Former SMU Dedman School of Law Professor Whitney Harris, who served as chairman of the International Law Section of the American Bar Association in 1953-54, passed away on Wednesday, April 21, 2010.
Harris was a member of the U.S. legal team that prosecuted Nazis at Nuremberg after World War II. He was the last surviving of three Nuremberg prosecutors.
He was lead prosecutor in the first of the Nuremberg war-crime trials in 1945 and tried Ernst Kaltenbrunner, the senior surviving leader of the Nazi Security Police. He also helped cross-examine Hermann Goering, Hitler's second-in-command, and helped get the confession of Rudolf Franz Ferdinand Hoess, head of the Auschwitz concentration camp. In his later years, Harris was an author and gave speeches on human rights. In 1980, he established the Whitney R. Harris Collection on the Third Reich of Germany at Washington University in St. Louis. He also is the namesake of the university's Whitney R. Harris World Law Institute.
"He basically dedicated his life to trying to develop an international justice system to deal with war crimes against humanity and genocide," said his son, Eugene Harris, 45, of Olivette in suburban St. Louis.
This year is the 65th anniversary of the Nuremberg trials, Eugene Harris noted, "and people are forgetting. As each of these important participants die, there's a big amount of knowledge that's being lost in the process."
Harris was born in Seattle on Aug. 12, 1912. He graduated in 1933 from the University of Washington and received his law degree from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1936. He joined the Navy after the start of World War II, and following the war was put in charge of investigating war crimes.
In August 1945, he became one of the first members of the European staff for the trial of major German war criminals. The court tried 22 high-ranking Nazis, convicted 19 and sentenced 12 to death. Harris was the only prosecutor who attended the executions.
After the war he became a professor of law at Southern Methodist University, and served as chairman of the International Law Section of the American Bar Association in 1953-54.
Harris is credited with writing the first comprehensive book on the Nuremberg trials, "Tyranny on Trial, the Evidence at Nuremberg," which was described by the New York Times as "the first complete historical and legal analysis of the Nuremberg trial."
He is survived by his wife, Anna; a son; three stepsons, a stepdaughter, four grandchildren and seven step-grandchildren.
The faculty and alumni of SMU Dedman School of Law are honored to have been a part of Mr. Harris' life and are thankful for his service to the SMU law school community and beyond.