Joseph, Arnold (Arno)

Joseph, Arnold (Arno)

Emigre, U.S. Service Person
Saarbrücken, Saarland (Germany), Luxembourg, Nuernberg (Nuremberg)

Arno (Arnold) Joseph was born March 10, 1927 to Else and Ferdinand Joseph in Saarbrücken, Saarland, Germany, which, at that time, was under a mandate of the League of Nations. He did his first school year in Saarbrücken at the Volksschule public school. “The second year, which was in 1934, I had to go to a Jewish school. I used to be afraid of being beaten up. I wasn’t. But one day, walking home, I met my first-grade teacher, and like most children, I adored my first-grade teacher. His name was Herr Lôsch, a young man, good looking, wavy hair; he wore knickers. I greeted him and when he saw me he turned his back and walked away. I have never forgotten that. And that was sort of an announcement of what was to come.”

Ferdinand died in a car accident in 1933; and in 1935, Else and her two sons, Gert (Gary) and Arnold, immigrated to Luxembourg. In 1938, his mother having found out that citizenship for her sons in Luxembourg was about impossible, she chose to apply for immigration to the United States, where they went in October, 1938. “After we moved to the Bronx, I spent happy years in the elementary school, learned English very quickly. I made friends in the neighborhood, most of them being Irish, and we played the usual games baseball, stickball, football in the street. Then, since I was considered to have mechanical ability, I enrolled in a vocational school, first Samuel Gompers in the South Bronx and then the Manhattan High School of Aviation Trades. After I graduated, I was promptly drafted into the army. President Truman needed me.”

In June, 1945, Arnold went into the service, and was sent to Europe. Since he spoke German, he was sent to Nuremberg and assigned to the Office of Censor with three others to read the letters sent to and from the prisoners, the major defendants, on trial for war crimes. He was in Nuremberg from January 1946 until mid-1948 and shares his remembrances and thoughts [as documented in The Historical Times, Quarterly of the Granville, Ohio, Historical Society, Volume XXVI, Issue 1, Winter 2013]:

“When I was sent to Nuremberg, I was fully aware that I was involved in a significant historical event. At the time, I viewed it as a postscript to a war, an act of generosity of mind and feeling which would demonstrate once and for all the horror of the Nazi atrocities and their futility. At the same time, I harbored the less magnanimous opposite conviction that the leaders of the Third Reich were guilty, that they would hang, that they should hang. I was 18.

“Since then I’ve come to realize that there was indeed a great deal of magnanimity on the part of many who setup and conducted the trial. I’ve also come to realize that … the long-range significance of the International Military Tribunal has to do with the conduct of nations in conflict and with the humanizing of behavior during international and intranational settling of accounts….

“I had brought some baggage to Nuremberg, and that was not your standard general issue (GI). When you are Jewish and you get yourself born in Germany in 1927, it’s likely you will develop some characteristics which set you apart. If you are spared to develop, that is. Because you see, very gradually you come to understand that which is made clear to you every day but what you are reluctant to accept, namely that 10% of your countrymen, neighbors, colleagues, schoolmates think you should be destroyed; 80% don’t really agree but what can they do and besides they don’t know; and another 10% oppose persecution and either get out or join the victims. (These figures are based on impressionistic data.) Thanks to parental foresight and luck, my mother, brother, and I, moved to Luxembourg in 1935 and in 1938 to the US. We lost most of our material possessions but by 1938 that mattered little. We were comfortable and, in spite of the burden of being different, mine had been a happy New York adolescence.

“Some of our relatives preceded us, a few followed, most perished. My maternal grandmother, the person I loved most, and my paternal grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins. Their annihilation in Theresienstadt and elsewhere was documented by the bureaucratically efficient machinery of planned destruction, that makes the Holocaust unique. I knew they were gone but I continued looking for them in transports and camps for Displaced Persons. At home, we had not talked about it. It was always there, and in generalized references during congregational assemblies, religious rituals for the dead. But our private grief was shared stoically, and in silence.

“The grief was part of my emotional paraphernalia when I arrived at the Palace of Justice. So was hatred and the desire for vengeance. The hatred was abstract, directed at a generic group called Germans. Like the Soviets representing their nation in the courtroom and for the same reasons, like Churchill, I wanted them hanged, bombed, destroyed. They taught me well. Individually, no German ever aroused feelings that extreme. I would feel disdain, repugnance – superior. But I had no desire to hurt anyone. The Nuremberg defendants, as a group, were part of the abstraction. The first time I saw Herman Göring was when we crossed paths in the wooden enclosed passageway that led from the prison to the courthouse. I was delivering the day’s mail to the prison. He was being escorted to the courthouse.  The passage was about four feet wide. I stopped, stepped aside, intimidated. This bothered me for a long time! And it still does.

