Morton F. Rome, whose distinguished legal career of nearly six decades was highlighted by serving as assistant prosecutor during the Nuremberg War Crimes Trial, died March 14 of heart failure at Manor Care-Ruxton. The resident of the Murray Hill section of Baltimore County was 83.
Mr. Rome was a 33-year-old Navy lieutenant commander when he was appointed in 1945 as assistant to Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson, who was the principal American prosecutor at the International Military Tribunal trial of Nazi war criminals.
He was a special Navy investigator in the cases of Nazi Grand Admirals Karl Doenitz and Erich Raeder and assisted in the cases against Herman Goering, Field Marshall Wilhelm Keitel, Rudolph Hess, Joachim von Ribbentrop and Col. Alfred Jodl.
"He was in line to prosecute Goering when his father died and he returned to Baltimore to take over the family law firm of Rome & Rome," said Steve Winter, a longtime friend and attorney.
"He said that on a personal level Goering was quite friendly and personable, and it was hard to believe that this man was behind these horrible atrocities."
Mr. Rome's wife of 43 years, the former Frances Rotter, said he had told her the former Reichmarshall, who took part in decisions that sent millions to their deaths in Nazi camps, was known to get down on his hands and knees like a boy and play with his electric trains, which covered the entire second floor of his house.
Mr. Rome was twice sent to the Vatican for private audiences with Pope Pius XII, who gave his approval to prosecuting the Nazis.
In a 1946 interview, Mr. Rome described the fundamental reason for the trials, which have been praised and criticized over the past 50 years, as "education for the Germans themselves, as well as for the rest of the world."
Mr. Rome told the Maryland State Bar Association in 1946 that "the wrongs we seek to condemn and punish have been so calculated, so malignant and so devastating that civilization cannot tolerate their being repeated."
He also observed at the time: "I found that the German people hate the Nazis not because they started the war but because they lost it."
However, in 1977, Mr. Rome wrote to The Evening Sun, saying that the "endless incarceration" of Rudolf Hess at Berlin's Spandau Prison "seems to me harsh cruelty with no possible purpose." He called Hess then 88 and ill "this unfortunate man, who was possibly one of the least reprehensible of the Nazis."
Mr. Rome was born in Baltimore and graduated in 1929 from Forest Park High School. He earned a bachelor's degree from the Johns Hopkins University in 1933 and a law degree from Harvard Law School in 1936.
He was an assistant state's attorney for four years before entering the Navy, where he was commissioned in 1942. He served on Navy Secretary James V. Forrestal's staff, saw sea duty on a minesweeper in the North Atlantic and was sent to Europe with the Office of Strategic Services. He was discharged in 1946.
Mr. Rome later joined the law firm of White, Mindel, Clarke and Hill from which he retired in 1993.
"He was probably during the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s one of the leading business lawyers in Baltimore," said Mr. Winter. "He had hugely important clients like Blumenthal & Kahn, Read's Drugstores and the Hecht Co."
Another who admired Mr. Rome was retired Judge Robert B. Watts, now a lawyer with Piper & Marbury, whom Mr. Rome assisted in getting appointed as the first black to the old Municipal Bench for Baltimore City.
"He was a good friend, and I greatly admired both him and our friendship," said Judge Watts. "He was very well respected at the bar, and he was always willing to assist me in my civil rights work."
Mr. Rome, an urbane and well-tailored man who was seldom without a tie and pipe when in Baltimore, liked to gather his family and go to Wyoming each summer where he enjoyed fly-fishing and trail riding.
He was also known for his boisterous behavior and a sense of humor, according to relatives.
A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. April 6 in the chapel of the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer, 5603 N. Charles St.
In addition to his wife, he is survived by a daughter, Nancy Rome of Oxford, England; a sister, Marion Rome Field of Baltimore; and two step-sons, E. Perry Winston of New York City and O. Copper Winston Jr. of Washington Crossing, Pa.; and a step-daughter, Mary Winston Nelson of Winchester, Mass.
Pub Date: 3/23/96