Virtual Tribunals Initiative - WWII Trial Records Collections
History of the WWII Collections
Our Director, David Cohen, originally established the War Crimes Studies Center (WCSC) to support his work collecting and analyzing a vast body of generally overlooked post-World War II war crimes trial records scattered across Europe, East Asia, and the South Pacific. At the time that he began this research, most people had heard of the proceedings at the International Military Tribunal for Nuremberg, but few in the academic or legal community knew much, if anything, about the vast body of WWII-era international legal precedent from national war crimes programs that Cohen was studying.
With the support of the Volkswagen Foundation, the Max Planck Institute for European Legal History, the Wang Family Foundation, and the University of California at Berkeley, the Center began collecting and negotiating access to trial records from across the European and Pacific theater countries in which WWII was fought. To date, Cohen and his staff, along with teams of graduate student researchers and undergraduate interns, have collected thousands of previously inaccessible (and sometimes classified) war crimes trial records from WWII proceedings involving Japanese and German defendants across the Pacific and European theaters. These trials were conducted by more than twenty countries in Europe, Asia, and the South Pacific. The Center's collections include proceedings that took place in China, the Netherlands, Italy, Great Britain, France, Australia, the United States, and the Philippines. Most of the trial records in our holdings have never before been reproduced, and for this reason have scarcely been accessible to researchers and practitioners. The collections include copies of some case files that remain under seal in the countries where the trials took place, but which we have obtained through the cooperation of other archival sources. In light of the number of new tribunals that have been founded around the world since the 1990s to prosecute international crimes, and because so many of the original documents are in danger of deterioration, our work is both urgent and timely.
The Center began collaborating with Stanford University Libraries (SUL), a fruitful partnership that deepened when David Cohen and the Center relocated to Stanford University in 2014. As partners, we were proud to launch the Virtual Tribunals Digital Collection in 2018, making records from 105 cases investigated by the Special Panel for Serious Crimes in East Timor widely accessible, with plans to incorporate additional contemporary tribunal collections in the future. In 2021, SUL was authorized by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague to manage long-term digital preservation and online hosting with significant scholarly functions for records of the war crimes trial conducted at Nuremberg in 1945 and 1946. These archives were entrusted to the ICJ by a decision of the Tribunal in 1946. Our Center will work in partnership with SUL to develop this collection and provide an unique multimedia research and educational resource for scholars, students, the public, and posterity. Vital and generous support from Taube Philanthropies to Stanford will provide funds for the hosting program and establish an endowment to ensure the archive is maintained and remains secure in the Stanford Digital Archive, where it will be known as the Taube Archive of the International Military Tribunal of Nuremberg. The Taube IMT Archive program is a groundbreaking expansion of the initial Virtual Tribunals pilot effort, which has been designed to enable cutting-edge cross-tribunal research in war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. With all these archival materials, from contemporary as well as post-WWII justice processes, SUL and the Center are dedicated to preserving digital records for posterity and making them accessible to scholars and practitioners who may use find the archive to be a valuable reference tool.
Click here for a list of countries the Center has collaborated with for the WWII collections.
Our researchers have, in collaboration with the National Archives of Japan in Tokyo, worked to locate and reproduce trial records of Japanese war criminals after WWII.
The Center has collaborated with a variety of individuals and institutions in Singapore on an ambitious project focusing on the war crimes trials held there in the aftermath of WWII. This project included documentation, an oral history of the trials, doctoral research, publication of trial records, and a conference and public exhibition. Our partners included the National University of Singapore (Professors Tan Tay Yeong and Kwa Chong Guan), The National Heritage Board (Professor Kevin Tan and Lily Tan), and the National Archives of Singapore.
In collaboration with the Australian National Archives and our partner center at the University of Marburg, we digitized all of the case files and many other documents from the Australian War Crimes Program (1945-1951). In collaboration with the English National Archives (PRO) and Marburg, we are pursuing the digitization of all of the more than three hundred British trials involving Japanese accused of war crimes.
