The Interpreters’ Newsletter of the Dipartimento di Scienze Giuridiche, del Linguaggio, dell’Interpretazione e della Traduzione, Sezione di Studi in Lingue Moderne per Interpreti e Traduttori (SSLMIT) is an international journal promoting the dissemination and discussion of research in the field of Interpreting Studies.
This article offers a look behind the scenes of the research for my book The Origins of Simultaneous Interpretation: The Nuremberg Trial, which was published by the University of Ottawa Press in 1998 (Gaiba 1998). I share anecdotes and information from my personal correspondence from 1995 to 1998 with some of the simultaneous interpreters and language personnel of the Nuremberg Trial of 1945-1946. My correspondence with them reveals their personalities and their eagerness and interest in participating in this research about their phenomenal contribution to one of the most important events of the twentieth century—a contribution which, incredibly, had been ignored up until the publication of this book. Featured in this article are E. Peter Uiberall and Alfred Steer, who worked at the trial mostly as monitor and language administrator, respectively, and were the most important sources of original material for my research on Nuremberg interpretation. Also featured are Edith Coliver, Sigfried Ramler, and Elisabeth Heyward. Almost 75 years after the end of the trial, the interpreters’ contribution to that historical event, as well as their correspondence with me during my research from 1995 to 1998, are significant historical contributions that need to be acknowledged and celebrated.
Francesca Gaiba’s 1998 book continues to be the primary work on the application of simultaneous interpreting (SI) at the Nuremberg Trial (see my 1999 review). The pioneering and inspirational value of that comprehensive volume makes any attempt to reopen the topic a daunting challenge. After having done some research myself on the Trial’s interpreters, some of whom I met in person and even in the booths when I was a staff interpreter at the United Nations, my intention in this paper is to add the perspective of transition in the history of interpreting, underpinned with a few primary and secondary sources that in most cases I had not used before now, because they either were not published or were inaccessible to me. Besides, I intend to expand on my reflections on the impact the Nuremberg Trial had on the profession of conference interpreting (Baigorri-Jalón 2017). I will approach interpreting at the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal (IMT) as part of a transition process symbolizing historical change, and as a testing ground for a variety of linguistic, ethical, sociological and technical challenges. Finally, I will venture a few remarks on the past and the present and on how unpredictability and uncertainty about the future may trigger historical change.