ST. LOUIS (Reuters) - The last surviving U.S. prosecutor at the Nuremberg war crimes trials of major Nazi figures after World War Two has died.
Whitney Harris, 97, suffered from cancer and was injured in a fall six months ago. He died on Wednesday at his home outside St. Louis, his family said.
In 1945, Harris, then in his early 30s, led off the trials as prosecutor of Nazi SS commander Ernst Kaltenbrunner, who played a role in the 1943 massacre of Jews in the Warsaw ghetto.
The special court set up by the Allies tried 21 Nazis in the first set of trials, and Kaltenbrunner was among 11 sentenced to death by hanging. Hermann Goering, head of the Luftwaffe, committed suicide before he could be executed in October, 1946.
Harris specialized in investigations of members of the Nazi secret services. He interrogated Rudolph Hoss, the captured commander of the concentration camp at Auschwitz, over three days.
In a 2005 interview, Harris said Hoss calmly explained how SS leader Heinrich Himmler had told him to convert Auschwitz into a mass extermination camp in 1941.
Hoss had gas chambers and crematories constructed that were used to kill 2.5 million Jews, gypsies and prisoners of war. He also detailed how another 1.5 million died from starvation, exhaustion, illness, or mistreatment.
“He was not the least bit imposing,” Harris said of Hoss in the interview with Spiegel One. “There was nothing about him that suggested a monstrous murderer and he seemed like a totally normal guy.”
Harris’ affidavit helped a Polish tribunal convict Hoss in 1946.
Harris, who was born in Seattle the son of an automobile dealer, returned to St. Louis to become a corporate lawyer and law professor, seeking to put the horrors of war behind him.
He became an outspoken proponent of international courts, and compared modern-day massacres and terrorism to Nazi atrocities.
In 2005, Harris spoke at a Holocaust Observance Day ceremony and read from a poem that he had written.
“A thousand years have passed. What was the number killed at Auschwitz? It matters not. ‘Twas but a trifle in the history of massacre of man by man,” the poem read.
Writing by Andrew Stern; editing by Chris Wilson