Oral History

Robert Mills Donihi describes a Buchenwald survivor who became a witness at a postwar US trial in Germany

In 1945, Robert Mills Donihi was practicing law in Nashville, Tennessee. He accepted a government assignment to Tokyo where he worked on the trial of 28 high-ranking Japanese officers. After a year, he left for Germany, and arrived in Nuremberg in January 1947. Donihi was a member of the legal team at the postwar US trials in Germany, serving as both an interrogator and a prosecutor.


That first night in the hotel we were having dinner and the desk clerk came in and said, there's a gentleman here who wants to speak with you, and I thought right away maybe the police are here because of the way we came in without visas. It turned out to be a gentleman who was in the high fatigue boots of a field engineer. He was a civil engineer in the engineering trouser suit. He had the dress of his profession. Invited him to have coffee and dessert with us and he was very belligerent. He said you owe me some money and I said you know what money do I owe you. He explained that he and his wife were Buchenwald survivors. That when they were released at Buchenwald they had agreed between themselves they would never again speak of the terrible things that they'dbeen through. They were going back to France. They did apparently went back, I think it was Paris. They went back there and still the surroundings were constant reminders of the Nazi occupation and the things that had happened to them. So, he apparently obtained work and they came to Algiers. In Algiers, he said they succeeded in not ever talking about it again, but two letters came, one to him and one to his wife. The kind of letters that we sent out to the survivors asking them to come back and go through this lineup procedure, give testimony, stay and identify, and be part of the whole trial procedure. So, he said they took these letters and they sat down and they cried. He and his wife both sat there and cried. It was pathetic. If you looked at this man you knew how serious he was, and that they decided that they did have a duty, one of them would go. He was the one who was going to go, so he immediately went. He paid his own way back to Dachau, to Munich… These were people who didn't want to come back, who wouldn't have come back except that we appealed to their loyalty to those who had not survived and the need for someone to come and identify the malefactors. So, he did, but you see he was in a very unhappy state to have to do that. It was hurting him personally. And that's the kind of thing that everybody came with. Those terrible memories that they had. They didn't want to come back. They didn't want to repeat it.


  • US Holocaust Memorial Museum
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