From Nuremberg to Alcolu: Daughter of lawyer who prosecuted Nazis and whom Tom Hanks played in ‘Bridge of Spies’ makes a donation to Sumter’s Jewish History Center

BY KAYLA ROBINS kayla@theitem.com
Posted 6/24/18

Mary Ellen Donovan Fuller remembers her family being picketed throughout her unusual childhood, but she did not realize it was unusual until later in life.

Fuller, who lives in Alcolu in Clarendon County, made a donation on behalf of her father …

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From Nuremberg to Alcolu: Daughter of lawyer who prosecuted Nazis and whom Tom Hanks played in ‘Bridge of Spies’ makes a donation to Sumter’s Jewish History Center

In her youth, Mary Ellen Donovan Fuller's family was picketed during several incidents for her father's work, and she recently donated to the new Jewish History Center in Sumter in honor of James Donovan, who helped in the prosecution of Nazis in the 1940s.
In her youth, Mary Ellen Donovan Fuller's family was picketed during several incidents for her father's work, and she recently donated to the new Jewish History Center in Sumter in honor of James Donovan, who helped in the prosecution of Nazis in the 1940s.
MICAH GREEN / THE SUMTER ITEM
Posted

Mary Ellen Donovan Fuller remembers her family being picketed throughout her unusual childhood, but she did not realize it was unusual until later in life.

Fuller, who lives in Alcolu in Clarendon County, made a donation on behalf of her father this week to Temple Sinai Jewish History Center, which opened on June 2 through efforts from Sumter County Museum.

She remembers her family being picketed after her father, James Donovan, stood on a bridge in East Berlin to personally exchange Russian spy Rudolph Abel for U.S. pilot Francis Powers in what would become known as the U-2 incident. Unusual.

Donovan, who Fuller describes as a gritty Irishman from the Bronx who wanted to start a newspaper but went to Harvard Law School because his father told him to try that first, was portrayed by Tom Hanks in the 2015 movie "Bridge of Spies."

The movie earned Mark Rylance an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of Abel, the convicted Russian spy whom Donovan defended in court to save him from the death penalty so the United States could potentially use him for leverage later.

Fuller remembers her family being picketed when her father was the president of the Board of Education in New York City during integration. Unusual.

She remembers her family being picketed when he negotiated the Bay of Pigs exchange for the invasion prisoners. She said she remembers her father traveling often to Cuba by himself to negotiate privately with Fidel Castro while also going to Queens to do the Irish jig as he ran for the U.S. Senate or playing gin rummy on a Saturday in Brooklyn's Park Slope with the president of Pfizer Pharmaceuticals. She said she remembers Castro calling their home "as Jim would also be down at the Brooklyn docks." Unusual.

"He saw the purity of what the law can do and the ugliness of what certain laws can do," Fuller said. "He always did it with people in mind."

Because Fuller was around for all those unusual moments, she knew what her father was going through.

"We were involved in the whole of his life. We were always being picketed," she said.

Donovan even took his son, John, with him to Cuba during negotiations as a sign of good faith, according to an Item article from 2015 about Fuller's connection to "Bridge of Spies."

Fuller was not around for what gained Donovan his notoriety and respect as a lawyer in the first place, and it was something her father never talked about.

After receiving his commission as a U.S. Navy ensign in 1943, he was assigned to the newly created clandestine organization, the Office of Strategic Services. According to John Q. Barrett's "James B. Donovan, Before the 'Bridge of Spies,'" now Lt. Donovan, who had risen to become general counsel for the OSS, was named the head of the organization's new War Crimes Division in 1945.

Donovan, who was again promoted to commander, was charged with collecting and preparing visual evidence for the Nuremberg Trial for Justice Robert H. Jackson, who prosecuted Nazis for their actions during World War II and the Holocaust.

He spent weeks reviewing photos and film of the defendants in their Nazi roles and of concentration camps that had been taken by both liberators of the camps and by Nazis throughout the war.

Fuller said her father never talked about Nuremberg and the evidence he prepared for the prosecution. It was too horrific. Many Holocaust survivors and the soldiers who liberated the camps also don't talk about their experiences or took decades to be able to. They were too horrific.

"It defies logic as to how humans can do this to others," Fuller said.

She said she came to the grand opening of the Jewish History Center, which is next to the only synagogue in Sumter and teaches about Jewish history in Sumter and South Carolina, the Holocaust and Sumter's ties to the Holocaust.

She said the "physicality of the museum and how important it is" cannot be overstated. Making a donation in her father's name brings his work full circle.

She said she wants more people to support the center - it is the only Holocaust museum between Atlanta, Georgia, and Richmond, Virginia - regardless of whether they are Jewish or have ties to the Holocaust.

"I'm an Irish Catholic, and I'm donating. Why aren't you?" she implored.

Jay Schwartz, a member of the Temple Sinai Board, said the museum is vital to keeping alive the memory of the Holocaust and those who played a part in it, whether by committing atrocities or by bringing those people to justice.

"It's remarkable how unfamiliar today's teenagers are with the subject," Schwartz said. "The survivors and the liberators and the ones who were there, they're disappearing."

Donovan may have disappeared from the physical world - he died in 1970 at only 53 years - but his daughter is making sure his name and his memory and what he stood for remains.