viernes, 19 de agosto de 2016

Hitler and the Reinvention of Interpreting

First, I want to thank Ewandro Magalhães for letting me post his article on my blog.
The Nazis were the first to organize a mass political meeting. They did it in Nuremberg. And...
Did you know Hitler was the first orator to be simultaneously interpreted in history?
Did you know the Nuremberg Trials are considered the cradle of conference interpreting?
On September 10, 1934, a speech was made in Nuremberg that would change the world forever. Thousands of fanatical German youths stood in well-trimmed phalanxes on Zeppelin Field as an awe-inspiring and eloquent Adolf Hitler brought the 6th Nazi Party Congress to a close.
Hitler had made a series of public appearances that week, his first as the almighty Führer of the German people, who already knew him as their Chancellor. A few days prior, an unlawful proclamation–and landslide plebiscite–had granted him unlimited authority over the country and its mighty army.
Through political cunning and the allure of promises of a far-reaching, invincible empire that was to last a thousand years he had earned the loyalty and obedience of German citizens and soldiers. With his mesmerizing presence this Austrian-born and hitherto ordinary politician, naturalized just two years before, had managed to sway a nationalistic country in his favor. By sheer force of oratory, he would soon drag millions of well-meaning Germans into what was to become the bloodiest conflict in human history. Such is the power of words.
Something else happened that day. Across the border, some 500 miles away, radio listeners in France were amazed to hear the message in their own language just as the words were being pronounced in German. Andre Kaminker, an interpreter of legendary renown in the day, had reluctantly accepted to shadow the speech as it came, rendering every word and idea into French equivalents, in real-time. It had never been attempted, and Kaminker himself doubted that it could be done. Somehow he managed, and a new form of communication was thus born. Simultaneous interpreting had been invented.
The significance of that breakthrough could not be appreciated immediately. Soon thereafter, the world plunged into war and the technique lay dormant for another 10 years.
A decade later the eyes of the world once again turned to Nuremberg, as the Allies attempted to bring closure to the senseless conflict and unprecedented genocide Hitler had unleashed on Europe. Twenty-one Nazi officials charged with a variety of offenses and atrocities were brought to justice in what would go down in history as the first war crimes trial of modern times.
As judges, prosecutors, and counselors prepared for the historic case, a practical problem arose. Every testimony and every piece of evidence brought before the court would have to be interpreted from its original language into three others. Relying on consecutive interpreting–the traditional oral interpreting technique in which speakers and interpreters take turns–would prove tedious. It would prove risky, too. U.S. Chief Prosecutor Robert Jackson feared that the defendants could use the trial as a platform to justify their wrongdoings and gain sympathy for their predicament. The longer the proceedings, the higher the risk that the Germans would succeed in depicting the trial as a victor’s charade: a tribunal for which no legal framework yet existed to address deeds yet to be qualified as crimes.
The new, untested method of interpreting–which promised to cut the duration of the trial by half–now had to be expanded and perfected. IBM had been experimenting with a “simultaneous telephonic system” and offered its equipment to be pilot-tested at no cost, thereby solving the hardware issue. The challenge of actually making this system work, using students untrained in the new technique to deliver instantaneous interpreting into German, English, French, and Russian, fell to Leon Dostert, who had formerly served as interpreter to General Dwight D. Eisenhower.
The first professionals to be approached about the job objected fiercely to the proposed system. They resented the impersonality of being placed in an “aquarium,” and the inhuman speed required of them. Dostert, however, insisted that the new system was feasible and set about to provide whatever minimum training could be given to translators, lawyers, and judges on how to use it.
On November 20, 1945, the inaugural session of the court was called to order. Aware of the privilege and grave responsibility with which he had been entrusted, Justice Jackson had worked for weeks on his address. He chose his words wisely:
The wrongs which we seek to condemn and punish were so calculated, so malignant, and so devastating that civilization cannot tolerate their being ignored, for it cannot survive their being repeated.
Once again, a powerful speech had set the tone. With those opening remarks, any hope of a Nazi rebuttal was seriously compromised. Jackson’s eloquent rhetoric held the courtroom spellbound for nearly four hours and successfully framed the trial as “the most significant tribute that power has ever paid to reason.”
Divided into three groups of 12, the interpreters relieved one another every 45 minutes and rendered every word spoken in court into their respective languages, doing their best to capture the subtle figures of speech and the sentiment behind each utterance. To compensate for the overwhelming mental and psychological demands of the job, one day off was offered for every two days of work. A most welcome break after the “never-ending recital of horrors in the courtroom,” remembers Patricia Vander Elst, one of the Nuremberg interpreters. She also recalls how stressful it was to live “amidst a sullen native population in a town that was just a heap of rubble.” After just four months in Nuremberg, she said she felt 10 years older.
Despite their unpreparedness and limited training, these pioneers managed to get the job done and impressed many. Whitney Harris, with the American prosecution staff at the trials, marveled at the new “instantaneous translation” system:
Whatever was said on an incoming line was instantaneously translated into the other languages by wonderfully skilled interpreters. The interpretations then went into every chair in the courtroom by other telephonic wires, to be picked up through headphones for which a switch was provided to enable the listener to select the preferred language. It was the first time in history that such a system had been used in a judicial proceeding or, for that matter, in any hearing of such length and complexity.
The trial proceeded for another 10 months, setting an important precedent in international law. Of the 21 accused, only three were acquitted. Seven were given prison terms and 12 were sentenced to death by hanging. In his summation to the court, on July 26, 1946, turning to Shakespeare for a powerful analogy, Jackson spoke of the defendants:
They stand before the record of this trial as bloodstained Gloucester stood by the body of his slain king. He begged of the widow, as they beg of you: “Say I slew them not.” And the Queen replied, “Then say they were not slain. But dead they are.” If you were to say of these men that they are not guilty, it would be as true to say that there has been no war, there are no slain, there has been no crime.
Jackson had managed to establish “incredible events by credible evidence.” For him, the defendants had been given a trial which they, “in the days of their pomp and power, never gave to any man.” Finally, as if to reassure the world of the fairness of the proceedings, he asserted: “The future will never have to ask, with misgiving, what could the Nazis have said in their favor. History will know that whatever could be said, they were allowed to say.”
Indeed, whatever could be said was said and heard in four languages, thanks to the men and women who dared to challenge conventional wisdom and take the hot seat behind the glass, in that far-off year of 1945.
Nuremberg, a city so quintessentially German, had witnessed both the start and end of a vicious war. Like most, it was a war fought with guns and bayonets. And like any other before or since, one triggered and eventually crushed by outstanding speeches. Such is the power of language.
Written by 

