Concentration Camp Inmate becomes Nuremberg Trial-Translator

I acquired an outstanding document set most important concerning the Holocaust and the Nuremberg War Crime Trials. There is a scarce chance to get such a document set, including two passports, into my collection, but I was fortunate. Concentration Camp Nuremberg Trial-Translator

The Nuremberg Trials, held to bring Nazi war criminals to justice, were a series of 13 trials in Nuremberg, Germany, between 1945 and 1949. The defendants were charged with crimes against peace and crimes against humanity and included Nazi Party members and high-ranking military commanders, German industrialists, lawyers, and doctors. Although the trials’ legal justifications and procedural innovations were controversial at the time, the Nuremberg trials are now regarded as a defining moment in establishing a permanent international court and a crucial precedent for dealing with future cases of genocide and other crimes against humanity.

But let’s start from the beginning when a young Jewish woman was released from Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp. Her name was MARGIT SALGO. Concentration Camp Nuremberg Trial-Translator

Concentration Camp Nuremberg Trial-Translator

The USHMM Holocaust Survivors and Victims Database lists Margit as a former concentration camp prisoner of Bergen-Belsen. She was liberated in Troebnitz, which is about 100 km from the city of Leipzig and about 300 km from the Bergen-Belsen camp. Born in Budapest, Hungary on 28 June 1922, and liberated on 23 April 1945. However, USHMM recorded Erfurt as her birthplace, which would make her German. Her passport was issued by the Hungarian consulate general in Paris on 15 August 1945, just four months after her liberation. This passport states she was born in Budapest, which makes sense also considering the source below. Why would the Hungarian consulate in Paris issue her a Hungarian passport otherwise?

In Rezso Kasztner’s book The Daring Rescue of Hungarian Jews: A Survivor’s Account, he mentioned Margit.  “Others sang Yiddish or Hungarian folk songs or popular hits, but Margit sings Jazz songs in our hut.” Concentration Camp Nuremberg Trial-Translator

Margit worked as a Staff Evidence Analyst (Translator) in the Office of the Chief of Counsel for War Crimes.

Detail of the directory cover, January 1948.

Staff Evidence Analysts worked for both the IMT and the NMT war crimes staff, preparing brief identification and analysis forms (Staff Evidence Analysis forms) for the evidence file document sets. I found her name also in the Harvard Law School Library Nuremberg Trials Project and The Online Archive of California. Furthermore, in the Nuremberg Military Tribunals’ Personnel Directory from January 1948, Margit’s accommodation is listed at Nuremberg, Prinzregentenstrasse 9. In July 1948 the Military Government for Germany in Baden-Baden issued her a temporary travel document in lieu of a passport.

Other documents in this lot are a European Theater Uniform Clothing and Accessory Ration Card issued in Feb 1947, a telephone account bill from Nuremberg from Sep 1948, and a French student card from 1948/49.

Concentration Camp Nuremberg Trial-Translator

Interpreters and translators played an important role in the Nuremberg Trial

A telling sentence is documented from the leading National Socialist Hermann Goering, who was indisputably the No. 1 main defendant at the Nuremberg war crimes trial. “I don’t need a lawyer,” he said, “I have never had anything to do with lawyers, they would be of no use in this trial. What I really need is a good interpreter.” Concentration Camp Nuremberg Trial-Translator

In fact, interpreters played an eminently important role in the Nuremberg Trial, even if they are usually treated only as supporting actors in this world-historical event. Literally, every word was fought over in this trial of the century. It was clear to the four victorious powers from the outset that language would shape the Nuremberg trial in a legal and tactical sense like no trial before it. This event, therefore, marked the birth of modern interpreting, especially simultaneous interpreting. For the first time ever, interpreters were allowed on a large scale in a court hearing.

After all, everything said had to be translated into four different languages – English, French, Russian and German. Specially developed simultaneous equipment was used for communication between judges, prosecutors, defendants, defense attorneys, witnesses, experts, and members of the press. With the help of a microphone and headphones, the interpreters worked simultaneously for the first time, i.e. they listened and spoke at the same time – an intellectually highly demanding performance.

There were three teams of twelve interpreters each for the four working languages. Three interpreters sat in each booth. In addition, the interpreters could use different colored light bulbs to signal the speakers to speak more slowly, repeat something or even stop altogether. For the interpreters, the process sometimes also meant a great psychological strain. For example, one young interpreter, who had shortly before experienced the atrocities committed by the Germans in her hometown, asked to be transferred from booth duty because the description of the Nazi atrocities recalled her terrible experiences too strongly. Concentration Camp Nuremberg Trial-Translator

The Nuremberg trial would certainly have had it not been for simultaneous interpretation, it would certainly have taken several years longer, and who knows whether it would ever have ended, because shortly after the Cold War began, and from then on the two camps (Russians and Americans) could no longer find a common language – not even with the help of interpreters.

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  1. Great set, and ten years later, Hungary was invaded by the Russians … and AMG reissued passports for those who wanted to flee.

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