By Lin Parkin
May 23, 2013
Memorial Day exists to remind us of the more than one million men and women who gave their lives and fought for liberty and justice for all.
An image on voice-over artist Liz de Nesnera's Facebook page of her mother in uniform caught our attention so we reached out to her for more information.
Do you have a special reason for celebrating Memorial Day?
Please join us as Liz shares with us a beautiful memory of the most influential veteran she ever knew, her mother, Olia de Nesnera, a French Army Captain who provided English translations to the Americans in the Nuremberg Trials.
Could you tell me a little bit about your mom and what life was like for her in the army?
I can tell you is that it always involved helping people. Unfortunately my parents were of the generation that thought "let the past be the past" but what she told me was that she took a language exam and scored so highly on it that she earned the rank of Captain!
Initially she told me that she traveled with an aid battalion which helped with the initial reconstruction of France. But it was her facility with languages which played a huge part in her Service.
She had a real knack for languages. She was of Russian parents (my grandfather was a Naval Officer in Tzar Nicholas II's navy, and my grandmother was an actress...until she married my grandfather. She was raised in France, since my grandparents immigrated there after the Russian Revolution of 1917, so French and Russian were really her two native languages).
She then learned German and English when she lived at what was then my dad's family's estate in central Europe. My Dad's family hired young ladies from "good" families to stay with them for extended periods of time and speak their native language to my father and his sister. I guess you could call it the aristocratic version of "home schooling!"
As it happened, my mother was the last French girl to live there before WWII. Also there at the same time as she was, was a British and an Italian young lady. At dinner, every night a different language was spoken...one night German...one night English...one night French and so on.
So my mother ended up being fluent in 4 languages: Russian, French, German and English...I don't know why she didn't pick up Italian. My dad was fluent in 8 languages but that's another story!
My mother lived through the German Occupation of Paris during WWII. So after the war, when the Nuremberg Trials were being arranged, somehow she ended up there.
From what she said, working for the Americans directly was quite an honor and it had to do with her fluency in both English and German...not to mention French and Russian. Apparently, the Americans got to choose from the best translators!
She told me that she would be in a room with several other translators and they were just given document after document after document to translate. It was grueling, but she said she felt that she was making a difference. But I know that it was difficult for her as well, because the documents were not easy to digest, on an emotional level, but, again, she never really dwelt on the past.
She always said that working with the Americans was a joy. They were all filled with a "joie de vivre" that amazed her. They smiled and were friendly and pleasant; something that coming out of war-ravaged Europe was a breath of fresh air. She also said that their determination and confidence in what they were doing was apparent in everything they did.
She told me once that being a part of that War Tribunal experience was one that was at the same time unforgettable, sometimes she wished she could.
I didn't find out that she was in the Army, or that she worked for the Americans, until I was in High School! Again it was that "the past is the past" mentality. It was when I saw the picture of her in uniform for the first time that I started asking questions.
How do you think these experiences shaped her life?
I think that the fact that she survived WWII and that she then played a part in the events of the Tribunal had a huge affect on her. But it was not something she talked about. It was how she lived her life. My mother was always the first one to lend a hand to someone who needed it.
After she passed away, I can't tell you how many people told me what a good friend she was, how she was always there with a helping hand or a hug or a home cooked meal.
It was also why she insisted that my brothers and I learn French. Languages played a huge part in her life and her career, and she wanted us to have the advantages that being multilingual brings.
While I was raised in New York City, I was not allowed to speak English at home. French was the family language and when my grandmother came to visit, it became Russian!
For me, after I found out that she had served, and especially now that she's gone, Memorial Day took on an extra dimension. It's another day that I can honor her and what she did to make the world a better place.
I am proud of what she did, and I know that she was proud of her part... but she just never boasted about it. This is my chance to boast about it FOR her!
Who Are You Remembering Today?
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All the best,