Senator Christopher Dodd’s father wrote the most politically incorrect truth
On Sept. 25, 1945, Tom Dodd, the second in command on the American prosecution team at Nuremberg, made the following observations:
“You know how I have despised anti-Semitism. You know how strongly I feel toward those who preach intolerance of any kind. With that knowledge — you will understand when I tell you that this staff is about seventy-five percent Jewish. Now my point is that the Jews should stay away from this trial — for their own sake. For — mark this well — the charge ‘a war for the Jews’ is still being made and in the post-war years it will be made again and again. The too large percentage of Jewish men and women here will be cited as proof of this charge. Sometimes it seems that the Jews will never learn about these things. They seem intent on bringing new difficulties down on their own heads. I do not like to write about this matter —it is distasteful to me — but I am disturbed about it. They are pushing and crowding and competing with each other and with everyone else.”
The preceding excerpt was taken from the following letter written by Tom Dodd who was Senator Christopher Dodd’s father at the end of World War II.
Connecticuts Senator Christopher Dodd presents history close up in book about his father
M. Charles Bakst
Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, running for president, is out with a book. But its not a conventional candidate biography or blueprint for change.
Its about the Connecticut Democrats late father, Thomas J. Dodd, who preceded him in the Senate. In fact, most of it was written by his father and it is fascinating.
The book, which the senator put together with the assistance of Lary Bloom, is Letters from Nuremberg: My Fathers Narrative of a Quest for Justice.
The senior Dodd wrote the letters in 1945-46 to his wife, Grace, back home in Connecticut, while he was abroad, mostly in Germany, as a prosecutor in the Allies war crimes trial of 22 top Nazis, including Hermann Gring, Joachim von Ribbentrop and Albert Speer.(All but three were convicted; 12 were sentenced to hang.)
Mrs. Dodd, the former Grace Murphy, came from Westerly.
Tom and Chris Dodd went to Providence College.
The letters that form the core of the book sat for years in the basement of the Providence home of Chris Dodds sister, Martha, and her husband, Bernard V. Buonanno Jr.
They were among the possessions moved there after the death of the senior Dodds in the 1970s.
Senator Dodd, 63, tells me that books from candidates usually are boring you know, If Elected, I Promise to Eradicate Ignorance, Poverty and Disease.
He says he thought this one would have value as a commentary on the importance of the rule of law, a highly charged issue in an era of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. There is, he says, a sharp contrast between a trampling of rights today and Americas respect for rights, even of Nazis, after World War II. These days, he says, There are people who believe that in order for us to be safer were going to have to give up our rights. I totally disagree with that. Yet, he says, Theyre winning the debate, at least in the halls of Congress.
The book (Crown Publishers, $25.95) obviously stands to be a boon to Dodds campaign there was, for instance, a front-page story about it in The New York Times last week but the candidate asserts that any such attention is a mere bonus.
I must say: He did not sound thrilled about the tone of the Times story, which said that, besides such issues as Iraq, his presidential campaign is the most public chapter in his career-long quest for his fathers redemption, and that the book plays into that.
In 1967, the Senate censured the elder Dodd for diverting $116,000 in campaign funds to personal use.
Dodd tells me, If thats the only reason Im running, you know, I ought to have my head examined.
The decision to make the letters public was made by the senator and his three brothers and two sisters. Martha Dodd Buonanno takes issue with anyone who suggests this is a campaign book. Only one of us is really running, so for me it is much more.
To her, it is a personal insight into the greatest trial in history, a lesson about the lost art of letter writing, a stirring of memories from childhood of family discussions and a bursting of pride in her father.
Historians will appreciate its glimpses into tensions and jockeying among the prosecutors from the United States, Great Britain, France, and the Soviet Union. During his time in Congress, Tom Dodd was a fierce anti-Communist. You can see how his experiences in Nuremberg what he learned of the Russians behavior during the war and the boorish way they comported themselves backstage at the trial molded his views.
He writes at one point, They are beasts and worse, and, at another, I wish we could prosecute them too.
On another level the book is a love story, with Dodd writing home almost nightly, often inquiring about the children but always talking about how much he misses his wife.
For example, Sometimes I plan my return home. I see myself on the deck of a vessel you on the dock waving to me. I rush down the gangplank and take you in my arms. We are in a taxi. We are in a hotel where you have already engaged a lovely room with a large double bed. We chat incessantly. We have reservations for dinner
Martha Dodd Buonanno, 66, tells me, There are some letters that I feel like Im invading my parents privacy, theyre so beautiful and so personal, and its a side of my mother and father I didnt really know.
But I found it most interesting for its sketches of scenes and characters.
