Whitney Harris: Lawyer who assisted in the prosecution of high-ranking Nazis at the Nuremberg Trials

Whitney Harris was the last surviving member of the three-man US legal team that prosecuted high-ranking Nazi war criminals at the Nuremberg Trials in 1945, and he later became a significant voice in the founding of the International Criminal Court. The work carried out by Harris and his colleagues, through interrogations and evidence-gathering, helped to reveal much to the outside world of the atrocities carried out in Eastern Europe by the Einsatzgruppen, or death squads, and the origins of the Holocaust.

Born in Seattle in 1912, the son of a car salesman, Whitney Robson Harris graduated from the University of Washington in 1933 and received his law degree from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1936. Following Japan's attack on Pearl Harbour he joined the Navy and was recruited to the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the forerunner to the CIA, where his assignments included gathering evidence relating to war crimes.

He joined the allied war crimes legal team as the war in Europe came to a close, working closely with, and becoming the principal aide to, the United States chief prosecutor Justice Robert Jackson. At Nuremberg, Harris was lead prosecutor and chiefly responsible for the prosecution of Ernst Kaltenbrunner, the most senior surviving leader and former Chief of the Reichssicherheitshauptamt (Reich Main Security Office), and against two of its main agencies, the Gestapo and the SD, or security service.

In order to obtain evidence against Kaltenbrunner, Harris participated in the three-day interrogation of the former Auschwitz concentration camp commandant Rudolf Franz Ferdinand Höss, who claimed unapologetically that 2.5 million people had been exterminated under his supervision. This, along with photographs showing Kaltenbrunner at Mauthausen concentration camp flanking his security office predecessor, Heinrich Himmler, the commander of the SS and the Nazi police, helped secure his conviction. Harris also helped in the cross-examination of Hermann Göring, Hitler's second-in-command and designated successor, but Göring evaded the hangman's noose by taking cyanide just before he was due to face execution.

The International Military Tribunal, which took place between November 1945 and October 1946, saw 24 Nazi officials indicted, with 21 tried, one in absentia, 18 convicted and three acquitted. On the night of 15 October 1946, 10 of the convicted were hanged, with Harris there to represent the prosecution. "The bodies were burned in ovens which had been designed, and used, for Dachau prisoners," he recalled.

After Nuremberg, Harris served as Chief of Legal Advice during the Berlin Blockade before returning home to become professor of law at Southern Methodist University, Dallas, as well as director of the Hoover Commission's Legal Services Task Force and the first Executive Director of the American Bar Association. Harris is credited with writing the first comprehensive book on the Nuremberg trials, Tyranny on Trial, the Evidence at Nuremberg (1954), which was described by the New York Times as "the first complete historical and legal analysis of the Nuremberg trial".

In later years he devoted his energies primarily to speaking, writing, and teaching in the area of international law and justice. Despite being haunted by his work during the Nuremberg trials, he was a strong supporter of modern international tribunals, including the court for the former Yugoslavia, the court for Rwanda, and the International Criminal Court, which he helped in the creation of, along with two colleagues, Henry King Jr and Benjamin Ferencz. "We should not fear to establish the principles of law which will permit civilisation to survive," Harris said.

Whitney Robson Harris, lawyer; born Seattle 12 August 1912; married 1964 Jane Foster (died 1999), secondly Anna Galakatos (one son, three stepsons, one stepdaughter); died St Louis, Missouri 21 April 2010.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
love + sex
Voices
A propaganda video shows Isis forces near Tikrit
voicesAdam Walker: The Koran has violent passages, but it also has others that explicitly tells us how to interpret them
News
people
Sport
football
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Outbound Sales Executive - B2B

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A great opportunity has arisen ...

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Associate

£14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Full time and Part time positio...

Ashdown Group: IT Manager - Salesforce / Reports / CRM - North London - NfP

£45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and reputable Not for Profit o...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger & Credit Control Assistant

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Ledger & Credit Control...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn