­tor­i­cal per­son­al­i­ties in this riv­et­ing book.
Jack Fis­chel is pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus of his­to­ry at Millersville Uni­ver­si­ty, Millersville, PA and author of The Holo­caust (Green­wood Press) and His­tor­i­cal Dic­tio­nary of the Holo­caust (Row­man and Littlefield).

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