Here I am in the dead city, Dodd, 38, wrote upon his arrival in Nuremberg on Aug. 14, 1945. He said buildings, houses, and streets were a complete mess: Streetcars piled up, a mass of burned and twisted steel, the rubble is everywhere
I am living in what was the Grand Hotel the finest in the city. I am in Hitlers guest annex, where he housed his guests when the Nazi party congress was held. The main part of the hotel is not habitable. My room is quite comfortable. The walls are all ripped out bullet holes in them no glass in the windows.
On Aug. 26, he wrote, After lunch, our party was driven to Soldiers Field the new name of the Nazi stadium. There, with more than 40,000 soldiers, we saw double-header baseball games between the 71st Division of the Third Army Pattons Army and the 20th Division of the 7th Army. The 71st won both games which was not important to me. But the sight and the significance of 40,000 Americans in baseball mood in the Nazi stadium was significant. There, where Hitler corrupted and misled the youth of Germany, I heard thousands of young American soldiers calling the umpire names, I heard players called bums and all the old chatter and ribaldry of every American ballpark. It made that arena ring.
In one of the letters he included a sketch, reproduced in the book, of Hitlers Berlin bunker drawn by the dictators chauffeur. Chris Dodd tells me that coming upon it was startling. He says, You hear about those things, you read about them, but this put it on a human scale.
In that same vein, he says his fathers introduction in court of the shrunken head of a prisoner the commandant of Buchenwald used as a paperweight galvanized world attention.
To Chris Dodd, his father is heroic. Even so, the letters include some uncomfortable passages.
Consider these Sept. 25, 1945, observations from Tom Dodd, who would emerge as second in command on the American prosecution team:
You know how I have despised anti-Semitism. You know how strongly I feel toward those who preach intolerance of any kind. With that knowledge you will understand when I tell you that this staff is about seventy-five percent Jewish. Now my point is that the Jews should stay away from this trial for their own sake. For mark this well the charge a war for the Jews is still being made and in the post-war years it will be made again and again. The too large percentage of Jewish men and women here will be cited as proof of this charge. Sometimes it seems that the Jews will never learn about these things. They seem intent on bringing new difficulties down on their own heads. I do not like to write about this matter it is distasteful to me but I am disturbed about it. They are pushing and crowding and competing with each other and with everyone else.
Chris Dodd tells me that when he reads this letter, I first of all cringe a little bit because I wonder what hes driving at.
As provocative as the passages may seem, he suggests its also important to note that his father specifically said he deplored anti-Semitism and, in fact, had close Jewish friends. So, the senator says, I tried to understand it in the context, knowing who he was, knowing what he cared about, what his own history was. And there were those, the [Charles] Lindberghs and others, that made the case thatRoosevelt got us into this war because of Jewish issues.
Today, many Jews fault FDR for not having acted more boldly to save the Jews of Europe.
Heres another thing. Tom Dodd writes on Oct. 1, 1945, of a visit to the Vatican where he meets Pope Pius XII. Dodd gushes, Grace, I walked out as if treading on air. He is a wonderful man a simple man a holy man.
A footnote says historians later credited the Pope with saving thousands of Jews but also criticized him for appeasing Hitler and for silence about Nazi atrocities.
When I mentioned to Dodd his fathers euphoric account of meeting the Pope, the senator said, These are contemporaneous letters You have to understand the context of someone having an opportunity to meet with the head of his church.
On the whole, the letters are rich in detail.
Here is Dodd, writing on March 13, 1946, about Gring, the Nazi who ranked second only to Hitler, taking the stand:
There was a flurry in the courtroom. Press men rushed to get the word on the wires. People came into the courtroom in a hurry and in two minutes it was packed to the doors. Our trial table was filled up. (U.S. Supreme Court Supreme Justice Robert Jackson, lead American prosecutor) sits in the left front seat and I sit in the right front seat
Gring was very calm The defendants all leaned forward in the dock the judges turned in their high chairs to stare at him. He is a charming rascal a real buccaneer.
[He] is far and away the dominating character in the dock. (As a matter of interest we have had to separate him at lunch time from the other defendants because there are some who seem ready to admit some of the charges against the Nazis and he has been making life miserable for them, and in his sight and under the lash of his tongue they have no courage.)
So, to a great extent, the book takes you there. But if you are Chris Dodd, it actually reaches out and grabs you.
On June 1, 1946, Tom Dodd wrote to Grace about his participation in the trial: I will never do anything as worthwhile again nothing will ever really be as important. Some day the boys will point to it, I hope, and be proud and inspired by it. Perhaps they will be at the bar themselves and perhaps they will invoke this precedent and call upon the law we make here.
Chris Dodd says it was very, very emotional to read that. He says the passage reflects the gravity of the trial and the essence of what that experience was to him.
Incidentally, I couldnt help noting that, in the fashion of the day, the senior Dodd referred only to the idea that his boys, not also his girls, might be inspired by what happened.