Saturday, October 12, 2013 at La Salle University
Vicki Hain Poorman
The presentation by Dr. George Sakheim on his experiences in WWII and as an interpreter at the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials was so interesting that the hardest part of writing this will be deciding what to omit.
It was a pleasure to see such a large turnout of DVTA members and others on the La Salle University campus. The presentation started a few minutes late, and went longer than planned, but I never felt the time dragged. Dr. Sakheim, in his 90s, moves and speaks a little slowly, but every word was interesting, and the accompanying slide show he presented was remarkable.
Dr. Sakheim was born in Germany; his family left in 1933 and moved to Palestine at his mother’s insistence. She had lost her job solely because she was Jewish, and she feared for her family’s future in Hitler’s Germany. In 1938, George came to New York City to attend high school and later university. He was drafted at 19 into the US Army and served as an interrogator with Army Intelligence. He was among the troops that liberated the Nordhausen concentration camp. Upon his discharge in 1945, he learned of the upcoming war crimes trials in Germany and applied to work as an interpreter for them. He was only 22 years old.
The Nuremberg War Crimes Trials in 1945 and 46 involved the first extensive use of simultaneous interpretation, with equipment. As such, it was a watershed moment in the history of our profession. Dr. Sakheim’s comments on interpreting were not the majority of his presentation, but did show that he and his colleagues were applying some of the same principles and practices we use today. A colleague of mine mentioned being especially impressed by a couple of anecdotes: At one point, the young George had to stop interpreting for the former German economics minister, because his own knowledge of the subject was not up to the task. He and his colleagues had to remain neutral in the face of revelations about what had happened to so many Jews and others under the Nazi regime, even though many of the interpreters had themselves been Jewish refugees from Germany.
Part of his slide show included pictures of Nordhausen camp just after it was liberated. I’ve seen such pictures before; they are always appalling, and rightfully so. We need to remember the horrible things that happened in them. His photos of the trials were both fascinating and disturbing; the interpreters at their work, the defendants laughing among themselves during breaks, the judges and attorneys at their tables.
I could go on and on, but I’ll stop here to thank all of our colleagues who put this together. Rudy Tellez, member of the DVTA Board and adjunct instructor at La Salle , heard of Dr. Sakheim, proposed asking him to speak, and provided much organizational effort; La Salle University allowed the DVTA to use their facilities; CETRA Language Solutions sponsored the enjoyable reception that followed. There were, I know, many more people whose volunteer work helped carry off this event. I am grateful to all of you.
ATA-certified translator, Vicki Hain Poorman holds a Master’s degree for Spanish and English Translation/Interpretation from Monterrey Institute of International Studies and works as a professional medical interpreter at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia as well as an adjunct instructor at La Salle University .