Let me share highlights and impressions of a book tour in Austria and Germany in the winter of 2010 relating to the publication of the German language edition of my memoirs "Nuremberg and Beyond."
Responding to an invitation by the city of Vienna (SPÖ Wiener Bildung), by the University of Vienna, and by the Federation of Interpreters and Translators, Bavaria Branch, and with the support of the Munich publishing firm Martin Meidenbauer, I spent two weeks speaking at various venues in Austria and Germany. In addition to scheduled functions at universities, community centers and schools, I responded to interview requests by the media, including newspapers, radio and television.
The warm welcome of my Austrian and German hosts compensated for the low temperatures and the snow and ice on the streets. Coming from sunny and balmy Hawaiʻi, the blast of frosty weather made a strong contrast for my wife Kiyoko and myself. Despite flight delays, crowded flying conditions, and frequent train transfers, we managed quite well and met all our appointments.
Living and speaking in a daily English language environment for the past seven decades, I was a bit apprehensive about making German language presentations to large groups in a formal setting. In fact there was no reason to worry. My German skills lay dormant and rose to the challenge with hardly any language deficit.
As to the content of my talks, I adapted my approach to the audience, basing my remarks on the German language edition of my book. I would speak extemporaneously on key points, leading up to a selected passage in the book which I would quote as a way to stress its impact. This mix of informal, conversational lead-ins with the reading of quotations worked quite well.
When I spoke to a group of language or interpreting students, my remarks would aim at the technical challenges of simultaneous interpretation, pioneered at Nuremberg and of particular interest to that target group. The questions and discussions following my talks would vary according to the make-up of the audience.
While the interest in the Nuremberg theme was high, judging by the large attendance at the various presentations, it was evident to me that my audiences related to Nuremberg and the Nazi period as a historical event far in the past. My experiences as a participant in the conduct of the trials could not resonate with most of my younger audience in the way they would for someone who lived through that period. Except for myself, there were very few, if any, octogenarians in the audiences who had a personal memory of the Hitler period.
The sponsor of my talk and its following symposium at the University of Vienna was Professor Oliver Rathkolb, director of the university's institute for contemporary history, who also acted as introducer and moderator. In addition to Professor Rathkolb, a panel of three experts attached to the university presented comments. Prior to the symposium I called on one of the panelists, Dr. Claudia Kuretsdis, who directs and manages the archives of Austria's resistance movement.
On one of the evenings in Vienna a function took place at Vienna's Jewish Museum, where a journalist and columnist of the Viennese Profil magazine engaged me in a wide ranging conversation relating to the Nuremberg theme.
During the trials we had heard testimony and had seen documents relating to the Mauthausen concentration camp, one of the largest and most brutal camps located in Upper Austria, now a memorial site. I expressed interest in visiting the camp, a three-hour drive from Vienna. On a frosty and cloudy day my hosts arranged for me to visit Mauthausen, including the infamous staircase and quarry where countless slave labor inmates found their death. A deeply moving experience!
One unexpected honor in Vienna was the bestowal to me of a decoration presented at the elegant "red salon" of the Rathaus ( City Hall) by the Mayor, represented at the ceremony by the Deputy Mayor Michael Ludwig. I was presented the "Goldener Rathausmann", a golden statuette depicting the figure at the top of the gothic Rathaus structure. Also receiving the honor at the same function was Maximilian Schell, the international actor, who had received an Oscar for his portrayal of a defense lawyer in the film "Judgment at Nürnberg." We were hosted to a lunch at the Rathauskeller, where I enjoyed a pleasant conversation with Maximilian Schell, a colorful personality just about to celebrate his 80th birthday. Quite undeserved, among past recipients of this honor I found myself in such company as Pele, Pierre Cardin and Gregory Peck!
