Page last updated at 01:07 GMT, Friday, 20 March 2009

Nazi trial letters open to public

Letter from David Maxwell Fyfe
Maxwell Fyfe explains how he knocked 'fat boy' Goering off his perch

Documents revealing the thoughts of the main British prosecutor at the Nuremberg Nazi war crimes trials have been opened to the public.

Letters from prosecutor David Maxwell Fyfe have been released at the Churchill Archives Centre in Cambridge.

Thought to have been lost, the letters to his wife were found by his grandson.

In one of them Mr Maxwell Fyfe refers to Hermann Goering as "the fat boy" and says he feels he "knocked him off his perch" during cross-examination.

The 205 letters between Mr Maxwell Fyfe and his wife Sylvia offer a day-by-day insider's account of the historic Nuremberg trials in 1945/6 which brought prominent Nazis to justice.

'Fat boy'

They are being released on the 63rd anniversary of Mr Maxwell Fyfe's interrogation of the leading Nazi defendant, the Luftwaffe commander Hermann Goering, on 20 March 1946.

Previously unseen by others, they show how Mr Maxwell Fyfe felt he was having more impact than the American prosecutor Robert H Jackson.

Radio reporter Markus Wolf describes his memories of the Nuremberg trials

He wrote to his wife: "I think that my cross examination of Goering went off all right. Everyone here was very pleased. Jackson had not only made no impression but actually built up the fat boy [Goering] further. I think I knocked him reasonably off his perch."

The letters were found several years ago by Mr Maxwell Fyfe's grandson, Tom Blackmore, in the vaults of his grandfather's firm of solicitors.

"We knew the letters had existed because my grandmother had mentioned them, but we thought they had been destroyed. To my great delight they were there," Mr Blackmore said.

"I opened them in the taxi on the way back and went through them one by one. It was very moving. They are love letters as well - they were wild about each other."

'Pivotal moment'

Mr Blackmore sorted and transcribed the letters before giving them to the Churchill Archives Centre to make them accessible to the public.

The Centre's Director Allen Packwood said: "There is no doubt that Nuremberg was a pivotal moment in the development of international criminal law, and these hitherto unseen private letters show this history in the making."

David Maxwell Fyfe addressing the Nuremberg courtroom
Maxwell Fyfe (standing at lectern) in the Nuremberg courtroom

Mr Blackmore transcribed his grandfather's difficult handwriting over a period of years, but admitted some words have proved too tricky to decipher: "Everyone is welcome to try and make out the words that I couldn't".

In the 1950s Mr Maxwell Fyfe, who was born in Edinburgh, was a Conservative home secretary and was later Lord Chancellor as Lord Kilmuir. He also helped to draft the European Convention on Human Rights.

Mr Blackmore is now planning a dramatic film adaptation of the letters to coincide with the 60th anniversary of the Convention next year.

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