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The Nuremberg Interviews: Conversations with the Defendants and Witnesses [Paperback]

Leon Goldensohn
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

1 Feb 2007

The Nuremberg Interviews reveals the chilling innermost thoughts of the former Nazi officials under indictment at the famous postwar trial. The architects of one of history's greatest atrocities speak out about their lives, their careers in the Nazi Party and their views on the Holocaust.

Their reflections are recorded in a set of interviews conducted by a U.S. Army psychiatrist. Dr Leon Goldensohn was entrusted with monitoring the mental health of the two dozen German leaders charged with carrying out genocide, as well as that of many of the defence and prosecution witnesses. These recorded conversations have gone largely unexamined for more than fifty years.

Here are interviews with some of the highest-ranking Nazi officials in the Nuremberg jails, including Hans Frank, Hermann Goering, Ernest Kaltenbrunner, and Joachim von Ribbentrop. Here, too, are interviews with lesser-known officials who were, nonetheless, essential to the workings of the Third Reich.

Goldensohn was a particularly astute interviewer, his training as a psychiatrist leading him to probe the motives, the rationales, and the skewing of morality that allowed these men to enact an unfathomable evil. Candid and often shockingly truthful, these interviews are deeply disturbing in their illumination of an ideology gone mad.

Each interview is annotated with biographical information and footnotes that place the man and his actions in their historical context and are a profoundly important addition to our understanding of the Nazi mind and mission.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Pimlico; New Ed edition (1 Feb 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1844139190
  • ISBN-13: 978-1844139194
  • Product Dimensions: 15.3 x 3.8 x 23.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 418,492 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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"A gripping work of history, a series of oral narratives that drag the reader, almost by force, into the nightmarish mental landscape of the Third Reich" (William Grimes New York Times)

"A rare document...striking proof of the banality of evil" (Kirkus Reviews)

"Goldensohn serves as a down-to-earth Dante in these anterooms to hell, getting one damned soul after another to reveal himself in his own Goldensohn made his rounds, he mostly kept his astonishment and dismay under control. It's more than readers will be able to do" (Newsweek)

"Goldensohn's conversations with these men are perturbing because most of the them seem like many of us except for the circumstances that lured them into opportunistic deviance. Goldensohn may not have left a headline-making legacy of belated revelations, but he has complicated further the tapestry of evil" (Publishers Weekly)

"Virtually all the top Nazi officials tried at Nuremberg are interviewed here, and their responses make for fascinating yet chilling reading... Without necessarily intending to do so, these men reveal how easily totalitarian systems can induce acquiescence to or even enthusiastic participation in evil" (Booklist)

Book Description

A remarkable insight into the Nazi mentality and the nature of evil

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Unique insight but with minor limitations 7 Sep 2006
This book contains unique information collected through interviews with the Nuremberg trial defendants and some of the witnesses by the prison psychiatrist. A good general introduction to the history of the trials is given and then each individual is covered in a separate chapter.

Unfortunately, the list of defendants covered is not complete - no Seyss-Inquart or Raeder - and these omissions are not explained, nor is the single page devoted to Speer. One possible explanation for this might be due to missing notes, as the book was compiled by a historian years after the trials had finished (?). Each set of interviews also contained too much information about the subject's childhood and family which does not interest me.

The author makes clear that much of the material needs to be read with caution, given that those imparting the information were potentially facing the gallows, i.e. not objective. However, they are still their own words, assuming accurate transcription, and this consideration does not apply to the same degree with the witnesses.

I found the witness section the most interesting because of the high profile interviewees included and the more candid nature of the testimony. As alluded to above, this was partly due to the fact that they were facing no or lesser charges or, alternatively, were certain to hang whatever (e.g. Hoess). This didn't stop one or two of the SS lying through their teeth, however. The final chapter covering Hitler's interpreter and his opinions on foreign affairs makes excellent reading. Others include: Pohl, Schellenberg, Kesselring, Sepp Dietrich, von Manstein of a total of 14.

Writing this review has focused my attention on how much I liked this, despite some minor grumbles - highly recommended for those interested in the trials or the Nazi regime.
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
The most frightening thing about these interviews is that they expose how utterly banal the major players in Nazi Germany during World War II actually were. This series of interviews, conducted with defendants and witnesses during the Nuremberg Trials and recorded faithfully by Leon Goldensohn, make for compelling reading. But the difficulty is - you don't know quite why you so want to continue. Perhaps you are looking for a hint of the larger-than-life monster in each character? Perhaps you are hoping for remorse, acceptance of responsibility, truth? But you don't find it in these words. What you find is a picture of fear, inhumanity in many cases, weakness, bombast and a birds-eye view tainted by some very different personalities.

A valuable first hand account for any students of Twentieth Century History.
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8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Chilling 30 May 2009
As a young person who cannot get to grips with what happened during the Holocaust, i felt that reading this book would help me to understand how normal men could commit such unspeakable evil.

I started the book expecting to come across the individual testimonies of monsters and devils but as i got through the book it became clear that this wasnt the case.

