Tribute from Professor John Q. Barrett, Robert H. Jackson Center Inc.
With a heavy heart, I am writing to report that Whitney Robson Harris died yesterday, in his 98th year, at his home in St. Louis, Missouri. He was the last surviving prosecutor who appeared before the International Military Tribunal (IMT) at Nuremberg during the trial of the principal surviving Nazi war criminals.
At Nuremberg during 1945 and 1946, then Lieutenant-Commander Harris (United States Navy), serving as U.S. Trial Counsel, was primarily responsible for the prosecutions of defendant Ernst Kaltenbrunner, former Chief of the Reichssicherheitshauptamt (RSHA, or Reich Main Security Office), and defendant organizations the RSHA, the Gestapo and the Sicherheitsdienst (SD, or Security Service). Whitney Harris also was a principal, trusted aide to U.S. chief prosecutor Justice Robert H. Jackson and assisted him throughout the trial, including during his cross-examination of defendant Hermann Goering.
Whitney Harris was a graduate of the University of Washington and the University of California Berkeley Boalt Hall School of Law. As a young lawyer, he was in private practice in Los Angeles. Following Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, he enlisted in the Navy. During his World War II Navy service, he was recruited to the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), where his assignments included work relating to war crimes. In London during summer 1945, he assisted Justice Jackson’s staff informally. He soon was recruited to join the staff and became one of its most important members at Nuremberg.
Following Nuremberg, Whitney Harris served successively as Chief of Legal Advice during the Berlin Blockade, as a law professor at Southern Methodist University, as director of the Hoover Commission's Legal Services Task Force, as the first Executive Director of the American Bar Association, and as Solicitor General of Southwestern Bell Telephone Company in St. Louis. He authored Tyranny on Trial, a monumental account of the Nuremberg case and evidence. He also became a generous philanthropist, including at Washington University in St. Louis, and a leader and conscience in his community.
In recent years, Whitney Harris devoted his energies primarily to speaking, writing, teaching and embodying the past, the progress and the hopeful future of international law and justice. He was a strong supporter of modern international tribunals, including the court for the former Yugoslavia, the court for Rawanda, and the International Criminal Court. As Whitney knew best and explained powerfully, each of those tribunals, and the world progress they can embody and assist, grew from and builds upon the principles and achievements of Nuremberg.
On YouTube, you can find this and much more that records Whitney’s presence, his eloquence and his teaching:
- footage of Whitney Harris at Nuremberg: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y-qp8sFJwn0 ;
- Whitney Harris in 2001 reading excerpts from Justice Jackson’s introduction to Tyranny on Trial: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=goDGkD-mob8; and
- Whitney Harris in 2008 speaking about Nuremberg: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NxLF62GK1w0
At Nuremberg, Justice Jackson told that IMT during his opening argument that “[t]he real complaining party at your bar is Civilization.” Whitney Harris is survived by his beloved wife Anna, by devoted family members, by legions of friends and admirers, by his many students, and by his former client, Civilization. He represented it beautifully, and he left it with great confidence that it is in good hands.
Thank you for your interest, and please share this with others who also might be interested in this wonderful man’s great life.