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Law Library News for March 1, 2004

Sarah Hollingsworth, editor

Law Library News Archive


Judge Walter B. Beals, Class of 1901

by Jennifer Locke, Reference Intern

Have you wondered about the old chair in one of the back corners along the western wall of Floor L1 in the Library? It was the chair used by law school alumnus, Judge Walter Beals, during one phase of the war crimes trials held in Nuremberg between 1946 and 1950 following World War II.

Judge Beals was born in St. Paul, Minnesota and moved to the Washington Territory with his family in 1876. He graduated from the University of Washington School of Law in 1901 and, upon graduation, maintained a private law practice in Seattle. In 1926, he was elected to the Supreme Court of Washington, where he served until 1952. In 1952, Judge Beals won the UW Alumnus Summa Laude Dignatus Award, an honor designated for outstanding alumnae and alumni, distinguished for service and achievement.

In October 1946, Judge Beals took a leave from his position as Chief Justice of the Washington Supreme Court to serve as a judge in the Nuremberg Military Tribunals. When he was appointed to the position, Judge Beals was seventy years old and had had no previous war crimes trial or international law experience.

He served as the Presiding Judge over the American military tribunal criminal proceedings against twenty-three leading German physicians and administrators. The defendants were accused of organizing and participating in war crimes and crimes against humanity in the form of harmful or fatal medical experiments and other medical procedures inflicted on both civilians and prisoners of war (the “Doctors’ Trial”). The Doctors' Trial lasted for nine months and, on August 20, 1947, sixteen of the defendants were found guilty.

The Gallagher Law Library is fortunate to possess a set of the original mimeographed copies of the entire Nuremberg War Crimes Trial proceedings, which were distributed to a limited number of locations by the Office of the U.S. Chief of Counsel for War Crimes, Document Division (Nuremberg Trials "Subsequent Proceedings" Documents, KZ1178.G471946-49 at Special Collections). This collection includes over 1200 bound volumes and is an invaluable resource for lawyers, scholars, and researchers interested in ethics, genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. The materials are rare and considered to be too fragile to be handled, so they are kept in our Special Collections area. You can, however, view some of the materials online, thanks to the Harvard Law School Library’s Nuremberg Trials Project. The Harvard Law School Library has begun to digitize its Nuremberg documents; their material is available on the Internet at, along with analytical information about each document and general information about the trials. The Project’s Resources page is particularly helpful, as it contains many references to primary and secondary resources on the Nuremberg Trials.

Gallagher Law Library also has an impressive collection of primary and secondary resources about the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials. One noteworthy resource is Judge Beals’ desk book of the Doctors' Trial, The First German War Crimes Trial (D804.G425B72 1985 at Classified Stacks). It contains a compilation of those documents Judge Beals referenced during the trial. In addition to rules of procedure and the agreements establishing the tribunals, the book includes indictments for each defendant and trial charts and photographs.

Gallagher Law Library is privileged to have these rare legal-historical documents and artifacts of what some consider the most important trial in history. We hope that having Judge Beals's chair here among the stacks and student study areas may remind passersby of the importance of our profession to the cause of human rights and justice.

►Editor's Note (March 5, 2004): Judge Beals's chair has been removed from its original station on the western wall of L1 and now resides in Professor Eric Schnapper's office (413). Professor Schnapper has graciously invited anyone interested in seeing the chair to drop by at any time.

Point of Information: The Doctors' Trial

In 1997, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, located in Washington, D.C., commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Doctors' Trial with an online exhibition,, which is based upon excerpts from the official trial record. Included are Brigadier General Telford Taylor's opening statement, some of the witnesses' testimony, the indictment, the sentences that were handed down, and a brief essay on the background and importance of the Nuremberg Code.

Also included in this online exhibition are photographs of the courtroom used during the Doctors' Trial, together with the four American judges who heard the cases, including Presiding Judge Walter B. Beals. To catch a glimpse of Judge Beals, follow the opening page links to Opening Statement (and then to The Charges against these defendants... ) and Sentences.

The privilege of opening the first trial in history for crimes against the peace of the world imposes a grave responsibility. The wrongs which we seek to condemn and punish have been so calculated, so malignant, and so devastating that civilization cannot tolerate their being ignored, because it cannot survive their being repeated. That four great nations, flushed with victory and stung with injury, stay the hand of vengeance and voluntarily submit their captive enemies to the judgment of the law is one of the most significant tributes that power has ever paid to reason....

Robert H. Jackson, Chief Prosecutor
Opening Statement, International Tribunal Nuremberg