Harris was last Nuremberg prosecutor; HMLC supporter

Whitney R. Harris, the sole surviving member of the original prosecution team at the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribual of Nazi figures in 1945, died Wednesday, April 21, 2010, of complications of cancer at his home in Frontenac. He was 97.

Mr. Harris, a longtime supporter of the St. Louis Holocaust Museum and Learning Center, and with his late first wife, Jane Freund Harris of the local Jewish community and other causes, was on the prosecutorial team headed by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson, that prosecuted top Nazi war criminals in Nuremberg, Germany after the end of World War II, in 1945, and which was dramatized in the award-winning film, “Judgment at Nuremberg” in 1962. In 2005, Mr. Harris was a principal speaker at a reunion of the Nuremberg team which was hosted by Washington University in St. Louis.

Mr. Harris headed the team’s initial case against Ernst Kaltenbrunner, a leader of the Nazi Security Police, on charges of crimes against humanity. Mr. Harris also interrogated Rudolf Franz Ferdinand Hoess, former commandant of the infamous Nazi death camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland. In Nuremberg in 1996, on the 50th anniversary of the trials, Mr. Harris recalled, “Mr. Hoess told me, as unemotionally as if he were talking at the breakfast table, that 2.5 million people were killed at Auschwitz.”

Mr. Harris detailed his riveting account of his Nuremberg Tribunal experiences in a book, “Tyranny on Trial,” which has been re-issued in several printings. He won a conviction of Kaltenbrunner for war crimes and crimes against humanity, including his role in running the Gestapo, the Nazi concentration camps at the massacre of Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto in 1943. He was executed by hanging. His interviews of Hoess also helped prosecutors obtain his conviction in 1946, which led to his execution.

Jean Cavender, director of the St. Louis Holocaust Museum and Learning Center in Memory of Gloria M. Goldstein, a department of the Jewish Federation, said, “We at the Holocaust Museum and Learning Center are deeply saddened by the passing of Whitney Harris. As a trained litigator he was a dynamic and powerful orator. He was featured as a guest speaker at many Museum events incluidng our annual Yom HaShoah Commemoration.

“One of my most poignant memories of Whitney is when he spoke at Brith Sholom Kneseth Israel Congregation at our annual event and how he had deposed Commandant Rudolf Hoess, who ran Auschwitz. He spoke about how he learned for the first time from Commandant Hoess that indeed 1 million Jews had been murdered at Auschwitz. He spoke with such verve and conviction that I remember chills going down my spine. It was as if I and the audience were hearing it for the first time as well.”

Cavender added, “Whitney was a great friend to the museum and its precursor, the St. Louis Holocaust Center. He donated personal artifacts when the museum opened and as a result we are proud to be able to preserve his role during this historical event in a very special way. He will always be in our memory.”

Mr. Harris moved to St. Louis in 1963 as general solicitor of the former Southwestern Bell Telephone Co. He was active in numerous local charities in both the Jewish and general communities. He also endowed programs in international studies at Washington University and was active until last year in seminars at the university’s school of law.

A native of Seattle, Mr. Harris received his undergraduate degree from the University of Washington and his law degree from the University of California at Berkeley. He was a lawyer serving in the U.S. Navy when he was recruited by Judge Jackson to serve on his Nuremberg trials team. The only survivor among the 200 lawyers on the team is Benjamin Ferencz of New York, who joined in 1946. Mr. Harris was the sole survivor of the original 1945 team.

In 1964, Mr. Harris married the late Jane Freund Foster of Ladue. The Harrises were active in many local charities, including B’nai B’rith of St. Louis, which honored them with its Guardian of the Menorah Award in 1980 at the Chase Park Plaza Hotel. They also served on the boards of the Heart Association, St. Louis Children’s Hospital, the Multiple Sclerosis Society and many others. In 1983, they received a joint award for outstanding volunteer fundraising from the National Society of Fundraising Executives. She died in 1999.

In 2000, Mr. Harris married Anna Galakatos of Frontenac.

In 1980, Mr. Harris donated his Nuremberg papers to Washington University’s Olin Library, which preserves them in the Jane and Whitney Harris Reading Room. In 2001, the law school renamed its institute for Global Legal Studies in Mr. Harris’s honor. He helped plan the institute’s seminars, where he was a frequent speaker. In 2008, Mr. Harris helped to create the World Peace Through Law Award, given by the Harris Institute.

A memorial service is planned for May 23, 2010 in Graham Chapel at Washington University. There will be no visitation.

In addition to his wife, among the survivors are a son, Eugene Harris of Olivette; three stepsons, Charles Foster Jr. of Denver, Greg Galakatos of Town and Country and Christopher Galakatos of Des Peres; a step-daughter, Theresa Galakatos of Richmond Heights; four grandchildren; and nine step-grandchildren.