TED Author | UN Staff | Chief Interpreter

miércoles, 17 de agosto de 2016


Photograph of Regina Jonas believed
to have been taken after 1939. Photo: JWA

When Sally Priesand was ordained as a rabbi in the U.S. in 1972, everyone believed that she was the first ever female rabbi in history. But because of the recent German reunification, an obscure Jewish archive in East Berlin revealed that the real first female rabbi in the world lived during the early 20th century and became a victim of the Holocaust. Her name was Regina Jonas.

Regina Jonas was a Jewish German-born in Berlin on August 3, 1902. Her family lived in Scheunenviertel, a poor neighborhood known for its mostly Jewish population. Young Regina’s interest in Judaism is said to have been an influence of her parents who together with her brother Abraham regularly visited the Rykestrasse Synagogue. The synagogue headed by Rabbi Max Weyl is noted for its modern orthodox views. Weyl was supportive in the idea that women may receive education, celebrate the bat mitzvah and should occupy higher roles in the synagogue. The rabbi also became an influence for Regina and the two would become close friends later on regularly meeting to study rabbinic literature. 

Jonas manifested her desire to become a rabbi early on. She went to the Judische Madchen Mittelschule. After successfully passing Oberlyzeum Weissensee’s abitur in 1923, she eventually became a teacher. But her desire did not stop at becoming a Jewish religion teacher, she want to become a rabbi. In 1924, she enrolled at the Hochschule fur die Wissenschaft des Judentums, a liberal Jewish institution. Though Jonas wanted to undergo training in an orthodox or traditional seminary, she knew that her chances of being ordained as a rabbi were higher at a liberal institution. 

