After his documentary, "Witness: Voices of the Holocaust," aired on PBS, Joshua Greene received a phone call from a widow who claimed she had something he might want to see. When he went to her house, she showed led to the basement where there were shelves and boxes packed with thousands of documents.
The widow was the former wife of William Denson, the chief prosecutor in a series of trials meant to bring justice to Nazis who had run concentration campus during the Holocaust. The documents told the story of the trials.
Greene told Denson's story last night at the Lory Student Center as a keynote speaker of Holocaust Awareness Week.
"The nature of the story was so compelling," Greene said in an interview following his speech. "Maybe most significant of all was the integrity of William Denson. The more I read about this man, the more I liked him."
Denson was a 32 year old West Point professor, when he was asked to go to Dachau to lead the military trials of the 30,000 Nazis arrested for running the concentration camps. Of those 30,000, most were sent home after signing papers and paying fines. The remaining 3,500 stayed and awaited trial.
By August of 1945, the Allied forces had accumulated more than 17,000 tons of paper evidence against the Nazis. It was Denson's job to sift through the paper and convict the criminals.
The Nazis on trial were given every constitutional freedom they would have had in a U.S. court during the trials. Because no legal undertaking of this manner or magnitude had ever been faced, Denson had no precedents to lead him.
In 1948, however, Denson found reports in the newspaper of some Nazi sentences being secretly reversed by the United States government. He called this a "betrayal of justice at its worst," and set out to do something about it. After Denson had rallied the press and the public, though, the U.S. government refused to go back on the reversal decisions.
Denson quit the army and never set foot in a criminal courtroom again. He passed away in 1999, leaving behind his wife and the thousands of documents that led Greene to discover his untold story.
"It is my understanding that on his deathbed he wanted his story told," Greene said. "My privilege is having a small part in telling it…The fact is that character is in short supply these days. I thought maybe by helping to tell his story, students contemplating their careers might get inspired. I found this to be maybe in a small way a contribution that I could make to the thinking process about how to build a life."
Hillel, the CSU student organization that puts together Holocaust Awareness Week every year, also felt that Denson's story was an important one to tell, which is why they asked Joshua Greene to speak at this year's event.
Anna Meening, a sophomore technical journalism major, said she thought the presentation was interesting.
"I think it's always good to learn more about this stuff because it shaped what America is today," she said. "I actually had hesitations about coming because I thought it might be kind of boring, but I thought it was really interesting."
Joshua Greene's book "Justice at Dachau," which tells the story of Denson's trials, is available at the CSU bookstore.
Kristen Majors can be reached at email@example.com.