September 22, 2020

Mississippi WWII veteran who witnessed Nazi death camps, attended Nuremberg trial dies at age 90

NATCHEZ — Charles Samuel Martien, a World War II veteran who witnessed some of the Nuremberg trials, died last Thursday at the age of 90.

A memorial and burial service for Martien, a longtime Natchez resident, will be at 11 a.m. Friday in the Natchez National Cemetery.

In a Mississippi Humanities Council Center for Oral History and Cultural Heritage, University of Southern Mississippi session on May 18, 2015, Martien recounted some of his World War II experience, including his having witnessed the Nazi death camps.

“It was awful,” Martien said, “the smell, trenches, walking skeletons. It made my heart hurt. They were skin and bones, faces like razors, so thin.”

He said when soldiers went into town, “the young German ladies grabbed you by the arms, wanted candy and cigarettes. We became like walking PXs (Post Exchange).”

Although he said he never saw actual combat, he did “hear bombing going on at Battle of Bulge, (and) saw Argonne Forest, clean as a floor from defoliation.”

He told interviewer G. Mark LaFrancis, who conducted the oral history session, that he was stationed in Bergen, near Eagle’s Nest, Hitler’s hideout atop the summit of the Kehlstein and he got to see it, but had been mostly destroyed by Allies.

“He had the rare opportunity for an enlisted to attend a day of the Nuremburg trial,” a summary of Martien’s oral history states, when a “commander selected him and two other enlisted to attend. (They were selected at random.)”

The report states that Martien recalled that the room was packed, and they wore headphones to hear the interpretation of testimony.

He said Hermann Goering, Nazi Leader and advisor to Hilter, refused to answer questions and witnesses told of his offenses. He described others of the accused as being arrogant with attitudes and they were in cages and most people in the room were quiet. He said he considered it an honor to have been there.

Martien’s daughter, Rebecca Martien Mayer, said those closest to Martien remember him for his immeasurable need to help others.

Mayer not only remembers him for his historical testimony, but she also remembers him as both a workaholic and a socialite.

“He was an outdoorsman,” Mayer said. “You could not keep him off of the equipment outside. He mowed everybody’s yards. Even if he didn’t know them … no charge.”

Mayer said Martien suffered a series of strokes later in life that left him paralyzed on one side of his body. Still, she said Martien’s paralysis didn’t stop him from working with one arm.

“He could do more in a day than anybody with two arms — that I know of — including me,” Mayer said. “The preacher told the story … ‘The man could put his finger in the ground and grow anything.’”

While in a nursing home, Mayer said residents elected him as head of the resident’s council and called him the “Mayor of the Manor.”

“He just did everything for everybody, loved it and never missed a Bible-study. … He never knew a stranger.”

Mayer said Martien asked to be cremated, and his remains would be buried during today’s services.

Martien’s immediate family will arrive at the cemetery at 10 a.m. for services to commence at 11. Military personnel will be present to honor him for his service.

“The manor has lost their mayor, but heaven has gained a social butterfly,” Mayer said.