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International Symposium

Interpreting in Nazi Concentration Camps: Challenging the “Order of Terror”?

Date:16 – 17 May 2014Venue:Department of Translation Studies,
University of Graz, Austria


In Nazi concentration camps the prisoners came from 30 to 40 different nationalities. With German as the only official language at the lager, communication was vital for the prisoners’ survival. In the last few decades, there has been extensive research on the language used by the camp inmates (“lagerszpracha”, “lagerjargon”, “Krematorium-Esperanto”, etc.); however, investigation on the mediating role of interpreters between SS guards and prisoners on the one hand, and among inmates on the other, has been almost nonexistent.

This symposium will particularly explore the act of interpreting in Nazi concentration camps. The papers will address the following topics:

  • In what way did the knowledge of languages and, accordingly, certain communication skills, contribute to the survival of concentration camp inmates and of the interpreting person?
  • What is the role of interpreting in a wider context in mapping life in concentration camps?
  • Did the interpreting activity have an impact on the hierarchical order in which the prisoners were forced to live?
  • In what way does the study of communication mechanisms in concentration camps enhance our understanding of the ambiguous role of interpreting in more general terms?
  • In what way does the study of interpreting in concentration camps shape an interpreting concept which can help us better understand the violent nature of interpreting in contexts other than the holocaust?
  • Which metaphors could best be used to describe the interpreting activity in order to convey the extreme terror to which the lager prisoners were exposed?
  • In what way have these topics been dealt with in literary and educational material and in films?
  • How can life in concentration camps be conceptualized by means of translation in a wider and a narrower sense?

Furthermore, the symposium seeks to expand the theoretical, methodological, ethical and disciplinary approaches related to interpreting and other forms of communication in the extreme living conditions of concentration camps.


Michaela Wolf

Sabine Messner

Iris Topolovec

Andreas Wagner

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