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.