“In my letters home, I spoke of such encounters, of letters to and from the defendants that I was reading as part of my job. But, in part to spare my mother, I assumed my guarded stoic mode. I did not display my feelings. I sent home the excerpts, excerpts from the letters they wrote. Commentary, I felt was superfluous. Frankly, I still can’t comprehend the doublethink of these individuals. Their obvious moral awareness, the authenticity of their family bonds and then, somehow the total suspensions of these feelings and convictions in their dealing with the groups who, in final analysis, were deemed inconvenient. For Albert Camus, the criminal is one who has an ignorant heart, who accepts the plague that kills. I do not believe from what I read in these letters that their hearts were ignorant. On the other count, accepting the plague, spreading it, I return the verdict of guilty.

“And that is my judgment or the present state of my evolving opinion. I am reluctant to judge, a judge in spite of myself. It’s a judgment derived after long deliberation, the judgment informed by the thinking of wise mentors like Camus. I have not forgiven anyone. Forgiving is a godlike act and I’m not that presumptuous.

“Besides, no one has asked me for forgiveness. I’ve not forgotten either. The memory of what happened protects me from complacency. Nor is Nuremberg just a fading abstraction. Avatars like Rwanda – Burundi – Zaire – and now we add Iraq, Iran, and most of Africa – have not been far from my mind…. Fortunately, I don’t dwell on this past. I have distractions of much that is good in life to safeguard me from the temptations of victimhood. I live well and in contentment and that also is a form of revenge.”

Arnold has excerpts from some of the letters that he copied and translated. A letter from Robert Ley, dated 17 Aug, 1945, and addressed to Sir Henry Ford, Detroit, U.S.A., offers his services. “Sir: I’m sure you are familiar with my name through the press and radio. Besides, you know sir, that I have built the Volkswagen Works and have planned the tractor works. Furthermore, I am founder and director of the German social order, the German Labor Front and the vacation organization known as “Kraft durch Freude” (strength through joy). I’m sure you are also familiar with my success in these fields of endeavor. Now I offer my services to you, sir, to do the same work in your factories. I’m now a prisoner, although I have done nothing but write essays and books against the Jews, the same as you have done. I have done this with the holiest conviction to be of benefit to my people. I swear to you that I have committed no other crime. In the interest of my social ideals and also in the interest of my poor unhappy people, which must be stabilized, I am perfectly willing to come to any agreement, even with the Jews. Only give me a chance to work. I was still working on immense plans, especially in reference to the Volkswagen and the tractor. Respectfully yours, Dr. Robert Ley.”

The biggest impression Arnold has of those days is the letters they all wrote to their families and the families wrote back. “The letters are just full of affection, genuine affection, genuine family values; how they missed their children; how wonderful their children were and how they are begin treated so cruelly by the authorities.” For example, letters from Julius Streicher are “simply a letter to his son; one to his wife talking about the wonderful relationship they had, how wonderful the wife was, how she made other people laugh, and how the son was a wonderful young man; wonderful youth.” The returns from the wives and the children are just as warm and just as touching. “What struck me most was the discrepancy between these letters and the feelings they reveal and then the signatures of these men on documents condemning hundreds of thousands of people to slave labor and death. And that’s what they were convicted of, and it just doesn’t match. I find out from psychologists that it is not unusual. It’s just a separation.”

Even Wilhelm Keitel, the Reich’s Marshall, when he was condemned to death by hanging, wrote to his wife, pointing out that he was ready to die. “He knew he would die. But he was not ready, since he was not to die as a soldier who did his duty, lifelong, but as a common criminal by hanging. If he were to be shot, he would have accepted it stoically, but being hanged, no. That was his big complaint.”

Arnold was sent home about ten days before the executions and the person who replaced him was there to take last statements. “I’ve often thought about how I would have felt had I had been present. Because I was Jewish, I had antagonism in me, hurt; and later on, I kind of learned that killing killers is still killing. So, I’ve become an anti-death penalty person. Self-defense, yes. But even hanging criminals like that now would be against my nature…. Kind of simple, but at my age, it’s time to become simple.”

After his discharge, Arnold went back to Nuremberg and worked on lesser trials, arranging meetings between the defense counsels and their clients and witnesses.

After he came home, Arnold did not talk about his experiences, but when he did come out, “My education had something to do with it…. The phenomenon of getting over it, or seeming to get over it, was very common. And I’m not really over it. But I can live with it and I can talk about it. My animosity extended to the German language. When I finally went to college and decided to become a language teacher, I did not choose German; I chose French because I couldn’t stand the German language, nothing German. But then I took a few courses in German…. So, I made my peace with the German language, not enough to teach it. I’ve become a teacher of French.”

Date of Interview: November 30, 2016
Length of Interview: 66:46 minutes
Interview & Synopsis by: Zieva Konvisser
Videographer: Mark Einhaus