The most frightening thing is most of the the defendants are shockingly normal. Its easy to look at the old newsreels of them sitting in the dock at Nuremberg and judge all of them as evil, but this book reveals that some of them were more evil than others.

This book shows us that the political hierarchy of Nazi germany was not only made up of evil fanatics i.e Hans Frank, Alfred Rosenberg, Ernst Kaltenbrunner, Julius Streicher and Hermann Goering, but was also made up of weak insecure characters who found themselves in so deep that they went along with whatever Hitler wanted. In this category i would place Wilhelm Keitel, Joachim Von Ribbentrop, Walther Funk and Hjalmar Schact. However they all deny any knowledge of atrocities and are quick to stress they were only following orders.

Most shocking is the complete lack of remorse from many of the defendants for the 11 million innocent people which died at their hands. This book is a must read for anyone interested in the Holocaust and Nazi Germany in general. Id also suggest reading Gustave Gilberts Nuremberg Diary as he was the other US psychiatrist working alongside Leon Goldensohn. He seems to make more of his own observations on the defendants characters where as Goldensohn only touches on this a little.

Im also reading Vivien Spitz book on the Nazi Doctors Trial and i can tell you now, if you think the major war criminals were evil they had absolutley NOTHING on the Nazi Doctors.
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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Quite Interesting 25 Nov 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I was intrigued with the fact that these interviews existed at all and reading them was fascinating.
To think that they were almost lost is incredible.
A very absorbing read.
I just wish the interviews had been filmed so we could look them in the eyes when they gave their excuses.
Isn't it funny that it is always someone else's fault!!
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.5 out of 5 stars  38 reviews
74 of 77 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Fascinating Book in Many Ways 13 Oct 2004
By D. L. Workman - Published on
Everything about this book is utterly fascinating - it contains verbatim interviews with the Nazi leaders on trial for their lives at Nuremberg, conducted by Leon Goldensohn, a military psychiatrist who passed away in 1961. Dr. Goldensohn's hand-written and typed interview notes were kept in boxes in his family's home for over 40 years. The interviews read like narratives - details of the prisoners themselves, their surroundings, their motives, are described in ways that read like a good story, although very chilling at times. Not surprisingly, each man conveys an unwillingness to assume responsibility for his part in the Holocaust. This is a must read for those interested in Jewish history but also for anyone who is intrigued in the story behind the story - how a young Jewish doctor from Newark, New Jersey was able to sit in a prison cell with leaders of the Nazi party and get them to talk so openly about themselves.
86 of 94 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Neuemburg interviews 30 Oct 2004
By Donald G. Brenner - Published on
I am a personal friend of Eli, and first read some of this material at his home in NY. I was unable to respond to my emotions other than to say "the world has to see this". Handwritten pages of interviews transcribed every night to typewritten pages. Pages filled with the most mundane complaints concerning prision life, only interesting because these people were the architects of the most well known genocide of my life. That the author was a Jew and able to distance himself and gain the confidence of these people is nothing less than amazing. I an very pleased to see this in print, it came very close to being lost forever.
37 of 39 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Unique Perspective on the Nazi Leadership 3 Mar 2005
By Ronald H. Clark - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is a most useful book, and one that is quite interesting to read for the most part. The author, who died in 1961, was an Army psychiatrist assigned to interview a number of the Nuremberg defendants and some of the witnesses (many of whom later were tried themselves). The editor has reclaimed the author's notes (which are almost verbatim transcripts) of the interviews and put them into a handy format for review, including introductory brief biographies. While at times repetitive (e.g., the individual knew nothing of the "final solution" because Hitler insisted that each official only be concerned with the work of his own department; they point to Bohrmann, Goebblels, and Himmler as being the real malignant characters more than Hitler), there is nothing comparable to hearing defendants like Goering, Hans Frank, von Ribbentrop, Erich von dem Bach-Zelewski, Oswald Pohl and Erhard Milch recounting their views of the war and Hitler. There is a nice representation of civilian and military leaders. I found the interviews of Hitler's translator, Paul O. Schmidt, and that of Rudolf Hoess, commandant of Auschwitz, particularly interesting. Not surprisingly, most of the interviewees were not especially interested in talking about concentration camps and Jewish extermination--rather, a wide number of topics are touched upon relating to the Nazi party, Hitler, and military tactics. A helpful introduction and a discussion of how the interviews were obtained and preserved compliment the interviews themselves.
25 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Nuremberg: The "Final" Solution? 11 April 2005
By Harold Y. Grooms - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
In 1946, trial was held for 24 of the highest-ranking Nazi's, in Nuremberg, Germany. Arraigned on four counts including, conspiracy to commit crimes, crimes against peace, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, 12 were sentenced to death by hanging, two others, to death in absentia, three to life imprisonment, two to twenty years, one to fifteen years, and one to ten years. Three were found not guilty. While awaiting trail, American psychiatrist, Leon Goldensohn, interviewed each of the defendants and key witnesses. This is their story.

