The Nuremberg Trials and the origins of simultaneous interpretation

The Nuremberg Trials and the origins of simultaneous interpretation 2

This post was originally written in Spanish to celebrate the 71st anniversary of the Nuremberg Trials. It pays homage to the creation of simultaneous interpretation as a profession.

So when did simultaneous interpretation first begin?

Following the creation of the United Nations, a series of trials were set up after World War Two in order to try those responsible for the abuses and crimes carried out during the dictatorship of Adolf Hitler in Germany. On 20 November 1945 the Nuremberg Trials formally commenced.

People from different countries and speaking different languages took part in these trials, as such there was a new need to create a system in which both those on trial as well as the different lawyers and judges could communicate in different languages and in real time.

A US Coronel was in charge of the translation and interpretation services at the Nuremberg trials. He contacted several students and professors at European Interpretation schools as well as a number of other renowned polyglots. On the other hand, a team of engineers drew up a wiring plan and operations system to ensure these interpretations could be transmitted simultaneously. Finally, the company IBM was asked to implement the entire operation.

What languages were interpreted during the Nuremberg Trials?

There were four official languages: English, French, Russian and German.

The Nuremberg trials marked the inception of simultaneous interpreting since they established this kind of interpreting as a profession, determining the specifications required and creating a new operational precedent for the future. Over the past 50+ years, simultaneous interpretation has evolved into a modality present in many multilingual conferences, meetings and courses, allowing participants to speak different languages while communicating simultaneously.

The Nuremberg Trials were, indeed, a triumph for global communication.