John Q. Barrett's homage to Peter Calvocoressi
I am very sorry to report the death in England last Friday of Peter J.A. Calvocoressi, age 97. He was, to my knowledge, the last surviving British attorney and senior officer to have participated in the work of Nuremberg.
During World War II, Peter Calvocoressi, a barrister, became a Royal Air Force Wing Commander. He served at Bletchley Park (click here) as part of the team in “Hut 3” that interpreted decrypted German army and air Enigma messages, selecting the information that was sent to Allied military commanders in the field. This intelligence work, which Calvocoressi later wrote about in Total War: The Causes and Courses of the Second World War (1972) and in Top Secret Ultra (1980), was vital to the Allied victory.
In summer 1945, Calvocoressi, still a RAF officer affiliated with British intelligence, became de facto a member of Justice Robert H. Jackson’s London staff that was preparing to prosecute Nazi war criminals. (For a YouTube film clip that includes Calvocoressi speaking in later years about the Allied decision to prosecute captured Nazi leaders, click here.) Calvocoressi’s Bletchley Park colleague and friend Colonel Telford Taylor, a senior member of Jackson’s team, told Jackson of “Calvo” and arranged for his recruitment. Calvocoressi provided expertise on German military and Nazi Party organizations, assembled and analyzed evidence for trial, handled liaison work with leaders of U.S. intelligence agencies, and participated in drafting what became the Nuremberg indictment.
Beginning later that fall, Calvocoressi was a member of the British prosecution staff at Nuremberg. He worked closely with Jackson, Taylor and others on the U.S. staff, and with each chief prosecutor and his national team. As the international trial neared its conclusion in spring 1946, Jackson was so grateful that he proposed that the United States award a military decoration to Calvocoressi (“although he is not of our own staff”). During the subsequent Nuremberg trials that the U.S. conducted during 1946-49, Calvocoressi continued to assist then-chief of counsel Taylor (and later described himself as, in this work, “an honorary American”).
Following Nuremberg, Calvocoressi became a prolific author, historian, leading publisher and many other things. In 1947, he published Nuremberg: The Facts, the Law and the Consequences, one of the smart, enduring books on the international trial and its legacies. Just last year, he published a 9th edition of World Politics Since 1945, which Foreign Affairs noted as an event “worth celebrating” because the book “remains one of the best overviews of contemporary international history, full of elegant writing and shrewd judgement.”
Professor John Q. Barrett
St. John’s University School of Law