Army Private-Turned-Priest Saw Humanity's Worst at Nuremberg

Screengrab from a  March 20, 2002 presentation on Father Moritz Fuchs, Justice Robert H. Jackson's bodyguard at Nuremberg, held at the Robert H. Jackson Center located in Jamestown N.Y. and co-sponsored by the Sir Thomas More Society.
Screengrab from a March 20, 2002 presentation on Father Moritz Fuchs, Justice Robert H. Jackson's bodyguard at Nuremberg, held at the Robert H. Jackson Center located in Jamestown N.Y. and co-sponsored by the Sir Thomas More Society.

Twenty-year-old Army Pvt. Moritz Fuchs of Fulton, New York, who would later become a priest, carried the only weapon allowed in Courtroom 600 of Nuremberg's Palace of Justice, where Nazi war criminals faced justice and the mandate of history.

For the first six weeks of the "Trial of the Century" starting in November 1945, Fuchs carried a 45-caliber handgun on his hip. He later switched to what he said was a .357 Magnum in a shoulder holster "and a blackjack" -- just in case.

His only job was to guard Robert H. Jackson, the associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court picked by President Harry S Truman to serve as chief prosecutor in the first of the Nuremberg trials against Reich Chancellor Hermann Goering, Deputy Fuhrer Rudolf Hess, Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop, the venomous anti-Semite Julius Streicher and others.

Fuchs, whose life would take many turns up to and following his historic Nuremberg assignment, died on June 19 at age 92.

John Q. Barrett, a St. John's University law professor and fellow at the Robert H. Jackson Center in Jamestown, said of his friend that he was "truly one of the best people I have ever met. He succumbed to cancer, to a systemic infection, to being just short of age 93, and maybe also, a little bit, to Nazi shrapnel."

Assigned as Bodyguard

Once assigned as guard, Fuchs went everywhere with Jackson. He slept in the vestibule of Jackson's quarters at 33 Lindenstrasse. On a weekend hunting party, "I was the only one who shot a deer," he said.

Jackson said he was relieved to find out that his bodyguard was a good shot.

Fuchs rode shotgun in Jackson's car for the duration of the trial. It was a 16-cylinder monster that had once belonged to von Ribbentrop. Fuchs would later become slightly miffed when he was portrayed in movies about the trial as Jackson's driver.

"I didn't know how to drive back then," he said.

He also confessed that once, when Jackson was occupied elsewhere, he joined with other troops in taking the big car out on the autobahn to see what it could do. He said they got it up to 120 mph.

At the trial, Fuchs came to admire Father John (Sixtus) O'Connor, the Roman Catholic priest who ministered to the Catholics among the accused. After the war, Fuchs entered the seminary and remained close to Jackson.

He would visit the justice at the court and was a guest at Jackson's estate outside Washington, D.C. -- "Hickory Hill," which would become the home of Robert and Ethel Kennedy. For the rest of his life, Fuchs served parishes in central New York.

From the Battle of Huertgen Forest to Nuremberg

In the few interviews he gave after the war, and in a sermon on the 50th anniversary of Jackson's death in 2004, Fuchs said that Nuremberg instilled in him the determination "to do the best I could to help make the world a better place."

He had been drafted into the Army in 1943 and was serving as a replacement in November 1944 with the 1st Infantry Division (the "Big Red One") in the battle of Huertgen Forest. His entire squad was wiped out on Nov. 19. He suffered shrapnel wounds in the leg and was sent to England to recover.

While there, he brushed up on the German he spoke at home with his Swiss-born parents. Fuchs was sent back to the infantry and fought in the Harz mountains and on into Czechoslovakia.

After Victory in Europe Day, he was assigned to keep watch on former German SS (Schutzstaffel) troops in the clean-up of the Bavarian town of Nuremberg. The allies had chosen Nuremberg as the site of the International Military Tribunal that would be the first ever to seek justice for crimes against humanity.

Fuchs' commander, Lt. Col. John Corley, told him he was getting a new assignment. He was going to guard a guy named Jackson at the big trial coming up.

"I'd never heard of him," Fuchs said.

The Only Gun in the Courtroom

"Private Fuchs served as Justice Jackson's bodyguard for the entirety of the international Nuremberg trial," Barrett said. "When Jackson worked in his courthouse office, Fuchs sat nearby. When Jackson was in court, so was Fuchs, listening to the proceedings, watching everyone in the room, and carrying the only authorized gun in Courtroom 600."

Considering what was at stake, much of the trial was "boring," Fuchs later said. Jackson made the case against the accused in laborious detail, relying mostly on voluminous records kept by the Nazis that incriminated them in mass murder.

The highlights of the trial were Jackson's magisterial opening statement and his thundering summation. Jackson has been voted by other Supreme Court justices as possibly the best writer ever to sit on the high bench, and he used that skill as a weapon.

"May it please Your Honors: The privilege of opening the first trial in history for crimes against the peace of the world imposes a grave responsibility," Jackson said in his opening. "The wrongs which we seek to condemn and punish have been so calculated, so malignant, and so devastating, that civilization cannot tolerate their being ignored, because it cannot survive their being repeated."

In his closing, Jackson cited the perversion of language itself that the Nazis used to gloss over their crimes.

The defendants "all speak with a Nazi double-talk with which to deceive the unwary," Jackson said. "In the Nazi dictionary of sardonic euphemisms, 'Final solution' of the Jewish problem was a phrase which meant extermination. 'Special treatment' of prisoners of war meant killing. 'Protective custody' meant concentration camp; 'Duty labor'" meant slave labor; and an order to 'take a firm attitude' or 'take positive measures' meant to act with unrestrained savagery."

Lessons on Humanity

Fuchs, who would be discharged as a staff sergeant, said he learned from Jackson that "justice is a word worth fighting for, living for. We had some idea what the Nazis were like, but it became more and more clear as the trial developed. The evil was just built right into it."

The trial record amounted to a litany of "wickedness," he said, adding he learned that "humanity needs to stop aside from the road to chaos" or all is lost.

"Private, then Sergeant, Fuchs guarded Justice Robert Jackson -- well done," St. John’s professor Barrett said in an email to those on his "Jackson list."

"Father Fuchs also, across decades, as priest and friend, guarded humanity and morality. I think of that as him guarding, among other things, Nuremberg's core meaning -- even better done," he wrote.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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