Nuremberg, Time And Memory


I know that an insomniac Ribbentrop praised the medical staff for the “superior” American sleeping pills provided to him. The pills were actually placebos, baking soda packed into capsules to dupe this chronic whiner. I know that Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, with Prussian stoicism, sat up all night without sleeping rather than report an excruciating boil on his neck, that Julius Streicher complained bitterly about the guards’ idea of fun. A GI had tied a tiny noose with a piece of string. He then dangled it in front of the spotlight directed into Streicher’s cell during the night. The shadow of the noose was projected against the back wall, life-size. At that point the guard wakened Streicher, who, seeing the swaying rope, screamed hysterically.

I interviewed Burt Andrus, Jr., at length about his father, the commandant. The son was not an openly sentimental man, this West Pointer, World War II squadron leader, and SAC commander during the Cold War. But when he spoke of his father’s dying day, his voice cracked. Colonel Andrus, then eighty-five, called out from his sickbed, “Goering’s committed suicide! I have to tell the Quadripartite Commission.” His son found the old soldier struggling to pull on his pants. An hour later he was dead. The Goering suicide pictured in the wire service photo and etched in my memory for all these years had haunted this man, too, and more understandably.

I was writing about a trial that took place in Germany and that ended in 1946. But for me, shards of Nuremberg surfaced and the story took on life in a small Mexican town, in an upstate New York college library, in a Colorado motel room, and a dozen other sites far from that frowning courthouse in a once dead German city. Again and again I was reminded that history is portable and that it does indeed persist on parallel planes of time.