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A Greek witness to the Nuremberg Trial

Sixty years ago, a Greek woman from Santorini had a role in the epic Nuremberg Trial, which officially ended Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany and its terrible reign of blood and terror. Alexandra Androusou, then a 28-year-old living in Paris, participated in the cross-examination of those accused of Nazi war crimes and gathered information which led to death sentences for some of the Third Reich’s top military. Even at the advanced age of 90, Androusou can still recall this period’s scenes and moments. As an interpreter and stenographer for the French prosecutor M. Pierre Mounier, she spent hours with Nazi military leaders, such as Reich Marshal Hermann Goring, Chief of High Command of the Armed Forces Wilhelm Keitel, and Nazi party philosopher and Reich Minister for the Eastern Occupied Area Alfred Rosenberg. «We lived and worked for a year in a destroyed city with 45,000 unburied bodies around us,» she said in a recent interview from her home in Rouen, France. She is still haunted by a phrase Goring said to Mounier during the questioning: «If we had won the war, we would be doing these things to you that you are now doing to us. But we lost, and everything is against us.» By the end of the summer of 1945, the war had ended with Germany’s defeat. At the time, the Allies were putting together an international tribunal to judge all the top-level Nazis. The Third Reich’s big fish – Hitler, his chief propagandist Joseph Goebbels, and Schutzstaffel (SS) commander and chief Holocaust architect Heinrich Himmler – had already committed suicide. But the tribunal wasn’t a lost cause because some top Reich officials had been captured, including Goring, Keitel, Rosenberg, Reich Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop and Deputy to the Fuhrer Rudolf Hess. French, British, American and Soviet leaders carefully selected the individuals who would represent them at the tribunal, screening all lawyers, judges and prosecutors at Nuremberg to make sure they could adequately judge the Hitler regime’s key figures who had committed such crimes against humanity. From Paris to Nuremberg When tribunal officials were looking for staff, Androusou was living with her uncle in Paris. She read in a newspaper that the French Ministry of the Exterior wanted stenographers who knew German and English. She put in an application and got the job. «We went through quick on-the-job training and were informed about the event to take place,» she recalled. «Then we went to Nuremberg about a month before the trial began. This beautiful Medieval city had been leveled. Only a few buildings remained standing, and among these, as if by a miracle, stood the building where the international tribunal would take place. The terrible thing was that below these ruins were 45,000 bodies. We were in danger of contracting illness and were inoculated for our protection. We were put up in houses, which were sort of makeshift hotels, about 45 kilometers away from the city.» One of the first things tribunal representatives did was organize a trip to the military base in Dachau outside Munich «so we could see firsthand what we had heard about the crematoriums.» Androusou became the interpreter and stenographer for Mounier. Her encounter with Goring, a hard and unapologetic man, has stayed with her to this day. «When I entered his cell for the first time, I was so scared that my hands shook and I couldn’t take notes. The prosecutor got angry and told me that if my hand shook so much the next time, he would have to replace me. That’s when I realized where I was, and that I had to do my job.» «They brought the prisoners one-by-one into a cell where a prosecutor asked them many questions and I took notes,» she continued. «The prosecutor primarily asked them about the war and the military bases, the mass killings. Most of them responded generally to the questions and maintained they had done what they did because they were just following orders. When they finished the cross-examination, I read the verdicts… We all signed – the accused, the prosecutor and I – and afterward the prisoner was returned to his cell.» Powerful impressions What impressions did these prisoners make on her?, Kathimerini asked Androusou. «Goring, whom I saw three times when Mounier questioned him, seemed like an interesting person,» she said. «His comment that if the Germans had won the war, we would now be in their shoes always stayed with me. Keitel and Rosenberg, whom we also questioned, seemed fearful of the fate that awaited them. But most were unknowns. They had no relationship with the high-ranking military officers we had seen in all the newspapers.» The Greek stenographer-interpreter lived in Nuremberg for a year – as long as the trial lasted. It wasn’t easy for her. «We worked from the morning until 11 at night, when buses would pick us up and take us to the hotels outside the city,» Androusou said. «Traveling outside the city was forbidden for safety reasons, but where would we have gone anyway, since everything was destroyed? The only people walking around the city were beggars or people who had survived the war and were trying to find their family members among the ruins and bodies… At the tribunal, things were very strict. We weren’t allowed to talk to the lawyers for the accused or secretaries or representatives from other countries, especially the Russians. There was great suspicion.» The Nuremberg trial ended on October 1, 1946. Androusou returned to Paris full of experiences from this closing chapter of a singularly traumatic event. After her Nuremberg sting, every job she did seemed tedious, she said. «An interesting offer did come to me to work as an interpreter at the United Nations in New York,» she said. «But I turned it down, because I am scared of airplanes.»