In 1930, she completed her training and received a “good” grade for her treatise or thesis. But her hopes of an ordination weren’t fulfilled because of the demise of her Talmud professor Eduard Baneth. No other rabbi and professor from the Hochschule wanted to ordain Jonas so she was left with no other choice than to become a Jewish teacher. Five years later, she found Rabbi Max Dienemann of the Liberaler Rabbinerverband or the Conference of Liberal Rabbis who eventually agreed to ordain her. Rabbi Dienemann agreed to ordain Jonas because “her heart is with God and Israel, and that she dedicates her soul to her goal, and that she fears God, and that she passed the examination in matters of religious law.” 

But even if Jonas had officially become a rabbi, there was no pulpit or congregation made available to her except for the Jewish hospitals, old age homes, and prisons. Because of the rising Nazi regime, lives of Jews in the country became much harder and desperate. Those who could afford it fled from the country. Though Jonas and her mother had the opportunity to avoid persecution, she chose to stay and serve the suffering Jews. Because many Jews and rabbis had left, it eventually gave an opportunity for her to become the rabbi of the remaining but small communities of Jews. 

On November 6, 1942, Jonas and her mother were deported to the Theresienstadt ghetto, a place where Jews are forced into labor by the Nazis. Together with Rabbi Leo Baeck and psychoanalyst Viktor Frankl, Jonas continued to help the Jews primarily by giving hope, uplifting the prisoners’ spirits and serving the weak and dying. After two years on October 12, 1944, she and her mother were eventually sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp and perished in its gas chambers. Jonas’ contribution to modern Judaism is contained in the handwritten documents titled “Lectures by the only female rabbi Regina Jonas”. Jonas is also noted for her thesis at the Hochschule entitled “Can A Woman Be a Rabbi According to Halakhic Sources?” In her research, there were really no prohibitions for women from becoming a rabbi. She explained that such prohibition was just a product of rabbinical interpretations and not something divine. Jonas, later on, pointed certain Jewish female figures that held halakhic decision-making positions that are tantamount of becoming a rabbi or more.


miércoles, 1 de junio de 2016

I Nazisti e il Male

“Los nazis y el Mal” now available in the Italian language. 

“I Nazisti e il Male. La distruzione dell'essere umano”

Get it on
Kobo e.books

A great translation by Daniela Giovannetti. It's a book to reflect not just on the past, but on the present.

Nazism opened the door to the global terrorism. It drew a structural evil where nobody was saved, not even the German people. The enemy: everybody who could think for themselves in a critical and creative way, everybody who didn't live according to the Nazi rules. The Aryans were just "manufactured individuals", designed to become dehumanized automatons.
It's a highly topical book.

Il nazismo spalancò le porte al terrorismo globalizzato. Ideò un male strutturale dove nessuno era in salvo neanche il popolo tedesco. Il nemico: tutti coloro che pensavano con una loro testa in maniera libera e diversa rispetto a coloro che dettavano le regole naziste. Gli ariani erano solo “individui fabbricati”, ideati per la violenza, ossia automi intelligenti disumanizzati. La socializzazione del crimine attraverso la violenza diventata cultura fu uno degli obiettivi raggiunti sia nei campi di concentramento che nella società.
Un libro che mette in luce questioni ancora oggi attuali più che mai.

Coming soon in German, French, Portuguese, and English as well.

miércoles, 17 de febrero de 2016

Auschwitz trial: three survivors describe horrors of Holocaust

Reinhold Hanning in court in Detmold, Germany.
Photograph: Reuters

Youngest witness, now 90, recalls the terror of selection days when SS men decided who was still fit to work and who should be killed.

Three Holocaust survivors have testified about the horrors they experienced at Auschwitz, on the second day of the trial of a former SS sergeant on 170,000 counts of accessory to murder.
Justin Sonder arrives at court. Photograph: Bernd Thissen/EPA
Reinhold Hanning, 94, showed no emotion as the witnesses told of crematoria chimneys belching flames, naked prisoners being taken to the gas chambers, and people being shot.
Justin Sonder, the youngest of the witnesses at 90, arrived at Auschwitz aged 17 and was selected to be a slave labourer for the IG Farben company rather than sent directly to the gas chambers.