Goldensohn lets each man describe his role in the Third Reich, in his own words. Readers get an insight into the demented thought processes of Hitler's Deputy, Rudolf Hess, and that of the vain and pompous Reich Marshal, Hermann Goering et. al. How and why 2.5 million people were gassed at Auschwitz it told without emotion by it's notorious Commandant, Rudolph Hoess. Common reasons were:

"I knew nothing!"
"I was given only enough information to do my job."
"The Holocaust was the work of Hitler, Himmler, and Borman."
"I was only following orders!"

Goldensohn allows the reader to determine each interviewee's degree of guilt or innocence. What is amazing is the candor of the men who tell exactly what they did and why without reservation. Almost all deny any wrongdoing! "I was only following orders," seemed an adequate defense to men raised under Nazi tutelage throughout their lives.

Nuremberg firmly established the principle of individual responsibility for crimes committed even during time of war. While the first, it was, by no means, the "final" solution to crimes against peace or humanity. The Nuremberg Interviews explains the motivations of the men most directly responsible for the deaths of an estimated 6 million people. This work is therefore a must read for anyone interested in the history of the Third Reich or the Holocaust. 5 stars!!
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Worthy, even landmark, addition to Holocaust/Nazi history 22 Mar 2007
By Mr. Truthteller - Published on
After World War II the allies and occupied/liberated countries (e.g., Britain, France, Italy, Poland, Greece, the Soviet Union) tried tens of thousands of people (German POWs, Nazi officials, Nazi colloborators, etc.) for war crimes. The records of most of these trials (many of which were summary) are not available for one reason or another. The most notorious of these war crimes trials were the ones before the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg (scene of the spectacle of the Nazi party day celebrations) in which the U.S., Britain, France, and the USSR jointly prosecuted both organizations (e.g., the SS) and individuals (e.g., Martin Bormann, presumed to be the most powerful man in Germany after Hitler at the end of war, although he was tried "in absentia").

These trials were notorious for two reasons.

First, major players of the Third Reich then in captivity were on trial and attesting to events they were involved in (unlike in normal criminal trials in the U.S., in these trials the accused had no right against self-incrimination and could not refuse to testify or be cross-examined).

Second, documentation of the mass killings in concentration/extermination camps, which some had tried to downplay to that point as propaganda, was divulged to the world for all to see.

Dr. Goldensohn was a psychiatrist who interviewed defendants and witnesses in captivity at the Nuremberg trials on a regular basis. In so doing Dr. Goldensohn's purposes were several: He had to gauge the person's mental spirits (the prosecutors did not want to lose anyone to suicide) and medical well-being, as well as obtain a personal and family history, and prepare a psychological profile.

The results are nothing short of amazing, if not startling. With a few possible exceptions, all of the interviewees tried to distance themselves from the mass killings in one way or another and expressed remorse that they occurred. Their primary excuses were: (1) they knew nothing about them until the end of the war when the inmates in the camps were freed, and (2) they were just following orders, which if disobeyed meant their own death or imprisonment.

The extracts from Dr. Goldenson's contemporaneous interview notes are presented as separate chapters, one for each person. The interviews are primarily independent of each other (they are presented in the book in alphabetical order by defendants and then by witnesses). They can thus be easily read separately or out of order at a leisurely pace without losing the overall context of the book.

The interviews for a particular person vary from 1-2 pages (Rudolf Hess, Alfred Jodl, Albert Speer, Kurt Daluege) to over 20 pages (Walther Funk, Hermann Goering, Hjalmar Schacht, Ewald von Kleist) in length, most are about 10-15 pages. Many of the interviewees come off as bland and colorless, one exception is Reichsmarschall Hermann Goering who by turns is remonstrative and bombastic. Each chapter begins with the person's photo, along with a brief description of their positions and titles, and what ultimately happened to them (death, imprisonment, not guilty).

Dr. Goldensohn's work is particularly enchanced by the participation of historian Robert Gellately, who (1) provides as an introduction a 20-plus page insightful and balanced discussion of the background of the trials and interviews, (2) masterfully edits and abridges the interviews presented (they were still in an incomplete format when Dr. Goldensohn died in 1961, some were typed, some were handwritten, and contained errors in spelling and syntax, etc.), and (3) provides useful endnotes on many of the statements of the interviewees (the endnotes explain the context of some of the statements made, expose misstatements or outright falsehoods, and contain references for further reading).

There are a couple of minor shortcomings to the work: (1) Dr. Goldensohn was not fluent in German and had to rely on a translator for what most of the interviewees were saying: thus it is possible "something got lost in the translation"; (2) one must remember that all of the interviewees were on trial for their lives (10 of the 19 "defendants" were sentenced to death as, at subsequent trials, were 5 of the 14 "witnesses"; 7 of the defendants and 7 of the witnesses received jail terms) and probably suspected anything incriminatory they said would be used against them (indeed, there was no patient-doctor confidentiality in these interviews and any statements they made to Dr. Goldensohn could have been used against them although that apparently never happened). (In this regard, for what its worth, two of the most extensive interview notes in the book are those for Hans Fritsche, a minion who worked in the German Propaganda Ministry, and Hjalmar Schact, former president of the Reichsbank (to 1939) and minister without portfolio (to 1943), both of whom were found not guilty.)
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