How Uncle Otto saw the Nazi leaders

Every evening during the Nuremberg Trials of the Nazi ringleaders, after a day of sketching furiously in the press gallery, my great-uncle Otto Flatter would return to his hotel room to work on his watercolour of the defendants. The trials began this month 75 years ago.

And in an article for the British Sunday newspaper ‘The News of the World‘, he wrote thumbnail sketches of the defendants who had been responsible for the murder of many members of his family. Otto, for whom my book is named, was a gifted writer as well as a good artist. “I had expected to see 21 unrepentant Nazi fanatics ready to died heroically for their creed, their deeds, their Führer. I had prepared myself to draw the faces of tyrants, bullies and sadists; my pencil was to be the sword to slay them.

What I saw was a band of timid, dejected men, the plea for mercy inscribed on their faces. (…) Hitler, like all fools who talk a lot, sometimes talked sense; he pronounced his judgement on these men when he said in ‘Mein Kampf’: “Of course, grovellers and lickspittles never want to die for their master.”

He went on to describe Göring staring gloomily into space, Hess, sitting next to him, looking up from a book only when Göring made a remark. Otto writes of Hess: “Now he pretends he is insane, entering and leaving the courtroom in a goose-step with a grin on his face”. Next to Hess sat Ribbentrop, his hair turned white, his expression one of martyrdom.

Funk, von Neurath and Raeder had nondescript bourgeois features, while Frank appeared almost satanic. He sat paralysed in the dock as the Russian prosecutor quoted from the diary he had held in Poland. As for Sauckel, “the slave-driver”, he found him hard to sketch so remarkable was his face for its vacuity. Streicher, former Gauleiter of Nuremberg, chewed tobacco all day long.

One by one Otto describes the men he had scrutinised so closely. Despite the distance in the press gallery, he could hear what they said to each other during the intervals.

They were talking mostly of the Bolsheviks, on whom they put the blame for everything that had happened. After the Russian prosecutor had told of the abominable treatment meted out to the Russian prisoners in Germany, Ribbentrop remarked scornfully: “Ach! Alles Luges und Propaganda!” and reached for a sandwich (sandwiches were handed to the prisoners during the first interval in the morning.)

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