He told the court that after three or four months he was considered one of the older prisoners and feared most selection days, when SS men would look at rows of inmates – who were forced to stand in a line naked for up to four hours – and decide who was still fit to work and who should be killed.
“I don’t have the words to describe how it was when you know that you could be dead in one or two hours, it made you sick, made you crazy,” Sonder said, his voice trembling. “I survived 17 selections.” 
Hanning is accused of serving as an SS Unterscharführer (junior squad leader) in Auschwitz from January 1943 to June 1944, a time when hundreds of thousands of Hungarian Jews were brought to the camp in cattle cars and gassed to death.
When first questioned by investigators he admitted that he had served in the Auschwitz I part of the camp, but denied serving at the Auschwitz II-Birkenau section, where most of the 1.1 million victims were killed.
Prosecutors argue that he is guilty of accessory to murder because he helped the death camp to function, even though there is no evidence of him committing a specific crime.
Hanning has spoken only one word so far in the trial, telling the presiding judge Anke Grudda on Friday, when she asked how he was after the first day of trial, that he was “good”. Trial sessions are limited owing to Hanning’s health, and a doctor is on hand throughout.
Hanning’s lawyer, Andreas Scharmer, said it was highly likely that his client would make a statement during the proceedings, but he would not say when or how detailed it might be.
Sonder said he looked forward to hearing what Hanning had to say. “Perhaps he will try to explain; it would be good if he did,” he said after the session. “I hope he finds the courage to say something.”

Erna de Vries
Erna de Vries. Photograph: Reuters

Another survivor, Erna de Vries, told the court that when the Nazis came for her Jewish mother in 1943 she did not have to go with her to Auschwitz, as her father was not Jewish. But she chose to stay with her.

She had been in Auschwitz for two months when the SS took her and about 85 other people of mixed heritage to the women’s concentration camp Ravensbrück. “That was one of the worst days of my life when I was sent to Ravensbrück and my mother stayed in Auschwitz,” she said. “I never saw her again.”
She said her mother had been happy to hear that she was going to Ravensbrück, knowing that any place was better than Auschwitz. “Auschwitz was a death camp, and she had the hope it would get better for me,” she said.
Leon Schwarzbaum, a 94-year-old Auschwitz survivor from Berlin who was used as slave labourer to help build a factory for Siemens outside the camp, said he could not see the area with the gas chambers and crematoria from where he was kept, but everyone knew exactly what was going on there.
“We saw the fire from the chimneys,” he told the court. “So much fire came out of the chimneys, no smoke, just fire. And that was burning people.”
The three are among about 40 survivors and their families who have joined the trial as co-plaintiffs, as allowed under German law. Not all will testify, but the trial is scheduled to hear from three more when testimony resumes next Thursday and two next Friday.

viernes, 12 de febrero de 2016

A 94-year-old former Nazi guard stands accused of helping to murder 170,000 people

Reinhold Hanning, a 94-year-old former SS guard at the Auschwitz death camp,
 leaves in car after the opening of his trial in Detmold,
Germany, Thursday, Feb. 11, 2016. (Bernd Thissen/Pool Photo via AP)
Trials of former Nazi concentration camp guards in Germany have become rare in recent decades: As more and more of the perpetrators have died, prosecutors find it increasingly hard to charge those responsible for the horrendous crimes.
The current trial of 94-year-old Reinhold Hanning, a former SS guard at Auschwitz, may be one of the last of its kind. Hanning is accused of participating in mass shootings and selecting inmates for the executions. The trial started Thursday.
According to the prosecutor's office, Hanning may have been involved in the killing of at least 170,000 people, most of them Jews. More than 1 million people died in Auschwitz alone during World War II. During the time he was a guard at Auschwitz, hundreds of thousands of Hungarian Jews were killed by the Nazis.
According to German news site Spiegel Online, survivors of Nazi concentration camps were among those attending the beginning of the trial in the city of Detmold on Thursday. Several are expected to testify in coming weeks.
One of them, 94-year-old Leon Schwarzbaum, described the ordeal, the Associated Press reported: "The chimneys were spewing fire ... the smell of burning human flesh was so unbelievable that one could hardly bear it."
Hanning denies the charges but acknowledges that he worked in the camp as a guard.
Within the next months, two other men and one woman who are also accused of having been Nazi guards in concentration camps are expected to go on trial in Germany.
For decades, prosecution of Nazi crimes focused on high-level officials and generals. Partially due to a lack of evidence but also given a large number of low-level perpetrators, prosecutors rarely investigated crimes committed by camp guards. That, however, changed after John Demjanjuk, a retired U.S. autoworker, was convicted on more than 28,000 counts of accessory to murder in 2011.
Only a handful of suspects have stood trial in recent years because it has become increasingly difficult to find evidence of direct involvement in the mass killings. Many others have died before they could be charged.
The German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reminded its readers that the chances Nazi guards would be sentenced for their crimes had increased since a verdict last year.
Previously, courts had sentenced perpetrators only if they had worked at sites that were exclusively used as death camps, such as Treblinka and Sobibor. Auschwitz was not considered such a camp, which helped many Nazi guards avoid going to jail. Last year, however, a court sentenced an Auschwitz guard to four years in jail for having helped to murder 300,000 people.

