Petersen, Arthur L.
Member of Prosecution Team at Nuremberg Trials
Arthur Petersen was part of the prosecuting team at the Nuremberg Trials. He was born in New York City in 1914 and graduated from Columbia University Law School in 1942.
During World War II he was in New York, practicing law when he was recruited by Colonel Mickey Marcus representing Justice Jackson. He was sought out because of his documentary work and expertise in the evidentiary field. He could also speak German.
In April, of 1946, the trials had already begun. He collected documents for war crime purposes. More than enough had already been gathered to try people in high level atrocities cases. The Germans had never destroyed any of their documents. They were found everywhere, even in the salt mines. Their plan was, once the war was over, to take over Russia.
Mr. Petersen prepared briefs for Brigadier General Telford Taylor. He interviewed Heinrich Himmler, the Chief of Police for the SS. He had twelve departments, each headed by a four star general.
He interviewed and prosecuted General Gottloeb Berger, the chief of the SS Main Office, who indoctrinated SS troops on the liquidation. He also interviewed Julius Streicher, the rabble-rouser who was hung but Berger was given a twenty-five year sentence which was commuted to ten years by High Commissioner John McCloy.
Mr. Petersen tried Berger, who was the ideological trainer of those who pulled the trigger.
McCloy has been accused of being more concerned with the Cold War than Nazi crimes. He is now working in the field of asbestos.
Mr. Petersen felt that we should have tried more cases and at a later date so that more data could be gathered.
In summary, Mr. Petersen criticized how the trials were conducted. Because of the demands of the Russians, the first who were tried were the business people (financiers) which hindered the subsequent procedural trials of others who were more directly involved with the Holocaust.
A number of high ranking Germans were never tried because they turned over information about the German warfare as it related to Russia. Even in those cases, where people were tried, the sentences were lighter than in the first trials even though the crimes were worse.
For example, SS General Berger, who headed the Main Office of the SS, headed the liquidation of Bialystock where, for example, 323 thousand were killed in just three months. He was found guilty and sentenced to twenty-five years, which was later commuted to ten years.
Some of those convicted in the first trials, for much lesser crimes, were executed.
Interviewer: Rabbi Charles Rosenzveig
Date: August 5, 1986
Format: Video recording