Henry T. King Jr., Prosecutor at Nuremberg, Dies at 89
The New York Times
By DENNIS HEVESI
Published: May 12, 2009
Henry T. King Jr., one of the last Nuremberg war crimes prosecutors and an influential voice since World War II in international efforts to bring war criminals to justice, died Saturday at his home in Cleveland. He was 89.
The cause was cancer, said his son, Dave.
Mr. King was “one of a handful of uniquely credible veterans in his field, one of the last voices of Nuremberg,” John Q. Barrett, a law professor at St. John’s University and an expert on the trials, said Monday. “He influenced students and lecture audiences, international diplomats and even heads of state.”
“Nuremberg left a lifelong imprint on Henry King,” Professor Barrett continued, “and through the next 60 years of his life, he spoke and wrote constantly about the value that came out of Nuremberg.”
Mr. King, along with Whitney Harris and Benjamin Ferencz, both of whom survive, were the last three of about 200 American prosecutors who helped bring dozens of Nazi leaders to trial from 1945 to 1949.
Half a century later, the three joined forces to help shape the creation of the International Criminal Court. When delegates from 131 nations met in Rome to establish the criminal court in 1998, their original draft placed war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide under the court’s jurisdiction. The delegates did not include wars of aggression as war crimes, as opposed to those fought in self-defense or authorized by the United Nations. The three prosecutors traveled to Rome and lobbied to reshape the draft.
“They used their moral authority; they were persistent, and ultimately the delegates included a reference to the crime of war of aggression in the court’s statute,” said Michael Scharf, the director of the International Law Center at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.
The I.C.C. is the first permanent international criminal court in history. (The United States has not ratified the I.C.C. treaty.)
The court is currently seeking to prosecute the president of Sudan, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, for crimes against humanity in Darfur and is considering other cases.
For the past 25 years, Mr. King was a law professor at Case Western Reserve, teaching courses on international law and war crimes. He was a member of the American Bar Association’s Task Force on War Crimes in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, and he was a senior adviser to the Robert H. Jackson Center in Jamestown, N.Y. The center brings together war crimes experts, promoting the legacy of Justice Robert H. Jackson of the Supreme Court, who in 1945 was appointed by President Harry S. Truman as chief prosecutor for the Nuremberg trials.
“Three generations of scholars and practitioners of international criminal law have been mentored by Mr. King,” Professor Scharf said.
Henry Thomas King Jr. was born in Meriden, Conn., on May 27, 1919, the son of Henry and Stella King. Besides his son, Mr. King is survived by his daughter, Suzanne Wagner; three grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren. His wife of 50 years, the former Betty May Scranton, died in 1993.
Mr. King graduated from Yale in 1941. A heart murmur kept him out of the military in World War II. He received his law degree from Yale in 1943. Soon after, while he was working at a New York law firm, he became bored. He traveled to the Pentagon in 1946 and was accepted as a member of the Nuremberg prosecution.
Mr. King was 26 when he stepped off a train in war-ravaged Nuremberg. All about him were the rubble of bombed-out buildings and people begging for food.
“As I walked to the courthouse for the first time, I said I’m going to dedicate my life to the prevention of this,” he said at a conference on genocide held last August by the Chautauqua Institution in Chautauqua, N.Y.
In 1945 and 1946, the United States, Britain, France and the Soviet Union had joined in the prosecution of 21 Nazi officials. Among them were Hermann Göring, commander of the Luftwaffe, and Albert Speer, who as minister of war production was in charge of all German industry. Eighteen of the 21 were convicted; on Oct. 16, 1946, 10 were hanged. Speer, the only one to express remorse, spent 20 years in prison; he died in 1981.
Assigned in 1946 and 1947 to the second phase of the trials, Mr. King investigated medical experiments performed on concentration camp inmates and gathered evidence against Walther von Brauchitsch, the commander of German armed forces. But his primary work was as assistant trial counsel in the case against Erhard Milch, a high-ranking German officer who was convicted in connection with the abuse and executions of slave laborers. His life sentence was later commuted to 15 years.
To gather evidence for the Milch case, Mr. King interviewed some of those already convicted, including Speer. It was the start of a long relationship, one in which Mr. King could never quite comprehend the contradictions in the seemingly contrite Speer.
For more than 30 years, Mr. King corresponded with Speer and visited him. He kept a photograph of Speer by his bedside. Still, he said, he was not taken in by the war criminal.
"Speer closed his eyes to the world of humanity, and thus, a concern for human ethics never intruded on his relentless drive as armaments minister,” Mr. King wrote in a 1997 memoir, “The Two Worlds of Albert Speer.” “In a technological world, the magic concoction for evil consists of blind technocrats such as Speer led by an evil and aggressive leader such as Hitler.”
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Henry T. King Jr.,
Henry T King Jr, who has died aged 89, was a young prosecutor at the Nuremberg war crime trials and an influential voice in international efforts to bring war criminals in present-day conflicts to justice.
Published: 6:59PM BST 18 May 2009
King was one of the last three of some 200 American prosecutors who helped bring dozens of Nazi leaders to trial between 1945 and 1949; the others still living are Whitney Harris and Benjamin Ferencz.
Half a century later, King, Harris and Ferencz joined forces to help shape the creation of the International Criminal Court (ICC), the first permanent body of its kind. In a landmark case, the court is trying to prosecute a sitting leader – Sudanese president Omar Hassan al-Bashir – for crimes against humanity. King's home country, America, has not ratified the ICC treaty.
Immediately after the Second World War, the United States, Britain, France and the Soviet Union jointly prosecuted 21 Nazi officials at Nuremberg for war crimes; among them were Hermann Goering, commander of the Luftwaffe, and Albert Speer, Hitler's closest personal associate who, as minister of war production, had been responsible for German industry. Of these, 18 were convicted, and on October 16 1946 10 were hanged. Speer, the only one to express remorse, spent 20 years in prison, and died in 1981.
King was assigned to the second phase of the Nuremberg tribunals. He helped prosecute Walther von Brauchitsch, the commander of German armed forces and, as assistant trial counsel, prepared the case against Field Marshal Erhard Milch, second-in-command of the Luftwaffe, who had led the German air armada in the Battle of Britain. Subsequently convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment for the abuse and execution of slave labourers, Milch eventually had his sentence commuted to 15 years.
As part of the case against Milch, King interviewed Goering several times, the last occasion being on September 28 1946, when King required him to sign an affidavit implicating Milch in certain war crimes. "Here's your affidavit," Goering snapped. "I give it back to you now and also the paper clip – they think I might do something to myself with this paper clip." A fortnight later, a day before his scheduled execution, Goering committed suicide with a cyanide capsule.
While gathering evidence in the Milch case, King interviewed Speer and was deeply impressed by his admission of guilt, striking up a correspondence with the German that was to last more than 30 years. King considered Speer "the window into Hitler's soul", and although King struggled to comprehend the contradictions in the seemingly contrite Speer, he insisted that he was never taken in by him.
"Speer closed his eyes to the world of humanity, and thus a concern for human ethics never intruded on his relentless drive as armaments minister," King wrote in his 1997 memoir The Two Worlds of Albert Speer. "In a technological world, the magic concoction for evil consists of blind technocrats such as Speer led by an evil and aggressive leader such as Hitler."
To King, Speer expressed enormous respect for the senior British judge, Sir Geoffrey Lawrence, who ran the tribunals with fairness and even-handedness. King believed that lawyers had a duty to create a better world for future generations: "We have been given a privilege by society to practise Law," he once said, "and in return we need to tithe a bit for society."
Henry Thomas King Jr was born at Meriden, Connecticut, on May 27 1919. He went through Yale Law School in two years instead of three, graduating in 1943.
He was disqualified from military service by a heart murmur, but became bored handling taxes and trusts for a New York law firm, and in 1946 was accepted by the Pentagon as a member of the Nuremberg prosecution team.
He was 26 when he stepped off a train in a rainstorm in Nuremberg amid the rubble of bombed-out buildings; all around him people were begging for food. "As I walked to the courthouse for the first time, I said I'm going to dedicate my life to the prevention of this," he recalled.
Returning to the United States after the Nuremberg trials, King became a corporate lawyer and legal adviser to a trade group. He served as counsel to the US foreign economic aid programme, originally known as the Marshall Plan, before spending two decades with a law firm based in Cleveland, Ohio.
From 1984 King was a law professor at Case Western Reserve, a private research university in Cleveland, teaching courses on international law and war crimes. In the 1990s he was a member of the American Bar Association's task force on war crimes in the former Yugoslavia.
He was also a senior adviser to the Robert H Jackson Centre in New York State, which brings together war crimes experts, promoting the legacy of a Supreme Court judge who, in 1945, was appointed by President Harry S Truman as chief prosecutor for the Nuremberg trials.
When asked how he coped at Nuremberg with a daily caseload of brutality, King would always reply with the single word "Scotch".
Henry T King Jr, who died on May 9, is survived by his daughter. His wife of 50 years, the former Betty May Scranton, a friend since nursery school, died in 1993.
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Henry T. King Jr., Nuremberg prosecutor, Case Western Reserve University professor, dies at age 89
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