Thursday, 13 September 2012

Laura Knight: The Dock/Nuremberg Trials. Knight's description of the Trials. Factsheet on the 21 Prisoners/War Leaders in the Dock.

27.1.14. Update: Amanda Whittington's serial  based on the diaries of Dame Laura Knight during the Nazi War Crime Trials is currently on Radio 4 this week, at 10.45 and 745. 

                      The Dock; Nuremberg, 1946.  Imperial War Museum

Photo: Front row, left to right: Hermann Göring, Rudolf Heß, Joachim von Ribbentrop, Wilhelm Keitel.
Second row, from left to right: Karl Dönitz, Erich Raeder, Baldur von Schirach, Fritz Sauckel
Dame Laura Knight was an official war artist during WW II, and at the age of 68 was commissioned in January 1946 to paint the Nuremberg Trials for the British Government War Records.

She writes movingly about her stay there in in her fascinating autobiography, The Magic of a Line, noting the “first view of total destruction” on her way to Nuremberg from Fϋrt airport.

In Chapter XXXVIII, From My Nuremberg Diary, Dame Laura tells of the horrors of war, the people she met and painted, and describes the contrast between the luxury in the Grand Hotel – although that too had been bombed, and the poverty and difficulties faced by the Germans in the ruined city.

Food at the Grand, where she stayed, was flown in from the USA, “for there is no food to be bought or begged in Germany.” She felt for her German chambermaid: “Bare flesh pokes through the numberless darns of the rag of a pullover she is wearing.”

Unlike the other war artists in the courtroom of the Palace of Justice, who painted the defendants from a balcony opposite the prisoners - so far away they had to use opera glasses - Dame Laura chose to paint them from a much nearer vantage point, at the side and from above, in the borrowed American broadcasting box, which was empty most of  the time.

Her painting The Dock. Nuremberg, 1946  shows the group of German defence lawyers in front of two benches of the twenty-one prisoners/German war leaders, guarded from behind by US soldiers - known as Snowdrops on account of their white helmets. In the background, instead of painting the oak-panelled walls of the courtroom, Dame Laura depicted the apocalyptic scene of the bombed and devastated city of Nuremberg on fire, the ravaged buildings and piles of rubble that she saw on her daily trip to and from the court and during her walks around the city.

Most of the prisoners are wearing earphones. Dame Laura describes some of the accused in the front row:
Hermann Goering had his own Snowdrop: “no beauty to look at”
Rudolph Heß: “his eyes deep-set in cavernous sockets”
Joachim von Ribbentrop, “for some reason I keep forgetting to draw him. He looks a wreck”
Wilhelm Keitel: “always stiffly upright”
Alfred Rosenberg
Hans Frank
Julius Streicher: “bulky in a checked sports suit”
Walther Funk, “Poor little Funk the pianist:…every feature of his face droops in despair.” (Funk used to play the piano for Hitler).
Hjalmar Schacht:  “concentrating on the book he reads constantly…Churchill’s biography in German, I am told”
Admiral Karl Dönitz -in the back row- “looks as ordinary as any other man you would meet on the streets”.

The 21 defendants at Nuremberg.
Front row, from left to right: Hermann Göring, Rudolf Hess, Joachim von Ribbentrop, Wilhelm Keitel, Ernst Kaltenbrunner, Alfred Rosenberg, Hans Frank, Wilhelm Frick, Julius Streicher, Walther Funk, Hjalmar Schacht.
Back row from left to right: Karl Dönitz, Erich Raeder, Baldur von Schirach, Fritz Sauckel, Alfred Jodl, Franz von Papen, Arthur Seyss-Inquart, Albert Speer, Konstantin van Neurath, Hans Fritzsche.
Sir Norman Birkett, KC, Nuremberg, 1946
Dame Laura admired Judge Sir Norman Birkett, writing of “his pity for the twenty wretched creatures in the dock, some of whom know only too well that their days in this world are only too few!” She painted Birkett and Lord Justice Lawrence  during the trials.
Lord Justice Lawrence, Nuremberg, 1946

She formed a firm friendship with Colonel Andrus, who was in charge of the prisoners at Nuremberg, “one of the kindest and most honourable men I ever knew”. The Colonel gave a dinner party for Dame Laura, Lord Justice and Lady Lawrence and Mr. Justice Jackson, before taking them to Cavalleria Rusticana at the Opera House.

 “During dinner Mr. Justice Jackson told us that he considered Goering’s. exposition of Nazi principles and his own defence was the most brilliant argument he had ever heard. Lord Justice Lawrence agreed with him”.

The Dock  painting goes far beyond a depiction of the War Trials, with the background of destruction so movingly portrayed by Dame Laura Knight.  It makes the spectator feel the futility of war, a sense of guilt for the bombing campaign carried out by the Allies, and sympathy for the vanquished.

Nuremberg Trials Fact Sheet.
  • Karl Doenitz: Commander-in-Chief of the German Navy
  • Hans Frank: Governor-general of occupied Poland
  • Wilhelm Frick: Minister of the Interior
  • Hans Fritzsche: Head of the Wireless News Service (radio produced by the Reich)
  • Walther Funk: Minister of Economics
  • Hermann Goering: Second-in-command to Hitler, Luftwaffe (Air Force) Chief, President of Reichstag
  • Rudolf Hess: Deputy to Hitler, Nazi Party Leader
  • Alfred Jodl: Chief of Operations for the German High Command (Army)
  • Ernst Kaltenbrunner: Chief of Security Police, Chief of RSHA (an organization containing, among other things, the Austrian branches of the SS and the Gestapo)
  • Wilhelm Keitel: Chief of Staff of the German High Command
  • Erich Raeder: Commander-in-Chief of the German Navy (before Doenitz)
  • Alfred Rosenberg: Minister of the Eastern Occupied Territories, Chief Nazi Philosopher
  • Fritz Sauckel: Head of Slave Labour Recruitment
  • Hjalmar Schacht: Minister of Economics (pre-war), President of Reichsbank
  • Arthur Seyss-Inquart: Chancellor of Austria, Reich Commissioner of the Netherlands
  • Albert Speer: Minister of Armaments and Munitions, Hitler’s architect and friend
  • Julius Streicher: Editor of Der Sturmer (anti-Semitic publication)
  • Konstantin von Neurath: Minister of Foreign Affairs, Reich Protector for Bohemia and Moravia
  • Franz von Papen: Chancellor of Reich before Hitler, Vice Chancellor under Hitler, Ambassador to Turkey
  • Joachim von Ribbentrop: Foreign Minister, Ambassador to England
  • Baldur von Schirach: Head of Hitler Youth
Paintings from the Imperial War Museum