martes, 26 de enero de 2016

Harrowing Details of Nazi Medical Experiments Emerge in Holocaust Survivor's Account

In newly-discovered deposition, Dachau survivor recounts he almost froze to death in a hypothermia experiment, and was whipped for not standing still while mosquitoes infected him with malaria.

The chilling testimony of a survivor of Nazi medical experiments has emerged in a three-page deposition recently unearthed at the Central Zionist Archive in Jerusalem.

The deposition, which carries no date, was submitted by Heinz Reimer, a Jewish survivor of several concentration camps, among them Dachau and Mauthausen. His testimony was discovered by an archivist during a routine cataloguing project of old Jewish Agency files. The document was discovered in a chronologically arranged file originally held at the Frankfurt office of the Jewish Agency. Since the document preceding it is dated August 1951, the assumption is that it was submitted sometime in the early post-war years. 

Reimer is possibly one of the few Dachau inmates to have undergone Nazi hypothermia experiments who survived the war. In these experiments, inmates were immersed in ice water to test how long the human body could survive in freezing temperatures. Those who survived the icy temperatures were often subjected to various body “rewarming” procedures that also involved immersing them in boiling water.

Forced cold water immersion experiment at Dachau concentration camp presided over by Professor Holzlohner (left) and Dr Rascher (right).

Noting that he was “misused as an object of experiments” and “as a vivisection object,” Reimer reported in his deposition that the notorious Nazi SS doctor Sigmund Rascher “conducted on me experiments of terminal hypothermia,” indicating that he was subjected to this procedure more than once.  Rascher ultimately fell out of grace with the Nazis and was executed by a German firing squad just before the end of the war.

Reimer’s testimony is included in a request he submitted to the Jewish Agency for financial assistance after the war. His address at the time was Hanover, Germany, although his nationality could not be verified by the archive. Representatives of the archive said they have no further information about his whereabouts since then. 

In his request, Reimer wrote that the money he was requesting would be used to help him set up a laundromat business as well as pay lawyers who might assist him in receiving restitution funds from the German government.

Visitors walk past a gate with "Work makes Free" written on it at the memorial site of the former Nazi concentration camp
in Dachau, southern Germany on April 24, 2009. Credit:AFP

Reimer reported that along with other tortures he endured in the camps, he was purposely infected with various diseases by Nazi doctors in order to test out cures for them.

Several sentences from the Reimer testimony, a copy of which was apparently also available at a Geneva-based UN archive, have already been published in a book on Nazi human experiments. But according to Patrick Casiano, the archivist at the CZA who discovered the document, this is the first time that the full three-page testimony has come to light. 

“I was very surprised to discover it,” he said, “because usually here at the CZA, we deal with administrative and bureaucratic documents that were in the possession of the various Zionist organizations – never something as personal and as gruesome in nature as this.”

In his testimony, Reimer referred by name to several Nazi doctors at Dachau, among them Dr. Claus Schilling, who was ultimately sentenced to death after the war by an American tribunal. “Dr. Schilling infected me three times with malaria tropical bacteria,” he wrote. “He withdrew from my body one and a half liters of blood for serum experiments. He infected me with syphilis by inflicting a 12-centimeter cutting wound to my leg. After this I had to undergo cures – I counted 46 injections of Atebrin [a drug used in the treatment of malaria] and other injections.”

Particularly chilling is Reimer’s account of how he was infected with malaria. “This inhuman Nazi locked me up every day for two hours in a glass cage and I had to endure thousands of Anopheles mosquitos on my body,” he wrote. “Once I could no longer stand the pain I made an attempt of resistance against the mosquitos while I assumed that this would not be seen. But the doctor, if you want to call this beast like this, saw my attempt of resistance in the mirror. For this I received seven days of strict detention. But before I was led away to the detention, I received 25 lashes with a leather bullwhip.”

