How to Gain Fame in Nuremburg

Benjamin B. Ferencz

After a few days of temporary residence in the Grand Hotel, about half a dozen OCCWC lawyers were moved into what was euphemistically termed “Bachelor’s Quarters.” We were lodged in a nice little villa complete with housekeeper. The house had been “requisitioned” by the U.S. Army, which is a polite way of saying that the former owners had been kicked out. Krieg ist Krieg! War is hell! The house was located in Fuerth about ten miles from the Nuremberg court and would have been ideal except for the fact that we were not supplied with food. We also lacked any means of transportation to get back to the hotel, which was the only place that meals might be had. These minor technicalities of food and transport had apparently escaped the minds of Congressional budget planners. The other five lawyers, noting that I was the only one accustomed to dealing with supply problems, elected me to find a solution. I accepted the challenge thrust upon me with such confidence by my so-called friends.

I first phoned the motor pool and ordered that a jeep be sent immediately to rescue six members of the OCCWC. The Corporal in charge explained apologetically that he had no authority to dispatch vehicles for such purposes. After I threatened that the death through starvation of General Taylor’s staff would be on his head, he consented to risk an exception. I was sworn to secrecy. When a jeep and driver arrived, I directed that he take me to the quartermaster depot. There I was greeted by a friendly sergeant who told me his name and where he was from. I told him that I too had been a sergeant and we got rather friendly as he told me about his life back in Kalamzoo, or wherever it was, and I explained the problem back in Fuerth. Nothing in the army gets done without filling out lots of forms in many copies. Most of them are incomprehensible. My new “friend,” I shall call him Bill, produced the forms needed to authorize distribution of food to a new mess hall. One of the questions asked was the number of persons to be served. I, being an honest man, replied that it might vary but six were there now. “Sorry, Buddy” said my ex-friend Bill, handing me the uncompleted forms, “There has to be a minimum of twenty-five. I can’t help you.” I thanked him for his effort. After some further casual conversation, I elicited that Bill would be going off duty in half an hour to be replaced by a Corporal named Joe, from Texas. I thanked Bill again, wished him well and departed.

After driving around for half an hour, I returned to greet Corporal Joe with a big Hello, telling him that I had heard about him from my old pal, Sergeant Bill, who had to go off duty before completing the forms I held in my hand. I said I was confident that Joe could handle it. He proudly agreed. A little flattery can go a long way, especially with a G.I. from Texas. When he came to the question about how many men were to be fed, I replied, with my usual honesty: “Well it’s a new mess and the number varies. Let’s take the minimum of twenty-five and if I need more, I’ll come back and talk to Bill.” No problem. I was now assured of sufficient surpluses to be able to trade with nearby farmers, offering real American canned goods in exchange for fresh fruits, vegetables, and eggs, which in Germany in the spring of 1946, was a luxury. My mother often told me that a varied diet of fresh foods is essential to health, and I was willing to sacrifice our surplus rations to improve the health of my endangered housemates.

Another minor inconvenience had to be overcome. My dear friend Joe from Texas apologized that the beer ration would have to be picked up directly from the local Nuremberg brewery. When I assured him that I would take care of it, he agreed that I was doing him a great favor. My need for regular transportation became more acute than ever. I headed for the nearest army motor pool. I explained to the Sergeant on duty that OCCWC was on an important mission authorized by the President of the United States and we could not function without additional transport. The Sergeant did not come from Texas. He pointed out bluntly that the table of organization contained no vehicles for civilians employed by OCCWC. Period. I then spotted a German command car parked at the back of the motor pool. It looked like an oversized jeep that could hold about nine passengers or enough food for an army of twenty-five. When I inquired to whom that vehicle was assigned, I was informed that it was captured booty and couldn’t be assigned to any U.S. soldier. I noted that I was a civilian and I would be willing to take the heap off his hands and forgo other demands. With some relief, he agreed. I thanked him for his ingenuity and drove off in my new Nazi command car.

I still had the little problem of how to handle the beer ration that had just been approved by my dear friend Joe of Texas. I don’t recall precisely how many barrels of beer were authorized for consumption by twenty-five soldiers, but if that amount were ever consumed by only six civilians, they would soon realize why an army kitchen is called a mess. Beer, along with most foodstuffs, was strictly rationed. My authorization for beer had to be presented to the Nuremberg brewery that had to account for all distributions. It was an enormous plant, with heavy horses pulling heavy loads of heavy beer being unloaded by heavy men. There was no way I could dispose of so much beer without help. I learned that the brewery wagons delivered its barrels to all the local Beer Gardens. The bars would usually serve fresh draft beer but they also had glass bottles with attached snap-on-rubber caps for those who preferred to have their drinks at home. I located the Bierstube closest to our quarters on the Lindenstrasse and made a deal with the owner. I would instruct the brewery to drop off my kegs at the local bar. In turn, the bartender would put the beer into bottles that would be kept on ice pending my pickup. In appreciation, he could keep half for himself. It was an offer no respectable bartender could refuse.

In the meantime, work at the OCCWC offices in the courthouse consisted of planning and preparing for the subsequent trials. General Taylor, with the help of some knowledgeable friends in Washington, had outlined a number of potential trials against German doctors who performed medical experiments, industrialists, bankers, lawyers, generals, diplomats, and others who had made it possible for Hitler’s machine to carry on their murderous activities. Most of the new staff had neither experience nor knowledge of such matters. The staff could spend time studying documents that had been assembled by Jackson’s staff, meeting in conferences, or lounging in the courtroom listening to the IMT trial that, after a few days, was getting boring. Fraternization with Germans was prohibited, but enforcement was impossible.

The monotony was broken by lots of partying within the Nuremberg colony. Jackson’s staff and Taylor’s staff knew that we had won the war, and that alone would be cause for rejoicing. Hard liquor could be had for fifty cents a bottle at the Post Exchange. But there never seemed to be enough beer to satisfy the thirst of the victors. The Benny Beer Distribution System was ready to meet any emergency. If any of my friends, or friends of my friends, or friends of friends of my friends urgently needed a few cases of beer, all they had to do was phone me. Once I was convinced that it was in the interest of my country to meet the demand, I phoned my partner at the local bistro and authorized him to hand over a set number of cases of beer to the applicant who would identify himself by the code words, “ Benny sent me!” This sharing of the wealth, so to speak, also helped prevent me from being surrounded by a bunch of drunken lawyers. The system worked reasonably well. Soon I had a great reputation. My initial fame came not for my skill as a lawyer but for my mysterious ability to provide unlimited quantities of free beer to the legal staff and their friends.