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Waynesboro woman recalls horrors of Nuremberg

October 16, 2003|by RICHARD BELISLE

waynesboro@herald-mail.com

Nearly six decades have passed, but that's not enough time to completely forget the evils wrought upon humanity that Phyllis Porter learned about firsthand at the Nuremberg war-crime trials of Nazi officials after World War II.

Porter, 84, of 932 Sunset Ave., wife of Waynesboro Borough Councilman Allen Porter, was an administrative assistant to the U.S. Chief Counsel for War Crimes in 1946.

The trials began in November 1945 in the Palace of Justice in the bombed-out city of Nuremberg, Germany.

Porter arrived in Nuremberg in June 1946 as the trials were under way. She was there in time to hear the testimony of victims of Nazi atrocities that cost the lives of more than 6 million Jews and other minorities.

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Verdicts resulted in 11 death sentences and long prison terms for those who were convicted.

The tribunal consisted of representatives of each of the four victorious nations - the United States, Great Britain, France and the Soviet Union.

Porter said she has vague memories of talking to some of the Nazis on trial, including Hermann Goering, a key lieutenant of Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler and head of the German air forces.

"As I remember he was a friendly man, like most of them," she said. "They had savoir-faire. You couldn't help but to enjoy talking to them, but they were wicked, wicked men. They really believed that what they had done was right."

Porter also remembered seeing the faces of those who were sentenced to hang.

"They knew it was going to happen, but they were aghast when their sentences were read," she said.

Porter worked through to the end of the main trials, then stayed for what she said were the "lesser cases," including those of German doctors who had performed experiments on death camp inmates.

Even today, Porter has difficulty thinking back on the testimony of the victims of the experiments.

Porter was born in Washington, D.C., and graduated from local schools. She attended George Washington University at night and worked days as a secretary in the War Department, now the Department of Defense.

After the trials began, her boss in the Office of Chief Counsel for War Crimes suggested she go to Nuremberg for the experience.

"At the time, they had difficulty finding government people to go there who were efficient in their work," Porter said.

She remembers going to Europe on an ocean liner. In Germany, she worked for the State Department.

Porter also recalls the shock she felt at seeing the devastation that the war left on France and Germany.

"Everything seemed to have been bombed out," she said. "There was utter devastation. I was numb for weeks."

Porter's job in Nuremberg was to assist the foreign press.

"There were hundreds of reporters there. We tried to get them what they needed," she said.

Another duty was finding lodging for trial witnesses, often a difficult task because of the war damage, she said.

Porter was sent home for a break in the summer of 1948. She was supposed to return to Nuremberg to work in the final days of the trials and then she expected to be sent to Japan for the war trials there, she said.

Meanwhile, back in Washington, she met her husband-to-be, a civilian working for the Pentagon. They met in church. They've been married for 52 years and have three children and four grandchildren.

Allen Porter was sent to Fort Ritchie to work during the building of the underground communications center there.

That's how they ended up in Waynesboro. It's also when she learned to love small-town living, she said.

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