Nuremberg Prosecutor, Boalt Graduate Dies

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Whitney Harris at the Nuremberg Trials

Whitney Harris, the last surviving prosecutor from the Nuremberg Trials and a graduate of Boalt Hall, recently died from cancer.

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Whitney Harris, a Boalt Hall School of Law graduate best known for his work in prosecuting Nazi war criminals during the Nuremberg trials, died last Wednesday at his home in St. Louis. He was 97.

Harris was the last surviving prosecutor to appear before the International Military Tribunal, and his work contributed to the conviction and hanging of a high-ranking Nazi official who oversaw the Gestapo's operations.

Harris was born in Seattle in 1912, graduated magna cum laude from the University of Washington in 1933 and served as a private lawyer in Los Angeles following his graduation from Boalt in 1936.

After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Harris enlisted in the U.S. Navy and went on to investigate war crimes in Europe at the Office of Strategic Services.

In 1945, Harris joined the team of lawyers under Robert Jackson, chief prosecutor for the U.S. in the Nazi criminal trial.

Harris principally focused on the case against Ernst Kaltenbrunner, the head of the Reich Main Security Office, which presided over the Nazi secret police. Kaltenbrunner was ultimately convicted of war crimes and crimes against humanity and sentenced to death by hanging.

Harris also participated in the interrogations of key witnesses, including Rudolf Hoess, the first commandant of the Auschwitz concentration camp. Under questioning by a team of lawyers, including Harris, Hoess described the inner workings of Auschwitz and became the first Nazi to testify about the millions of Jews who had been killed at the camp.

Harris later published the book "Tyranny on Trial" in 1954, the first and only systematic account of all the evidence presented at the trial other than the court records, according to John Q. Barrett, a professor at St. John's University and a friend of Harris.

Profoundly affected by his experience at Nuremberg, Harris continued to advocate for international justice alongside fellow war crimes prosecutors at the 1998 Rome conference for the establishment of the International Criminal Court.

Barrett said Harris had witnessed both the best and worst of humanity and had been deeply moved by the transformation.

"He lived to see it, and in a way, had contributed to it," Barrett said.

Patrick Osborne, executive director of the Whitney R. Harris World Ecology Center at the University of Missouri, St. Louis, said Harris was also largely interested in environmental issues and worked with the United Nations to set up commissions to end genocide.

"He saw the connection between peace and justice and the human condition and the environment," Osborne said.

According to Leila Sadat, professor of law and director of the Whitney R. Harris World Law Institute at Washington University in St. Louis, he was a substantial philanthropist and will remain a prominent figure in the St. Louis community.

Harris is survived by his wife, son, four stepchildren, and 13 grandchildren.


Contact Kim Bielak at [email protected]

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