Dammit. I missed it
Nuremberg. The Nuremberg trials. Of course I wasn’t born yet.
I also missed the 70th Anniversary Commemoration. At least I think I did. I just Googled “70th Anniversary of Nuremberg” and I’m a little bit confused. The 276,000 hits I got (in 0.64 seconds) give dates all across the spring of 2015. I was reminded of the Anniversary when I saw that MSNBC has made a documentary about the trial. I imagine I missed that, too.
Yup. I missed all of them. And while I regret not paying more attention to the 70th Anniversary (whenever it actually is), there is one Nuremberg-related thing that I truly regret, and I always will.
Did you ever see the movie Judgment at Nuremberg?
It’s a great movie. Amazing performances by a phenomenal cast — Spencer Tracy, Burt Lancaster, Judy Garland, Marlene Dietrich, Richard Widmark. Even William Shatner somehow got in there. I watched the movie in high school because I had read that Judy Garland, whom I love, was in it and gave a terrific dramatic performance. (She did.) I knew the names of each character in the movie. They were real folks, and they made history.
In fact, I’ve always been fascinated by real people who make history. I’ve always liked to learn their stories. And I’ve been lucky enough to hear a few of them in person.
But back to the movie. That movie made me think about what happened there, and to realize that it was a proud moment in world history. We, the Allies, gave fair trials to people who were accused (and ultimately convicted) of some of the most heinous crimes ever committed by mankind. Martin Bormann, Hermann Göring, Rudolf Hess, Albert Speer, among others.
Holy Shit! That is really huge. And the trials left their mark on how we conduct ourselves since: International rules regarding how we treat and try alleged war criminals come from the Nuremberg trials, as did the Nuremberg Code that established the ethics of how medical research participants must be treated.
By now, you’re probably wondering what I’m yammering on about. Sorry. I’m getting there.
In the school year 1977-78, I was working at a law school as the administrative assistant for a large student organization. I had a big office, right in the center of the school just off the main reception area, and at the head of a hallway that also held the offices of a bunch of professors. My office had a couple of comfortable chairs, a couch and, most importantly, coffee and tea. During the school year, loads of student congregated there.
That summer, like all summers, the school was quiet. Very quiet.
One day, an older man stopped by my office and introduced himself. His office was a couple of doors down.
“Hi, I’m Professor Taylor,” he told me.
I introduced myself, and told him to feel free to stop by any time for coffee or tea.
Professor Taylor took me up on my offer. Just about every afternoon, all summer long, we had tea together. Professor Taylor was a visiting professor, and he seemed kind of lonely. He was looking for someone to chat with. He liked to chat. And he liked to ask questions, too.
I was surprised when he asked me my opinion of the other professors.
“But I’m just a secretary,” I objected.
“How someone treats a secretary is a great measure of a man — or woman. You can tell a lot by how someone treats secretaries. It’s easy enough to be nice to your peers; harder to be nice to people who aren’t.”
So we chatted all summer long — for two months. He asked me a lot of questions. About the other professors, about the students. About Boston and things to do and places to go. We talked about local restaurants, the best way to get from here to there. As the summer progressed, he told me of places he’d traveled to with his family, other places where we’d both like to go.
He was such an incredibly nice man.
I thoroughly enjoyed our chats, and was sorry to see them end with the summer. Of course, our tea parties ended when school started and my office became a beehive of students. He started teaching classes. Still, we stopped and chatted a bit when we ran into each other in the hall or in the cafeteria.
At the end of the school year when his visitorship was done, Professor Taylor stopped by and gave me a lovely can of wonderful English tea.
“I wanted to be sure to give this to you personally before I left this afternoon, Elyse. They’ve evicted me from my office!”
“Who am I going to share this with this summer without you?” I responded. We chatted a little bit longer, said our goodbyes and he left.
“Why did Telford Taylor give you tea, Elyse?” asked Lucas, one of the students who was in the office.
“We had tea together a lot last summer when we were the only folks here,” I responded. “Lots of nice long chats.”
“Did he tell you about the trials?”
“Trials?” I tilted my head at Lucas. “What trials?”
“The Nuremberg Trials. Telford Taylor was the lead prosecutor in the Nuremberg Trials. He tried the Nazis!”
There aren’t a whole lot of things that I truly regret about my life. But I’ve always wished that I had known a little bit more about the man when we met for tea. And I would have too, if he’d been a character in the damn movie.
Not only was he the lead prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials, he stood up to Joseph McCarthy, an early objector to the Vietnam War, and lent his voice to many other political causes that I’ve long thought about. When we were chatting over tea, I wasn’t terribly political, but I did have an interest in history. And Professor Taylor was a playah.
I will never stop kicking myself.