Thursday, August 23, 2007

Women at Nuremberg: Staffers

(Part 2 of IntLawGrrls' Women at Nuremberg series)

Images of the many women who played administrative roles during the Trial of the Major War Criminals and subsequent proceedings jump out at readers of Peter Heigl's book Nürnberger Prozesse - Nuremberg Trials (2001). Women helped direct renovation of the courtroom. They translated documents, transcribed testimony, kept papers in order, and took dictation during witness interviews. Today we'll mention just 2 of those women.
A major-domo, if you will, seems to have been Captain Virginia Gill, Administrative Officer in the Office of Chief Counsel for war crimes. (Heigl also identifies her as the Executive to the Prosecution, in a photo of her greeting 4 visiting U.S. Senators.) Gill, her hand at her cheek, is depicted above during an April 1947 courtroom session. To her left are Brig. Gen. Telford Taylor, a leading prosecutor and later author of a superb memoir of the trials; Gen. Lucius D. Clay; and another prosecutor, Joseph W. Kaufman, deputy Chief of Counsel. To Gill's right, a hatted woman identified only as "Mrs. Clay" and Brig. Gen. Leroy Watson.
Another remarkable staffer at Nuremberg was Edith Simon Coliver (left, in 1940). After receiving a bachelor's degree at the University of California, Berkeley, she signed on with the U.S. Office of War Information, and helped as a translator at the San Francisco Conference that concluded with adoption of the U.N. Charter. Soon after she returned to her birthplace, Germany, to work at Nuremberg. As 1 article put it:

As a 23-year-old, Coliver translated the pretrial testimony of high-ranking Nazi officer Hermann Goering for American interrogators.
'He was not particularly thrilled to see a woman, a Jewish woman, as his interpreter,' she told the Bulletin in 1995.
Coliver surprised herself by later asking Goering to sign a program. 'Then, I was ashamed of myself,' she told the Bulletin. 'Why would I be getting an autograph from Nuremberg?' So she asked her boss to sign as well. He did, next to Goering's signature, and wrote 'To Edith Simon, who helped hang the same.'

(The incident no doubt took place during the trial. Goering indeed received the death penalty, but cheated the hangman by committing suicide in his cell.)
In her later years Coliver was an executive at the Asia Foundation, serving in the Philippines and Taiwan. The Bay Area-based "'woman of the world,'" who spoke not only German and English, but also French, Spanish, Tagalog, Portuguese, and Mandarin, died in 2002 at age 79. Among her survivors is her daughter and our colleague, Sandra Coliver, Senior Legal Officer at the Open Society Justice Initiative. (photo at right courtesy of Telford Taylor Papers, Columbia University Law School; at left, Berkeley's International House).

Coming next week in this Women at Nuremberg series: Press, Witnesses, Defendants.

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