Join The Conversation With Mishpacha's Weekly Newsletter

Inside the Nuremberg Mind

Eytan Kobre

The phrase “witness to history” is perhaps an overused one, but there’s no more fitting description for what a young German Jewish soldier named Howard Triest became during the renowned Nuremberg War Crimes Trials.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

old photo albumOn November 20, 1945, the eyes of the world turned to the Bavarian city of Nuremberg, where 21 Nazis would stand on trial before the world’s first International Military Tribunal (IMT). At the same time that the court — comprising judges and attorneys from four different countries — attempted to reach some form of justice, another, quieter attempt was taking place in the large prison that was part of the Palace of Justice complex. Twenty-one Nazis, accused of barbaric crimes, seemed the perfect specimens for psychiatrists wondering whether evildoers are inherently evil, or just ordinary people who’ve made bad choices.

The trial drew journalists and photographers; a press gallery held 250 members of the international press, including famed CBS reporter Walter Cronkite. But the discussions that took place later, in the solitary cells of the accused, were far from the limelight. One of the sole witnesses to those exchanges was, ironically enough, a German-born Jew who knew all too well how evil these men really were — because his own parents had been victims of the Final Solution.


Generations in Germany

It’s a sunny Florida day in February, and I’m sitting in the inviting, contemporary-style living room of Howard and Anita Triest in Delray Beach, a retirement community of modest but well-kept homes and gardens.

What has brought me to the Triest home are Howard’s memories of his unique encounters with some of the most evil men the world has ever known, but as the saying goes, “past is prologue,” so we begin our conversation with Howard’s early years in Munich, Germany.

The name Munich has a forbidding ring to it, as the birthplace of National Socialism in the 1920s and scene of many of the massive, hypnotically synchronized Nazi allies that to this day still send a chill down the spines of viewers. But for young Hans Heinz Triest, living in the warm embrace of father Berthold, mother Lena and sister Margot, six years his junior, the family abode on the quiet, tree-lined Reitmorstrasse was a wonderful place to grow up.

The Triests and Lena’s family, the Westheimers, had been in Germany for generations and they, like countless other Jewish families, were seamlessly integrated into the surrounding society. Berthold had served his nation’s army throughout World War I, earning an Iron Cross. Although Hans had celebrated his bar mitzvah, the Triests’ Reform Jewish affiliation meant far less to them than their identities as German citizens.

And then, with Hitler’s rise to power, came the awakening. There would be insistent knocks at the door, followed by brown-shirted hoodlums barging in to terrorize and confiscate property at their whim. Hans would get into bed and pull the covers over his head, in a futile attempt to muffle the sound of marching boots in the street below. Hans Fischach, a neighbor and friend of Hans, stopped speaking to him from one day to the next; later his “faithful friend” would enroll in a Hitler Leadership School.

For those who still in November 1938 harbored hopes that all would yet end well, there came the horror that was Kristallnacht, when, across Germany, hundreds of shuls went up in flames, thousands of Jewish shops were ransacked, and tens of thousands of Jewish men were imprisoned — a clear portent that things would end very, very badly indeed.

“That night was a real turning point,” reflects Mr. Triest. “Within the year, my parents managed to obtain temporary visas to Luxembourg, but there were still some loose ends to tie up, so I went ahead alone, leaving Munich on August 31, 1939. On the morning of September 1, as I waited at the train station in Wasserbillig to begin the last leg of my trip, Hitler invaded Poland. World War II had begun.”


To read the rest of this story, please buy this issue of Mishpacha or sign up for a weekly subscription.


Share this page with a friend. Fill in the information below, and we'll email your friend a link to this page on your behalf.

Your name
Your email address
You friend's name
Your friend's email address
Please type the characters you see in the image into the box provided.

The Fortunes of War
Rabbi Moshe Grylak We’re still feeling the fallout of the First World War
Some Lessons, But Few Portents
Yonoson Rosenblum What the midterms tell us about 2020
Vote of Confidence
Eyan Kobre Why I tuned in to the liberal radio station
5 out of 10
Rabbi Dovid Bashevkin Top 5 Moments of the Kinus
Day in the Life
Rachel Bachrach Chaim White of KC Kosher Co-op
When Less is More
Rabbi Ron Yitzchok Eisenman How a good edit enhances a manuscript
It’s My Job
Jacob L. Freedman “Will you force me to take meds?”
They’re Still Playing My Song?
Riki Goldstein Yitzy Bald’s Yerav Na
Yisroel Werdyger Can’t Stop Singing
Riki Goldstein Ahrele Samet’s Loi Luni
Double Chords of Hope
Riki Goldstein You never know how far your music can go
Will Dedi Have the Last Laugh?
Dovid N. Golding Dedi and Ding go way back
Battle of the Budge
Faigy Peritzman Using stubbornness to grow in ruchniyus
The Challenging Child
Sarah Chana Radcliffe Strategies for raising the difficult child
Bucking the Trend
Sara Eisemann If I skip sem, will I get a good shidduch?
The Musician: Part 1
D. Himy, M.S. CCC-SLP and Zivia Reischer "If she can't read she'll be handicapped for life!"