The records of the several hundred Chinese trials involving Japanese defendants are still sealed in the archives of the People's Republic of China. Our ongoing acquisition program has succeeded in acquiring a substantial amount of trial records from other archival sources in Japan, Taiwan, and the United State.
WWII Pacific Theater Document Archive
In the early 2000s, the Center served as the sole repository in North America for over one million microfilmed pages of records of WWII-era trials of Japanese war criminals. Upon moving to Stanford in 2014, the Center deposited these microfilm reels in the archive of the Stanford University Libraries (SUL), and Center and SUL undertook a joint effort to digitize this microfilm in order to include the historical records in the Virtual Tribunals platform. These national-level trials of Japanese were held by several different countries, including the U.S., China, Britain, and Australia; and in many different locations, including Japan, Singapore, the Philippines, and China. The Center also houses records of U.S. Navy Trials and Australian Trials. Information on these records is not online at this time, but the microfilm reels are available for research use. In 2018, the Center transferred the physical microfilm reels to our partners at the Stanford University Libraries, to make the materials available to researchers in the microfilm reading room at Green Library. Since the Center's founding, researchers and students have collaborated to develop navigation guides, case listings, trial synopses, and detailed analyses of key cases to make the documents from these microfilm reels more widely accessible to the public.
WWII European Theater Document Archive
The collection of War Crimes Studies Center microfilm transferred from the Center to SUL contains substantial records from the European Theater and particularly the major program of trials conducted at Dachau by the US Army. The confrontation with the past in divided Germany after 1945 presents one of the most complex cases of transitional justice in the postwar period. There is first the fact that at least until 1951 the reckoning with past injustice was, for the most part, imposed, guided, or supervised by outside conquering powers rather than by internal forces which had overthrown the previous regime. Second, the occupying powers exercised their authority in four separate occupation zones, each with its own administration and political goals, as well as its own approach to coming to terms with the Nazi era. The Center has collaborated for over a decade with the University of Marburg, Germany, to compile information on the post-WWII war crimes trials in Europe.
Taube Archive of the International Military Tribunal of Nuremberg, 1945-46
The Taube Archive of the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg, 1945-1946 (IMT) launched in 2023 as the result of a partnership between the Stanford Libraries and the Stanford Center for Human Rights and International Justice. This online archive makes available to the global audience digitized versions of the original, unpublished, and complete official record of the IMT. Unique in the Taube Archive, multimedia research can be conducted on a single site combining audio recordings of the trial proceedings with courtroom documents and evidentiary films, all rendered browsable and searchable. The technical development work by Stanford Libraries was completed on the open-source ArcLight discovery platform, which has enhanced accessibility to and broadened the context of the IMT materials. The capabilities of full-text search, faceted browsing, multilingual captions, moving image transcriptions, text extraction processing, and a scholarly apparatus for background information have expanded the ways in which users can engage with the historical record.
Funding for the project was provided by Taube Philanthropies, an organization founded in 1981 by Stanford alumnus Tad Taube to support diverse educational, research, cultural, community, and youth organizations in the San Francisco Bay Area, Poland, and Israel. “Of all the grants we’ve made to Stanford over the years, this one to fund the creation of the digital IMT archive may be the most impactful. The horrors of the Holocaust are very personal to me but also very important to humanity,” said Taube, who escaped with his immediate family from Poland in 1939, on the eve of WWII. “People everywhere must have access to study and reflect on the crimes detailed in the trial at Nuremberg so that we can recognize and prevent such atrocities in the future and hold perpetrators accountable when such crimes are committed. We cannot forget.”
The Taube Archive is a featured trial archive of the Virtual Tribunals program, a collaboration between the Stanford Center for Human Rights and International Justice and the Stanford Libraries. The initiative aims to facilitate free, comprehensive, enduring access to the records of international criminal tribunals and truth commissions around the globe for both legally trained users and lay audiences, including populations directly affected by conflict or living in relevant diaspora communities. Presently, the Virtual Tribunals program also hosts the Special Panels for Serious Crimes, East Timor with efforts underway to add archival material from World War II criminal trials held by the U.S. Army in Europe and Japan.