14 April (1946): Evelyn Waugh to Randolph Churchill

In 1944, after many failed attempts to enlist in the British military, Evelyn Waugh accepted an invitation from his friend Randolph Churchill to serve in the 37th Military Mission to Yugoslavia during the final stages of World War II. In 1946, after the war, Waugh attended the war crimes trials at Nuremberg as a journalist. Waugh found the trials “tedious” and left the city well before they were over, though not without taking down this fascinating shorthand account, which he forwarded to Churchill. Of all the trials’ “surrealist” spectacles, what impressed Waugh most was the performance of the English lawyers. 


[April 1946]

Notes on Nuremberg

Surrealist spectacle. Two buildings standing–a luxury hotel & a luxury law-courts– amid acres of corpse scented rubble. Kaiser Wilhelm baroque hall, functional light, functional furniture, a continuous parrot-house chatter of interpreters. Interpretation almost simultaneous. Curious sensation of seeing two big men bullyragging & their voices coming through the head phones in piping female tones with American accent. Obvious irony of Russian bullet-headed automata sitting on judges bench. Russian delegation all in top boots epaulets, everyone else in plain clothes. Russians sit immobile listening hard, quite bemused, as strange as renaissance Venetian ambassadors at the court of Persia. Whenever ‘Russia’ is spoken they all start guiltily & their spokesman leaps up to say ‘I protest that that question is anti-democratic, irrelevant, fascist, cannibalistic & contrary to the Atlantic charter.’ Then Lord Justice Lawrence (an entirely admirable man) says: ‘It is an entirely proper question’ and the trial proceeds. The English are top dogs. Our lawyers six times abler than anyone else. French & Yanks openly admiring. Only obvious criminal in the dock is Kaltenbrunner who is a cross between Noel Cowaed & Fitzroy Maclean (in appearance). Goering has much of Tito’s matronly appeal. Ribbentrop was like a seedy schoolmaster being ragged. He knows he doesn’t know the lesson & he knows the boys know. He has just worked out the sum wrong on the blackboard & is being heckled. He has lost his job but has pathetic hope that if he can hold out to the end of term he may get a ‘character’ to another worse school. He lies quite instinctively & without motive on quite unimportant points.

With six or seven exceptions the entire occupying force are [preposterously?] Jewish because the only Yanks who speak German are first generation immigrants. They spend the day photographing one another doing Nazi salutes on the nostrum at the Sports Palace.

Hundreds of languid, blasé, highly painted, rather hideous young women-secretaries make continuous round of cocktail parties & dinner parties. All in different corners of the same hotel. ‘Oh dear I promised to go to the French and the Romanians & I must dress early for the Procurator General’s. I must fly.’ The flight is to cross the lounge to another group.

Unemployed barristers enjoying a free holiday V.I.P.

Surprising esprit de corps among English lawyers. They are not at all blasé. Working very hard & believing their work historically important.

Please do not quote me in any sense which would seem to show me ungrateful to my hosts or skeptical of their good work. In fact please do not quote me at all.


From The Letters of Evelyn Waugh, edited by Mark Amory, Phoenix, London, 1980, p. 226.



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