For trials translator, it was days ago - The Explorer: El Sol

For trials translator, it was days ago

Ingeborg Lorensen was at Nuremberg Trials

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Posted: Tuesday, June 22, 2010 11:00 pm | Updated: 8:10 am, Thu Mar 24, 2011.

The distant past came rushing back as she paged through her typed memories, age-old documents and photos. And the non-stop commentary with her eyes sparkling made it seem like only days ago.

Stopping at one courtroom scene photo, she pointed to herself — Ingeborg Lorensen, then 32 years old, only a few feet away from 13 of 21 Nazi war criminals. The Fairwinds Desert Point resident was one of 24 interpreters in the international military tribunal Nuremberg Trials in Paris at the end of World War II.

The proceedings were a four-nation tribunal – U.S., England, France and Russia – against the Nazi nation to make a statement that crimes against humanity would never again go unpunished. At its close in October 1946, 12 of Hitler's leaders were condemned to death, six sentenced to prison terms and three acquitted.

On June 6, 66 years ago, the war began for the Allied forces with the D-Day invasion of Normandy Beach in France. The war ended in mid-1945 with Germany's surrender in May and Japan's surrender in September. The tribunal began about a month later.

"Being witness to photos taken of the concentration camps was very stressful," says Lorensen, who turns 97 in September. "We had heard rumors of such happening, but had not seen or heard of anything before the trial." Some persons in the courtroom became sick and had to leave, she recalls.

During the war, there always was the "stress of the possible middle-of-the-night knock on the door," which happened before people – Jews, Christians, gypsies, Communists, homosexuals, the mentally ill and other Nazi enemies — were taken to the camps.

Her other key negative in the lengthy trial was the required speed of translation (in Lorensen's case, from German to English) in the courtroom testimony.

"Robert Jackson (American lead attorney who was a then-Supreme Court justice) always spoke very fast, so they had a use a flashing red light to slow him down when interpreters couldn't keep up with him," Lorensen recalls.

Even though she was only a few feet separated by a half wall from the defendants, Lorensen says she wasn't fearful. "We were told not to make eye contact with the defendants. Security was quite heavy in the courtroom and each of the defendants had a soldier at attention standing directly behind them."

On the lighter side, she says, "I've never eaten so well. They treated us like kings and queens." And Lorensen was able to visit monthly with husband Walter and son Ronald in Hamburg.

Lorensen had been "caught" in Germany during Hitler's takeover. In 1936, the then-Ingeborgborg Giese accepted a scholarship offer to pursue her master's degree at University of Hamburg, along with two classmates – Jane Lester and Rita Barry – from Nazareth College in Rochester, N.Y. (She returned to Rochester in 1938, but returned to Germany two months later.)

"Jane later joined the U.S. State Department as a research assistant," Lorensen recalls, "and that's a big reason why I was eventually successfully tested to be a courtroom interpreter for the year-long proceedings."

Lorensen, who became a U.S. citizen in the late-1920s, was a courtroom interpreter for 5½ months until it was discovered she was eight months pregnant with daughter Barbara. After her birth, court officials had her translating pre-trial interviews for another 1½ months.

At Nazareth College, she had majored in German, English, Latin and history. Because of that education she was able to teach at the Hamburg School of Foreign Languages while working on her master's.

It was there she met Walter – then one of her students – much to her mother's later displeasure. Walter was half-Jewish. "When she found out, she went ballistic," Lorensen remembers.

In mid-1938, two Gestapo officers visited Walter in response to a letter that Lorensen's mother had written the Nazis with accusations of treason. The case against Walter was closed two months later with "no cause for prosecution," she says.

Thwarted by repeated denials for a marriage license by Nazi authorities, they were finally married in August 1945 – four months after the Nazi surrender. Officiating were an American chaplain and Lorensen's old parish pastor who baptized her in Hamburg 31 years earlier.

Lorensen says she returned to Rochester with her two children in November 1946 and Walter one month later. They had to wait until after the trials completion because American troops and other U.S. personnel were first to be sent home.

They lived in Rochester until 1978, when Walter retired as a certified public accountant. Lorensen had been foreign language department head for Penfield Community School in suburban Rochester.

Walter died one year after moving to Florida, so Lorensen moved to Juneau, Alaska, in 1981 to live with relatives. She moved to Fairwinds Desert Point about 1½ years ago, not far from where daughter Barbara Bardach and her husband live.

On Nov. 11, Veterans Day, Fairwinds Desert Point had a special event with war veteran residents bringing in photos and other memorabilia.

"Inge came in with her material (compiled by her from 1995 to 2005) and said, 'I'm not sure how this fits in,'" recalls Scott Haille, Fairwinds general manager. "Then she showed me what she had. What an amazing story it all told."

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