In Germany the main event took place at the Nuremberg Justizpalast (Palace of Justice) in the historic courtroom 600, scene of the major international trial and several subsequent proceedings. Coming back 65 years later to a setting where I had spent many hours, both in the interpreters booth and on the tier below the judges row, felt like the completion of a circle which traced and defined my life leading to and from Nuremberg. Though the courtroom had been restored and reconfigured, I oriented myself immediately, locating the main areas: judges bench, defendants dock, defense counsel rows, prosecution teams, interpreters cabins, witness seat and spectators. It was a nostalgic event, giving me a flashback to my functions and placing me in Nürnberg as a 21 year old lad.
The courtroom was filled with ticket holders for my presentation, drawing a mix of jurists and general public who were also given an opportunity to visit the just opened museum "Memorium Nürnberger Prozesse", located in the space above the courtroom. I spoke from the witness rostrum where greetings and introductions were expressed by the President of Nürnberg's Supreme Court, by the President of the Federation of Interpreters and Translators, and by the Director of Museums in the city of Nürnberg. Functioning as Moderator was my Nürnberg host Dr. Theodoros Radisoglou.
Prior to the courtroom presentation I met two student groups in the Palace of Justice who had travelled to Nürnberg from other locations in Germany to meet with me - one group from the Frankfurt region and one group of translation and interpreting students. In addition, in response to invitations, I spoke to various other student groups at Gymnasiums (secondary schools) in Erlangen and in the Munich region. Though the intensive succession of talks and discussions involved some effort and stress, I felt that it was especially important to meet with students and engage them in dialog.
In Munich a popular radio host for the Bavarian radio network conducted an animated and relaxed conversation with me, focusing not only on my Nuremberg experiences but also on highlights in my life span as expressed in my memoirs.
The historic and beautiful city of Regensburg was the setting of my final talk in Germany, sponsored by the "Evangelisches Bildungswerk", a community center offering lecture series to the public.
Generally, both in Austria and Germany, I found my audiences to be most interested and receptive. The audience interest focused strongly on my sharing of personal impressions and experiences, such as my profiles of the accused in the defendants dock, their personalities and their reactions to incriminating testimonies and documents. There was also interest in the language challenges we faced, particularly in the pioneering of simultaneous interpretation.
A frequent personal question directed to me concerned my attitude and feelings about the atrocities committed by the Nazi regime, about the persecution and forced eviction of my family, and how this experience influenced my attitude and work at the Nuremberg trials. In response I stressed my professional obligation as a linguist and interpreter, focusing on the crucial language challenges I faced. As to the meaning and impact of the trial, it was only later, with greater maturity, that I reflected, wrote and spoke about the legal and moral issues arising from Nürnberg.
In my talks and discussions during the book tour in Austria and Germany it is understandable that the interest of my audiences was focused on the Nuremberg Trials. However, my career after Nuremberg spans over six decades in pedagogy and educational programs, presently with the East-West Center in Hawaiʻi, where my work relates to educational challenges for the United States and the Asia-Pacific region.
In summing up events and experiences over the years, I am convinced that in facing 21st century challenges to global peace and survival, education represents the most important element in our quest for a harmonious world. I feel blessed that in a small way I have been given opportunities to contribute to this mission.
Finally let me express my deep thanks and appreciation to the individuals in Austria and Germany, listed below, who sponsored my talks and paved the way for me.
Particular thanks go to the Martin Meidenbauer publishing firm for its support.
Professor Dr. Oliver Rathkolb, University Vienna
Marcus Schober, Bildungssekretär, SPÖ , Vienna
Eleonore Neubacher, Vienna hostess and facilitator
Stefan Rastl, Logistics, arrangements and facilitator
Dr. Theodoros Radisoglou, BDÜ - host and moderator, Nürnberg/Erlangen
Dieter Weber, Evangelisches Bildungswerk, Regensburg
Dr. Gerd Burger & Petra Huber - Regensburg facilitators
Andre Pleintinger, Martin Meidenbauer Verlag, Munich