Granville Hearn Jr. celebrated his 98th birthday Saturday. He is one of the few people alive who witnessed the trial at Nuremberg. His time there only came about because Hearn swears his commanding officer pegged him as the one soldier under his command who had “nothing better to do.”

“I was the new guy, there in Germany only two weeks, and they needed somebody to fill a chair,” Hearn recalls. Hearn, the son of a farm boy turned New York City chauffeur, now views those few days in Nuremberg as his “claim to fame.”

granville hearn

Granville Hearn Jr. (Photo: Charlotte Observer)

Hearn shipped into Germany as an artillery officer for the 102nd Infantry Division, replacing veterans who were being sent home. He stayed in Germany only eight months but remained in the military all his life, including the Army Reserve.

In January of 1946, Hearn says he was ordered to the Palace of Justice in Nuremberg, Germany, where he sat as a witness to the first international military tribunal where nations sat together in judgment of a defeated enemy.

This year is the 70th anniversary of the first and best known of the 13 Nuremberg trials, which showed the world the Nazi policy of exterminating millions of Jews, along with homosexuals and people undesired by the Third Reich.

The trials began on Nov. 20, 1945, and ended Oct. 1, 1946, with half the 20-plus defendants being sentenced to death and others with sentences from 10 years to life.

“My job was to sit in the audience and listen,” says Hearn, then 27 and an administrative assistant to the chief surgeon of the 3rd Army. “I had no idea what I was doing. It was ‘go here,’ ‘take this seat’ and ‘sit.’ It was a detail the colonel apparently didn’t want to be involved in.”

Hearn still has the seven-page instruction manual the 3rd Army gave him to study in advance, with a courtroom seating chart and biographies of the defendants. On the yellowed cover, it says: “War-Crime Trials, Nurnberg, Germany, Nov. 20, 1945.” In the margin at the bottom, he has written “I have seen all Hitler’s henchmen. I have seen history.”

granville hearn

Granville Hearn Jr. During WWII (Photo: Charlotte Observer)

Twenty-four defendants were tried in first tribunal, including Hermann Göring, Wilhelm Keitel and Rudolf Hess.

Hearn remembers them as quiet, “cold sober” and emotionless, with the exception of Göring, who was angry and defiant, especially when guards escorted him into the courtroom. Hearn remembers Göring twisting, throwing his shoulders around and jerking himself from the hands of guards.

“When Göring was brought in, he fought the guards. He wanted to make it clear that he was somebody important, too important to be touched by guards. He sat on the end and they had to keep a guard standing right next to him the whole time.”

It remains a mystery to Hearn why someone from the 3rd Army headquarters in Badtolz, Germany, needed to be in the courtroom – and why the assignment lasted only a few days.

Hearn did not hear about the Concentration camps during the time he was at the trial. During his few days there Nazi officials were asked about unnecessary bombings of cultural and educational sites in France.

Hearn says he and his wife Pearl returned to Germany 15 years ago and visited the Palace of Justice in Nuremberg. Tagging along with a tour group, Hearn mentioned to their German tour guide that he had actually been there during the trials, sitting 30 feet from Nazi leaders.

“They all got excited and couldn’t believe that someone from the trials was still alive, among them,” Hearn remembers.

He and Pearl also visited Dachau in Germany and Auschwitz in Poland. Hearn believes the stones in Auschwitz still smell of burned bodies.

It was only when he saw the Nazi death camps did Hearn say he realized the scope of the cruelty being judged in Nuremberg. It was that moment when a thought crossed his mind for the first time in 70 years: “They all got exactly what they deserved.”

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  • Peter Kubicek says:

    It’s hard to believe the someone who witnessed the Nuremberg trial did not know anything about concentration camps.

    Peter Kubicek
    Author of “Memories of Evil”
    Sachsenhausen Prisoner #119,748
    Never forget — never forgive

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