Anniversary of Nuremberg Trials elicits special UW Law connection

November marks the 74th anniversary of the beginning of the Nuremberg Trials, which hold a particularly special connection to the UW School of Law.

Held after World War II from 1945-1946, the trials were a series of military tribunals famous for the prosecution of Nazi leadership for war crimes — and one of UW Law’s very first alumni played a key role in one of the event’s most infamous proceedings.

Judge Walter B. Beals was a member of UW Law's inaugural graduating class of 1901. In 1946, he took a leave of absence from his position as chief justice of the Washington State Supreme Court to serve as presiding judge over the American military's criminal proceedings against 23 German physicians and administrators.

The trial stretched over nine months and was known as the “Doctors Trial.” The defendants were accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity for medical procedures performed on civilians and prisoners of war in advancement of the Nazi plan for racial purity. Of the accused, 16 were found guilty.

As a result of Judge Beals' work, UW Law's Gallagher Law Library was one of the recipients of the original mimeographed copies of the Nuremberg Trials proceedings.

Prior to his historic role in the trials, Judge Beals led a decorated military career before becoming a powerful figure in the Washington state legal community.

After earning his LL.B. from UW Law, Beals rose to the rank of major in the Washington National Guard. He joined the U.S. Army in 1917 and saw action during World War I in France. He returned to the army and fought in World War II amid a legal career that saw him ascend to the highest level of the Washington State Supreme Court.

Before he retired in 1951, Beals served as Seattle Corporate Council, a King County Superior Court judge, and as a judge on the Washington State Supreme Court. He held the role of the state high court’s chief justice from 1933-1935 and 1945-1946.

All told, the Nuremberg Trials comprised 13 trials, resulting in 161 convictions of the 199 defendants tried. As a result of Judge Beals' work, UW Law's Gallagher Law Library was one of the recipients of the original mimeographed copies of the Nuremberg Trials proceedings.

Today, the transcripts are held deep in the halls of the library in the special collections section.


Explore collections at the University of Washington Gallagher Law Library.

Photo citations:

Washington Libraries, Special Collections, SOC10067
University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections, SOC10091