Tag Archives: Nuremberg Trials

Benjamin Kaplan has died

Benjamin Kaplan in 1981. Wendy Maeda/The Boston Globe

In 1945, with the war against Germany just over and the revelations of the crimes by the Nazis coming to light, the President Truman turned to Justice Robert H. Jackson of the Supreme Court to serve as chief prosecutor for the United States in the then proposed war crimes tribunals against the Nazis.  Accepting, Justice Jackson turned to Benjamin Kaplan to help form the theory of the case, a case that was unprecedented and required the development of an indictment that would incorporate Anglo-American, French and Russian legal traditions.  From the New York Times:

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That summer, Justice Jackson was in London, negotiating and writing the London Agreement, which was signed in August by France, Britain, the Soviet Union and the United States and delineated the procedures for the trial of war criminals by an international military tribunal. Colonel Kaplan remained in Washington, where, along with Col. Telford Taylor, he supervised a legal staff that was gathering and analyzing vast quantities of evidence, researching the means used by the Nazis to gain control of Germany and developing legal theories for the case.

He later joined Justice Jackson in London and that September was a central figure in the drafting of the American contribution to the indictment, which dealt with proving that there had been a common plan or conspiracy to commit “crimes against peace, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.”

Colonel Kaplan was present when the indictment was filed with the International Military Tribunal, and he worked on trial preparation until his Army discharge, shortly after the trials began on Nov. 20, 1945. The next year the Army awarded him the Bronze Star for his work.

Kaplan was born in the Bronx in 1911.  He spent his career teaching copy right law at Harvard, where he counted among his students both Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer.  He served on the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court from 1972 to 1980.   He is survived by a son and a daughter, four grandchildren; three stepgrandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.