Dinner with Siegfried, by Carlota Dalziel

Siefried_photoA chance meeting on the streets of San Antonio last month led to a delightful dinner at Mia Maria Restaurant, right next door to the Marriot Rivercenter Hotel, where I was staying for the ATA Conference.  My colleagues, Maria Weir and Tony Guerra, and I had spent a couple of hours visiting The Alamo and brushing up on our history.  Night was falling. We were discussing our dinner plans for the evening as we walked back to our hotel when Tony suddenly exclaimed “Did you notice Siegfried? He just walked past us.”  We considered our next move.  By then our 90- year- old friend was almost a block away. He walks fast.

On the spur of the moment I suggested having him join us for dinner. But would he recognize us from the crowd that attended his riveting talks at the conference? As Tony gallantly ran after him I wondered how Siegfried would react to a stranger chasing him on the dark streets and inviting him to join another two strangers for dinner.  As it happened, Tony’s gracious invitation and our friendly smiles won his acceptance and we had a most enjoyable time together.

Over dinner we engaged Siegfried in conversation about his experiences as an interpreter at the Nuremberg Trials, the subject of his sessions at the conference. This year’s ATA Conference gathered 1,500 attendees from the US and abroad.  Tony, Maria and I were already acquainted with Siegfried’s book, Nuremberg and Beyond, The Memoirs of Siegfried Ramler, which was on sale at the conference Exhibit Hall. It had already given us an insight into the author’s unique experience as a young refugee, just fourteen years old, sent by his parents from Vienna to England through a program called Kindertransport. Set up by the British Jewish Refugee Committee and approved by Parliament after a debate in the House of Commons, its purpose was to rescue children under seventeen and bring them to Great Britain from Germany, Austria and the Czech territories.  They were received by foster families, hostels or farms. In Siegfried’s case, two of his uncles were living in London and willing to receive him there. Kindertransport ended when the war broke out in 1939.  Years later, at age 21, Siegfried Ramler’s fluency in English and German made him the perfect choice as an interpreter at the Nuremberg Trials, where he later stayed on as chief of the interpreting branch from 1947 until 1949. Goring, Bormann, Hess and Speer were just a few of the names that came up in the course of our conversation. An interesting quote of Hermann Goring included in Siegfried’s book was his comment on simultaneous interpreting, a mode used for the first time at the Nuremberg Trials: “This system is very efficient, but it will also shorten my life!” Siegfried had a captive audience that evening. The encounter for us turned out to be a bonus of the ATA conference. We exchanged emails and I made plans for another meeting, perhaps in Hawai’i, where a newlywed Siegfried went to live at the conclusion of the trials. It was at Nuremberg where he met his wife, a very attractive young lady working as a court reporter!