One Trial – Four Languages
Personal memories of the trial
They would have to innovate, improvise, create…
Since autumn the International Military Tribunal had been meeting in Nuremberg, an iconic shrine of the Nazis, a backdrop or ruins and ashes. The trial was to last from 20 November 1945 until 1 October 1946, holding 402 sessions and passing down verdict on 22 defendants accused of exterminating more than 10 million men, women and children outside the battlefields. …
At the court, guarded by the US Military Police in their impeccable uniforms, there was a discipline of iron. Four Allies, the United States, Britain, France, the Soviet Union, still cemented by their ordeals and their victory; four public prosecutors; the Nazis in the dock. Four working languages. How was communication to work? The language problem was entrusted to Colonel Léon Dostert, once interpreter to General Eisenhower. He was perfectly bilingual, but there was no experience or precedent to help him resolve it ….
Dostert had no choice: simultaneous was an absolute necessity. They would have to innovate, improvise, create…
Some phenomenon of depersonalization
That day it was the turn of Streicher, the anti-Semitic journalist who had been in charge of the “Stürmer”, … with its vicious texts and cartoons which had played their part in creating the climate of racial hatred in Germany – culminating in the genocide at Auschwitz, Treblinka, Bergen-Belsen, Theresienstadt and, alas, so many other death camps ….
Streicher spoke, and I interpreted, for more than an hour. I was so engrossed in his arguments, heard through me by the French judges and prosecutor, that I did not notice the time pass. Some phenomenon of depersonalization of which not even I was aware, but which must be familiar to actors, had in a sense identified me with a man to whom all around me were opposed.
When Streicher had finished, I knew I was an interpreter.
I kept asking myself the same question
Sitting there in the interpreting booth, I kept asking myself the same question: How can grown, educated, on first sight intelligent and to all appearances normal men participate directly and also indirectly in deceiving their own people, in violating human dignity, in enslaving and ultimately exterminating hundreds of thousands of totally innocent individuals? Can everything really be explained by an unnatural, unconditional love for a dictator who did not even find it necessary to conceal his cruel objectives?