Seventy-five later, memories of the last survivor of the Nazi trial in Nuremberg

RODOLPHE ESCHER FOR “THE WORLD”

Par Samuel Blumenfeld

Posted today at 00:20

The file is placed on the table in his dining room. It is one of the last that Yves Beigbeder also consults regularly. At 96 years old, this former lawyer still handles it with dexterity and a perfect knowledge of the various documents: a series of papers, perfectly classified, related to the Nuremberg trials (20 November 1945-1is October 1946), where twenty-one of the main officials of the IIIe Reich, prosecuted for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

This dossier is a bit like the starting point of his life as a lawyer, the link between great history and his own destiny, that of a man almost a hundred years old, living in Sauveterre-en-Béarn, a small town in the South. -West: Yves Beigbeder is the last witness of the Nuremberg trials.

For six months, between March and August 1946, he followed these memorable audiences as closely as possible; he was in his own way a “little hand”, a character in the shadows. Aged 22, with a law degree in his pocket, he had just inherited a first job of which he did not quite measure the scope: assistant to his uncle, Henri Donnedieu de Vabres, the judge representing France at Nuremberg.

Yves Beigbeder in Sauveterre-en-Béarn (Pyrénées-Atlantiques), November 13, 2020.
Also read this archive from 1945: The four powers sign an agreement on the trial of major war criminals

Here he is now taking a photo from the file, a photo that he wants to describe in detail. He does so with a determined voice, memory intact, with the constant concern to verify his sources, to better fit his testimony. We immediately notice the surprising layout of this dark room, more like a cinema than a court. The French delegation is almost marginalized there, on the extreme right. On the opposite side were placed the Soviet judges. Then come the two Brits, their American counterparts, in the middle, and finally the French. That is to say the four allied countries which won the Second World War.

The “petty bourgeois” of the IIIe Reich

On this picture, we can also see Judge Henri Donnedieu de Vabres, professor of criminal law at the Sorbonne, his deputy Robert Falco, adviser to the Court of Cassation, then on the right, facing forward, Yves Beigbeder. He has a chubby face, square glasses, hair pulled back, a crisp suit. At the time, he did not experience much, apart from a passage, in 1944, in an FFI maquis in Auvergne. An adventure without battles – the Nazis were then withdrawing from the south of the country – and therefore, he admits, a “Inglorious adventure”.

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