Norman J.W. Goda. Tales from Spandau: Nazi Criminals and the Cold War. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007. XIII + 390 S. $30.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-521-86720-7.
Reviewed by Annette Weinke
Published on H-Soz-u-Kult (December, 2007)
N. Goda: Tales from Spandau
The last ten years have seen considerable growth in research on the Nuremberg war crimes trials and the implications of “Nuremberg” as a transnational memory site. Most of the scholarship concentrates on the political and legal debates around the establishment of the International Military Tribunal (IMT) in 1945. The question of how the punishment of the so-called “Major War Criminals” who received long prison terms impacted on the aims of the Allies has not been raised until now, and is the focus of Norman J.W. Goda’s most recent book. Based on extensive archival work in the United States, France, Great Britain and Germany, Goda provides us with a fascinating account of the Spandau Allied Military Prison, situated in the British sector of West Berlin. Due to the fact that the Allies never abandoned their Four-Power control over the prison, it soon became one of the most bizarre institutions of the Cold War, representing the paradoxes and day-to-day absurdities of the global military and political stalemate on a microcosmic scale.
The history of the famous prison is that of a makeshift device which becomes permanent. After the IMT issued its verdicts in October 1946, the Allied Kommandantura had the job of organizing executions and implementing prison sentences. One of the first tasks was to find a suitable building for the imprisonment of the seven convicts. This proved to be rather difficult due to the ongoing denazification proceedings and the relatively high rate of petty criminality in postwar Berlin. In the end, the Allies chose the old Prussian military prison in Spandau, erected in the late 19th century, when Spandau was still a separate garrison town for the army. As Goda points out, the main criteria for the Berlin commandants were the availability of space and security. With 132 cells including toilets, the building provided the appropriate facilities for keeping up to 50 prominent prisoners. This seemed to be a realistic number in early 1947, when most of the persons in charge of war crimes trials were still anticipating a second International Military Tribunal. Since Spandau needed little repair in order to meet the security standards, it did not matter that the Nazis had used the prison for the incarceration of innumerable political prisoners, among them members of the resistance group “Red Orchestra”.
According to the author, at the time Spandau was opened neither the Western Powers nor the Soviets seemed to have fully grasped the inherent sensitivity of the imprisonment issue. Therefore there “was practically no discussion of the issues of symbolism and martyrdom that would inevitably accompany a prison in which leading Nazis could conceivably spend many years” (p. 24). This lack of awareness for matters of representation and public sentiment is also reflected by the fact that there was no serious attempt to agree on authoritative rules for penal servitude. Instead, a modified version of the German Prison Regulations of 1943 was used for the purpose. In 1948, with the prospect looming of a third world war over Berlin, the time to review this provisional solution had passed. But as Goda demonstrates, the unclear legal status of the institution and its procedures of confinement had a number of contradictory effects, most of them unforeseeable in the late 1940s. On the one hand, the question of the prisoners’ treatment became one of the most contentious issues, causing considerable tensions between the Western Allies and the Soviets as well as between the former Allies and their respective German partners. On the other, the vagueness of the whole arrangement probably made it easier to hammer out ad-hoc compromises. In the wake of the Cold War and the crisis over Berlin, Spandau remained one of the few spheres where the virtues of Four Power political arm-wrestling could be practised on a day-to-day basis.
That was also the view of the Adenauer government, which issued frequent polemics against the institution but never questioned its existence, seeing it as a guarantee for a Western presence in Berlin. Against this backdrop, it is especially remarkable that also the SED Politbüro vehemently opposed the idea of releasing the last prisoners, von Schirach, Hess and Speer, as was contemplated within Khrushchev’s inner circle in 1958. As Goda convincingly argues, the reaction of the East German leadership finally caused the Soviets not to jettison their engagement in Spandau. The reason was that SED chief Ulbricht had tied his agreement to the dissolution of the prison to the unrealistic demand that Speer – who in Ulbricht’s view personified German militarism and revanchism like no other – should serve his remaining term in an East German prison.
In the second part of his book, Goda presents a couple of case studies which exemplify the entanglements between Allied war crimes policy and the trajectories of public memory. Despite the fact that he had no access to Russian sources and to the private collections of the convicted war criminals, the author nevertheless is able to paint a detailed and colorful portrait of each of the seven high-profile inmates. Because his research interest lies mainly in the mnemonic aspects of Spandau, he concentrates on those cases which had a strong resonance within the German and international publics. Konstantin Freiherr von Neurath, foreign minister in Hitler’s first cabinet, was probably the prisoner who received the most sympathies in Germany and abroad. Thanks to massive lobbying efforts and his excellent contacts within conservative and aristocratic circles in West Germany and Great Britain, the fate of the aged Swabian nobleman mobilized a large array of supporters. Coordinated by his daughter-in-law, the tireless Winifred von Mackensen, the different initiatives took the form of a modern human rights campaign, juxtaposing “Western civilisation” against “Asian barbarism”.
No less interesting are the cases of the two Admirals, Erich Raeder and Karl Dönitz, which not only triggered vociferous protests from the emerging West German veterans’ organizations, but which also led to a Bundestag debate about Leitbilder (role models) for the recently founded West German army. In the chapter on Albert Speer, Goda successfully destroys the myths crafted by Speer himself and a couple of sympathizing historians. Although Goda’s insight that Speer was first and foremost “a liar” is less surprising than suggested – considering the amount of recent scholarship which elaborates on Speer’s involvement in the anti-Jewish policies of the regime – it is nevertheless stunning to see how he was able to convince friends and foes alike of his innocence. The last case is that of Rudolf Hess, whose appeal never went beyond that of old and new right-wing groups. The lack of sympathy notwithstanding, he caused a lot of trouble for the former Allies and the West German bureaucracy, thanks to the efforts of his grandstanding lawyer Alfred Seidl.
“Tales From Spandau” is a well-researched study, dealing with the repercussions of war crimes policy on the formation of postwar memories. It underlines that the confrontation over the imprisoned major war criminals was indeed an integral part of postwar identity struggles and memory politics. This is the indisputable merit of the book. What is less convincing, however, is the somehow obscure attempt of the author to tie his findings to current developments in the area of international criminal law. What he has to say on the issue of the death penalty sounds ambiguous at best. His concluding advice to the “international community” that it is unclear whether “the kinder prison regime received by contemporary war criminals will alleviate the problems encountered at Spandau” (p. 277), seems not only questionable considering the inflationary use of the death penalty in many parts of the world, but also reflects a certain indifference toward discussions about the steadily declining standards of the penal system both in Europe and the USA.
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Annette Weinke. Review of Goda, Norman J.W., Tales from Spandau: Nazi Criminals and the Cold War.
H-Soz-u-Kult, H-Net Reviews.
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