'Wild Bill' Donovan Nuremberg papers at CU
Source Newsroom: Cornell University
FOR RELEASE: Oct. 23, 1998
Contact: Linda Grace-Kobas
Office: (607) 255-4206
Compuserve: Bill Steele, 72650,565
ITHACA, N.Y. -- Many of the personal papers and records kept by Gen. William J. "Wild Bill" Donovan during the Nuremberg trials of Nazi war criminals are now housed in the Cornell University Law Library, where they will be accessible to researchers, thanks to the efforts of New York lawyer and Cornell alumnus Henry Korn.
The legendary Donovan, who President Eisenhower called "the last hero" when he died in 1959, founded and directed America's first intelligence agency, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) during World War II. In Nuremberg, he served as special assistant to the U.S. Chief Prosecutor, Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson. The OSS was designated as the U.S. investigatory unit for the International Military Tribunal (IMT).
The Donovan papers include close to 150 bound volumes, comprising both original documents and copies. Some of the documents bear Donovan's personal annotations, and many are marked "Top Secret." The material includes transcripts in German and English as well as background memoranda and evidentiary analysis of the defendants. The collection also includes Donovan's personal set of the 42-volume official text in English of the Nuremberg trials, published by the military tribunal.
The gift coincides with the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the General Assembly of the United Nations on Dec. 10, 1948.
The Cornell Law School marked its receipt of the Donovan papers with a dedication ceremony and reception Thursday, Oct. 22 in the Dawson Rare Book Room of the Law Library in Myron Taylor Hall honoring Henry H. Korn and Ellen Schaum Korn, both members of Cornell's class of 1968. The Korns' son Greg is a 1993 Cornell graduate, and their daughter Joanna is a freshman student at Cornell.
The ceremony also recognized the establishment of the Henry Korn Lecture Series in Art, Ethics, and Commerce in the Contemporary Practice of Law, established this year by a gift from the Nathaniel Lapkin Foundation, a client of Henry Korn. The inaugural lecture was presented after the reception by Stephen F. Goldstone, chairman and CEO of R.J.R. Nabisco.
"The Donovan papers are an important addition to the Cornell Law Library collection in the areas of international human rights in general and the Nuremberg Trials in particular," said Patricia Court, acting law librarian. "We are especially grateful to the Korns for making these documents available for future researchers and scholars."
A partner in the New York law firm Kensington & Ressler, Korn has extensive litigation experience that includes more than 100 federal and state trials and commercial arbitrations, as well as numerous appeals in civil and criminal cases. He is a member of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York and serves on its professional discipline committee. He is also an adjunct professor of trial advocacy at Pace University School of Law. He is active in Cornell alumni affairs.
William J. Donovan has been called "the father of American intelligence," but before founding the OSS, which was the predecessor of the Central Intelligence Agency, he had already distinguished himself as a college football hero (he earned the name "Wild Bill" as a star quarterback at Columbia University), soldier, lawyer and politician.
Born in Buffalo on New Year's Day in 1883, he graduated from Columbia with bachelor's degree, and a law degree in the same graduating class as Franklin D. Roosevelt. He helped form a New York Cavalry Unit that in 1916 was called up for federal service to fight Pancho Villa's border raids. He won the Medal of Honor for his courageous fighting during World War I. Between the wars, he enforced Prohibition laws with zeal as U.S. District Attorney for Western New York, and served in the Coolidge Administration as assistant attorney general in charge of the Justice Department's Antitrust Division, arguing and winning six cases before the Supreme Court. He failed at politics, though, losing races for New York lieutenant governor in 1924 and governor in 1928.
Roosevelt appointed Donovan coordinator of intelligence in 1941, and the president established the OSS in 1942. Donovan's activities during and after the war -- attempts to assassinate Hitler, dealings with spies of all (and no) loyalties, forays into the Vatican and Stalin's Russia, interrogating Nazi leaders, including Goering and Speer, taking testimony from victims of the Holocaust -- are still subject to debate by historians.
"The history of this period is still being written," said Daniel Smith, curator of rare law books at Cornell, "which is why it is important to have access to primary evidence and to be sure it is preserved. The Donovan papers are an important record of the Nuremberg process, and offer a valuable historical perspective of the trial itself and Donovan's unique role in it. It is the intent of the library to make these materials more widely accessible to students and scholars."
Cornell archivists have not yet reviewed all of the papers and documents in this collection. Donovan kept them in the offices of the New York law firm of Donovan, Leisure, Newton & Irvine, of which he was a founding partner. When that firm recently closed, its law library was broken up. Jonathan Rauchway, a young associate at Donovan, Leisure, who is a 1993 Cornell graduate and former summer associate of Korn's, informed Korn about the availability of Donovan's papers. Korn enthusiastically acquired the collection and sent it to Cornell.
Cornell's Law Library has a collection of books and documents on human rights that goes back several centuries, with early writings on "the Law of Nations" by William Fulbecke in 1602 and a 1682 copy of Concerning the Law of War and Peace by Hugo Grotius. Holocaust-related holdings include Raphael Lemkin's 1944 Axis Rule in Occupied Europe. Laws of Occupation. Analysis of Government, Proposals for Redress, which coined the word "genocide," and reports by Otto C. Doering Jr., an OSS staff member, and Telford Taylor, chief of counsel for war crimes for the Nuremberg military tribunals.
Smith has organized an exhibition in the Dawson Rare Book Room on "The Legacy of NÂ¸rnberg: Sustaining Human Rights," that displays the many documents relating to human rights in the Cornell Law Library's collection. These include records of alleged Iraqi war crimes in Kuwait and of international tribunals in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda.