Wars, languages and the role(s) of interpreters

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Wars, languages and the role(s) of interpreters

Occupation and prisoners of war
Interpreters were needed to communicate with the enemy indifferent positions that evolved through the war. Nazi occupation in France has been the source of a great deal of literature regarding the controversial topic of so-called collaborationists versus those Cooperation by interpreters and translators in propaganda activities can be illustrated with an article by
Herzstein (1989) devoted to anti-Jewish propaganda in the Orel region of Great Russia. As Maynard
(1968: 137-138) said Language is the most pervasive, ubiquitous, and ethnocentric factor in our cultures. One can liken language to air colorless, odorless, and necessary for survival but language can also be likened to carbon monoxide, also colorless and odorless, but very poisonous

enrolled in resistance activities. The dilemma of the interpreter under such circumstances has been very well illustrated by Ott (2009: 72): Throughout 1943–1944, Hochstrasser Swiss interpreter closely observed the actions, words, habits and liaisons of Laborde a French double agent and Dobershutz a Nazi officer he had an ethnographers eye for detail and in the post-liberation period revealed an astonishing capacity to recall what he had seen, heard and done during his employment by the Germans. Hochstrasser was no mere translator. He understood the psychological value of studying the behavior and mentality of those around him and also appreciated the importance of casual socialization with the Germans as a means of discovering their secrets, sorrows and weaknesses (…). For eight months, the Swiss interpreter and Otto Dobershutz worked side by side on an almost daily basis. As so often happened in relationships between wartime employers and their interpreters, the two men became well acquainted. Laborde was an intruder in their relationship and
Hochstrasser envied his influence over Dobershutz. Self-interest, uncertainty, opportunism and ambivalence characterized their three-way relationship.
Occupation by foreign troops may bring with it a great variety of personal experiences. Just after WWII was over and peace was being implemented in the different territories occupied by the Allied powers, Czech and Slovak students showed an enthusiasm which found inspiration in the Soviet Komsomol organisation when they volunteered as interpreters for the Soviets occupying their country (Chotková 1983). A French perspective in this context is that of Bédarida (1989) as she recalls her memories from
1945 when she was sent as a young student to the French zone of military occupation of Berlin to play the role of interpreter.
Kaplan (2005) in an excellent research work on an ugly chapter of the history of the United States after the liberation of France, describes the biased way in which military justice was administered to prosecute American soldiers who were found guilty of crimes mainly of asexual nature against local civilians. As she points out, 70 American soldiers were executed between 1943 and 1946 by the American Army. Although the US army was overwhelmingly white, almost all the soldiers that were executed were black. Kaplan uses, among other sources, the views of French interpreter
Guilloux, who translated in the trials of two soldiers one black and the other one white. Both were prosecuted for rape, but only the former was executed. In its postwar report on sex offenses in the European Theater of Operations, the Judge Advocate Department acknowledged the extent to which translation problems had created obstacles in cases of sexual assault As was to be expected, much trouble was often experienced by interpreters in court-martial trials in the use of particular technical words like penetration when non-English speaking witnesses were on the stand, because of the

difficulty or impossibility of making a precise translation of the English word into the foreign languages. A woman couldn‟t say to a court-martial, He raped me or, He tried to rape me To convict someone of rape, the burden was on the victim to prove that an actual penetration had taken place against her will. The victim of a sex crime was required to produce two kinds of testimony. She had to describe the incident of sexual violence using anatomically detailed language, and she needed to show that she had not complied with the sex act. Courts-martial of the s were as bad as American civil courts in obtaining this information both tended to put victims of sexual assault on trial along with the accused. The Judge Advocate understood the issue as a problem of translation. From the point of view of the foreign victim, the issue was respect. Noémie Bignon and her daughter had noway of knowing that a Zone Handbook for Allied officers had described Breton women as naturally erotic but they knew that they felt ashamed and misunderstood throughout the trial. (Kaplan 2005: The dilemma of interpreter Guilloux in the trial of the black soldier came from the fact that he was caught between his duty to translate individual words and sentences and his desire to protect a woman who depended upon him for the very words she uttered
(Kaplan 2005: 60). We can find people acting as interpreters for their fellow citizens in detention centres and even in concentration camps. For instance, Adams (1981) has published an interview with Werner Koch, a clergyman who played the roles of chaplain and interpreter in French POWs camps inside Germany during WWII. With the evolution of the war, the opposite could also happen. Former prisoners could be called to act as interpreters to interrogate their own or their families former prison guards, in a move which could be defined as a shift of asymmetries. The powerlessness of individual prisoners of war can be exemplified with photo no. 4, from the Korean War, where a North Korean prisoner is interrogated, while kneeling down on the ground with his hands behind his head, by a British and an Australian soldiers through the mediation of a Korean interpreter Photo 4: Imperial War Museum Collection. ITEM NAME MH33234 (October 1950) A British corporal and an Australian quiz a kneeling North Korean prisoner of war through an interpreter, during the advance of the United Nations forces northwards from Pyongyang. Link http://www.iwmcollections.org.uk/dbtw-wpd/exec/dbtwpub.dll?AC=GET_RECORD&XC=/dbtw- wpd/exec/dbtwpub.dll&BU=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.iwmcollections.org.uk%2FqryMain.php&TN=Unca t&SN=AUTO14303&SE=6363&RN=196&MR=25&TR=0&TX=1000&ES=0&CS=1&XP=&RF=allRes ults&EF=&DF=allDetails&RL=0&EL=0&DL=0&NP=1&ID=&MF=WPENGMSG.INI&MQ=&TI=0&

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