bmeltzer.jpgBernard D. Meltzer, a prosecutor who tried Nazi war criminals at the Nuremberg International War Trials, died on Jan. 4 of prostate cancer. He was 92.
Meltzer was born in 1914 in Philadelphia to Russian immigrants. He attended Temple University for four semesters before transferring to the University of Chicago. There Meltzer completed his undergraduate studies in 1935 and earned a law degree in 1937. He spent the following year doing a graduate fellowship at Harvard Law School, where he received a master of laws degree.
Meltzer attempted to enlist in the Navy after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, but was unable to do so due to poor eyesight. Two years later, however, he was commissioned as a naval officer and assigned to the Office of Strategic Services, the predecessor of the CIA.
Meltzer helped draft the U.N. Charter in 1945, yet he was still in the Navy when he led a team of lawyers in the prosecution of economic associations and crimes of the Nazi regime. His most noted tasks in the Nuremberg trials included interrogating Herman Goering in pretrial proceedings, and presenting the case against Walter Funk, whom Hitler had appointed as Minister of Economics to the Third Reich.
“Of the defendants I met face to face, I found Goering the most interesting and the most diabolical,” Meltzer said in a 1995 interview with the University of Chicago Chronicle.
That interview wouldn’t be the last time Meltzer was asked to recount his experiences at Nuremberg. In a paper written in 2000, Meltzer spoke of some of the difficulties of the Nuremberg trials, citing the challenges of meshing different legal systems. He also described what he saw on later reflection to be the central difficulty of Nuremberg and termed “the unequal application of the law.” Meltzer offered a considered view on how that inequality developed and ended the paper with a sentiment directed at Kosovo, but which has other current reverberations: “Indeed, it may well be that, as was true at Nuremberg, unequal and flawed justice may be preferable to no justice at all.”
After the Nuremberg trials ended, Meltzer joined the faculty of the University of Chicago and specialized in labor law. He helped guide the university’s law school, taught the country’s first class on international organizations and composed writings on legal issues that are still relevant today.

–Gale Walden