WWII veteran who stood guard at the Nuremberg trials dies from coronavirus age 93

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An American veteran who served in World War II and stood guard during the Nuremberg trials of top Nazi officials, has died from coronavirus at the age of 93. 

Emilio J DiPalma was living in the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke, Massachusetts, at the time of his passing. The veteran hospital and center has had 84 people die, 71 of whom tested positive for the virus. 

‘There was so much life there,’ one of his daughters, Emily Aho, explained to Military.com. ‘They had this canteen, there was always people singing, dancing, games. I loved going there and visiting. And the staff was amazing. They truly loved my father.’ 

The family’s loss continued. Aho would soon learn her uncle had died the following day. 

Emilio J DiPalma was living in the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke, Massachusetts, at the time of his passing. He died on Wednesday at the age of 93 (pictured in 2009)

DiPalma, from Springfield, was drafted into the U.S. Army in September 1944 when he was 18. By the time he arrived in Europe in early 1945, he was deployed to the front lines

DiPalma, from Springfield, was drafted into the U.S. Army in September 1944 when he was 18. By the time he arrived in Europe in early 1945, he was deployed to the front lines

84 people at the facility have died, with 71 testing positive for the virus

84 people at the facility have died, with 71 testing positive for the virus

‘The hard part of all of this … is that there’s no funeral. There’s no services. We can’t be graveside. They can’t embalm,’ Aho said. ‘He’s gotta go in the ground soon, and that’s that.’ 

DiPalma, from Springfield, was drafted into the U.S. Army in September 1944 when he was 18. By the time he arrived in Europe in early 1945, he was deployed to the front lines. 

While in combat, DiPalma shared in a 2002 interview with the New York State Military Museum that he and his fellow soldiers were focused on their tasks. He said that the repercussions would not be felt until much later.  

‘When things calmed down, it would be hours later, I’d get the shakes, you know,’ he said. ‘And I’ve never felt like that, before or after.’

DiPalma shared that he came close to death a few times while chasing after retreating soldiers through the German countryside. Several of his friends died while on the pursuit.  

The soldier was then assigned to Nuremberg, following the end of the war in Europe. DiPalma was assigned nightshift duty of photocopying records seized from Nazis and struggled understanding why they documented everything

The soldier was then assigned to Nuremberg, following the end of the war in Europe. DiPalma was assigned nightshift duty of photocopying records seized from Nazis and struggled understanding why they documented everything

‘When a bullet or slug comes close to your head, it emits a cracking sound, similar to the sound of a snapping whip,’ he would write in his memoir. ‘Nobody had to teach or tell you what that crack was.’

The soldier was then assigned to Nuremberg, following the end of the war in Europe. DiPalma was assigned nightshift duty of photocopying records seized from Nazis and struggled understanding why they documented everything. 

DiPalma would later be tapped to watch cells for top Nazi war criminals and stood guard in the courtroom during the trial. 

Eli Rosenbaum, a U.S. Department of Justice, explained that U.S. Army Col. Burton Andrus – the officer in charge – wanted only men who fought in Europe to guard the courtroom. 

‘He wanted the defendants, and he wanted the world, to see some of the men who had defeated the Nazi regime through their courage,’ Rosenbaum said.

DiPalma would later be tapped to watch cells for top Nazi war criminals and stood guard in the courtroom during the trial

DiPalma would later be tapped to watch cells for top Nazi war criminals and stood guard in the courtroom during the trial

Rosenbaum, who has led the office that has worked to deport ex-Nazis from the U.S., befriended DiPalma after reading his memoir. He referred to the veteran as a ‘quiet hero’ of the Greatest Generation. 

‘He experienced the horrors of combat personally,’ Rosenbaum said, ‘and then month after month in the courtroom at Nuremberg he was there as additional horrors were detailed every day.’ 

Hermann Göring, who helped established the Nazi’s secret police, was just one of the fallen military leaders DiPalma encountered during the trial.

DiPalma recalled an encounter he had with the Nazi leader, who did not want to walk into a hallway until a group of onlookers left. The at-the-time 19-year-old nudged Göring.  

‘He turned around, and he swung at me, and he hit me on the arm,’ DiPalma said in the 2002 interview. ‘And I give him an awful belt in the kidneys. He never said a word to me. But he didn’t like me. I know he didn’t like me.’

Hermann Goering, Rudolf Hess, Joachim Ribbentrop and Wilhelm Keitel at the Nuremberg Trials (front row, left to right)

Hermann Goering, Rudolf Hess, Joachim Ribbentrop and Wilhelm Keitel at the Nuremberg Trials (front row, left to right)

The soldier recalled how Albert Speer, an architect who was minister of armaments and war production, would draw sketches of American guards. Rudolf Hess, Hitler’s deputy in the Nazi Party, muttered out the window from his cell. But DiPalma suspected that Hess was just faking mental illness.  

Baldur von Schirach, who was in charge of the Nazi’s youth organization, once told DiPalma during a recess: ‘The Hitler Youth is nothing more than your Boy Scouts.’ 

‘I said “Really?”‘ DiPalma recalled in the 2002 interview. ‘He didn’t realize that I was a front-line soldier. I said, “I fought your Hitler Youth.” He never said a word.’ 

Returning from the war, DiPalma married Louise Catelotti and raised four daughters in East Longmeadow. The father worked as a crane operator and volunteered at his local fire department. 

Aho remembers her father as being capable and modest, but something of a jokester. She knew he had served in the war and had a role in the trial but didn’t know to what capacity. 

‘He never really talked about his service,’ she said. 

DiPalma started sharing his story while in his 70s after a visit the pair took to Germany in 2000. They stopped by the Palace of Justice in Nuremberg, where the trials were held, and was met with a warm welcome from local historians. 

DiPalma started sharing his story while in his 70s after a visit the pair took to Germany in 2000. They stopped by the Palace of Justice in Nuremberg, where the trials were held, and was met with a warm welcome from local historians

DiPalma started sharing his story while in his 70s after a visit the pair took to Germany in 2000. They stopped by the Palace of Justice in Nuremberg, where the trials were held, and was met with a warm welcome from local historians

With help from Aho, a children’s book author, DiPalma made his story into a memoir, ‘Just a Kid,’ for young readers. 

Aho shared that her father wanted folks to learn from the story, adding that in Germany ‘they turned a blind eye. They didn’t speak up. And then it became the norm.’

The pair would visit schools to talk about DiPalma’s experience, and the veteran gave oral-history interviews to museums. He also made an appearance to the New York Film Festival in 2010 during the re-release of a 1948 film on the trials that had been shown in Germany. His image made an appearance in the film. 

In 2009, DiPalma was awarded the Legacy of Nuremberg award at the Virginia Holocaust Museum.  

By 2010, the soldier would feel his age and pull back from engagements. He moved into the facility in 2018. 

Aho last visited her father on March 8. By then, he was already in decline but reached out to his daughter and smiled when he saw her. 

The author shared that her sister Donna was the only person allowed to visit him once he contracted COVID-19. He died not long after Donna arrived on Wednesday. 

‘I think he was waiting for her,’ Aho said.

A National Guardsman stood outside his door, she added.   

Of the deaths reported at the center, 71 have tested positive for COVID-19 while 12 tested negative. One test is pending, according to WWLP

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