PRESIDIO OF MONTEREY, Calif. -- A World War II veteran who translated the testimony of Nazi war criminals during the Nuremberg trials visited the Presidio of Monterey, Aug 29. Alfred Loikits of Santa Cruz, now 92 years old, met with Defense Language Institute Commandant Col. Gary Hausman, Assistant Commandant Col. Stephanie Kelley, Command Sgt. Maj. Thomas Donehue and Command Historian Cameron Binkley.
Loikits told stories about serving in the Army in France and Germany, as well as his later experiences in the Air Force while serving in Korea. Several of his stories were reflections on his time in Germany after victory was declared. German-speaking American troops in Nuremberg were recruited as translators for the historic war trials.
"Every day we had to look at the bulletin board," said Loikits. A communal bulletin board detailed not only who would attend the trials each day, but also who would translate the trials. Every few weeks Loikits was designated to translate several hours of courtroom testimony. During his time, he witnessed a review of photographs depicting the horrors of the concentration camps.
"Hermann Göring and Rudolph Hess were sitting in front of me," Loikits remembered. During the review of the photos, Göring put his hand on Hess's head he said, "Don't believe it."
This private comment was not recorded by the court, but Loikits overhead it because of his proximity.
Hess had been captured by British forces during a secret mission to the United Kingdom in 1941. He was attempting to negotiate peace with the British government without Hitler's knowledge, and his capture resulted in him being absent for the remainder of the war. Göring was attempting to keep the truth of the atrocities committed in the intervening years from Hess. In the end both men were convicted of war crimes.
Months earlier, while en route to Nuremberg, Loikits made his way through Germany in a train box car. Along this journey he learned for himself that Göring's denial to Hess was a lie. Even before reaching the concentration camps, the devastation was apparent.
"You could smell the concentration camps - we got there and I couldn't stand the smell," said Loikits. "I could see the people. They were dead. There (were) piles of them."
On another occasion, Loikits translated the testimony of a wealthy German factory owner who produced the gas canisters for the concentration camps that resulted in countless deaths.
"Don't you know what you've made?" Loikits translated for the prosecution.
Reflecting on the general indifference displayed by many of the witnesses, Loikits added, "He could have refused to make it, but he didn't."
In addition to translating, Loikits also managed a group of eight German citizens in manufacturing tank shells for allied forces. He carried out all of his duties at Nuremberg while living in a building that had been blown open by ordnance.
Born and raised in eastern Pennsylvania, Loikits grew up speaking German at home with his parents. He was drafted into the Army in 1945 when he was 18 years old. Initially he was sent to Ft. Bragg for tank destroyer training. But upon arriving in Europe his German language skills contributed to documenting one of the defining moments in world history.
As the heroes and first-hand witnesses of the Second World War fade into history, these opportunities to meet with them and listen to their experiences become more and more important. The mission of the Defense Language Institute and the work of translators like Loikits are vital to conveying our words, ideas, and humanity with others around the world.