Fraser woman recounts her work during Nuremberg Trials
Eastpointe — Hertha "Hedy" Sheridan is a petite 85-year-old who was a part of one of the most important pieces of world history.
Sheridan, a German native, was one of the 1,000 personnel involved in the Nuremberg Trials, a series of military tribunals held by the Allied Forces after World War II between 1945 to 1949 that brought Nazi war criminals totrial.
Sheridan, who lives in Fraser, shared her experience with more than 90 people at the Michigan Military Technical and Historical Societyin Eastpointe on Saturday afternoon. The museum showcases artifacts highlighting Michigan's contribution to America's military history.
Sheridan, who grew up in Nuremberg, landed a job after the war as a 17-year-old stenographer and secretary during the 1945-46 International Military Tribunal, which was part of the Nuremberg Trials, where more than 20 Nazi leaders were indicted and tried as war criminals.
Sheridan sat in on an interrogation of Hermann Goering, a leading member in the Nazi regime who created the Secret Police, which later developed into the Gestapo.
Sheridan said Goering was "very arrogant" and would "harass" other prisoners. Goering was sentenced to death, but the night before his execution he committed suicide.
When one audience member asked whether the German people knew about the concentration camps that killed Jews, Sheridan said "No."
Other German natives in the audience said many lived in fear and added that those who talked against Adolf Hitler or the Nazi Party disappeared. Sheridan said since her father wasn't a member of the Nazi Party, he was passed over for promotions at work and he was later drafted in the military.
Sheridan said some of her memories of the Nuremberg Trials are difficult to talk about, such as the accounts of those who were experimented on.
"It has affected me," she said. "I saw too much."
Someone like Sheridan is a rarity today because people involved in the Nuremberg Trials were adultes in the mid to late 1940s, said Stephen Goldman, executive director of Holocaust Memorial Center Zekelman Family Campus in Farmington Hills.
"Most of them are gone," Goldman said. "She would be one of the youngest."
The Nuremberg Trials, as well as the Dachau Trials, changed the way Americans think of jurisprudence in the world, he said.
"There were no international courts before that," Goldman said. "There was no court ... to deal with crimes of humanity."
Goldman said the trials didn't mete out the level of justice many had hoped.
"Most were not ultimately convicted, very few served long prison sentences and a couple were put to death," he said. " ...Most of those who were guilty of something were spirited out of Germany and went to places such as Argentina, other parts of Europe and the U.S."
During the hour-long discussion, Dorothea Causley, a museum founder, acted as moderator, asking questions along with audience members.
Sheridan shared how her family lived through air raids. Her parents, she explained, weren't members of the Nazi Party, but begrudgingly made her join the Hitler Youths — a youth organization of the Nazis. She was made to join after Nazi SS soldiers came to her family's home warning that they would make it tough for them.
After the lecture, Sheridan said she was surprised at the turnout.
"I feel overwhelmed," said Sheridan. "I never thought I could do something like this and that it would go over this well. I am 85, and my memories are still there. I wanted so much to be truthful. I feel wonderful right now."
Carol Hofer of Eastpointe said she was glad she came to hear Sheridan and planned to ask her to speak at her church.
"I think this story has to be told," Hofer said. "We have to listen, see how we can learn from it and how can we create a world without war, without sacrificing millions of people."
Dorothea Causley, a native of Stuttgart, Germany, said she just learned that her friend Sheridan worked at the Nuremberg Trials.
"She doesn't really like to talk about it. She said people don't believe her," Causley said.
Lectures such as Sheridan's are important to the museum, said museum President Christopher Causley.
"I saw a lot of familiar faces. but I saw some new faces too," he said. "It makes me happy to see people coming to the event, who now know about this museum."
Sheridan married an American solider stationed in Germany in 1948 and eventually came to Detroit.
The mother of two children and one grandchild ended her talk with a patriotic exclamation.
"I am glad I am an American," she said. "I never regretted come over here."