According to his testimony, Reimer was interned at various Nazi concentration camps from November 1938 through June 1945. Dachau was the first Nazi concentration camp, opened in 1933, and served as a model for many others.


lunes, 25 de enero de 2016

Poignant Holocaust artwork by Jews forced into hiding, concentration camps and ghettos on display in Berlin

Nelly Toll was 8 years old when she and her mother went into hiding in 1943 in Poland to escape the Nazis’ death camps. The Jewish girl spent long hours in her tiny hideaway at a Christian family’s home writing stories, keeping a diary and creating wonderful, bright paintings of a lost world.
Her art is on display in the centre of Berlin at a special exhibition of Art from the Holocaust that opened at the German Historical Museum.
“I hope that generations to come will look at this and know what atrocities made me do this,” Toll told The Associated Press at the opening.
Toll’s paintings are among 100 artworks created by Jewish artists during the Holocaust on display, the first time the collection from the Yad Vashem memorial in Jerusalem has been shown outside Israel.
The exhibition includes work by Jewish artists in hiding, in concentration and labor camps, and in ghettos. Of the 50 artists featured, 24 were killed by the Nazis. Alongside the mostly unknown names are acclaimed artists such as Felix Nussbaum and Ludwig Meidner.
Toll is the only artist represented in the show who is still alive. One of her paintings, “Girls in the Field,” shows two girls, dressed in bright blue, red and yellow-dotted dresses walking across a sunny lawn confined by lush green trees.
“I made 60 paintings while in hiding and all of them express happiness,” said Toll, who lost her father and brother in the Holocaust. She emigrated to the United States with her mother after the war.
Like many Jews who created art while being surrounded by death, fear and suffering, painting was a way for Toll to break free and escape from the Holocaust’s harsh reality to imaginary places of beauty and happiness.
“I would have conversations with the characters in my paintings for hours,” Toll remembered.
Not all the works show an escape into a happy imagination. Some artworks are shocking in their depictions of life in the ghetto, daily discrimination and fear of being killed by the Nazis.
Halina Olomucki’s 1939 pencil work, “After the Shearing of the Beards,” shows two orthodox men with bandages around their heads after their beards had been torn or burned off by Germans in the Warsaw ghetto.
Leo Haas’ “Transport from Vienna” shows the arrival of a train full of elderly Jews at the Theresienstadt ghetto in 1942. Painted in dark, monochrome India ink, people with faces like hollow skulls can be seen tumbling out of cattle cars, many lying lifeless on the ground as a soldier keeps pulling more people off the train.
The show’s curator, Yad Vashem’s Eliad Moreh-Rosenberg, called the creation of art during the Holocaust an “uncompromising act of resistance” by artists in mortal danger.
It was very difficult for the artists to get painting supplies, but despite that and their appalling living conditions they managed to portray life during the Shoah, fighting their dehumanization by the Nazis and leaving behind painted witness accounts, Moreh-Rosenberg said.
Among the most touching works is a postcard painted in 1941 by both Karl Robert Bodek and Kurt Conrad Loew while at the Gurs camp in southwestern France, which was then under the Vichy regime that collaborated with the Nazis.
Titled “One Spring,” the watercolor shows a bright yellow butterfly sitting on top of black barbed wire, free to fly wherever it desires, while the two artists were confined to the dark barracks of the camp depicted at the bottom of the painting.
Bodek was killed a year later in Auschwitz-Birkenau, while Loew survived and died in his birth city of Vienna in 1980.
Chancellor Angela Merkel, who was to officially inaugurate the show on Monday night, said on her weekly podcast released over the weekend that such exhibitions are still critical for educating younger Germans about the Holocaust.
“It reminds us that we have an enduring responsibility for what has been done in the past…” she said. “I think it is very, very important that every generation reacquaints itself with Germany’s history.”
Merkel specifically cited fears raised by German Jewish leaders about a possible rise in anti-Semitism with the arrival of nearly 1.1 million migrants last year.
“We have to deal with it, especially among young people whose family background is from countries where hatred of Israel and the hatred of Jews is widespread,” she said.