Anna Nydes was born on April 1, 1900, in Pittsburgh, PA, to a Russian father and a Polish mother. She was already 41 years old when the U.S. entered World War II. That did not stop her from answering the call of duty and volunteering for the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps (WAAC). With a college education and 23 years of experience as a stenographer, she had the skills and the education the Army was looking for. Her military career would take her around the world and allow her to witness the birth of a new form of justice.
Congresswoman Edith Nourse Rogers helped create the WAAC. She introduced a bill to create the WAAC in May, 1941. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Congress passed the bill on May 14, 1942. President Franklin Roosevelt signed the bill into law on May 15. The next day, Oveta Culp Hobby was sworn in as Director of the WAAC.
The WAACs were not initially part of the Army. WAACs received an allowance for housing, food, and uniforms; and they receive medical care on Army posts. But, they had a different ranking system and their own regulations. WAACs could serve overseas, but unlike other Soldiers, they did not receive overseas pay or government life insurance.
Both Congresswoman Rodgers and Director Hobby hoped for more. They drafted a new bill, Congress passed it, and on July 1, 1943, President Roosevelt signed it into law. The WAAC then became the Women’s Army Corps (WAC). The WAC was part of the Army Reserves. Oveta Culp Hobby remained the director with the rank of Colonel.
The WAC had the same rank structure as the Regular Army. But women were limited in the ranks they could achieve. They could have only one Colonel, the Director. No other WAC could rise above Lieutenant Colonel. WACs in the enlisted ranks could only reach Master Sergeant. (Click here to view a listing of Army ranks.) WACs were expected to serve in non-combat roles, but Congresswoman Rogers and Colonel Hobby had no intention of letting WACs be used for mundane duties like cooking, cleaning, or entertainment. WACs were expected to perform important duties to free men for duties in the combat zone.
Transfer from the WAAC to the WAC was not automatic, and Anna Nydes had to re-enlist. In August of 1944, she became a WAC.
After basic training at Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia, Nydes was sent to the European Theater of Operations in May of 1945, arriving after the German surrender. Her duties took her to Paris, Versailles, and Frankfurt. A typical day for Nydes included taking dictations, transcribing and typing various forms of communication, handling paperwork for courts-martial, and training of other clerks.
In May of 1946, she received her most significant assignment: she was sent to Nuremberg where high ranking Nazi war criminals were on trial.
In Nuremberg, Nydes was struck by the scope of the destruction from allied bombings:
“The apartments that were two-three stories underground… now constitute overflowing cavities filled with the debris of broken stones and twisted metal.”
To Nydes, one building stood out in stark contrast to the rubble, the great stadium where the Nazi party held their annual rallies. There, Nydes experienced the power of a place deliberately designed to create a sense of power and superiority:
Standing at the speakers’ stand where he [Hitler] used to stand to review mass military demonstrations and address the multitudes, it is not hard to realize how easy it must have been for him and his people to come to regard themselves as the master race.
Throughout her years as a stenographer, Nydes no doubt had seen her share of courtrooms, but she sensed the gravity of the task at hand. The trial, she realized, “undoubtedly, is one of the most important events of our time.” So important, in fact, that IBM had been called in to invent a system for instant translation of the four main languages spoken in the court. Nydes noted:
Everyone wears earphones and as soon as words are spoken to the court or by the court, a battery of interpreters immediately translate it into their own language into microphones, and the listener, by flicking a button, can hear the words spoken in the English, German, French, or Russian language, whichever he wishes, as the proceedings are conducted before his eyes.”
At Nuremberg, Nydes was a witness to a process that many thought would be no more than “victor’s justice”. After witnessing the trial in progress, Nydes concluded:
The dominant impression that one has is that the trial is conducted absolutely fairly, calmly, and with great dignity, and that the proceedings move without delay through the tons of evidence being presented.
After Nuremberg, Nydes continued to serve for the remainder of the year. She received an honorable discharge on December 13, 1946. She returned home and found work with the Pittsburgh Law Department.
Anna Nydes died on January 20, 1994, at the age of 93. She is buried in McKees Rocks outside of Pittsburgh, the city that she loved.
Research Intern: Emily Kiner
Morden, Bettie. The Women’s Army Corps, 1945-1978. Washington D.C: Center of Military History United States Army, 1990.
Anna Nydes Collection, U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center.
Bellafaire, Judith A. The Women’s Army Corps: A Commemoration of World War II Service. Center of Military History Publication 72-15.
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. “Introduction to the Holocaust.” Holocaust Encyclopedia. www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10005143. Accessed on 10 July 2018.
Persico, Joseph E. Nuremberg: Infamy on Trial. New York: Viking Publishing, 1994.