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Drexel A. Sprecher, 92; Prosecutor at Nuremberg

April 17, 2006|From the Washington Post

WASHINGTON — Drexel A. Sprecher, who prosecuted Nazis during the Nuremberg war-crimes trials, edited the official 15-volume report of the trials and wrote his own two-volume work on the topic, has died. He was 92.

Sprecher, who lived in Chevy Chase, Md., died of a heart attack March 18.

A labor lawyer before World War II, Sprecher was a prosecutor in Nuremberg from 1945 to 1949. He made the principal presentation against two of the 22 highest-ranking defendants in the first trial: Hans Fritzsche, a Nazi radio propagandist who was acquitted, and Baldur von Schirach, the head of the Hitler Youth, who was convicted. Sprecher later became deputy chief counsel of the prosecution team.

After the International Military Tribunal trials ended, he became editor in chief of the official report, "Trials of War Criminals Before the Nuremberg Military Tribunals." Many years later, he published "Inside the Nuremberg Trial -- A Prosecutor's Comprehensive Account" (1999).

He held other professional positions, including posts in the federal government, and the Democratic National Committee. He headed Potomac Construction Co. and was a management consultant and college professor. His career was largely defined, however, by the postwar trials of the Nazi leaders.

"One of the reasons I became interested in working at Nuremberg was that I wanted to penalize the very top and show that the Germans, on the average, were not guilty, and that there is no collective guilt for the whole German nation," he told the Philadelphia Inquirer in 1995 upon the 50th anniversary of the trials.

Born in Independence, Wis., Sprecher attended North Central College in Naperville, Ill., and graduated from the University of Wisconsin.

He received a law degree from Harvard University in 1938 and also studied at the London School of Economics. He worked for the National Labor Relations Board until World War II, when he enlisted in the Army.

He served first with the inspector general and then with the Office of Strategic Services in North Africa, training anti-Nazi Germans as Allied spies.

After the war, the trials and working on the official journals, Sprecher became associate chief counsel of the Salary Stabilization Board and then an assistant administrator of the Small Defense Plants Administration during the Truman years.

Sprecher worked for the Democratic National Committee as director of its small-business division and then, in the late 1950s, as deputy chairman of the DNC for political organization.

He moved into consulting work, specializing in police leadership and civil rights. He also taught organizational behavior at George Washington University for more than 10 years.

"I think one of the legacies of Nuremberg was to make us look more at potential dictators and to try to nip them in the bud," Sprecher told a Court TV interviewer several years ago. He also urged the creation of a permanent war-crimes investigative unit and tribunal that could quickly address future incidents.

He is survived by his wife of 55 years, Virginia Lee Sprecher; three children; four grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren.

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