Witness to WWII trials talks to historical society
While he may not have known it at the time, in 1945 Pat Barelli, then a young captain in the U.S. Medical Corps, was witness to one of the landmark trials and was a physician to some of the most notorious men of the 20th century.
One of only a handful of firsthand witnesses of the Nuremburg trials still living, Barelli, an Overland Park resident, spoke last week to the Tonganoxie Community Historical Society about his unique experience in that German town during the 1940s.
"I guess it was a pretty important part of my life," Barelli said. "Not many people had the opportunity to be there, everybody who was is dying off."
The 88-year-old recalled what he saw when he arrived at the 385th Station Hospital in Nuremberg after 92 percent of the city was destroyed from Allied bombings and 65 percent of the city's population had either perished or fled.
"When I arrived there, you could walk the streets and still smell the cadavers," he said.
Barelli began his presentation talking about the history of Nuremberg and then about the rise of Hitler and the Nazi party.
He then began to talk about the trials, where he sat only a few feet away from the defendants.
"The Germans were brought to trial and they had the right of attorney. They all claimed there were innocent. They blamed (Adolf) Hitler; of course, he was dead. They blamed (the head of the German secret police, Heinrich) Himmler; of course, he was dead."
Telford Taylor, who was originally the assistant to Judge Robert Jackson, was a patient of Barelli's and served as the judge for many of the remaining Nuremburg trials.
"Telford Taylor was an Army man, a wonderful person; a patient of mine. He had a salivary gland stone that I removed," Barelli said.
Barelli and the other Army doctors did not just treat the Allied patients; they also treated some of the defendants.
"I took care of these two people (Walther) Funk and (Erich) Raeder. They had their own doctors but we acted as backups," Barelli said.
According to Barelli, Funk complained of a spastic hernia, which was later operated on outside of the station hospital.
Raeder complained of stomach problems and headaches, "which was all neurological," Barelli said.
"Although they were sentenced to life in prison, they did not serve life in prison. In less than 20 years they were both out. As I said, they had wonderful lawyers," he said.
For some in the crowd, the stories were a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
"For Tonganoxie for (Barelli) to come into a town like this is a major thing. He saw people that came this close to ruling the world. Everything would have been different," Bill Peak said.
Overall Barelli said there was only one way to sum up his experience.
"I feel very humbled. Of the 22 million people in the war, I was very fortunate to see that," he said.
The historical society presented Barelli with a a certificate of appreciation.