Friday, January 23, 2009

Tale of a war trial

Tale of a war trial
Written by Sam Matthews
Friday, 23 January 2009

A pair of World War II veterans who guarded Nazi war criminals during the Nuremberg trials drew a big crowd this week to the Lolly Hansen Senior Center.

From the size of the crowd that filled Lolly Hansen Senior Center on Wednesday night, the West Side Pioneer Association could be on its way to building oral-history sessions into an important part of the historical group’s efforts.

World War II veterans Bill Miller and Ken Fulkerson were the center of attention Wednesday, when they told of their experiences as guards during the first of the Nuremberg Trials at the conclusion of World War II.

The pioneers had thought the program might attract 50 to 60 people, but as more and more Tracyites showed up, additional chairs had to be put in place until there was an even 100 in attendance (according to official head-counter Ray Shipman).

In the past, the West Side Pioneers had hosted several sessions on phases of Tracy’s history, but the efforts were sporadic and hadn’t been continued on any consistent basis.

But the success of Wednesday’s session coupled with the promise of filling the Grand Theatre on Feb. 22 for the Japanese-produced film on the Byron Hot Springs prisoners-of-war interrogation center have given new life to interest in hearing about history from those who have lived it.

The Japanese film projects those memories onto the screen, but Wednesday night Bill and Ken gave their accounts in person.

The two combat veterans were chosen to be among the GIs who stood outside the cells (two hours on, four hours off during a 24-hour shift), peering through windows in the doors, of the 21 high-ranking Nazi officials facing justice in the first of a series of trials in Nuremberg’s Palace of Justice, beginning in October 1945.

Both Bill and Ken reported that conversation between the guards was minimal — it was actively discouraged — but that the most important of the Nazi prisoners housed in individual cells was the most engaging.

That would be Hermann Goering, chief of the Luftwaffe and No. 2 ranking official in the Nazi regime until the final weeks of the war.

“Goering was fluent in English and wanted to talk when we took him from his cell to the shower,” Miller said. “He asked where you were from and other things about your life.”

Fulkerson, who also talked to Goering, shed light on the ongoing question of how Goering obtained a cyanide capsule he used to commit suicide the day before he was scheduled to be hanged.

“I know that he asked a second lieutenant to bring him a small bag when he needed it,” Fulkerson said. “The lieutenant brought the bag that day, and the capsule was in the bag.”

The Tracyite said the lieutenant received a gold watch from Goering for his cooperation, but was never charged with aiding the suicide, as far as he knew.

Those present Wednesday night heard these and other insights into what turned two fellow residents of our town became a part of history.

There are many more stories to be told, and I’m looking forward to hearing those in the coming months and years.


History is important and should be spread, WW2 was and is a personal family story many relatives served

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