The Spirit of Nuremberg Lives! Remembering Henry King

JURIST Contributing Editor David Crane of Syracuse University College of Law, former Chief Prosecutor for the UN Special Court for Sierra Leone, says that the scope and vitality of today's international criminal law is a lasting testament to the life and work of the late Henry T. King, Jr., the youngest American prosecutor at the 1945-46 Nuremberg trials. King, himself a past contributor to JURIST's Forum, died May 9 at the age of 89...



The spirit of Nuremberg lives! My friend and mentor thumped the table vigorously despite his age, his eyes blazing fiercely as he gazed into the audience at the end of his keynote speech at the First Annual International Humanitarian Law Dialogs at the Chautauqua Institution in August of 2007. The audience rose as one, giving him a standing ovation, many with tears in their eyes, including me.

I had introduced Henry King prior to this momentous address. Before me were all of the living current and former Chief Prosecutors of the world's international tribunals and courts. We are a small fraternity of just a dozen or so men and women who have taken up the call of Henry King and Robert H. Jackson who, among many other courageous souls there in Nuremberg in 1945-46, began a subtle process of international criminal justice which has blossomed into the legal mechanism by which mankind now faces down impunity. Known as the Nuremberg Principles, these guidelines allowed for the steady development of jurisprudence that is international criminal law today.

As I stated in that introduction, Henry King was an American lawyer, a professional who stepped forward throughout his long legal career to seek justice, to represent clients zealously before the law, and to teach generations of new lawyers about the law's majesty. I recall Henry telling me what a chance he took when he left his law firm in New York as a twenty-six year old associate and recent Yale Law School graduate, to travel to Germany and into the unknown challenges to be faced regarding a new idea, the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg, mankind's first true attempt to hold accountable those who committed mass atrocity.

Many counseled Henry not to go, that he would forever damage his prospects for a successful legal career. But off he went. For many months he worked quietly behind the scenes, developing the cases that would see the conviction of the top Nazi war criminals for international crimes, an historic first. This was the measure of the man and the beginning of his legacy. After returning he would successfully practice law for many decades, as a commercial lawyer, professor, and as a leader in the American Bar Association.

Years ago, chatting over dinner, Henry talked about how hard it was at Nuremberg, not only to do the legal work, but just to get up and go to the Palace of Justice day in and day out to face the factual horrors of the Holocaust. Nuremberg was largely destroyed, so the amenities of living were spare if not missing all together. At the time I was the Chief Prosecutor for the international war crimes tribunal in West Africa, called the Special Court for Sierra Leone, and I was struggling to handle the horrors of that atrocity and maintain a focus. I asked Henry how he handled the day-to-day grind of developing a legal case with so much death and destruction around. He put his hand on my arm, looked me in the eyes, and with a slight smile told me, "around two scotches" before dinner. We both laughed, relaxed, and with those words I was able to go back and with the mirth and wisdom of my friend ringing in my ears, face down the beast of impunity there in West Africa. What he meant in those words was for me to hold on to your humanity, to your family, to your friends. The business of international criminal law is physically and emotionally draining, only through the love of family, friends, and life can one get through the horror.

Henry King's ability to say the right words - words that inspired, words that mattered - were legend. Later in his life, as a professor at Case Western Reserve University School of Law, students would flock to his classes to listen, learn, and to understand that only through the law is mankind anchored and centered. I have chatted with those students. When when you mention Henry King their eyes glitter with the excitement of having learned from a true giant in our profession. What a rare privilege it must have been for them.

Henry King's legacy lives on in all of us - American lawyers - who daily use the law as a tool to make our society better. For those of us who work in the field of international criminal law, Henry's legacy, the Nuremberg legacy, is reflected in the ad hoc tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, the Special Court for Sierra Leone, the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, and the International Criminal Court, the world's permanent tribute to all those brave men and women, like Henry T. King, Jr. who toiled bravely among the ruins at Nuremberg to seek justice. Henry, you were right — the spirit of Nuremberg lives!

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.

Farewell my dear friend, and thank you for your life and example.



David M. Crane is a professor at Syracuse University College of Law, and founding Chief Prosecutor for the UN Special Court for Sierra Leone (2002-2005).


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