expoasambleanurembergPresident of the Asamblea de Extremadura (Assembly of Extremadura) Blanca Martín opened the ‘Interpreters in Nuremberg’ exhibition, showing how thanks to simultaneous interpretation and the work of interpreters it was possible for German, French, English, and Russian speaking judges, prosecution and defence, witnesses and defendants to all communicate smoothly. It made it possible for the public in all countries involved to follow the judicial process. During her speech the president showed her praise for a united, fair, and welcoming Europe. She discussed how important it is that we look back on these historic events, keeping them in mind to ensure they don’t happen again in the future. She added that she hoped the exhibition would be shown in schools and cultural centres across Extremadura. In a week marking 70 years since the trials, this exhibition aims to shed light on the key role played by interpreters.

A speech was also given at the opening by Juan Carlos Moreno Piñero, director of the European Academy of Yuste Foundation which jointly organised the exhibition along with the Assembly of Extremadura. He discussed a key achievement of the Nuremberg trials: “it marked the first time we were made aware of the fact that certain crimes could not possibly go unpunished, that they had to be subject to the legal process and duly punished through a Constitutional Court”. It was an embodiment of the human condition, to defend and seek world peace. The interpreters were the supporting cast for this key moment in history. Not only did they translate words from one language to another, “they succeeded in translating emotions too”, in a task that went far beyond the semantic word-level. The Foundation’s director ended his speech with an allusion to the situation facing Europe today: “fragmented, with tensions between victors and the defeated, in battles without weapons” and to the displaced and destitute who “we can’t always defend, and who don’t have interpreters to translate their plight”.

The director general of Libraries, Museums, and Cultural Heritage of the Regional Government of Extremadura, and trustee of the European Academy of Yuste Foundation, Francisco Pérez Urbán also gave a speech explaining how the exhibition was part of a series of Foundation events aiming to “defend multiculturalism and multilingualism, and highlight historic events”.

The curator of the exhibition, Jesús Baigorri, told how from his perspective “the exhibition shines a spotlight on the work of the interpreters”, being a fundamental component in ensuring the Nuremberg trials took less than a year. Had the process been longer he said, “it would not have served as the exemplary process the allies (US, UK, USSR, and France) wanted to project”. He added, the exhibition “aims to preserve the memory of these people – the interpreters – who passed unnoticed, missing from history books, and contribute to the passing on of knowledge”. He spoke about how the Nuremberg trials “professionalised” interpreting, with the creation of training schools and an international professional association, “which strengthened the idea that interpreters are not born, but made”.  Nuremberg, he said, “also signalled the first time women were involved in a previously predominantly male profession”.

After the opening, a spokesperson from Jueces para la Democracia (Judges for Democracy), Ignacio González, gave a talk in which he explained how “the Nuremberg trials set an important precedent without which the latest achievements in the fight against impunity in international criminal law would not have been possible”. In his opinion one of the major preoccupations of the UN after all these years has been “the persecution and punishment of those responsible for the serious and major violations of fundamental human rights and the basic principles of International Humanitarian Law.”

‘The Nuremberg Trials’ exhibition

The exhibition has been put together by a group of researchers from the Universities of Salamanca and Hildesheim (Germany) with support from the European Academy of Yuste Foundation. The sixteen pieces show the work of interpreters during the Nuremberg trials 1945/1946 The interpreters were mostly multilingual speakers from various different countries, many of them Jewish people who had been affected directly or indirectly by the Nazi regime. They had to learn ‘on the job’ and adapt themselves to the unfamiliar technical aspects of simultaneous interpreting. And, significantly, the Nuremberg trials marked the first time women were represented in the interpreting profession.

The exhibition, which will be at the Asamblea for the whole of October, has been shown at various Spanish universities such as Salamanca, Granada, Las Palmas, and Castellón, as well as overseas at Hildesheim in Germany, Doha in Quatar, and also at the European Academy of Yuste Foundation headquarters throughout the summer.