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On Ethics and Interpreters


Małgorzata Tryuk

The history of translation and interpreting is above all the history of men, women, and sometimes children, who became translators and interpreters. It is the history of why and how they chose that job, how it affected their lives and work, how they carried out the tasks of translating and interpreting and what consequences their actions had on their families and fellow compatriots. The book presents the lives, loyalties, and identities of interpreters who, either by choice or by force, had to work during wartime, in armed conflict zones, at the trials of war criminals after World War II and in the Nazi concentration camps.
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Chapter 1. Setting the scene


Chapter 1. Setting the scene

1.1 Interpreters in history. The history of interpreters

It may be said without exaggeration that almost the entire history of interpreting centres around wars, conquests, colonizations, conversions, and the introduction of foreign rules, governments or administrations manu militari, which either could not have taken place at all without interpreters, or at the very least would have been accomplished with much more difficulty. From the beginning of recorded history, interpreters always accompanied leaders, discoverers, missionaries and dictators (Kaufmann Francine 2006, Chrobak 2012). The job of Hitler’s, Mussolini’s and Stalin’s interpreters was extensively examined by Jesús Baigorri Jalón (2000), who described how interpreters not only worked in extreme conditions, but also took part in meetings at the highest level, at which decisions were taken to declare wars or announce invasions affecting the lives of millions of people. In such situations, their job, and sometimes even their lives, depended on a single flick of the hand or nod of the head by a dictator.

Winston Churchill, his interpreter Arthur H. Birse, and Josef Stalin. Potsdam, July 1945. (Roland 1999: 159)

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